Govt says ‘no’ to open-pit mine in Bangladesh

Another day of victory for Phulbari, another day of loss for Global Coal Management

On Sunday, 23 August, 2015 Bangladesh’s state minister for energy and mineral resources stated that there is no hope for any mining company to extract coal from the coal deposits of Northwest Bangladesh in Phulbari. In a published report yesterday, the country’s national daily newspapers reported the news widely. We have reproduced a detailed report by the staff correspondent of New Age below.

DSCF7409

The state minister for power, energy and mineral resources, Nasrul Hamid, on Sunday said that the government was not interested to extract coal from the deposits in the north Bengal region using open-pit method.
‘We have decided not to extract coal right now… We must consider high density of population and the agro-based economy of the mining area,’ he said while addressing as the chief guest a seminar on ‘Energy Challenges to Vision 2030.’ The discussion was organized by weekly Energy and Power magazine.
Instead, the government is planning to use imported coal to run large power plants to be installed with a combined generation capacity of about 20,000 MW by 2030, he said. Nasrul’s remark came three days ahead of August 26, the 9th anniversary of the killing of protesters who had opposed in 2006 a move for open pit mining by London-based Asia Energy company at Phulbari of Dinajpur.
The then Bangladesh Rifles men had opened fire on a peaceful rally and killed at least three people. On that day, police, RAB and BDR indiscriminately had beaten people, injuring over 200 children, men and women who attended that peaceful rally and demanded cancellation of the project.
The inhabitants feared it could destroy the underground water aquifer, biodiversity, and agriculture of the region.
The government, under the Power System Master Plan-2010, had contemplated to exploit coal through open-pit method from two coal deposits located at Phulbari and Barapukuria of Dinajpur to run power plants with total capacities of 11,000 MW. The plan, however, was dropped from the revised PSMP in 2015.
Energy expert and a professor at Geology Department of Dhaka University Badrul Imam said that it would not be fair to compare the socio-economic and geological realities of Dinajpur with any location in Australia, Germany or even in West Bengal while mining coal, using open-pit method.
He said that the top two leaders of Awami League and BNP had made a commitment to the people of Phulbari that they would not allow such method in future. At the seminar, a number of open-pit campaigners, however, spoke in favour of open-pit method to ensure supply of primary fuel.
Energy expert Khandkar Saleque Sufi and M Tamim presented two papers addressing the potential crisis of energy sector, particularly while ensuring supply of primary fuels to power stations, industries, households and transport sector.
At the seminar, speakers along with Sufi and Tamim argued that the country was going to be entirely dependent on imports of primary fuel as the reserve of natural gas was depleting. Tamim also said that there was a huge disparity in electricity consumption by the rural and urban people.
Tamim showed that the rural people, who constitute 66 per cent of the total population, consume 31 per cent of electricity with only one per cent growth while the urban people, who represent 34 per cent of the population, consume 69 per cent of electricity with four per cent yearly growth.

See more at: http://newagebd.net/150774/govt-says-no-to-open-pit-mine/#sthash.3l1YnBcw.3tVplMM4.dpuf

Or visit: http://newagebd.net/150774/govt-says-no-to-open-pit-mine/#sthash.3l1YnBcw.3tVplMM4.dpbs

Massive human chain against open-pit mine, GCM’s consultant , RWE, in Germany

On Saturday, 25 April, A mass action held in Germany, with over 6000 people coming together to create a 7.5 km human chain that passed through deserted villages in western Germany’s Rhineland to the open cast Garzweiler coal mine owned by  the German utility company RWE.

The chain is to protest RWE’s planned expansion of the mine and passed through  “almost deserted villages” that “have gradually become ghost villages as residents have been bought out and communities broken down by utility company RWE.”

RWE was Contracted by GCM as an advisor for the Phulbari Coal Mine throughout project implementation? This very same RWE mine has been promoted in Bangladesh as a model for how open pit mining can purportedly be done in a socially and environmentally responsible way, and there was some controversy generated by sponsored trips for key decision-makers in Bangladesh to travel to Germany and visit the mine.  At the time, we noted that claims promoting the mine and RWE as “models” for Bangladesh were contradicted by protests against the impacts of the company’s mining operations in Germany and Belgium.

Read detailed report with photos and video clip here: http://350.org/humanchain/

DSCF7409

The Global System for Holding Corporations to Account Is in Need of Serious Reform

Christine Haigh wrote about how UK’s National Contact Point failed to hold corporations responsible for unethical business in Bangladesh and elsewhere

Article is Reproduced from The Guardian Global Development Professional Network 

    Bangladeshi community and climate change activists protest against the outcome of OECD complaint about Phulbari coal mine. Blockade and action outside GCM's AGM in December 2014. Photo: Golam Rabbani

Bangladeshi community and climate change activists protest against the outcome of OECD complaint about Phulbari coal mine. Blockade and action outside GCM’s AGM in December 2014. Photo: Golam Rabbani

A British company plans to build a huge coal mine, stating in its plans that it says will displace more than 40,000 people. It will destroy over 14,000 acres of land in Bangladesh’s most fertile agricultural region Phulbari in the north west, where most people have land-based livelihoods. Unsurprisingly, local people oppose the plans to destroy the landscape and homes. For over a decade now they have tried in their thousands to prevent the coming of the mine. Three have died when the Bangladeshi paramilitary were sent into confront protesters, and many more have been injured.

To date, these protests, supported by international condemnation from UN human rights experts and NGOs such as International Accountability Project (IAP) and Global Justice Now (GJN), have prevented the mine being built. But London-listed mining company GCM Resources continues to push for their mine.

