The Fulbari mass uprising is an example of this spirit. It has been 12 years (2006-2018) since the 26 August historic Fulbari mass uprising. The people gave their lives, in unity and unrelenting resistance, to protect the country. But the conspiracy continues. The leaders of the movement are being harassed with false cases against them. But the resistance continues. The protests and demonstrations all over the country against the Rampal project, a threat to the Sundarbans, has strengthened the spirit.
What was the Fulbari project all about, that people had to give their lives and, 12 years hence, that struggle is still on? Under the project, the newly formed inexperienced company Asian Energy, now known as GCM, wanted to take ownership of the coal mine extending over six thanas, giving Bangladesh only six per cent royalty. They were prepared to export 80 per cent of the coal to ensure their profit. A railway track would be laid down up till the Sundarbans, destroying the forest, in order to export the coal, and the entire earnings would go to that company. And the cost of constructing the railway line would be taken from Bangladesh’s six per cent royalty! These exploiters would not only destroy this area which is known for its rich harvest of three crops of year, but would take away the coal too. Several hundred thousand people would be homeless. Cropland would be destroyed, water resources depleted, and the people would be in dire straits. In return of a six per cent royalty, these looters would take away the coal resources. And this was touted as a ‘development project’.
Without official approval, Asia Energy even used the Fulbari coal mine to do business in the London share market for 13 years. The government changed hands four times in that span of time and none of the governments took any action against them. Committees were formed. In 2006 a committee was formed, headed by Dr Nurul Islam. In 2007 a committee was headed by Abdul Matin Patwary. In 2008 a review committee, and in 2011 the Mosharraf Hossain committee was formed. Despite all sorts of pressure and efforts, none of these committees found Asia Energy’s Fulbari coal project justified in any way.
There are the common responses to such public interest movements: You all are not allowing coal to be extracted, gas to be extracted. You are opposing coal-fired power plants, nuclear power, so how do you expect to get electricity? What do you all want? You all simply oppose everything. You opposed TICFA, oil and gas contracts, gas export, open pit mining, Rampal power plant, quick rental power plants. Where do you want to take Bangladesh?
My reply to these gentlemen is, you all can make the questions concise: ‘Why are you opposing the robbery, corruption, lack of transparency and anti-people activities? Why are you opposing projects that are a threat to life, nature and the country?’
Yes, we are opposed to all of this. We say ‘no’ to all of this because we have a strong ‘yes’ in favour of the people. The resources belong to the people and we want to ensure these are used properly. We want that our limited resources are not robbed in the name of export by local and foreign looters. These resources should be used entirely in the interests of the country. We don’t want the future to be jeopardised for instant gratification. The country’s development policy should centre on the people, not the profits of a few. When the country’s haven Sundarbans is being destroyed, it is our responsibility to protect it.
Development policies that go against the interests of the people are linked with anti-people politics and autocratic power. The various governments in power have used the development carrot to usher in all sorts of horrendous projects. At one point of time the ministers and bureaucrats of the country, consultants, the World Bank, ADB and various embassies were desperate to hand over our gas resources to foreign companies for export. They proclaimed that the country was floating on gas and if the gas wasn’t exported soon, it would be a disaster for the country. If the gas was exported, the country would see exponential development. And a group of businessmen became agents for the US companies, promoting the export of gas in exchange of a commission. It was even said if gas wasn’t exported, the readymade garment market in the US would be closed for Bangladesh. The readymade industry would crash and millions would be left jobless.
We rejected such voices and the people were with us. Their attempts to export gas were thwarted. And so we still have gas, we can switch on our lights, industries are running, business is running, and because of CNG, people in the city can breathe. Had gas been exported then, we wouldn’t have even half the electricity generated now.
Those who had been jumping about to export gas, a few years later were in favour of open pit coal mining, that too by a novice company. Rather than using the coal in the north region of the country, they wanted to export it. Yet they proclaimed that there could be no electrification or development in the north without this open pit coal mine. And many of them are now on the payroll of the project to destroy the Sundarbans.
The power problem must be resolved, but why should suicidal proposals be accepted? The proposed master plan drawn up by the national committee on 22 July clearly shows that it is easily possible to resolve the power problem. There is no need for Fulbari, Rampal, Rooppur, Banshkhali and other debt-laden projects that will destroy life, nature and the country’s resources. The roadmap drawn up by the national committee for renewable and non-renewable energy can provide affordable, continued and environment-friendly power all around the country.
The demand that has arisen this year is to cancel the corruption impunity act and the Rampal project which poses as a threat to the Sundarbans, and to publish a white paper on all the projects in the energy and power sectors. A probe must be conducted into the role of the ministers and energy advisors and the energy criminals must be tried. The false cases against the Fulbari leaders must be withdrawn. National capacity must be built up and the gas resources used entirely for the country. Initiative must be taken to implement the national committee’s master plan so that a continuous supply of gas and electricity at affordable prices is available to the people all over the country.