Phulbari coal mine project, Bangladesh

Read the story of one of the most violent repressions in Bangladesh, with several female and male victims, leading to a ban on open-pit mining in the area and withdrawal of international funding


Description
The Phulbari Coal Project was an open-pit coal mine project in Bangladesh proposed by Asia Energy Corporation, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of London-based GCM Resources. The project initially began when the Australian mining company BHP Minerals discovered coal at Phulbari when conducting surveying and drilling between 1994 and 1997. In 2005, the company decided to sell its rights to mine to the UK-based Asia Energy Corporation, which then proposed an open-pit mining project in the same year. The corporation was granted environmental clearance for the project by the Bangladesh Department of Environment on 11 September 2005, although it was still missing the government's final approval. The project would have threatened local populations through its impact in different ways. It was estimated that around 50,000 people would have been displaced and resettled by the company while as many as 220,000 could have been displaced over time as the mining operations would drain water from their wells and irrigation canals. The International Accountability Project (IAP) carried out an analysis of the company's draft resettlement plan and concluded that the plan grossly understated the number of people that the project would actually need to displace. Also, the coal project would lead to the eviction or impoverishment of 50,000 indigenous people who are part of 23 different tribal groups. Indigenous people have played a crucial role during the protests since 2006, when also the Bangladesh National Indigenous Union called for support to halt the project. Moreover, the coal project would also harm crops and farming, as it would destroy up to almost 4,900 hectares of the country's most fertile and productive agricultural land in the Dinajpur district, which serves as Bangladesh's rice bowl. Finally, environmental impacts affecting public health as well as threats to the right to water have been cited in relation to the project. According to Bank Information Centre, Asian Development Bank’s Private Sector Operations Department (PSOD) was promoting this project for an investment loan and a political risk guarantee in spite of major setbacks to the project. PSOD staff believe that the project will economically benefit Bangladesh and provide it much needed energy. ADB approved the SEIA and was awaiting final resettlement action plans and indigenous people’s plans. Under ADB rules, the private client interested in ADB funds can also conduct the mandatory studies required for high environmental and social impact projects such as Phulbari. ADB “safeguard specialists” on involuntary resettlement, environmental impacts and indigenous people were expected to approve these studies before the project is sent for Board Approval. PSOD cleared the concept for this project on 14 October 2005. Civil Society Organizations contended that the project violates ADB’s Energy Policy (1995), Indigenous Peoples Policy (1998), Involuntary Resettlement Policy (1995), Environment Policy (2002), and Public Communication Policy (2005)." [1].   On 24th April 2006, Nasreen Huq, a human rights activist working with Action Aid was killed in a car accident under suspicious conditions. This was the first, albeit mysterious death, that the coal mining proposal for Phulbari caused, which was soon followed by more during protests in August, 2006. Huq had started raising concerns about the Asia Energy’s plan since February. During the time of her death, she was in the process of contacting lawyers in London with the intent of challenging the deal in an international court. Shireen Huq, her sister said that Nasreen was planning to share a dossier she had compiled with legal friends and the press. However, Action Aid was not very forthcoming about helping her, since Asia Energy was a British company, and many of her colleagues privately said that Huq had been dissuaded from following this anti-mining campaign in Phulbari. Initially the police treated the death as an accident but, following an outcry from Nasreen's friends, they launched a murder investigation and arrested the driver, who was not  charged but remained under investigation.  (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/sep/03/bangladesh ).      Protests emerged in the wake of the project when 50,000 people took their anger to the streets on 26 August 2006 in a march against the Phulbari open-pit coal project. During the protest, three people were killed, and at least hundred more were wounded by the paramilitary organization the “Bangladesh Rifles”. Anu Muhammad, who has led protests at Phulbari since 2005, remembers the events of Saturday evening clearly. 'We were about 30,000 people - all local farmers, day labourers and members of the local aboriginal communities who marched to protest outside the local Asia Energy office,' Muhammad told The Observer. 