Why we oppose open pit mine in Phulbari: Grassroot leader, Aminul Islam Bablu, responds to State Minister Advocate Mostafizur Rahman

Why we oppose open pit mine in Phulbari: Grassroot leader, Aminul Islam Bablu, responds to State Minister Advocate Mostafizur Rahman

View BBC Songlap here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoA6q1ZTQE0

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Updated List of Recent News Stories in Relation to Phulbari

Demo goes  fantastically well by passionate protesters chanting slogans

Demo goes fantastically well by passionate protesters chanting slogans. Photo Credit: Samarendra Das.

The following represents an updated list of new stories in relation to the Phulbari issue:

The Bangladesh Chronicle (31/12/2012): Asia Energy awaits PM’s Phulbari nod

Priyo News (31/12/2012):  Asia Energy awaits PM’s Phulbari nod

Coal Guru (24/12/2012): GCM Resources update on AGM

Coal Guru (24/12/2012): Phulbari deal not in hurry – PM aide

Bdnews24 (22/12/2012):  Phulbari deal not in hurry: PM aide

The Financial Express (21/12/2012):   Complaint filed against GCM over Bangladesh mine

New Age (21/12/2012): Complaint filed against Asia Energy in London over Phulbari Project

London Mining Network (21/12/2012): Coal play: inside the GCM Resources AGM, 20 December 2012

The Daily Sun (21/12/2012): Complaint filed against Asia Energy in London over Phulbari Project

Bdnews24 (21/12/2012): Asia Energy awaits PM’s Phulbari nod

Bdnews24 (21/12/2012): Protests in London over Phulbari mine

Foil Vedenta (20/12/2012)  – From Phulbari to Niyamgiri!

Economic Voice (20/12/2012): Complaint filed against British coal miner GCM over Bangladesh mine

New Internationalist (20/12/2012):  Angry Santa interrupts AGM over Phulbari mine

The Guardian (20/12/2012):  Bangladesh mine activists dump coal outside GCM meeting in London

Daily Mail (UK) (19/12/2012):  Miner GCM hit by protests over Bangladeshi mine that could displace up to 220,000 people
Read more:

These links will also be posted on our News and Resources Pages.

Coal Play inside and outside AGM: GCM takes a beating from Phulbari activists

By Raaj Manik, 22 December 2012

Thursday was a miserable day for the board of GCM Resources, and a day, of what the protesters of the destructive Phulbari Project called ‘ the day for Phulbari Resistance’.

Despite the heavy, grey and wet weather in London, protesters of the Phulbari Coal Project and transnational activists of climate justice and environment in London started to gather from 10am sharp at the Institute of Directors, where the Annual General MeetingChris Kitchen reads out eviction letter 20 Dec 2012 of GCM Resources plc, was scheduled to take place.  They were as creative as powerful in their protest against the investors and shareholders of GCM Resources.

The event kicked off by chanting slogans, ‘Out out out, GCM out of Bangladesh’, ‘blockade GCM, blockade the bloodsuckers’. It ended by chanting bangla slogans, Duniar majdur, ek hou juddho koro’. The event was organized by the UK branch of National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources and Port-Power of Bangladesh (‘UK Committee’) with the support of Phulbari Solidarity Group and several other environmental and human rights organizations based in London.

Activists from one such organisation, Agitartworks, put on an amusing street-theatre in which activists dressed as GCM executives acted out the repression which the people of Phulbari would face if the mine goes ahead. Activists blocked the entrance to the Institute of Directors (IoD) front door by dumping coal in the doorway.

2012-12-21 12.08.18 Activist dressed as GCM executives is arrested as demonstration rages - demo pic by Samarandra Das

Activist dressed as GCM executives is arrested as demonstration rages, photo credit: Samarandra Das

They were to lock out the investors of GCM. But, desolately, the police were more interested in detaining the activistsand actors, than tackling the real crimes being discussed inside by GCM executives and investors. Two of the activists, who played a wonderful performance in featuring how abusive and violent GCM Resources is, were arrested and more armed police arrived by police van to intimidate the remainder of the protesters.

But more was to come, and many more joined the protest at the post-theatre phase.  The demo took more powerful and organised look after the arrests of the two activists. Angry activists chanted Bangla slogan, the slogans that were borrowed from Phulbari, ‘Bosot vita dhongso kore koila khoni hobena; masjid-mandir dhongsho kore koila khoni hobena; tomar bari amar bari Phulbari Phulbari’.

Akhter Sobhan Khan Masroor, Member Secretary of the UK Committee, welcomed the demonstrators and invited to give speeches.

Rumana Hashem, an eye witness to the violence in August 2006 and the co-ordinator of Phulbari Solidarity Group, called for two minutes silence. She explained that this was ”to honour the three martyrs, Tariqul, Salekin and Al-Amen, who were killed on 26 August 2006 when paramilitary troops opened fire on the massive protest against Asia Energy in Phulbari; and the 121 victims of the latest garment factory tragedy in Bangladesh, who died in late November, because they were denied exit via the main gate when the fire alarm was raised in their factory, which did not have any fire-escape – and were forced to burn to death.”

Police stand in coal covered doorway - demo picture 20 Dec 2012 by Samarandra Das

Police stand in coal covered doorway on 20 Dec 2012. Ph0to credit: Samarandra Das

She added that the silence would also commemorate Catholic priest Bert White, a close friend of some of those involved, who had died in a fire on 20th December in 1999 and who, she said, would have been on the demonstration if he had lived, as he had been very much on the side of the poor, oppressed and dispossessed, and had always opted for the cause of justice and liberation.

