Mining CEO resigns after Bangladeshi protests

Posted on 4 Feb 2013
The area earmarked for the coal mine is part of an area contributing most the country's food. Photography by Md Aslam.
The area earmarked for the coal mine is part of an area contributing most the country's food. Photography by Md Aslam.

Straight out of the frying pan into the coal fire.

Thousands of Bandladeshi men, women and children have continued to line the streets against a British company’s plan to construct a coal mine that would displace 220,000 people and pollute the world’s last remaining mangrove forest.

The constant protests in the region and around the world have led one of Global Coal Management’s directors, Graham Taggart, to resign.

And the problems didn’t stop there for the London-based resource exploration company Global Coal Management Resources (GCM). Protests prevented Gary Lye, CEO, from visiting the controversial site in Phulbari, Bangladesh.

State officials warned Mr Lye against visiting, with local press reporting that he had planned to distribute blankets to people living in the area.

The future of the Phulbari Coal Project is now in doubt after a haul of executive resignations and news that Polo Resources, the company’s largest shareholder, is considering selling its 29.77% stake in the company.

The project has been shrouded in controversy since 2006, when three people were killed and around 200 injured when paramilitary officers opened fire on 700,000 protesters.

The proposed mine in north-west Bangladesh is projected to extract 572 million tonnes of coal over 36 years, with GCM saying that the open-pit mine would generate £4.5 billion a year in taxes.

Bangladeshi parliamentary committee has also spoken out against GCM, claiming that that the company does not have a valid agreement with the Bangladeshi government to precede with the mine.

As well as displacing up to 220,000 people, the United Nations says that threatens to destroy a major food-producing agricultural region, and pollute of the world’s largest remaining mangrove forest, the Sundarban Reserve Forest, a UNESCO-protected World Heritage site.

With the Phulbari Coal Project planning to export with 80% of coal, eight million tonnes of coal would be transferred to ocean going vessels at a floating facility located within the Sundarbans, the world’s biggest mangrove forest, posing a great risk of spills.

The project’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment rates the risk that barge fuel could contaminate the reserve as “extremely high,” adding that a “worst case scenario” would result in “extreme mortality or severe damage to mangroves and other shoreline plant species.”

The UN estimated that 50,000 to 130,000 people would be immediately displaced by the project, with up to 220,000 potentially affected over time as irrigation channels and wells dry up.

UN official Olivier De Schutter said that the Phulbari coal mine should not be allowed to proceed” as it violates human rights and threatens to destroy 12,000 hectares of productive agricultural land.

“The Phulbari development would displace vulnerable farming communities, and threaten the livelihoods of thousands more by doing irreversible damage to water sources and ecosystems in the region,” said a team from the UN.

Mr De Schutter says that “Local food production should be strengthened, not sacrificed for industrial projects. The land under threat … supports the entire country’s food needs.”

The Phulbari Coal Project would evict or impoverish 50,000 Indigenous People belonging to 23 different tribal groups. Bangladesh’s National Indigenous Union (Jatiya Adivasi Parishad) reported that many trace their ancestry in the region back 5,000 years.

Those likely to be affected include indigenous peoples, including the villages Santal, Munda, Mahili and Pahan. “Indigenous leaders fear that if their small communities are broken apart and dispersed, they will not be able to maintain the cultural traditions, religious practices, and languages that have sustained them for thousands of years,” commented Paula Palmer, director of Cultural Survival’s Global Response program. “To them the mine means ethnocide.”

GCM’s London AGM ended in chaos in December when a protester dressed as Santa Claus presented chairman Gerard Holden with a Christmas stocking full of coal.

“The Phulbari mine will cause irreparable environmental damage,” said World Development Movement campaigner Christine Haigh. “It’s high time GCM listened to the massive sustained opposition in Bangladesh and abandoned the project.