'As evening descended we started back towards the town centre. Ten minutes had passed when we suddenly heard the crack of rifle shots behind us. It was utter chaos. The police were charging and there were dead bodies on the street.' Two days later, in response to the violence, protesters organized a nation-wide strike and managed to shut down the country for four days. The strike was ended on 31 August 2006 when the Bangladesh government agreed to sign a six-point agreement, which included the following commitments: ban of open-pit mining in the district, institute local ownership over local resources, provide energy security, cancel bad deals, ban exports of mineral resources and strengthen national capacity to ban open-pit mining in all of Phulbari. Also, they pledged to exclude Asia Energy Corporation from the country. Two years after the 2006 protest and the three deaths, protesters held a vigil on 26 August 2008. At the same time, 100 organizations from all over the world signed a letter to companies involved in the open-pit mine project calling upon them to end their investment. As a result, the Asian Development Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays Bank sold their shares and distanced themselves from the project. Another commemoration was held one year later in August 2009 and a 7-day march was organized against the Phulbari coal project in October 2010. Roger Moody, of the firm Nostramo Research, an expert on mining companies and corporate responsibility, visited the site earlier that year and spoke to a number of local charities and community groups. 'I have no doubt from the people that I talked to that the majority are against it,' Moody said. 'There is very strong local opposition from all sides.' 'I'm not convinced,' Moody said. 'Asia Energy hasn't consulted local people' - a claim that is disputed by the company, which  opened an information centre in the region to explain its proposals and boasts an impressive range of supporters, from universities to charities. On 28 February 2011, a highway in the region was blocked by around 2,000 protesters who demanded that the government honour the six-point agreement made in 2006. Bangladesh's “Rapid Action Battalion”, a group that had been denounced by human rights organizations as being a government death squad, was deployed to intimidate protesters and secure buildings and offices. Despite reports of other attacks, groups of protesters continued their campaign and blocked roads and railway lines until May 2011. They were backed in their demands by 80 international organizations sending a letter to the Phulbari investors in 2011 as well as by the London Mining Network and the United Nations independent human rights experts, requesting the government not to start open-pit mining operations in 2012. In 2012, another commemoration was held in August, in order to remember the protesters killed in 2006. When the government banned gatherings of more than four people on 23 November in order to stop people from protesting the project, thousands of protesters took the streets of Phulbari again, breaking through police barricades and declaring a two-day general strike. In the wake of 2013, on 1 January, protesters gave Asia Energy a deadline to vacate their offices by the end of March. After different investors backed out, GCM's Finance Director Graham Taggart resigned. Protests and commemorations were held again on 26 August 2013 in Bangladesh, named as “Phulbari Day” and on 4 December 2013 in London. Finally, Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced on 6 February 2014 that the issue of coal extraction was to be left to “future technology as food security and protecting the land of the farmers is the first priority”. After almost eight years of protest, the people of Phulbari finally achieved their goal to stop the Phulbari open-pit coal mining project.   https://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/10-years-after-phulbari-massacre-open-pit-coal-mine-bangladesh-remains-stalled. However, the struggle still isn’t over. In December, 2016, Bangladeshi protesters from the Phulbari region were joined by climate activists in London outside of the annual general shareholders meeting of Global Coal Management (GCM) Resources, the British mining company whose subsidiary is Asia Energy. Protesters from Bangladesh were joined by anti-coal and human rights activists whocalled to shut down GCM Resources.  The company does not have a valid licence for business with Bangladesh, but continue to sell shares in London and committing abuse and human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples, farmers and local businessmen in Phulbari.   Protesters chanted “CGM, out out”, “Gary Lye, blood on your hands”.  Gary Lye is the current CEO of GCM Resources.  “The Bangladesh government withdrew the mining licence in the wake of GCM’s atrocity but the company continues its dodgy attempts to raise funds for the operation of a perilous project. CGM is selling shares in the name of the Phulbari project in London,” stated Akhter Sobhan Khan of Committee to Protect Resources of Bangladesh. Rumana Hashem of Phulbari Solidarity Group and an eye-witness to the killings in 2006 said: The company’s CEO, Gary Lye, has been systematically abusing local opponents of the project. Earlier [in 2016] Lye has filed multiple arbitrary cases against 26 frontline local opponents, farmers, and small business entrepreneurs against mining in Phulbari and Dinajpur. This is incredible: human rights abuse facing the innocent people and their families who never had anything to do with violence before this company inflicted violence in Phulbari.  
Basic Data
NamePhulbari coal mine project, Bangladesh
CountryBangladesh
ProvinceDinajpur District, Rangpur Division
SitePhulbari region
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Coal extraction and processing
Thermal power plants
Specific CommoditiesLand
Coal
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe Phulbari open-pit coal project would include a mine and a 500 MW coal plant. The project was said to have a coal resource of 572 million metric tons and a proposed annual capacity to produce 15 metric tons per year. The coal would have provided support up to 4,000 MW of power generating capacity.
Project Area (in hectares)4,900
Level of Investment (in USD)530,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected PopulationUp to 400,000
Start Date2005
Company Names or State EnterprisesBHP Minerals from Australia
GCM Resources from United Kingdom
Asia Energy Corporation Pty Ltd from Bangladesh
Relevant government actorsBangladesh Department of Environment