She concluded, “As we demonstrate against corruption and human rights violations, we take the spirit of all of the above people in our heart and we demonstrate with the spirit that they are with us on the demo.”

There were speeches by representatives of the groups involved in the action, and a memorandum from the demo to the British Prime Minister was read out.There was anger at the involvement of the British Government in support for GCM Resources’ attempts to push forward the Phulbari project. Concerned voices, chanting slogans ‘shame, shame on GCM and this government’, were many. An Eviction Notice to GCM was to have been handed over to the company, but the presence of armed police prevented demonstrators from entering the building –‘ it will therefore be delivered to the company by post’, says Rumana Hashem.

The demo ended with a vote of thanks from the Convenor of the Committee in UK.

protesters dressed Santa Claus present GCM board with coal

protesters dressed Santa Claus present GCM board with coal, photo credit: annonymous

Meanwhile, inside the meeting of GCM, activists from the Bangladeshi community, Climate Justice Collective, Corporate Watch, and World Development Movement led by Richard Solly of London Mining Network, grilled the board on the contentious project and its catastrophic human rights impacts. And to top the morning off, back inside as the meeting was drawing to a close, GCM’s board had a surprise seasonal visitor, as an anonymous activist dressed as Santa Claus presented a stocking full of coal to company chairman, Gerald Holden.

He entered the room saying, “Ho, ho, ho, have you been naughty or nice this year? This year you threatened to evict 220,000 people so you could profit from polluting the climate. St Nick always knows – your stocking’s full of coal!”  Then he dumped a sack of coal over the desk on which the board was sitting. The meeting was quickly broken up following the intervention from Santa.

In London yesterday, GCM’s share price had already taken a dramatic tumble by the time executives and investors arrived at the AGM, following the publication of an article in the Daily Mail highlighting an on-going relationship between UK government officials and the company.

The London-based and AIM-listed mining company, GCM Resources had already had a scandal for the killing of three people in the North-west of Bangladesh, Phulbari, and the continued human rights violation since 2006.  Supported and financed by global hedge fund and banks including UBS, Credit Suisse, LR Global, and Argos Greater Europe Fund, the company is aggressively moving on to implement an immense open pit coal mine in the region, ignoring the human rights and environmental degradation the project would leave. If the project went ahead, it would turn 14,500 acres of land into a giant hole in the ground, displacing almost 130,000 people. As the coal is so deep, huge amounts of water would have to be extracted from the surrounding area, affecting the water supply of 220,000 people.

Following local, national and transnational resistance to the project for the last six years, a couple of investors including Barclays pulled out of the project, and the UK government distanced itself from it. But a change of personnel at the company earlier this year has seen renewed efforts by GCM to push the mine forward. In October 2012, the government of Bangladesh instructed local administrators to cooperate with Asia energy, the Bangladesh subsidiary of GCM’s surveys in Phulbari, attempting to quash opposition by banning gatherings of more than five people. In response, activists and communities against the mine called a two-day general strike, with further protest planned if demands to expel GCM from the country and ban open-cast mining are not met by 31 December. The protest in London was held to express solidarity with the people in Phulbari and to strengthen the power of resistance against the proposed Phulbari Coal Project of GCM Resources.

There is no doubt that the GCM shareholders are left with much confusion by the level of resistance to the mine in both Bangladesh and the UK.

Read further news coverage of the story below:

The Bangladesh Chronicle (31/12/2012): Asia Energy awaits PM’s Phulbari nod

Priyo News (31/12/2012):  Asia Energy awaits PM’s Phulbari nod

Coal Guru (24/12/2012): GCM Resources update on AGM

Coal Guru (24/12/2012): Phulbari deal not in hurry – PM aide

Bdnews24 (22/12/2012):  Phulbari deal not in hurry: PM aide

The Financial Express (21/12/2012):   Complaint filed against GCM over Bangladesh mine

New Age (21/12/2012): Complaint filed against Asia Energy in London over Phulbari Project

London Mining Network (21/12/2012): Coal play: inside the GCM Resources AGM, 20 December 2012

The Daily Sun (21/12/2012): Complaint filed against Asia Energy in London over Phulbari Project

Bdnews24 (21/12/2012): Asia Energy awaits PM’s Phulbari nod

Bdnews24 (21/12/2012): Protests in London over Phulbari mine

Foil Vedenta (20/12/2012)  – From Phulbari to Niyamgiri!

Economic Voice (20/12/2012): Complaint filed against British coal miner GCM over Bangladesh mine

New Internationalist (20/12/2012):  Angry Santa interrupts AGM over Phulbari mine

The Guardian (20/12/2012):  Bangladesh mine activists dump coal outside GCM meeting in London

Daily Mail (UK) (19/12/2012):  Miner GCM hit by protests over Bangladeshi mine that could displace up to 220,000 people
Read more:

These links are also available on our News and Resources Pages.

 

News: Anger and honour outside the GCM Resources AGM

From the London Mining Network website:

Anger and honour outside the GCM Resources AGM

Demonstrators from a number of groups gathered outside GCM Resources’ Annual General Meeting in London yesterday. The event was organized by the UK branch of National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources and Port-Power of Bangladesh (‘UK Committee’) with the support of other organizations.

Demonstrators chanted slogans calling for GCM Resources to leave Bangladesh, and for an end to the Phulbari coal mine project.

Akhter Sobhan Khan Masroor, Member Secretary of the UK Committee welcomed the demonstrators.