And so, in 2012, concerned at renewed efforts by GCM to progress the project, IAP and GJN decided to make use of one of the very few mechanisms available to hold corporations to account for their activities overseas by filing a complaint against the company to the National Contact Point (NCP) under the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises.

Read the story in detail here : http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/feb/10/the-global-system-for-holding-corporations-to-account-is-in-need-of-serious-reform

Grand rally  of locals in Phulbari town on 27 December 2014. Photo credit: Kallol Mustafa

Grand rally of locals in Phulbari town on 27 December 2014. Photo credit: Kallol Mustafa

Failing to hold their businessman to account, Rolf Nieuwenkamp, the chair of the OECD working party on responsible business conduct, has done a response piece to Christine Haigh‘s above article about the failure of the OECD process.

The partial and dodgy response can be accessed from: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/feb/24/from-land-grabs-to-anti-union-behaviour-businesses-are-increasingly-being-held-accountable

Phulbari Activists have responded to Rolf Nieuwenkamp’s article in their comments as embedded below .

    Phulbai actvists and protesters against OECD assessment pledged that GCM will be de-listed from London AIM soon. Photo: Stephen Vince

Phulbai actvists and protesters against OECD assessment pledged that GCM will be de-listed from London AIM soon. Photo: Stephen Vince

Read Comments on Rolf Nieuwenkamp’s response:

ritasueandbob

24 Feb 2015 14:54

  • 1 2

When are going to make western companies liable for labour abuses of their suppliers? And directors of western companies personally responsible that certain standards are maintained by their supplier chain?

If directors face prison for a negligent factory fire killing hundreds that should encourage a better commitment to supplier standards.

OneTop

25 Feb 2015 1:26

  • 2 3

From land grabs to anti union behaviour, businesses are increasingly being held accountable

That’s a hilarious joke given that the parties to the TPP and TTIP are about to grant corporations sovereignty, placing their activities above the law. Not to mention the massive frauds and illegal activities carried out by the largest banks.

Trans-Pacific Partnership is a “neoliberal assault”


Critics score against extreme corporate rights in TTIP, but must not be fooled by the Commission’s tricks

hugin1

25 Feb 2015 9:09

  • 0 1

So there are progress in the developing countries; great…. cause for celebration even if big business hardly act exemplary just yet. But in Europe and the US big business increasingly do as they please. There’s no accountability as the political level has been bought through lobbying and financing of career politicians. Only the concern (I wouldn’t even call it fear) that whistle-blowers can trigger the occasional headline acts as a mild deterrent. It’s not like big business has suddenly acquired a moral compass……. the massive, institutionalized tax evasion we know they are all engaged in is evidence to the contrary.

ID8041069

27 Feb 2015 8:58

  • 0 1

Okay, Mr Professor Rolf Nieuwenkamp, as you make me laugh out so loud by reading your hilarious rumbling to Christine Haigh’s polite opinion piece, I think that it is necessary to make a few comments in my own language to your rumbling – what I found not only a poor response but utter lies about the ill process of your NCP. I am sure you are aware that you rumbling failed to respond to the ever constructive article by Christine Haigh, who kindly wrote about us- the people from Phulbari. I wish to add my few comments for other readers who may not know what a hypocritical response it is, and who may not know how inhuman the UK NCP could appear to certain communities and groups of people in the far south who are seen as uncivilized to many Professors like you who serve organisations like the Global Coal Resources Plc.

Note that I am one of those survivors who was nearly killed by your poisonous corporations, those ill-motivated and corrupted businessmen of Britain whom you and your hypocrite board have encouraged to go back to Phulbari to ruin my homeland. You and your colleagues have given a self contradictory assessment to the killer company who killed three people in Phulbari in front of my eyes. Instead of holding them to account, your NCP has decided to publish an ill-assessment, clearly suggesting that the company should go back to Phulbari to consult the local people so that they could destroy our people’s houses, pollute our water sources, and damage our greens and environment in the name of development and fossil fuel. The report which you have published on 20 November 2014, overlapping the OECD process and denying the fact that GCM has already violated human rights in Phulbari, is not only a failure but denial to humanity. Your report has led to fresh violence in a town what was known as Bangladesh’s most peaceful locality. I am the woman who have witnessed both the killing of our people in Phulbari and the betrayal of the NCP to us throughout the OECD process. So please bear with me I have much to say about your failures and inhumanity.

ID8041069

27 Feb 2015 9:45

  • 0 1

In your rumbling, you have failed to reference to the cases brought up in 10 February piece by Christine Haigh, and this indeed side-steps the particular concerns raised about them, in particular the Phulbari case. Several of your points are misleading, Mr Professor, what kind of Professor are you that couldn’t get the point after reading a whole 1000 words delivered by a climate activist?

I have no time to correct you and I believe that it is your responsibility to produce ‘good knowledge’ as a Professor. I am going to speak about just one case, and it is our case – the Phulbari case that you have failed badly to address. Before explaining what harms you did to us let me give you a few facts and self-contradictory statements that your NCP has made about our Phulbari OECD complaint:

The UK NCP’s Final Report on the complaint submitted against GCM Resources notes that:

  • GCM has responded in writing to concerns from seven of the United Nations most senior human rights experts, who have called for an immediate halt to the company’s mine citing threats to the human rights of tens of thousands of people, and has advised the UN’s experts that “it would undertaken a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) before proceeding with the project.” The company, the Final Statement also notes, “has re-iterated this commitment to the NCP” (paragraph 67 of the NCP Final Report); But then the NCP suggests that GCM has not violated human rights in Phulbari!
    • The NCP states that in order to meet its obligations under the OECD Guidelines on human rights, GCM will need to make and publish the Human Rights Impact Assessment it has committed to “before it begins work to acquire land for and develop the mine” (paragraph 71, emphasis added);
    • Subject to any decision from the Government of Bangladesh on the project’s future, the UK NCP recommends that GCM continues to update its plans in line with current international best practice standards, and in particular to pursue and publish the Human Rights Impact Assessment it has advised the NCP it will include in this (paragraph 80). Yet, the NCP ends up giving a free license for overseas business to the corrupted businessmen who are unable to produce a valid contract with Bangladesh government.

