Dealing firmly with coal scam

Shahiduzzaman Khan | Published: July 28, 2018 22:16:00


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered for reinvestigating the Barapukuria coal mine scam and bringing the people responsible for the crime to book as quickly as possible.

  Perusing the first probe report on the scam, State Minister for Power and Energy Nasrul Hamid said that the Petrobangla had never made any inventory since start of Barapukuria coal-mine operation and supply of coal to the nearby Barapukuria power plant in 2006.

The 525 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant was shut down due to coal crisis, as coal was missing from coal yard. The current market price of the stolen coal is around Tk 2.30 billion.

The forced shutdown of the nearby Barapukuria power plant triggered a huge power cut in the country's northern region. When informed of the situation, the Prime Minister ordered the first enquiry into the scam.

The state-owned Petrobangla had earlier formed a three-member inquiry committee, headed by a director after it detected alleged disappearance of 146,000-metric tonnes of coal from its subsidiary coal-mine in Dinajpur.  

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), meantime, filed a criminal case against some 19 top officials of the coal mine. It also formed a three-member probe committee to look into the 'disappearance of coal' from the coal mine.

According to an unofficial note of the anti-graft body, the managing director of the coal mine company and others allegedly sold 0.16 million tonnes of coal and embezzled Tk 2.0 billion. Mostly the districts in the northern areas of Bangladesh are facing power crisis due to the shutdown of the plant as they receive power supply mainly from the Barapukuria plant.

The shortage of coal suddenly came to the notice of a Power Development Board (PDB) team which visited the coal mine and found that there was no adequate reserve of coal in the yard of the mine. The team found that there was only 6,000 tonnes of coal reserved in the yard which would meet the needs of only two to three days.  

The coal production in the Barapukuria coal mine was earlier suspended for about one and half months under a programme to change the mining shaft.   But the PDB was assured by the (BCMC) authorities of continuing the coal supply from the reserved coal during the closure of the mine operation.  

The thermal power plant requires about 4,500 tonnes of coal a day when all the three units are in operation. But now two units are remaining off. Only the third unit with 275MW capacity is reportedly operating to a tune of 130 MW.

Looking back to the history of the coal mine, an Australian mining company discovered coal in Phulbari between 1994 and 1997. But the company sold its right to mine to London-based Asia Energy Corporation. The Corporation proposed an open pit mine project, and estimated that it would take thirty-six years to mine the deposit. The Bangladesh Department of Environment also approved the open pit mine project.

On August 26, 2006, 50,000 people marched to demonstrate opposition to the proposed mining project. The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) opened fire on protestors, and killed five people. Protestors held demonstrative funerals for the five activists who were shot and killed during the protest.

On February 06, 2014, a meeting was held in Bangladesh with the Power and Energy Ministry's officials. In the meeting, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, stated that it was in the country's best interest to stop coal extraction for the time being.

However, a small volume of coal was explored from the mine during the roadway development of the coalmine before 2005. Some of it was sold, while the rest was stockpiled. Since September 10, 2005, the BCMC began commercial exploration and maintained the stock record by adding the previous stock with the freshly extracted coal.

The development of the mine began in 2001. Between 2001 and July 19 this year, some 1,01,66,042.33 tonnes were explored. Of that, about 66,87,029 tonnes were supplied to the power plant while 33,19,280.37 tonnes were sold to various private companies. Another 12,088.27 tonnes were used at the mine's boiler (for internal use such as for air conditioners, heating system etc).

On July 19 this year, there should have been a stock of 1,47,644 tonnes, but there were only 3,000 tonnes, said the case statement. This means, there was a deficit of 1,44,644 tonnes worth about Tk 2.30 billion.

The  report submitted by the committee blamed improper maintenance of inventory for disappearance of coal while a case was filed against 19 Barapukuria coal mine  officials for the scam that caused closure of a power plant and power supply disruption in Rangpur division.

BCMCL Managing Director Habib Uddin Ahmed was suspended and made an officer on special duty (OSD) after the incident came to limelight. The following day, a Petrobangla director visited the coal mine yard and found insufficient coal, he mentioned. According to mine officials, the coal stock was around 25,000 tonnes on July 16.

He mentioned that production of coal at the mine would resume early in September. Weekend and Eid-ul-Azha holidays of all the BCMCL staffers have been cancelled. It is necessary to resume mining as early as possible so that power generation at the power plant resumes at the earliest.

Although the power plant suspended production on July 22, the PDB was trying to manage the power supply across the country through load shedding. The BCMCL produced around 1.01 billion tonnes of coal from 2005 to June 16 this year. The company sold 66.87 lakh tonnes to BPDB and 33.19 lakh tonnes to brickfield operators and other industries. Besides, the company itself used 12,000 tonnes of coal.

The deposit of coal was only 3,000 tonnes on July 18 which should have been 1,47,644 tonnes. The accused were involved in the theft of 1,44,644 tonnes of coal worth about Tk 230 crore.

Uproar over the alleged negligence of the safeguarding the national assets is now mounting. Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) and Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association in joint statement demanded an acceptable investigation into the coal scam and punish the errant officials. They also demanded that allocation of coal to polluted brick fields should be banned.

They noted that Petrobangla, Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources and Barapukuria Coal Mining Company Limited could not avoid responsibility for failure to safeguard the national assets.

All said and done, the government needs to speed up completion of the probe and take necessary actions against errant officials. Full-scale extraction of the coal should be ensured so that northern region is not affected by power outage.

szkhanfe@gmail.com

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