Rumana Hashem of Phulbari Solidarity Group called for two minutes silence. She explained that this was ”to honour the three martyrs, Tariqul, Salekin and Al-Amen, who were killed on 26 August 2006 when paramilitary troops opened fire on the massive protest against Asia Energy in Phulbari; and the 121 victims of the latest garment factory tragedy in Bangladesh, who died in late November, because they were denied exit via the main gate when the fire alarm was raised in their factory, which did not have any fire-escape – and were forced to burn to death.”

She added that the silence would also commemorate Catholic priest Bert White, a close friend of some of those involved, who had died in a fire on 20th December in 1999 and who, she said, would have been on the demonstration if he had lived, as he had been very much on the side of the poor, oppressed and dispossessed, and had always opted for the cause of justice and liberation.

She concluded, “As we demonstrate against corruption and human rights violations, we take the spirit of all of the above people in our heart and we demonstrate with the spirit that they are with us on the demo.”

There were speeches by representatives of the groups involved, and a letter (below) to the British Prime Minister was read out. There was anger at the involvement of the British Government in support for GCM Resources’ attempts to push forward the Phulbari project. The letter is to be signed by Bangladeshi organizations and sent to Downing Street.

The Eviction Notice at the end of this posting below was to have been handed over to the company, but the presence of armed police prevented demonstrators from entering the building – it will therefore be delivered to the company by post.

Details and photos of the theatrical events outside the AGM and the police response, can be found athttp://londonminingnetwork.org/2012/12/santa-claus-delivers-coal-to-gcm-board-inside-agm-two-arrests-following-coal-dumped-on-institute-of-directors-front-door/http://www.foilvedanta.org/news/from-phulbari-to-niyamgiri/http://www.newint.org/blog/2012/12/21/phulbari-mine-agm-protest/ andhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/dec/20/bangladesh-mine-activists-coal-gcm.

Letter to the British Prime Minister

20 December 2012

The Rt Hon David Cameron MP

10 Downing Street

London SW1A 2 AA

Dear Prime Minister

Subject: call out to hold Global Coal Resources plc and Asia Energy’s business to account

Seeking to prevent a “humanitarian and ecological catastrophe” in the north-west of Bangladesh, Phulbari, we, the Bangladeshi community in UK and the undersigned activists for environment and human rights have been campaigning against the London-based and AIM-listed multinational company, the Global Coal Management Resources (GCM) Plc, formerly known as Asia Energy, for six years now.

We would like to prevent GCM and its subsidiary Asia Energy from building one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines that would forcibly displace an estimated 130,000 people, and would create crisis of drinking water for as many as 220,000 people, and destroy 14,500 acres of fertile farmland in one of the world’s development countries, Bangladesh, in which nearly half of all people currently live below the nutrition poverty line.

Opposition to GCM’s Phulbari project led to bloodshed in August 2006 when paramilitary forces opened fire on tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators, killing three people including a 14-year-old boy and wounding hundreds.

The potential for violence has remained high in this project ever since August 2006. In the aftermath of the killings on 26th August 2006, a national strike shut the region down for four days and was brought to an end only when the government agreed to permanently throw GCM/ Asia Energy out of the country and ban open pit mine in Bangladesh. Despite violence and intimidation aimed at silencing opponents, some 100,000 people participated in a 250-mile Long March from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, to Phulbari, in October 2010.

The project has generated grave concern at national and international levels including the United Nations and among human rights and environmental organisations worldwide. With their concerns about impending and grave human rights violations unaddressed, seven Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations issued a joint UN press release on 28 February, 2012, calling for an immediate halt to the project on the grounds that it threatens the fundamental human rights of hundreds of thousands of people, including entire villages of indigenous people, and poses an immediate threat to safety and standards of living.

The incident was reported to British parliament on several occasions and three submissions, including Rumana Hashem’s eye witness on the violation of human rights in Phulbari by Asia Energy, were made to the Joint Committee for Human Rights in 2009. But the UK government has failed to hold GCM’s business to account. Instead they favoured the corrupted businessmen by publishing misleading response from the investors of GCM. British MP John McDonell recently (28 Nov, 2012) pointed out, ‘what is interesting is that the company is one of those that have been promoted by this Government, as it was by the previous Government. Despite receiving a series of freedom of information requests recently, the Government have refused to provide information about their relationship with the company and about the support they have given it and its operation in Bangladesh. In its response, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office explains it will not provide the information.’

The situation in Phulbari has become very tense and volatile since 14 October 2012, when the Government of Bangladesh (GoB), under heavy pressure of the lobbyists for GCM, approved permission for survey to be conducted in Phulbari for the proposed coal project. The GoB wrongly instructed local officials and police to cooperate with Asia Energy, the Bangladesh subsidiary of GCM, in carrying out surveys in the area.  We view this as a very ominous development, and it is what catalyzed the demonstration last month in defiance of a colonial era ban 144 – slapped in place in an avert to prevent protest.

A 48 – hour general strike called by the National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources and Port-Power in Bangladesh halted trains, blockaded highways, and closed all shops and educational institutions in Phulbari on 22-23 Nov 2012. Strike was halted only when govt. officials agreed to speak with higher ups to press demands of the National Committee for fulfilment of the 6-point Phulbari Agreement, which includes permanently expelling GCM from Bangladesh and nationwide ban on open-pit mining, and press their demand for withdrawal of the Home Ministry circular.  National Committee has promised tougher nation-wide action if their demands are not fulfilled by 31 Dec.

Despite huge protests and the tense situation in Phulbari, GCM Resources plc is aggressively moving on to implement this immense open pit coal mine. Financed by global hedge fund and banks including UBS, Credit Suisse, LR Global, and Argos Greater Europe Funds, the company claims that they have a valid contract for coal extraction in Phulbari, while the Energy Advisor of Bangladesh has repeatedly denounced this claim.

