DHAKA — Several thousand villagers affected by coalmine in northern Bangladesh district of Dinajpur continued their sit-in demonstrations at Barapukuria coal field over the week demanding full payment of their compensation as committed by the government for their rehabilitation.
The inhabitants from 15 affected villages carrying sticks and chanting slogans joined the demonstration since June 18 and announced to extend the program till June 28.
“If our demands are not met by June 28, we will go for tougher action program”, said Md. Ibrahim Khalil, the convener of “Jibon O Shampad Rakkha Committee,” a platform of land subsidence affected people. The committee leaders said they would not return home without getting the full compensation money.
Barapukuria coal mine with a production capacity of 1 Mt/yr of coal is operated by Barapukuria Coal Mining Co. Ltd (BCMCL), the coal mining subsidiary the government owned oil, gas and mining company Petrobangla. Coal is now being extracted in long-wall mining process.
The government claims the country has coal reserves estimated at around 3.0 billion tons in five mines, including Barapukuria, and is looking to mine the other four.
The 2,500-acre underground Barapukuria mine includes 650 acres of agricultural land on the surface. The International Accountability Project reports that mining operations at Barapukuria have destroyed roughly 300 acres of land, impacting about 2,500 people in seven villages, as land subsidence of over one meter in depth has destroyed crops and lands and damaged homes. People in 15 villages have also reportedly lost their access to water, as huge quantities of water pumped out for the Barapukuria mine caused a rapid drop in water levels.
As the villagers affected by land subsidence sought compensation and repair of their homes, Barapukuria Coal Mine Company Ltd, has proposed building and resettling them in eight to ten “tin sheds”.
Faced with resistance by people in Barapukuria, Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, the energy adviser to the prime minister, announced that the government was considering plans to establish a “Coal City” near Barapukuria, which would provide housing and new sources of livelihood for victims of land subsidence.
According to Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, the resettlement of people whose homes have been destroyed is to be carried out in phases. The Coal City would initially be designed to provide homes and livelihoods for 10,000 families, but may ultimately expand to 100,000 families.
Since coal mining began in 2005, there have been a series of fatal and near-fatal accidents, including the death of a British mining expert caused by inhaling poisonous gases, a gas leakage accident in 2005 that required the closing and sealing off a portion of the mine, and a roof cave-in on May 11, 2010 that killed one worker and wounded 19 people.
Engineers report that government policy makers have failed to heed their warnings about inadequate health, safety and environmental provisions in the Barapukuria mine, with some stating that standard safety procedures are virtually non-existent at the mine.
Meanwhile, since last year, the villagers have been demanding 100 percent compensation package of Tk.190 crore.
According to the villagers Tk.112crore, a part of the total 190 crore were so far distributed among the people since September 22 last year, while Tk.78 crore still remains unpaid.
On Monday the villagers including men, women and children started a 120-hour-long sit-in program in front of mine entrance gate.
However BCMCL authority claimed that the mining works continue as usual under strict security measures with deployment of huge contingents of police, Border Guards of Bangladesh ( BGB) and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) members in and outside the mine area.
As the administrative officials of the district and the coal mining company approached at the scene, thee villagers continued chanting slogans against them demanding payment of full compensation money and jobs in the mine as committed by the government.
The villagers alleged that at least 2400 families of 1337 holdings on 627 acre land of 10 villages affected due to land subsidence of BCMCL since the mine authority detected first land subsidence in 2006.
Engineer Md. Quamruzzaman, the Managing Director of BCMCL said that they have nothing to do in this regards as they are not authorized to distribute the package money. The agitation have been disrupting their regular works at the mine area he added.
Earlier the government approved Tk.190crore for land subsidence affected people in 2010 and deposited the money to the account of district administrative head, the Deputy Commissioner of Dinajpur.
A committee headed by Dinajpur Deputy Commissioner has been monitoring the disbursement of the fund among the people.
Md. Jamal Uddin Ahmed Deputy Commissioner of Dinajpur earlier said that the most villagers received their package money but they were yet to leave the area, he added.
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