Govt mulls stopping Asia Energy’s activities in country

Manjurul Ahsan

The government is likely to stop activities of Asia Energy Corporation, who have proposed to extract coal from the Phulbari deposit in Dinajpur through the controversial open-pit method, as it has no valid contract with the relevant authority in the country.
‘Officials of Asia Energy often visit Phulbari, although the company does not have any valid stake in Bangladesh. Their visit to Phulbari causes unrest in the area, which is not acceptable,’ energy division secretary Abu Bakar Siddique told New Age.
‘We are now scrutinising the legal aspects of the company’s existence in Bangladesh,’ he said.
When asked why the Bureau of Mineral Department had been receiving license renewal fees from Asia Energy, the secretary said the ministry had removed a director of the BMD for not taking proper action on the matter.
He said policymakers, including the state minister for power, energy and mineral resources minister Nasrul Hamid, were aware of the matter.
‘The company had a license to conduct feasibility study which was done much earlier. Now they should not stay here,’ he said.
People against open-pit mining at Phulbari coal deposit on November 26, 2014 staged demonstration and put a blockade on the highway protesting a campaign programme there by the AEC’s head Gary Lye.
Local law enforcers had to protect Gary and his wife from the wrath of local people, officials said.
The Phulbari people also staged protest programmes when Gary tried to distribute blankets among poor people one year back.
On August 26, 2006, members of Bangladesh Rifles shot dead three local people — Salekin, Tariqul, and Amin — in a peaceful demonstration against the proposed open-pit mining project.
Locals, environmental activists and a portion of experts protested at the project saying it would destroy a vast area’s water table, environment and habitats. The project was later postponed.
When asked, an energy division official said that Gary’s visit to Phulbari might be aimed at making a display of AEC stake in the coal deposit to the shareholders of the company’s parent organisation Global Coal Management PLC.
GCM will hold its annual general meeting on Tuesday in London.
The AEC’s license for feasibility study to develop Phulbari coal mine, using open-pit method, expired on January 27, 2006, but its parent organisation continued advertising its stake in the Phulbari coal deposit.
Locals and rights activists, including the national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and port, have been demanding shutting down of AEC’s operation in Bangladesh, since 2005.
AEC is now running two offices, one at Phulbari and the other in Dhaka, with 25-30 officers and staff members. Besides, over a hundred community liaison assistants are engaged in Phulbari to campaign in favour of the project, company officials said.
When asked, Gary said AEC had ‘two exploration licenses and a mining lease covering the Phulbari coal deposit.’
‘In addition, we have a contract with the government of Bangladesh for ‘exploration and mining of coal in northern Bangladesh,’ he said.
Gary also said, ‘We have been operating in Bangladesh since February 1998 when our contract 11/C-94 was assigned to us from BHP by the first Awami League government with Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury as the energy secretary.’
He said that the company maintains a bank account following the conventional rules of Bangladesh and also comply with the requirements set out by the Board of Investment, Bangladesh Bank and the National Board of Revenue.

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