In this situation, and as part of National Committee’s commitment to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources and Port-Power in Bangladesh, the Committee in UK, in conjunction with Phulbari Solidarity Group, London Mining Network, Corporate Watch, Climate Justice Collective, held a demo outside the Annual General meeting of GCM, at 10:00am at the Institute of Directors, 116-123 Pall Mall London, Greater London SW1Y 5ED. Several international human rights and environmental organisations including Agitartworks, Foil Vedanta, South Asian Solidarity Group, the Socialist Party in UK, World Development Movement, Udichi Shilpi Gosthi, UK, and Nari Diganta – a progressive women’s organisation based in Tower Hamlet, have expressed full solidarity to the Committee’s decision to hold the demo and to block GCM.

We, the Bangladeshi community in London and the transnational activists for environment and human rights, are determined to throw GCM Resources and Asia Energy out of Bangladesh. Today, in our demo, herein we seek to deliver the message to the investors of GCM. We seek to deliver the final words from Phulbari to the investors of GCM/Asia Energy that they must stop their aggression in Phulbari. There is no chance for them to get back to Phulbari or any other part of Bangladesh for coal in future.

We believe that the Government of UK will respect and promote our decision. We call upon the Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, to instruct his administration to take necessary steps to hold GCM’s business to account. We demand that the Government of UK tells GCM to end its unethical business in Bangladesh, and ensures that no other UK businessman demonstrates aggression towards open pit mine in Phulbari and Bangladesh.

Department of Housing

Eviction Notice

We regret to inform you that your home has been taken over for the coal reserve found underground

Effective Immediately

If you do not leave now, you will be beaten, tear-gassed and fired upon. If you die, your family should be happy for not obstructing the path of our profit-making spree.

This may sound harsh, but believe it or not, this had happened in the green countryside of north-west Bangladesh. A London-based and AIM-listed company, GCM Resources plc, formerly known as Asia Energy, financed by global hedge funds and banks including UBS, Credit Suisse, LR Global and Argos Greater Europe Fund, is aggressively moving on to displace an estimated 130,000 people from a densely populated and fertile location, called Phulbari, in Bangladesh for extracting coal that they propose to export for their profit.  They will destroy trees, businesses, homes, barns, boundary walls, schools, health facilities, mosques, temples, churches and archaeological sites. They want to displace over 50, 000 indigenous communities who were peacefully living in the region but now are living threats of eviction. People in Phulbari are tremendously resisting these threats. They were brutally repressed on 26th August 2006; when 3 of the protestors were killed and over 200 were injured.

People from Phulbari need your solidarity!  Please join the blockade against the plunderers at GCM and write to:  GCM Resources plc, Level 2, Foxglove House, 166 – 168 Piccadilly W1J 9EF

From: Department of Housing (On behalf of People of Phulbari, Bangladesh)

TO: GCM RESOURCES  plc.

Eviction Notice

We regret to inform you that your office in Bangladesh has been taken over:  Effective Immediately

On behalf of the people in Phulbari, Bangladesh, we serve you this eviction notice to leave our country at once. You have been charged with provocation to violence, corruption, political manoeuvring, and abusive practices to get a deal that is disastrous for people, for environment, and for our national interest. You are unexpected in Phulbari. You have been expelled from Phulbari. You have been expelled from Bangladesh.

WE DO NOT WANT GCM RESOURCES PLC IN PHULBARI!!  WE DO NOT LET GCM RESOURCES IN BANGLADESH!!

WE SHALL PROTECT OUR RESOURCES WITH OUR LIVES!!

NO OPEN PIT MINE IN BANGLADESH! NO DESTRUCTION OF 80% FERTILE LAND IN PHULBARI!

NO FOREIGN COMPANY! NO EXPORT!

GCM, GO AWAY RIGHT NOW! OUR LAND OUR RIGHT, GET OFF NOW!! GCM, YOU HAVE BEEN EVICTED!!!

London mining Network Reports on GCM AGM

Coal play: inside the GCM Resources AGM, 20 December 2012

 

Read the full report on the London Mining network website at:  http://londonminingnetwork.org/2012/12/coal-play-inside-the-gcm-resources-agm-20-december-2012/

Report and reflection by Richard Solly, London Mining Network

Yesterday was nearly the shortest day, and the weather in London was heavy, grey and wet, and inside the GCM Resources AGM everyone felt gloomy.

Company Chairman Gerard Holden had a cold, but hoped his voice would hold out till the end of the meeting. A number of shareholders clearly felt gloomy about the prospects of the company ever getting permission from the Government of Bangladesh to go ahead with its proposed Phulbari coal mine, and were worried that there were things the company was not telling them. Others – people from London Mining Network, World Development Movement and our friends – felt gloomy about what would happen if the mine does go ahead.

The only bit of seasonal cheer was delivered right at the end, when Father Christmas arrived, courtesy (apparently) of the Climate Justice Collective – but more of that in the report below.

Director Steve Dattels, up for re-election, was not there. That may have been wise, given the questions raised by the continuing scandal in Namibia over the sale of assets by Uramin, another company that Mr Dattels was involved with. But nobody mentioned that.

There was plenty of criticism of the company, however, over the potential impacts of the Phulbari mine. And the answers given by both Gerard Holden and Executive Director Gary Lye painted a picture of paradise on earth. If only the pesky locals and their political allies would wise up, accept the enlightened western vision of progress and drop their absurd objections to the mining project, everything would be better for everyone – more houses, more water, more crops, more electricity, more jobs, more money.

