The future of Phulbari coal mine project of UK-based Asia Energy, since renamed as Global Coal Management (GCM), has become bleak following the Prime Minister’s recent distinct statement on coal mining in the country.
While holding meeting with Power and Energy Ministry’s top officials on Thursday (February 6), Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said: “Right now, we want to leave the issue of coal extraction to the future technology as food security and protecting the land of the farmers is the first priority.”
The Asia Energy entered Bangladesh in 2003 buying a contract from Australian company BHP to explore coal in Phulbari of Dinajour district. But when Asia Energy moved to execute its project as an open-pit mining, it faced tremendous opposition from local community and environmentalists.
The major protests took place on August 30 in 2006, where six protesters were shot dead, allegedly by paramilitary forces, and 300 were injured when a crowd of 30,000 people stormed the local offices of Asia Energy in Dinajpur.
The incident forced the government to announce postponement of the operation of Asia Energy’s Phulbari project. The Asia Energy was renamed as Global Coal Management (GCM) in 2007.
Recently, different activities of Asia Energy or GCM have been suggesting that the company is planning to come back in a new way to implement its project. Particularly, the GCM, a listed company with London Stock Exchange showing Phulbari coal mine as its project, became active in the country’s northern region where it recently launched some campaigns to garner local public support in its favour.
The GCM’s campaign raised serious concern among the anti-Phulbari activists who also threaten to reactivate their protest to resist the UK-company’s move.
Meantime, GCM reconstituted its board of directors and brought major changes in its Dhaka as well as London office by putting some new directors and staffs which also suggests the company is really coming up with new enthusiasm.
Sources said the company also recast its strategy to win the deal for exploration of the proposed Phulbari coal mine.
As part of the new strategy, the company has inducted a young Malaysian tycoon as a Non-Executive Director, removing a Briton from the Board of Directors.
With the announcement, Malaysian tycoon Dato’ Md Wira Dani Bin Abdul Daim has replaced British entrepreneur Neil Lindsey Herbert from the board of directors of GCM.
“Under the leadership of Malaysian business tycoon, the GCM was eyeing to rearrange its strategy in winning a deal for commercial exploration of the proposed Phulbari coalmine district,” said a source.
The GCM appointed Mettiz, an investment company with significant corporate and financial experience in natural resources, power generation, manufacturing and real estate, a lobbyist in Bangladesh last year to get approval of the government for commercial exploration of the Phulbari coalmine.
But, energy industry insiders thought the Prime Minister’s statement has made it clear that the project is unlikely to be executed in near future.
Quoting the Prime Minister, State Minister for Power and Energy Nasrul Hamid said she has given us a directive regarding coal extraction saying that “first of all we need” food security and land use.
“Only after ensuring food security and protecting farmers’ land, we’ll decide which technology we’ll use to extract coal,” he told reporters following the PM’s meeting.
Asia Energy Bangladesh’s CEO Gary Lye, however, said Phulbari Coal Project uses the land for mining temporarily. Lad is immediately rehabilitated and returned to agriculture after extracting the coal which is a far greater benefit for the country.
He said Asia Energy is concerned to ensure food security and the company’s agriculture improvement plan will increase the food production from the area as well as allow coal extraction and jobs.
“We (will) welcome the opportunity to brief the Prime Minister on these plans and show how she can deliver for the people and country coal, major power and food security. People from the area want the coal mining and development benefits it’ll bring to them and their region which is one of the Bangladesh poorest regions.”
Bangladesh has five coal fields with an estimated reserve of some 3.0 billion tonnes, industry insiders said. Of the five coal fields, only one in Barapukuria is now in operation.
Asia Energy’s future with Phulbari coa mine bleak