The findings and recommendations of the UK NCP’s Steering Committee, created to carry out the internal review of the NCP’s handling of the complaint which notes that GCM’s project “has aroused considerable opposition in Bangladesh, leading to violent protests, and an even more violent response by the authorities there.” But the internal review has left unpublished, just as the JCHR has left my report about GCM to the Parliament unpublished in 2009. I was told that my report was unpublished to save printing cost (as if the UK Parliament had been facing undescribable financial hardship) at that time, but what was your problem Prof. Rolf to publish your Internal Review online?

The NCP’s Final Assessment stated that GCM has failed to ‘foster mutual trust and communications with locals’ and that they must re-evaluate the impacts of this project before going ahead for implementation. But then it asks the company to carry on with their business in Bangladesh, it approves the company’s attempts to re-enter Phulbari for further public consultation so that Phulbari people cannot sleep in peace.

Please stay with me, I haven’t finished yet.

ID8041069

27 Feb 2015 9:59

  • 0 1

“The NCP finds that GCM partly breached its obligations under Chapter II, Paragraph 7, which provides that enterprises should develop self-regulatory practices and management systems that foster confidence and trust in the societies they operate in.

The finding is repeated in paragraph 50 of the NCP’s Final Statement: “The NCP therefore considers that GCM’s communications did not apply practices or systems that foster confidence and mutual trust with the [local] society in which it [seeks to] operate”, and in this limited respect the company breached Chapter II, Paragraph 7 of the Guidelines for a period beginning after August 2006 and continuing until 2012 when the Bangladeshi government authorized the resumption of activities locally and increased re-engagement began.

As the NCP repeats this conclusion a 3rd time in paragraph 77, it is exceedingly difficult to understand on what ground did the NCP stated that “The NCP finds that GCM did not breach its obligations” under Chapter II, Paragraph 2, and did not breach its obligations under Chapter IV. Could you see Mr Professor that your Paragraphs 1 and Paragraph 5 are those ambiguous findings which created a ground for a judicial review of the OECD? That these mislead many of us including the company themselves, so that the company’s Chief Executive rushed to Phulbari and provoked for fresh violence in our Phulbari?

Mind you, I am not an expert in OECD matter though even I could see the idiotic ambiguity in NCP’s final assessment of Phulbari case. Please beer with me I have much more to say about your failures and the harms your NCP has done to us in Phulbari.

ID8041069

27 Feb 2015 10:07

  • 0 1

The fact that the 2011 OECD guidelines do “clearly” apply to “prospective” or potential human rights abuses was affirmed in an internal review of the NCP’s handling of the complaint. This is documented in paragraph 6 of the Recommendations of the NCP Steering Board Review Committee formed to carry out this internal review.

In paragraphs 20 & 28, the Committee instructed the NCP to re-evaluate the complaint in light of its concern that the NCP made an error (paragraph 15) in not applying the 2011 Guidelines – which clearly include potential impacts – and revise it’s Final Statement in the complaint accordingly. However, the NCP proceeded to publish the Final Statement with no change other than a footnote stating the review had taken place. I have quoted in our press release to your worthless review of our case that the framework within which the UK NCP has assessed our case is extremely narrow, and the issues which were overlooked by the NCP was ill-motivated.

Examination of our Review Request finding of procedural error by the NCP & recommendation to re-evaluate our complaint and issue a new Final Statement:

We formally requested a review of the NCP’s handling of our complaint (on 15 May 2014), and our request was accepted. A Steering Board Committee was appointed to carry out the assessment, and its report (received 30 Oct) is attached. Three important points to note:

  1. The Committee recognized and affirmed that the 2011 Guidelines do clearly apply to “prospective impacts” (para 6): “it is clear from the 2011 Guidelines that the obligation of an enterprise to respect human rights includes the rights of those prospectively affected by its conduct, including planned conduct”;
    2. The Committee upheld our position that the NCP had “misdirected itself” (made an error) in not applying the 2011version of the OECD Guidelines to our complaint (paras 15 & 19);
    3. It recommended that the NCP re-examine the Complaint in light of this concern, and “issue a new Final Statement reflecting this re-examination.” (para 20)

ID8041069

27 Feb 2015 10:16

  • 0 1

We were found badly played out by your colleague and an ever bias woman, Liz Napier. After what you guys (at UK NCP) have done to us by publishing one of world’s most unethical and bias report of our complaint, I had no wish to even write a column about your rubbish failure. We have rather chosen to take to streets to protest and asked our government to close business with your unethical businessmen. I write now as you have made yourself such a deaf by your vague response to the failures that our friend Christine Haigh has noted in her article. You know that you have talked about success by sidestepping, and you didn’t have the courage to challenge any of the cases that we have watched being failed and let down by the UK NCP.

