An open public debate on coal extraction called for
The shifting positions of the Awami League-Jatiya Party government ever since it took office in January 2009, as mentioned in a New Age report published on Saturday, on coal extraction from the domestic reserves, do not augur well for the country that has long been starved of energy. According to the report, although the prime minister vowed in January to use imported coal in power generation keeping the domestic reserve ‘for the next generation’, the finance minister, while placing budget proposals in parliament on Thursday, suggested the framing of a coal extraction plan in keeping with the demand for power generation. Moreover, he argued for building up mass awareness about the mode of coal extraction, particularly for the much-debated open-pit mining—a mode opposed even by the incumbent prime minister in 2006 when she was in the opposition camp—after finalising the coal policy. Of course, the prime minister herself also tends to have changed her earlier position on this issue as she told the parliament on February 14 that her government would set up coal-based power plants after extracting coal from the country’s five coal mines.
Meanwhile, according to the officials concerned, the government’s plan to generate as much as 12000 megawatts of electricity using coal, which is indeed crucial for a thriving economy like ours, requires more than 30 millions of tones of coal a year, and extraction of coal from the domestic fields by other than open-cut option will hardly be able to meet that staggering demand. It is equally true, however, that power generation at the cost of people’s livelihoods and environment cannot be acceptable.
It may be pertinent to mention that all the coal mines are located in densely populated areas of the northern region generally regarded as the rice bowl of the country. Besides, there is a huge water layer over the coal deposits. Hence, in apprehension of serious adverse impact on the livelihoods of people at large as well as environment, experts suggest not to opt for open-pit mining to extract coal from those fields. In addition, public sentiment, especially, of those coal mining areas is opposed to such kind of option as well. One can recall the incident regarding the loss of three lives at Fulbari in Dinajpur on August 26 when the then Bangladesh Rifles opened fire at the people protesting against open-pit mining proposed by the Asia Energy—an international energy company—to extract coal from the mine there, which eventually led to the suspension of the project.
Be that as it may, if it is really intent on using domestic coal in power generation, the government is well advised to arrange a public debate involving all quarters, including experts and conscious sections of the society, on the method of extracting coal. It needs to realise that this is the only democratic way to make a decision, to say the least, beneficial to public interests at large.
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