What they seemed unwilling to address was what happens if, despite the fact that the company has explained the supposed merits of the project, local people still don’t want it – partly because they don’t believe the company’s assurances (and why should they, given the track record of the mining industry elsewhere?) and partly because they feel an attachment to their land and way of life (and why shouldn’t they?) and don’t want them to disappear down an enormous hole in the ground. And local people, in enormous numbers, have been making clear for years that they don’t want the project. What part of “No” does GCM not understand? To date, local people’s expressions of dissent have been met by armed repression by State forces. Does GCM really want to press ahead with this project at the cost of continued violence? Why not just cut their losses and leave?

The full works: report and commentary on what went on at the AGM

Reportage below is in normal type; commentary in italics.

After a brief introduction, during which he suggested that general questions be left until the end of the meeting, Gerard Holden called for a vote to accept the company’s Annual Report and Accounts. I pointed out that shareholders could hardly be expected to vote on the report without having a chance to ask questions on it. So Mr Holden called for questions.

I asked about access to water. I said that Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, has stated that “Access to safe drinking water for some 220,000 people is at stake,” at Phulbari. The water table may be lowered by 15-25 metres over the life span of the mine over an area extending some kilometres beyond the mine site. Page 4 of the company’s Annual Report, Poised to Deliver, says that “overall water quality and availability for people in the affected area will be improved.” I asked the company to explain how.

Gerard Holden said that the mine will impact on the water table and that the company had done a lot of work in its feasibility study about water table flows. He said that you get a cone depression around an open pit. The mitigation in the company’s plan is to move water so that people continue to have access to it for drinking, irrigation and other uses. In fact, the water table around the mine will be depressed for more than six miles beyond the mine’s footprint, affecting more than 190 square miles. The plan includes diverting the Khari Pul and Namissa rivers, as well as dredging of the Pussur River to allow for coal transport. Details on Water Management on GCM website include this: “To ensure that ground water levels are not unduly affected in the surrounding areas, some of this water is injected into the ground at a distance from the mine.”

Gerard Holden said that the mine site is in an aquifer running from the Himalayas to the coast. This is similar to the situation around Cologne in German, so GCM sought advice from a mining company there on management and modelling of water flows. The German company, RWE Power International, is  the water consultant for the project (the source for this is ‘International Advisers and Consultants’ for the project on GCM’s website.

Gerard Holden said that the UN Special Rapporteur had drawn her information from the public domain and had excluded information based on fact, engineering or modelling. In fact, information was drawn from the Final 2006 Report of the Expert Committee formed by the Government of Bangladesh to assess the proposed project.GCM had offered this information and it had been declined. The UN Rapporteurs had not visited the site. Executive Director Gary Lye added that the UN had not checked the facts and that the company had given them the water management plan. It would be necessary to extract water from the mine pit but GCM would deliver much of this water to the nearby township as tap water. At present, people have to pump water out of the ground but do not have electricity for pumping. Experts are concerned about the risk of desertification in northwest Bangladesh.  Roughly 30% of the tube wells used to access water are already inoperable during the dry season as a result of declining groundwater resources and nearly half of all people in Phulbari report that they do not currently have enough water to meet their needs.

Gerard Holden said that GCM will deliver water for domestic, agricultural and industrial use. One third of the water withdrawn from the pit will go back into the ground. The mine will be surrounded by bore holes and about one third of the water extracted from the pit will go back into the ground, ensuring more water is available in the areas where it is reinserted, and maintaining the water supply.

Gerard Holden said that each time he visits Phulbari he is troubled by the poverty of the people who lack sewerage and reliable clean water supplies. Human waste is left on the surface in such a way as it can pollute ground water. GCM is offering a proper water and sewerage system, enhancing water quality and availability. (It also intends to leave a toxic lake (the former pit) that is likely to be contaminated by known carcinogens and toxic heavy metals including mercury, lead, and arsenic.)

Kirsty Wright, of World Development Movement, asked: “Are the investors aware of the OECD complaint that World Development Movement and International Accountability Project jointly submitted to the UK National Contact Point prior to this AGM? Are they aware of the concerns raised by John McDonnell MP in Parliament on 28 November, when he condemned GCM Resources and the Phulbari project as particularly egregious examples of “destructive,” “outrageous” and “shocking” mining company practices, and noted that they are damaging the UK’s reputation abroad? He called upon the UK Government to hold the company to account. Together with the concerns raised by the UN panel of experts on 28 February, investors must surely be aware that the reputation of this company is in serious danger. Could you comment?”

Gerard Holden was dismissive. The company was aware of the criticisms of various groups but these groups refused to engage with the company to discuss these concerns. John McDonnell MP had not bothered to get the company’s side of the story.

Rose Collins, an independent shareholder who said that she was from Guyana, said that water is a problem in all tropical areas and asked whether the mine would create problems of arsenic contamination.

Gary Lye replied that water in the area had been tested by the company’s experts and that there is no arsenic in the water in that part of Bangladesh. He suggested that the potential for the mine creating an arsenic contamination problem was low.

Gerard Holden added that the company had done a “massive suite of tests” on air and water quality and that one of their plans was to distribute water if the monsoon fails. Of course, monsoon failure may become ever more likely as climate change deepens – climate change for which the burning of coal bears a disproportionate responsibility.