Please take your time to read the Summary of the NCP’s pathetic response to the recommendation of its Steering Committee Review

The NCP wrote us to notify it “believed” it could to this quickly, denied our requests for the usual period granted for comment on the Final Statement, and also refused our requests for a delay in publication to allow its Steering Board to consider our concerns. Literally the only change made in response to the recommendations of the Steering Committee Review was to add a one-paragraph footnote to its existing Final Statement stating that it has carried out a re-examination. Other that this footnote, it did not alter a word of the Final Statement now published to its website (and attached here). It then proceeded to publish virtually unchanged.

This may be seem detail to some readers but we do have two concerns about the review findings:
1. The Committee erred in its findings that our Complaint deals only with “prospective” human rights abuses that have not yet occurred (see paras 5 & 6). For one important example, see comments below regarding ongoing violations of the rights of indigenous people.
2. Para 25 seems to give the NCP far too much leeway in deciding what it can exclude from its investigation of a complaint.

Stay with me please I am showing you how failed you and your board are!

ID8041069

27 Feb 2015 10:29

  • 0 1

To summarize some three of the most serious breaches of human rights by Global Coal Management Resources never adequately addressed by the NCP:

  1. Ongoing violation of the rights to self-determination and to free prior and informed consent (affirmed in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indignenous Peeople) extending back to 2006.

Both the NCP and the Steering Board Committee have erred in saying that all concerns raised in our complaint are about “prospective” or “potential” rights. This is factually untrue as indigenous people have been fighting this project for over eight years. The NCP has incontrovertible evidence of this, including: its written notes from an interview with an indigenous leader who told her that indigenous people were willing to go to war to halt the project; Rabindranath Soren’s letter to the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues (attached); and the 2008 community letter to the ADB signed by several indigenous leaders. The former UN Special Rapportuer on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Aanaya, has twice conveyed his concerns about this in his official communications in the record of the UN (one is attached), and you will find detail on this in our letter of 3/12/14 as well.

  1. Forced eviction of tens of thousands of people (over 40,000 by GCM’s count, far more by others). Important: these are “forced evictions” as defined in international law and in the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement authored by Miloon Kothari in his former capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. International law recognizes that forced evictions are a gross violation of human rights in themselves. You can find content on this on in the attached letter from Miloon Kothari.

The NCP said it was limited the scope of its investigation to exclude any consideration of potential impacts and would only consider inevitable or unavoidable impacts. This is an outrage in itself, because the language of the 2011 OED Guidelines is very clear that they apply to “potential” impacts and impacts that “may” happen.

Even if we agree to this limit to the NCP’s assessment – which we most definitely do not – these forced evictions are unavoidable or inevitable if the project goes forward. Even GCM does not take the position that these the eviction of tens of thousands of people in order to implement its project.

  1. The restrictions on civil and political rights of people opposing the project and high potential for further violence if GCM persists in its efforts to force the project forward despite massive opposition in communities threatened by its project, including the state-backed use of lethal force already seen in 2006.

As you are aware Professor, the Final report of an Expert Committee formed in 2006 and tasked with assessing the proposed project warned of the high risk of social conflict and unrest if as many as a million people (their estimate) are displaced and numerous international organizations, including IAP and the World Organization against Torture have repeatedly expressed grave concerns about the high potential for further violence and loss of life. The NCP is also aware the RAB, denounced as a “death squad” by Human Rights Watch, has repeatedly been deployed to demonstrations against the mine and is also aware of the bloodshed and loss of life in 2006.

The NCP dismissed the findings of the attached submission of the Essex Business and Human Rights Project as being “commissioned” by the complainants. The study finds that GCM failed to meet its due diligence requirements to avoid further human rights violations associated with this project.

ID8041069

27 Feb 2015 10:55

  • 0 1

There are so much more to expose your ill-process and ill-motivated assessment to our Phulbari case Professor that I couldn’t finish in commenting here. I think that I will better go for a proper response by one another powerful article in a social media who may not reduce our response to comments only. I want to elaborate how badly I felt being played out by your colleague Liz Napier. I was meant to be an eye witness, and I have given two hours long account/interview to Liz Napier at a moment when my dearest mother was at the Intensive Care Unit, when she was dying at home. But neither she nor any of you did cite one line from my eye witness. You simply didn’t recognise the significance of our accounts. Indeed, you failed to cite any of the first hand accounts from Phulbari where people said that they would die but would not give their land. You did not think that these comments demonstrate the severity of the concerns and the risks (possibility for further human rights violation).

The NCP’s carelessness, irresponsibility and unethical attitude were obvious in a comment by your colleague Liz Napier. In October 2013, when I have emailed her informing that I was receiving malicious calls and harassment on telephone at mid night which were similar to 2010 (when my house was burnt down), and I requested that the NCP UK shouldn’t share my contact details with any third party, Liz Napier replied -in one line-that ‘we have no reason to share your contact details with anybody’!

I saved that email of Napier. This response was not only callous but also intentional because Napier failed to assure the interviewee that the NCP would never share her contact details to anybody by any means. I wondered and wondered why was this so difficult for a communication officer at NCP to say something reassuring to the interviewee, rather than reactionary? Why is it that the affected communities and individuals representing communities have to flatter you guys for our moral rights?

ID8041069

27 Feb 2015 11:28

0 1

And my friend Dr Samina Luthfa, and a community researcher who completed her PhD and explored narratives of the tremendous resistance to open pit mine in Bangladesh, dedicated her valuable time to interpret the interviews from Phulbari. She was dumbfounded by the way your colleague Liz Napier and your NCP board have misinterpreted some of the affected individuals’ accounts. Samina wrote to Liz Napier in June 2014 that the UK NCP has no right to change the original version of the accounts that she has interpreted from Bangla to English. Napier told that she was going to find out the original accounts and would have looked at those accounts which we found as corrupted by the UK NCP board. As usual, shamefully, this has never happened and Napier has never returned to any of us with our original accounts.

