This is a translated version of an important report by Mohammad Arifuzzaman, a senior journalist at the daily Prothom Alo. The report was published on 24 August 2019 in both the hard copy of and online Prothom Alo – Bangladesh’s most widely read newspaper in Dhaka. Our colleague, Munira Chowdhury, has interpreted this from Bengali to English to help clarify the position of Bangladesh government on the question of GCM’s illegal business and claims related to Phulbari coal mine. Mohammad Arifuzzaman reports that Government is considering a legal action against GCM because GCM is selling shares on the basis of false information. Read detailed report below.
Asia Energy providing false information on Phulbari contract
By Mohammad Arifuzzaman, Dhaka, 24 August 2019.
At the moment the government of Bangladesh does not have a contract (or agreement) with London-based company Global Coal Management (GCM or formerly known as Asia Energy). Even then, the company is trading shares in United Kingdom’s London Stock Exchange (LSE) making claims that coal will be extracted and used for power generation from coal mines in Phulbari, Dinajpur. The government of Bangladesh is considering legal action in this regard.
The Deput-State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, Nasrul Hamid, commented on this to Prothom Alo. He said: “Even in the absence of an agreement, GCM or Asia Energy is trading shares in London by providing information that coal would be extracted from Phulbari, which is false. The government has taken this into notice. The government is proceeding to take legal action against them.”
The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s clear instructions are that the government has no plans to extract coal from Phulbari, said Nasrul Hamid. Phulbari’s coal has been reserved for the future. The extraction of coal would be considered if any advanced technology in the future emerges that will not harm the environment.
Sources from the ministry informed that Asia Energy received a two-year permit (license) from the Energy Department’s Bureau of Mineral Resource Development (BMD) on 27 January 2004 for survey and work plan (for coal mining) for Dinajpur’s Phulbari coal mine. That permit expired on 27 January in 2006. BMD has not renewed Asia Energy’s permit since then. Therefore, the UK-based company has no legal license to play any role in the development of Phulbari’s coal mine.
After receiving permit in 2004, Asia Energy attempted to extract coal at Phulbari through open pit mining. According to Energy Department officials, then ruling parties BNP-Jamaat alliance gave the company permit to extract coal with 92 percent ownership.
At that time, the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, opposed the extraction of coal through open pit mining and coal exports and started protests against Asia Energy. As a part of the protests, on 26 August 2006, a rally was organised at the site of the coal mine at Phulbari.
Three locals were killed and more than two hundred were injured when the then BDR (now BGB) opened fire at the people gathered at the rally. Following these events, in order to manage this situation, the government reached an agreement with the National Committee. One of the major conditions of that agreement was the ban of Asia Energy from the country and their just trial as well as a stop to open pit mining of coal.
Doing business in the United Kingdom by showcasing resources in Bangladesh Energy Department officials inform that Asia Energy was listed in 2004 with Alternative Investment Market (AIM), a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange. However, the name of the company was changed to GCM. AIM allows different companies with potential for future growth to raise investments in the share market.
Despite the fact that Asia Energy does not have any permit from with Bangladesh post 2006, the company is still disclosing information on the London Stock Exchange with the Phulbari coal mine in its listed assets. In the meantime, on 17 January this year, Asia Energy has signed an agreement with Chinese firm PowerChina to build mine-mouth power plant at the Phulbari. Asia Energy’s stock price was down for several years in London stock market. After the signing an agreement with the Chinese company, the value of each share stood at 25.75 pence (100 pence = 1 British pound).
The Ministry of Power did not know of Asia Energy’s agreement with the Chinese company to build
mine-mouth power plant at Phulbari. State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid said: “the matter would be seriously scrutinized. In order to find out how Asia Energy is making claims to plans for extraction of coal from Phulbari coal mine while they are not having a valid permit to do so.
The daily Prothom Alo contacted the company’s media and communication specialist Mahmood Hafiz through mobile phone. He said to Prothom Alo, “I am not the right person to talk about matter.”
Meanwhile, 12 environmental and rights-based organisations under the banner of Phulbari Solidarity Coalition wrote to the London Stock Exchange chief financial officer, David P. Warren, on 19 July with a petition to halt GCM’s share trading. Making these demands, members of the 12 environmental groups staged a protest in front of the London Stock Exchange office on Friday. These 12 organisations are the Phulbari Solidarity Group, the UK branch of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, Foil Vedanta, Extinction Rebellion-UK, the United States-based Mangrove Action Project and BankTrack, among others.
Anu Muhammad, the member-secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port told Prothom Alo that: “it is unacceptable that the government does not know of the openly disclosed agreement of Asia Energy to develop power plants at the mine site with a Chinese company. The illegal activities of this company need to be stopped. In fact, a dominant group of people receives money from Asia Energy, which is the reason behind the government’s inaction against them.”
The Bangla original version of the report is accessible here, the daily Prothom Alo, 24 August 2019.