Ruth London asked about food security for displaced families. The Phulbari area is very fertile and not subject to flooding. At least 40,000 people will be removed from their land and will not receive land in compensation. She asked about the impacts on nutrition and health, on carers – mostly women – for those who became sick, and about funeral costs and compensation for grieving families. Given the concerns expressed by the UN Rapporteurs and by local people, and given the wider ranging impacts on food stocks in Bangladesh and on climate change, which particularly affects Bangladesh’s low lying flooded areas, how could the company persist with its plans?

Gerard Holden replied that a certain amount of land would indeed be permanently removed from use as a result of the project but that other land would be rehabilitated. The waste dump would be rehabilitated and forested. The plan is to have a continuous process of rehabilitation. The German mining company in Cologne has allowed the quality of the land to be improved, leading to better crop yields. Local people around Phulbari do not have decent fertiliser or seed quality, so GCM will improve them and thus enable an extra crop-growing season. This would allow local people to produce more food in a more refined way, partly by giving them much more water.

Ruth said that the directors of GCM might feel unhappy if their own homes were to be continually rehabilitated and they themselves were forcibly removed. She said that local people do not necessarily have the same view of what is good for them and their land as the company has.

Rose Collins intervened at this point. She said she hoped the company would be considerate. US companies had dug out bauxite in Guyana, destroyed forests and left people with nothing but great holes in the ground.

Gerard Holden replied that companies could not behave that way any longer. GCM was not looking to destroy Phulbari but would invest hundreds of millions of dollars to build mosques, community centres and other facilities. He did not mention the fact that GCM intends to destroy or move 138 mosques, temples and churches, 692 graveyards, and 2 ancient archaeological sites.

Ruth expressed doubt that this would actually occur, given the record of other such mining projects.

Gerard Holden replied that the company knows what it is doing. Roger Moody, who in 2008 made a study of the mine’s potential impacts, and the Government of Bangladesh’s Expert Committee, disagree – both expressed concerns about the company’s complete lack of prior experience with mining as a company (individual board members have experience but GCM does not). Among other things, said Mr Holden, the company would create forest land by planting hard wood, soft wood and fruit trees. Gary Lye added that the company’s resettlement plan is not their own. He said that the IFC guidelines include consultation. He said that you build consultation from the ground up. The details of people’s choices are built into the plan Page 4 of the Annual Report talks about the Resettlement Plan, which is dynamic and based on people’s wishes. He said that about one third of the people in the town live in the eastern part of the town and want compensation so that they can leave – although, he added, international standards mean that the company is supposed to monitor their wellbeing. Two thirds of the current town’s inhabitants want to move to the new town. Of the rural families, one quarter want to give up farming and go, because production costs mean they cannot make a reasonable living any more. Most of the farmers are sharecroppers and have to give part of their income to the landowner. GCM will have income generating programmes and will train people and offer preferential employment.

Jake Colman asked about Indigenous Peoples’ rights. He said: “Those likely to be affected include entire villages of Santal, Munda, Mahili and Pahan Indigenous Peoples. UN Special Rapporteurs Raquel Rolnik (who deals with housing) and James Anaya (who deals with Indigenous Peoples) said in February that “Displacement on this scale, particularly of indigenous peoples, is unacceptable without the indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent, and poses an immediate threat to safety and standards of living.” Indigenous communities have been protesting against the mine, so GCM clearly does not have their consent. How can you justify pressing ahead with this project in the light of this?”

Gerard Holden said that a number of villages in the area are inhabited by “’Indigenous Peoples’ in inverted commas.” He said that the people in these villages are visibly different from the majority of the population but that they are not indigenous to the area, having been pushed into it from elsewhere, and they are very poor. The Government of Bangladesh denies that there are Indigenous Peoples in the country. The Bangladesh Supreme Court has issued a ‘Show Cause’ notice to the Government to explain how it reached such a conclusion. By using the term ‘in inverted commas’, the Chairman associated himself with the Government view – a view strenuously challenged by Indigenous Peoples’ organisations in Bangladesh. The consultant who did the anthropological research for the Indigenous Peoples’ Development Plan said that they trace their ancestry in the region back 5,000 years.

Mr Holden said that GCM had done a lot in its Environmental and Social Impact Assessment to find out what the people want and to protect their livelihoods. He said that the company comes from the industry perspective of accepting Free Prior Informed Consultation but does not believe in the need for Free Prior Informed Consent, as this could mean that one individual could hold everyone else to ransom. This shows both a complete misunderstanding of the varied ways in which different Indigenous Peoples discuss and decide on matters of concern, and a rejection of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which explicitly recognises Indigenous Peoples right to Free, Prior Informed Consent, rather than consultation. The right to consent does recognise Indigenous Peoples’ right, as Peoples, to say no to development projects on their land. It does not give such a right to individual members of an Indigenous People. 

Mr Holden said that the company knew all about the conflicts in communities – who does not like whom, about family disputes back at least a hundred years. I found this comment rather sinister: why does the company have such detailed knowledge of Indigenous communities’ internal dynamics, and what does it intend to use it for?

Gary Lye added that the company believes that there are 2300 indigenous peoples in the project area, mostly in the south eastern part of it, so they will not be affected for many years. These people want to move closer to the Roman Catholic mission to the south east of them. He said that GCM takes the plight of less advantaged people very seriously. The company’s Indigenous Peoples Development Plan has been given to activist groups in Bangladesh. The company is on top of looking after these people through consultation.

Gary Lye went on to say that there are landless people in the area and that the company will look after them as if they had land title (meaning that both those with and without title will become landless.  The company’s Draft Resettlement Plan  baldly states that “Large tracts of cultivation land will be acquired and most  households will become landless.”) Mr Lye said that there is a lot of scaremongering. Landless people work mostly in the timber industry. A lot of propaganda has been spread to cause these people fear. The company recognises that landless people live there, that many are indigenous people, and that they therefore feel twice threatened. But the company, he said, will improve their lives.