I felt really sick, Professor! I am sick of talking about the way our Phulbari case has been handled by the UK NCP. You couldn’t please me by your article about success. It made me rather frustrated and angry so as to expose your corrupted process of OECD. The only one point which makes a little sense to me is that of your bit of realisation, that you realised that your system needs improvement. It is also good to know that you are aware of the fact that there are powerful criticisms: “Yes, there have been serious criticisms”.

But then you spoil your own realisation by the next comment: “but many NCPs are working to improve their structure and also find new ways to deal with challenging cases through both mediation and proactive prevention.” Please can you give us some appropriate examples of those processes and new ways to deal with our challenging cases?

Most hilarious was your last comment: “I agree with Christine Haigh that improvements are needed. But it is important to stress that there are also positive outcomes in OECD’s NCP system. The glass is definitely not full. Rather, it is half full, or half empty, depending on where you stand.”

A friend of mine have asked : Is it a truly satisfactory measurement of the NCP system to be either ‘half-full’ or ‘half-empty’? Regardless of one’s perspective is it a 50 / 50 proposition?

Please answer. In the meantime, I can write my own article which will expose that your whole system needs serious treatment.

 

Phulbari Solidarity Group Stood with Activists at National Climate March in London

Rumana Hashem Declared Solidarity with Thousands Demanding ‘its Time to Act’

By Raaj Manik

Saturday's National Climate March in London Photo credit: Jonathan Chater

Saturday’s National Climate March in London Photo credit: Jonathan Chater

After joining the protest on Global Divestment Day at City Hall, activists of Phulbari solidarity group joined the UK’s national climate march, expressing full solidarity to the agenda of the Campaign against Climate Change (CCC). On Saturday the 7th March, in the sea of vibrant, peaceful, powerful, and colourful protesters against climate change, the founder of Phulbari Solidarity Group (PSG) and a steering member of Bangladesh National Committee, Rumana Hashem, declared unconditional solidarity to the climate marchers and green planet seekers in London. The PSG and Bangladeshi activists in London marched with the protesters who said that  ‘It’s Time To Act‘.

By waving a Bangladeshi national flag at Westminster, Dr. Hashem expressed solidarity and gave an inspiring speech at a gathering of some 20,000 amazing marchers against climate change. Rumana started by saying: ‘Okay, I am here to express full solidarity with you. I would like to let you know that we, the activists from Bangladesh and Phulbari Solidarity Group, join our hands with you today to urge the UK government and world leaders to take a strong action to save our planet.”

She added, “Change is possible, stopping greenhouse emissions is possible. All we need is a combined action – from the south to the north for a green planet without delay.” In describing the way that people in Phulbari have resisted the immense open-pit coal mine which was proposed by an AIM-based British corporation, Global Coal Management Resources Plc, Rumana Hashem said:

Rumana Hashem of Bangladesh National Committee and Phulbari Solidarity Group waves Bangladeshi flag to cheer up the protesters. Photo credit: Paul  V. Dudman

Rumana Hashem of Bangladesh National Committee and Phulbari Solidarity Group waves Bangladeshi flag to cheer up the protesters. Photo credit: Paul V. Dudman

“In Bangladesh, we have ensured a halt to the project for over 8 years. It was made possible by coming together and taking to the streets against those blood-suckers and corporate grabbers who were determined to destroy our green fields by building a massive coal mine. Our people did not allow this to happen, they are fighting for their green fields and homes every day. Indeed, we could help build the climate movement by inspiring people from different countries to join us and join hands. We need to connect those grassroots struggles in the south with the north. We need to connect the northern activism with the southern movements.”

The vibrant-marching crowd who gathered outside British Parliament to hear from speakers, chanted slogan, in response to Rumana’s inspiring speech, “we will save our planet”. The march, called “Time to Act”, was designed to increase support for action ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris. The peaceful yet powerful climate activists who marched from Lincoln’s Inn Fields to Westminster have demanded strong action of the UK government and world leaders at the Paris climate conference in December.

An activist representing the vibrant and colourful protest at Time To Act Climate March. Photo credit: Jonathan Chater

The slogans and organisations taking part in the national climate march were diverse. Protesters came from different cities and villages of the UK, and many had traveled with their kids and young children, demonstrating the severity of the cause. Despite the differences in the protesters’ backgrounds in terms of age, class, race, ethnicity, religion and nationality, many of them appeared clearly positive that preventing greenhouse emissions is possible. There was also a consensus that one way of bringing in change is to end capitalism without delay – because it stands in the way to prevent our earth from destroying.

Some sixteen inspiring speakers, from across world, have addressed the fascinating crowd. Many of them were women and one was just twelve year old girl. Powerful speakers include MP Caroline Lucas of Green Party, stand-by comedian Francesca Martinez, left wing Labour MP John McDonnell, the head of Greenpeace UK John Sauven, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, Bangladeshi environmentalist-feminist Rumana Hashem, and author Naomi Klein.

Most amazing speaker of the day was that of a 12 year old Laurel who spoke at the end of the rally and warned everybody that the earth is to be destroyed unless we act now. Also speakers from Caat, Avaaz, People’s Assembly, Axe Drax, Frack Free Lancashire, Stand Up to Racism, UK youth against climate change and the French climate coalition spoke powerfully at the march.