Bagladesh Rifles
International and Financial InstitutionsAsian Development Bank (ADB) - ADB initially backed the project but pulled out in 2008
Royal Bank of Scotland from United Kingdom - It withdrew after the 2006 repression and international pressure
Barclays Bank from United Kingdom - It withdrew after the 2006 repression and international pressure
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersPhulbari Solidarity Group: https://phulbarisolidaritygroup.wordpress.com/

International Accountability Project: http://accountabilityproject.org/

Bangladesh National Indigenous Union (Jatiya Advasi Parishad - JAP)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Women
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
23 different tribal groups
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Public campaigns
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Blockades
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Shareholder/financial activism.
Objections to the EIA
Street protest/marches
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Strikes
Official complaint letters and petitions
Threats to use arms
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession
Outcome
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseProject cancelled
Repression
Violent targeting of activists
Withdrawal of company/investment
Deaths
On August 26, 2006, Bangladesh Rifles fired upon a crowd of over 20,000 people as they staged a protest against the proposed open pit mine. Three people from Phulbari were killed in the shootings, one was paralyzed, and several hundreds were injured.
Corruption
Court decision (undecided)
Criminalization of activists
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced on 6 February 2014 that the issue of coal extraction was to be left to “future technology as food security and protecting the land of the farmers is the first priority”. After almost eight years of protest, the people of Phulbari finally achieved their goal to stop the Phulbari open-pit coal mining project.
Sources and Materials
References

FONG-SAM, Yolanda (2014), 2012 Minerals Yearbook, Bangladesh (Advanced Release), U.S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey (USGS), November 2014,
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Global Nonviolent Action Database (2014), Indigenous Peoples in Bangladesh Protest to Stop Open Pit Coal Mine 2006-2014, by Andrés Cordero and Ryan Leitner
[click to view]

Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) (2006), Energy Kills: Phulbari coal mine project of Bangladesh, ACHR Weekly Review 131/06
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International Accountability Project, The Phulbari Coal Project, A Threat to People, Land, And Human Rights in Bangladesh, Fact Sheet
[click to view]

Phulbari Solidarity Group, Important Documents
[click to view]

Links

Phulbari Coal Project, SourceWatch, 2012
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Asia Energy's future with Phulbari coal mine bleak, UNB, Business News 24, 7 February 2014
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Massive protest against Phulbari & Barapukuria coal mines in Bangladesh, by Kate Hoshour, International Accountability Project, 4 March 2011
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Phulbari Day in Photos: Remembering the August 26 Martyrs, BanglaPraxis, 2008
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[1] Bank Information centre on ADB's involvement
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Bangladesh: OMCT welcomes the Asian Development Bank’s suspension of support for the Phulbari coal mine project
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Forum on ADB - Phulbari project
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The mystery death, a town in uproar and a $1bn UK mines deal , 3 sept. 2006.
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Media Links

The Blood-Soaked Banner of Phulbari – (Part 1), A Coal Mine against the People
[click to view]

The Blood-Soaked Banner of Phulbari – (Part 2), A Coal Mine against the People,
[click to view]

Cultural Survival. 10 years after Phulbari Massacre, Open Pit Coal Mine in Bangladesh Remains Stalled. December 20, 2016
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Other Documents

March protest at Phulbari
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Phulbari doesn't need coal mines
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Shareholder activism in London
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Other CommentsAlthough a success of environmental justice, at the end of 2016, GCM Resources plc Executive Chairman, Datuk Michael Tang PJN, said: “Although the mining sector has continued to face significant challenges over the last twelve months, we remain positive on the potential of the Phulbari coal and power project and are advancing the company towards realising its objectives.” https://www.worldcoal.com/coal/18112016/gcm-resources-remains-positive-for-its-phulbari-coal-project/
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ContributorMalena Bengtsson & Martin & Brototi Roy
Last update24/01/2017
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