Gerard Holden said that people will be compensated with money, housing and new crop allocations. Nobody will be worse off as a result of the company’s plans.

Jake said that the company was judging by its own standards. Communities would be broken up and the ecology affected. Local people may not agree that this is an improvement.

Gerard Holden said that the company had gone to a great deal of trouble to find out what each family wants and to fulfil it. The mine is a long-term project and the company does not want people being significantly unhappy. He asked why the company would wish to do that.

Jake said that the company’s bottom line was profit. Gerard Holden responded that this was not the company’s only goal, as it had other obligations as well.

The Chairman then brought questions on the Annual report to a close and moved to the resolutions, all of which were passed. Nobody asked any questions or offered any comments. The Chairman then closed the formal part of the meeting. He then read out the following statement.

“As detailed in the Company’s 2012 Annual Report, we have been pursuing approval of the Phulbari Coal Project by engaging directly with the Government of Bangladesh as well as developing and enhancing relations with the local community.

“Over the last nine months we have met with all the appropriate Government officials and potential coal customers in Bangladesh and are currently seeking an audience with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her capacity as Minister for Power, Energy and Natural Resources.

“In the Dinajpur region, where Phulbari is located, the Company continues to open up new channels of communication with the local community. Focus group discussions and agriculture improvement workshops with farmers have taken place across the Project area, and surveys are nearing completion with the support of both the local administration and the Home Ministry.  We are committed to carrying out meaningful, culturally appropriate consultation with potentially affected people prior to development of the Project.

“We are also committed to developing the Project to the highest international and national environmental and social standards.  To that end we engaged international consultants Environmental Resource Management to review the Project’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment in light of the new performance standards released by the International Finance Corporation. Those “gaps” identified will be addressed in the coming months.

“We understand from press reports today that complaints have been made about the development of the Phulbari Project to the OECD.  We have not received any OECD complaint and this is the first we have heard of it.  It is therefore hard to comment on the substance of this allegation. We stated at our AGM last year that we were available to meet with any group interested in a constructive dialogue and to discuss their concern but no group has taken us up on this offer.  We would therefore welcome the opportunity this process would provide to discuss the project and respond to the allegations and incorrect information being circulated.

“We are committed to developing the project and managing its social and environmental impacts to the highest international standards. Not only will the project address Bangladesh’s energy needs, it will also deliver significant benefits for the local community.  These include an estimated 17,000 new jobs, improved living conditions and livelihoods for project affected people with approximately 40,000 progressively resettled as the mine develops (as opposed to the figure of 222,000 suggested); abundant high quality water for irrigation and drinking, and expected increased agricultural production from the excavated land which will be progressively rehabilitated.

“Over the last 12 months the Company’s financial resources have been significantly impacted by the fall in share prices of the investments held, in line with other junior mining companies. However we continue to have sufficient resources for the foreseeable future.  GCM is in discussions to obtain further equity funding while management are undertaking a thorough review of operating costs.

“The share price of GCM has fallen substantially since the last Annual General Meeting and we are aware of the frustration felt by shareholders.  We believe the fall in share price can mainly be attributed to the sale of shares by a large investor who are rebalancing their portfolio, and certainly does not reflect the progress we feel has been made in pursuing approval.

“A developed Phulbari Coal Project in a responsible and sustainable way will generate the most benefit for shareholders, for the local Phulbari community and for the country.  Accordingly, our aim is to receive Project approval and then to commence mine development and the associated community programmes as soon as possible.”

He then invited general questions.

One shareholder asked him if the company would get project approval before the next election in Bangladesh. Gerard Holden said it would. The shareholder asked what had changed in Bangladesh to give him this confidence. Gerard Holden said that communication with members of the Government of Bangladesh had improved significantly over the past two months.

The shareholder said that the press in Bangladesh is controlled by Anu Muhammad’s group. The company kept inviting them to come to them to enter into dialogue, but would it not be better to go to the group and dialogue with them?

Gerard Holden replied that the media in Bangladesh is controlled by a number of different factions. Gary Lye and his team have spent a huge amount of time talking to the media but some editors would never change their views. Gary has often been on local television talking about how the Phulbari project will impact positively on Bangladesh. The Home Minister and others have been very supportive of the project.

The shareholder asked if there had been an open commitment from the Prime Minister or other ministers that the project would go forward.

Gerard Holden answered that the Prime Minister and other ministers had not stopped the project. He said that the Energy Advisor has his own agenda and that GCM “would not play his game.” He had brought the country to its knees. GCM is working around the Energy Advisor in many ways. He is an advisor, not a minister. He is under huge pressure for what he has done with rental power stations. He may be forced to resign because people do not have electricity.

A shareholder said that the Chairman seemed very confident that the company would get project approval before the election. In an election year, something which has a lot of political opposition would be a risk for the party in government to approve prior to an election. He asked how much cash the company had, and how long it could continue without raising more cash.

Gerard Holden said that the company had cash up to June 2014, six months after the next election. The company is in discussion with people who may bring new cash to the project. He said he could not go into further detail.

The shareholder asked again whether the company could be confident that it would get approval before the election. Gerard Holden said that the company was working flat out to get approval but that it relies on the Prime Minister. He said that he could not give specific reasons why he was confident.

The shareholder said that shareholders need more information than this. He said there had been a void in communication with shareholders over the past year.