The protest was called by the Campaign against Climate Change (CCC) in conjunction with many other organisations. The powerful march ended by a beautiful choir let’s “unite voices, voice-unite, its time to act” . We were only four from Bangladesh National Committee and Phulbari Solidarity Group who attended the rally though it meant a lot to us. The power of people was felt throughout the sunny afternoon, and through our hearts. It was a real life-experience in London. The National Climate March in London reassured many that change is not only required, change is possible. Detailed report and updates with footage and photos are available in the below links. More photos and footage of the participation from Bangladesh and Phulbari Solidarity Group will be uploaded shortly.

Read further reports:

Climate Change: ‘Its Time To Act’ http://www.timetoact2015.org/

Time to Act National Climate March 2015 https://www.facebook.com/events/770415883032572/

Thousands take to the streets of London http://socialistworker.co.uk/art/40074/Thousands+take+to+the+streets+of+London+to+demand+action+on+climate+change

The Guardian report: ‘Climate change protesters march in London’ http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/07/time-to-act-climate-change-protest-london

Save the Sundarbans Save Our Mangrove Forest: Join the Global Movement

By Rumana Hashem

The Sundarbans mangrove forest is struggling to survive a 350,000 liter oil spill. On 9 December 2014, the oil tanker carrying more than 350,000 liters (92,500 gallons) of bunker oil sank on a major river, called Shela, flowing through the Sundarbans after being hit by a cargo vessel. Its been nearly two months and the threats are yet to be over.

Rare animals and wild bird died by oil spill in the Sundarbans. Photo by Anup Kundus 28 Jan 2015.

Rare animals and wild bird died by oil spill in the Sundarbans. Photo by Anup Kundus 28 Jan 2015.

Sundarbans, a UNESCO-projected World Heritage site that is the largest remaining mangrove forest in the world, has saved millions of Bangladeshi lives by offering critical protection against devastating cyclones. It provides a vital habitat for many rare and endangered species, sequester carbon, and serve as a life-saving buffer against the devastating tropical storms that are increasing in frequency and intensity with global warming. But the massive oil spill from a tanker accident has spelled disaster for its delicate ecology. Officials said that the slick had spread over up to 70 kilometers (45 miles) of the Shela river, a major sanctuary for aquatic animals in the Sundarbans. At least 20 canals connected with the Shela as well as another major river, Pashur, have also been affected.

To make it worse, Indian corporations are pushing the government in Bangladesh for other commercial projects like the Rampal coal plant which, they call, a Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC),which pose further huge threats to the Sundarbans. The proposed coal-fired power plant at Rampal, just 14 km, from the Sundarbans Reserve Forest, would destroy a vital habitat for many rare and endangered species, and million of Bangladeshi people.Thus the next accident is right around the corner unless we are able to form a global movement, joining the hands of national and local struggles against this corporate grabbing in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government is relentlessly pursuing major industrial projects like the 1320 megawatt Rampal coal plant that will generate enormous volumes of toxic waste and leave the forest waterways vulnerable to future hazardous spills.

Common people in Bangladesh are deeply concerned to the threats, and the majority of Bangladeshis are desperate to save the Sundarbans. On 6 February, the Bangladesh National Committee is holding a convention in Dhaka to address the gravity of the concerns and associated threats to the Sundarbans. The National Committee has declared a 5-day nationwide long march from Dhaka to Sundarbans which will be held in mid-March to re-mobilise peoples voices against this devastating project.

We call upon every concerned citizen of the world to take action, to join our campaign and fight against this devastating coal based power plant in Bangladesh. We express full solidarity to the 6th February Dhaka Convention to Save the Sundarbans, organised by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports in Bangladesh. We extend our support to and call upon every Bangladeshi to join the long march from Dhaka to the Sundarbans. We support also the petition of Avaaz https://secure.avaaz.org/en/protect_sundarbans_r2/?bzrstbb&v=52337

As our friends at Avaaz points out, UNESCO is concerned about the situation, and if enough of us raise our voices now, we can persuade them to officially declare the Sundarbans as a “World Heritage in Danger” and force the Bangladesh government to protect the forest.  Let’s sign the petition of Avaaz.org. whilst sharing news of protests in Bangladesh and beyond.

For further Information read:

Oil Spill in Bangladesh Threatens Aquatic Animals (NYTimes)
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/12/12/world/asia/ap-as-bangladesh-oil-spill.html?_r=0

Sundarbans Threatened (The Daily Star)
http://archive.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/sundarbans-threatened/

Rampal power plant: A project of deception and mass destruction (BDNews24)
http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2013/09/19/rampal-power-plant-a-project-of-deception-and-mass-destructio…

Threat to Sundarbans Concerns UNESCO (The Financial Express)
http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/2014/12/14/70905

Wake-up Call: Save Forests in Bangladesh (Asia News Network)
http://www.asianewsnet.net/news-69888.html

List of World Heritage in Danger (UNESCO)
http://whc.unesco.org/en/danger/

Report of Oil Spill in the river Shela: http://ncbd.org/?p=1338

Preliminary Research Outcome of the impact of Oil Spill (by Dr. Abdullah Harun)          http://ncbd.org/wp-co

ntent/uploads/2014/12/Impact-of-oil-spills-on-the-Sundarbans_AHC.pdf

In defence of national and environmental interest

By Samina Luthfa, 18 January 2015

Phulbari is not a controversy. It is the name and symbol of a successful resistance by community people threatened with displacement by a proposed open-pit coal mine by GCM Resources in 5,600 hectares of land (including arable land with high cropping intensity) in four thanas of Dinajpur. Open mining requires stripping off the soil over the deposit that lies at least 150 meter or deeper (upto270 meters) under the earth. The mining company has changed its names twice after a community protest rally against the Phulbari project was attacked and protestors shot at, killing three young protestors in 2006.

