By Rumana Hashem
Yesterday, 26th August, marked 12 years of successful halt to and the outburst against an AIM-listed British company, Global Coal Resources Management (GCM) who wants to build a massive open cast coal mine by forcibly displacing 130,000 people in northwest Bangladesh. In 2006 three people were shot dead and two hundred injured as paramilitary force opened fire in a demonstration of 80,000 people who marched against plans by GCM in Phulbari. The day has been called Phulbari Day since. And a powerful resistance by people in the aftermath of the shooting against open-cast mine in Phulbari has put a decade long halt to the project.
This week two events were held in remembrance of the victims of Phullbari outburst. On Sunday, 26 August, the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports in Bangladesh held a commemoration event in Phulbari, where community members and national environmentalists paid homage by flowers to the victims who were killed by paramilitary force, allegedly paid by the company, in Phulbari on 26 August in 2006. The National Committee stated that there will be intense movement if the government fails to implement “Phulbari verdict 2006” by this December.
Earlier this week, the community activists under the banner of the Committee to Protect Resources of Bangladesh also held a commemoration event in London, where they have accused GCM for exploitation and harassment of the locals, for criminalising the society in Phulbari, and for ongoing corruption in Bangladesh. The committee has called upon the Bangladesh government for immediate implementation of the “Phulbari verdict 2006”. Members of the UK Committee of NCBD also called for the de-listing of GCM from London Stock Exchange.
If the mine is built, 130,000 families of farmers in Phulbari would be forcibly displaced. It would destroy 14,600 hectares of highly cultivable land, would pose threats to clean water resources and would leave devastative impact on one of the world’s largest mangrove forests and UNESCO heritage site, the Sunderbans. Government has cancelled the company’s license, following the outburst in 2006, but GCM continued its dodgy deals and lobbying for Phulbari coal mine.
The company has been allegedly involved in various forms of abuse and harassment of opponents of the proposed Phulbari mine. Media report on the brutal death of Nasrin Huq , the former executive director of Action Aid in Dhaka, revealed also that Huq was killed in her car park for her opposition to the project in 2005.
Anu Muhamad, the Member Secretary of the National Committee in Bangladesh, said:
GCM is a fraudulent company. Government must ban both GCM and its plan for open cast coal mine. The export idea of 80 percent coal was rooted by GCM. Its Bangladesh subsidiary, Asia Energy, proposed to export extracted coal via Bay of Bengal and the point of coal terminal was that of the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. GCM’s plans would have destroyed the Sunderbans. Besides, they have killed our people and wants to build a mine by displacing tens of thousands people from their homes. They are continuously harassing the locals and activists through filing false cases in the court, and they are criminalising our society by drug addiction. But they will not win.
GCM does not have a valid contract with Bangladesh for coal mining but they are selling shares in the name of Phulbari project. Instead of leaving Bangladesh, the company has filed multiple cases against 26 key indigenous organiser’s, local leaders, farmers, small scale business entrepreneurs and students who opposed the mine in Phulbari. The arbitrary charges were formed on 25 July in 2016 at the Dinajpur Magistrate Court, which has been traumatising and abusing all those fighting the fraught.
The company has changed its name from Asia Energy to Global Coal Management in 2010, and continued lobbying for Phulbari coal mine in Bangladesh. Despite grave concerns at national and international level, GCM is pushing the government to give it a go ahead.