Gerard Holden said that he could not put out rumours until the scheme of development had been signed off.

The shareholder said, “So you are confident that there will be approval before the election?”

Gerard Holden replied that the company is working very hard to get project approval before the election and that the shareholders would be the first to know once it had been achieved.

Another shareholder said that there was a lot of material in the press about the Government’s coal policy. The Government wanted further studies on the water table and had apparently hired the same company that had done the original study for GCM.

Gary Lye said that the Government’s Technical Committee had released its report to the media. The Committee works within the Energy Ministry and the report has not been handed over. Underground mining is not appropriate at Phulbari. Barapukuria is struggling and unsafe. It produces less than one million tonnes of coal a year and there is ground subsidence. The management at Barapukuria would love to do open pit mining. They know that they have to do studies. They have engaged technical experts to undertake a water modelling study, but the experts employed are good on flooding issues and not on ground water studies. The Government is doing what it must do. Under Bangladeshi law, the project proponent must do studies, produce a report and wait for a decision. That is what GCM has done.

The shareholder said that press reports had spoken of the Chinese company managing Barapukuria wanting to mine at Phulbari.

Gary Lye said that there was a lot of media hype about this. One part of the Energy Ministry would like to get into mining and would like Phulbari, but nobody had approached GCM about this.

Rose Collins asked if the company had any thoughts about renewables. She had travelled through Germany and was amazed at their use of renewables.

Gerard Holden said that the German Government had brought in new laws which increased everybody’s electricity bills to pay for the rollout of solar energy. This caused chaos for people in the cloudy parts of Germany. It was funded by consumers.

Rose asked if the Board had any plans to use renewables.

Gerard Holden said that some mining companies have put solar in place to power their operations but that this would take up even more land if they were to do it at Phulbari. GCM had thought about using both wind and solar for electricity generation for the mine.

Another shareholder stood up and congratulated the company for all that it was doing and said that the company was about to receive a reward from someone who needed no introduction. At this point, a man dressed up as Father Christmas burst in to the room through a door behind the table at which the Board was sitting and asked the Board whether or not they had been naughty. Suggesting that in fact they had been, because of the potential impact of their plans at Phulbari, he emptied a small sack of coal over the table at which they were sitting.

The room then became quite active and it became difficult to note all that was being said. Security personnel moved swiftly to expel Father Christmas. Several shareholders stood up and confronted the shareholder who had introduced the award, accusing him of not listening to the company and not knowing what he was talking about. He responded by saying that the company’s plans at Phulbari were outrageous. The Board stood up and some began to leave the room. The meeting ended in chaos.

 

GCM AGM 2012: From Phulbari to Niyamgiri!

From the Foil Vedenta website at:  http://www.foilvedanta.org/news/from-phulbari-to-niyamgiri/

From Phulbari to Niyamgiri!

Activists from Foil Vedanta joined the Bangladeshi community and other organisations today at the AGM of GCM Resources – the UK based mining company who want to displace 220,000 people for a giant open cast coal mine in Phulbari, Bangladesh. As 40 protesters shouted slogans outside the Institute of Directors (IoD) where the AGM was being held, another group of activists blocked the entrance to the building by dumping coal in the doorway.  Inside the AGM one activist dressed as Santa gave company chairman Gerard Howell a present of a stocking of coal.

Two activists from group Agitartworks dressed as GCM Resources executives kicked over a makeshift hut and covered a woman in coal as part of a street theatre outside the door. Police arrested them for breach of the peace but released them shortly after the demonstration.

Police push an activist away from dumping coal on a woman as part of a street theatre. They believed they really were GCM execs!

At the same time inside the AGM an activist dressed as santa from Climate Justice Collective gave a stocking full of coal to the company chairman saying ‘you’ve been naughty this year’. The meeting was totally disrupted by activists from the Bangladeshi community and other organisations including World Development Movement and London Mining Network asking questions about the highly contentious Phulbari project. Foil Vedanta members gave speeches calling for solidarity between movements against mining companies and other corporations looting South Asia’s resources while benefitting from a cloak of London respectability.

In 2006 three people were killed and over 200 injured when paramilitary troops fired on a protest of some 80,000 demonstrators in Phulbari. If completed, it has been estimated that the project would destroy the homes, lands, and water sources of as many as 220,000 people, and forcibly evict an estimated 130,000 people.

Activist dressed as GCM executives is arrested as demonstration rages

Miner GCM Resources is the subject of a complaint to the Organisation for Co-operation and Development over the controversial coal mine. Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the company also requested help to push the project forward from UK Trade & Investment.

Seven Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations issued a joint UN press release on 28 February, 2012, calling for an immediate halt to the project on the grounds that it threatens the fundamental human rights of hundreds of thousands of people, including entire villages of indigenous people, and poses “an immediate threat to safety and standards of living.” ??GCM Resources plc, an AIM-listed UK-based multinational company, is moving to implement the project despite the human rights and environmental concerns that have been raised.

Coal covered hands of arrested activist

The situation in Phulbari has been volatile since 22 Nov, 2012 when a 48 hour general strike halted trains, blockaded highways, and closed all shops, educational institutions etc. National press in Bangladesh reported that security forces including about 500 police, Rapid Action Battalion forces (denounced as “a death squad” by Human Rights Watch), and members of the Bangladeshi border guard have been deployed to Phulbari.

We declare solidarity with those affected and fighting in Bangladesh. From Niyamgiri to Phulbari – we will not allow these companies to loot precious lands in the name of development!!!

A GCM shareholder swears defiantly at the demonstration

 

 Police stand in coal covered doorway