Grand rally  of locals in Phulbari town on 27 December. Photo credit: Kallol Mustafa

Grand rally of locals in Phulbari town on 27 December. Photo credit: Kallol Mustafa

Although the company’s revised documents say that the stripping will be done in phases, two highly placed government-led expert committees were not convinced in favour of the mine that will directly affect the lives and livelihoods of at least 1,00,000 people (2006). Foreign environmental experts extensively criticised the company’s Environmental Impact Assessment for being incomplete and vague. The human displacement and environmental costs are so high that United Nations’ rapporteurs also made statements expressing opposition to the proposed mine.

‘Self-proclaimed’ or not, local communities and environmental justice platforms like the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port must have had logical objections against the proposed project; why else would international financiers like the Asian Development Bank and Barclays Capital feel compelled to withdraw their financial support from the project since 2008? Long before the incident of November 24, 2014, the project based in London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market had been termed ‘risky’ by industry experts like Rosie Carr in 2006 (Identify the Risks, The Investors’ Chronicle, the Financial Times).

My own doctoral research from the University of Oxford quantitatively compared incidences of community-based protests against 398 open-pit mines in South Asia. Factors like density of population, proportion of area under forest cover, and ownership by a multinational company predicted the highest probability of protest in the proposed Phulbari deposit. This research result was formally conveyed to the shareholders of GCM in their Annual General Meeting of 2011. This means that the investors are well aware of the financial risks they are taking by investing in the Phulbari project.

When such a volatile project with a high degree of environmental, political and social risks and very strong local-national-transnational opposition is supported by a quarter, what I see is unfettered greed of profiteering by some people with no environmental, social and cultural conscience at all. No matter how strongly the locals protest it, or how persuasively the experts explain that the mine would be devastating for the water aquifers, for example, they will not stop. Because they do not care about Bangladesh or its FDI rates; they are only worried about their profit, with every pence increasing their share value in the AIM. The ranting of these ‘investors’ about our country and our politicians in their discussion forums clearly show that all they care about is profiteering through stock manipulation in London that is independent of what the marginalised protestors at Phulbari do or do not do.

Placard used in a protest against the exploitative British company. Photo: Golam Rabbani

Placard used in a protest against the exploitative British company. Photo: Golam Rabbani

The company, as erroneously suggested by some, does NOT have a ‘permission for mining’ yet from the government. A letter from the government that is often used as an evidence of contract clearly states that the permission to mine is dependent on the following: “on receipt of the Feasibility Study Report, the technical aspects of the project will be examined and evaluated by experts and on the basis of this government will take final decision regarding real mining operation…Within this time, the lessee will not conduct any commercial activities of the mine.” On one hand, the expert committee formed after this letter expressed opposition to the project, and on the other, the Phulbari Chukti that said ‘no open mine anywhere in the country’ was signed by the BNP-led government representatives in 2006 and was supported by the then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina. It is an obligation for any incumbent politician to uphold these.

The local resistance started in 2005, gathered momentum and peaked in 2006. National committee joined the locals later to support their resistance. The locals successfully showed how the mine was not only threatening for them but also for our national interest. It wouldonly benefit the company as it would have owned all the coal, giving a small amount of royalty to Bangladesh (much lower than the convention) and some supply of coal for our power generation. 80% of the coal produced was earmarked for export to India through a very vulnerable eco-system in Southern Bangladesh — the Sundarbans. The far-reaching probable effect of this on the mangrove forest is probably clearer now after the oil tanker spill in Shela river in December 2014.

There exist several doctoral and post-graduate dissertation-based research from well-reputed western universities like Chicago, Sussex, Amsterdam, and faculty and NGO level research in Bangladesh, UK and USA, that show how strong the opposition against the mining project is and why it is the case: too costly for communities due to huge displacement, high environmental risk in a riverine area like Bangladesh where any seepage or extraction of water table has a far reaching environmental impact and increase in food insecurity with the loss of highly active arable land to the mine. All these for whose benefit: to produce electricity to export to India! Farewell to national interest, eh?

Last but not the least, FDI inflow increased 98% over the last fiscal year according to the Board of

Bangladeshi activist protests against the company outside the AGM. Photo: Paul V Dudman

Bangladeshi activist protests against the company outside the AGM. Photo: Paul V Dudman

Investments’ own records, which proves that although Phulbari is in stalemate for the last 8 years, the national investment scenario looks pretty good. I am no economist but my common sense suggests that first, foreign investment depends on global trends and is therefore dependent more on global crises than one single project. Second, GCM’s investment is not that big given the country’s whole investment scenario. Third, there are other more profitable sectors in the country where foreign investment is less risky and better-suited for investors who care for long-term returns rather than the short term return required by GCM’s short-sighted investors, whom I closely observed for one year in 2010-11. Finally, increase in FDI in power sector without a concern for sustainable growth often is responsible for creating a ‘resource curse.’ Experiences of countries like Nigeria, Sudan, Columbia and Afghanistan tell us how an increase in FDI in the energy sector negatively trapped the countries into poverty and dependence. Are we to welcome any investment that intends to export our resources at high financial, environmental and social cost and benefit only a few investors and some corrupt government officials? Or are we to bid farewell to the bad investments and welcome those that propose to extract responsibly keeping in mind the prospect of future generations to come?

**The above article is reproduced, with thanks to the Daily Star

The writer is Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Dhaka. She earned her doctorate from the University of Oxford, UK, in 2013 on the Phulbari Resistance. The research was funded by the Commonwealth Commission.

Challenging the Invisible and Invalid Contract

Response to ‘Farewell to FDI?’ Reproduced op-ed from the Daily Star  

By Kallol Mustafa, 20 January, 2015

The op-ed piece (‘Farewell to FDI?’,The Daily Star, Jan 13, 2015) is based on some misleading and partial information regarding Asia Energy’s (GCM) Phulbari Coal Project and the peoples’ protest against it. The writer termed the peoples’ protest against Asia Energy chief’s visit to Phulbari as ‘vandalism’ but did not mention how, for a long time, Asia Energy has been trying to bribe the local youth, provide them with drugs and destabilise the local situation. He blamed the government and local administration for not taking action against the protesters and warned that this might harm foreign investment, without even mentioning the responsibility of the government to implement the Phulbari agreement signed with the local people and honour expert opinion against open pit mining on different occasions.

The writer declared the government official’s denial of existence of mining contract with Asia Energy as “erroneous,” as he completely relied on Asia Energy propaganda published in Energy & Power, but failed to present the correct picture based on original documents and experts’ opinion already submitted to the government.

Based on the article ‘Records Need making Straight’, published in Energy & Power, widely known as lobbyist of Asia Energy, the writer states that Asia Energy has valid contract for mining with the government of Bangladesh and it obtained ‘mining lease’ in April 2004.  But the April 2004 letter, which the Energy & Power article referred to as evidence of Asia Energy’s mining contract, was indeed issued “…in the interest of preparing feasibility report and submitting to the government” and in no way can be used as a valid contract for mining operation. It was very clear in its following statement:

“(c) On receipt of the Feasibility Study Report, the technical aspects of the project will be examined and evaluated by experts and on the basis of this government will take final decision regarding real mining operation.

(d) Within this time, the lessee will not conduct any commercial activities of the mine.” (Emphasis added)

He also missed the evaluation and recommendation of the expert committee (formed by the government and headed by Prof. Nurul Islam) on the development plan submitted by Asia Energy. The expert committee in its report rejected the development plan of Asia Energy saying that:

According to the Mines and Minerals Rules prepared in 1968 under East Pakistan Mines & Minerals act 1967 (Regulation & Development) and amended in 1987 and 1989, royalty rate was fixed at 20% of the price of produced coal at the mine mouth. Accordingly, the Bureau of Mineral Development (BMD) signed an agreement for Boropukuria coalmine on 10/07/1994 at 20% royalty rate. Yet, on 20/08/1994, only a month and ten days after having signed this agreement, the BMD signed another agreement with BHP for coal mining in Dinajpur and Rangpur areas at only 6% royalty rate. This agreement with BHP is illegal as per the then existing mining law. In this situation, this illegal contract may be declared invalid and steps should be taken against concerned persons according to Article 5 of Mines and Mineral Act 1992.

According to Article 32 of Mines and Mineral rules 1968, which was in effect during the signing of the contract, as 3 years had already passed after first issuance of the license, the authorities did not have any right to extend the license period beyond 15/01/1998. For that reason the license renewal order on 26/01/98 for Area ‘B’ was illegal. During handover of the license for Area ‘B’ under the Assignment Contract [the transfer of contract from BHP to Asia Energy], BHP did not have any valid license to transfer as the license was already expired. That’s why all actions taken by the Asia Energy in that block are illegal. BHP lost permission for all kind of activities in Block ‘B’ on 15/01/98 in consequence of which Asia Energy did not have any valid permission to work in that block. So Asia Energy never had any right to apply for mining lease.

For the above two reasons, the Assignment contract signed with Asia Energy on 11/02/1998 has no legal basis. Alternatively, if it is considered that the application for the mining lease will be operated under Mining Rules amended in 1995, the government still cannot consider the Mining Lease Application because 3% of the estimated cost of the scheme has not been deposited with the application as Bank Guaranty as required by the Rules. It is to be noted that 3% of the total estimated cost — $12,460 million (capital cost $2090 million + operating cost $10,370) is $373.8 million, i.e Tk. 2, 616 crore.

(Source: Article 5.2, Report of the Expert Committee (REC) to Evaluate Feasibility Study Report and Scheme of Development of the Phulbari Coal Project, submitted by Messieurs Asia Energy Corporation, (Bangladesh) Pvt. Ltd. (AEC), 20 September 2006 [Author’s translation])

In brief, according to the expert committee, the contract and exploration license which Asia Energy received from BHP have no legal basis and the so-called mining lease (without permission of mining!) granted to Asia Energy under this contract is also legally invalid. That’s why there was nothing wrong or erroneous when Energy and Mineral Resources Division Secretary Abu Bakar Siddique said: “Asia Energy has no valid licenses to develop Phulbari coal mine” (Daily Sun, 8 Dec 2014).

Therefore, the government of Bangladesh (GOB) has no legally binding obligation to allow Asia Energy to do open pit mining and mining related activities in Phulbari, and there is no question of damage payment to Asia Energy for scrapping the Phulbari project as feared by Mr. Syed Mansur Hashim. Rather, the GOB can easily reject its Feasibility Study and Mine Development Scheme for open pit mining following the recommendations of the expert committee.

In fact, the GOB has legal and moral obligation to scrap Phulbari coal project according to the agreement signed between the government of Bangladesh and the people (National Committee to Protect Oil Gas Mineral Resources Port and Power represented the people) on August 30, 2006. The agreement was fully supported by the then opposition leader and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The main point of the agreement was: “Phulbari coal project will be scrapped and Asia energy will be ousted from the country.” It is now the duty of the GOB to implement its legal and moral obligation to the people by taking action against illegal activities of Asia Energy.

Read this article on the Daily Star (20/01/15): Response to ‘Farewell to FDI?’