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Sunday, January 04, 2015, Poush 21, 1421, Robiul Awal 12, 1436 Hijr

Coal Mining
Controversy over Asia Energy mandate drags on
Published : Sunday, 4 January, 2015,  Time : 12:00 AM,  View Count : 105
Shahnaj Begum
The government needs to clear its position on the recent operation and activities of GCM (Asia Energy) in the country to avoid future confusion although the government had claimed that the company has no valid contract with Bangladesh.
Moreover, the international community has been raising voice against the activities of GCM in the country.
Last November the UK government has urged British company GCM Resources (former Asia Energy) to assess how it plans to develop coal mine in Bangladesh.
Interestingly, government officials said that there is no valid contract with Asia Energy (GCM) under which it could continue its activities in Bangladesh, but the company raised huge amount of money from the London share market last November showing Phulbari Coal Mine as company asset.
According to sources in the Energy Ministry and Geological Survey of Bangladesh (GSB), the GCM applied to the Bureau of Mineral Department (BMD) to allow it to explore Block-G of Phulbari Coal Field (according to the licence it gets block-B) and BMD received licence renewal fees from the company.
 "The government should clear its position when the UK government and the UN body raised different questions about the Phulbari Coal Mine. The UK government statement followed an investigation into GCM's activities in the Phulbari region of north-west Bangladesh, where it wants to open a massive open-pit coal mine," Professor Anu Muhammad told The Daily Observer on Saturday.
According to the Energy Ministry the AEC's licence for feasibility study to develop Phulbari Coal Mine using open-pit method expired on January 27 in 2006, but its parent organisation continued to advertise its stake in the Phulbari coal deposit which is 'not lawful' a senior official said.
Earlier, the Energy Adviser to Prime Minister Dr Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury said, "There is no contract with Asia Energy to develop coal mine in Phulbari."
When the top officials of the Energy Ministry are giving such statements then the question arises as to how the company once again renewed its licence for continuing its operation in Bangladesh.
According to the GCM it is now running two offices, one at Phulbari and the other in the capital.
Gary Lay, top boss of GCM Dhaka office said that AEC had 'two exploration licences and a mining lease covering the Phulbari coal deposit.'
'In addition, we have a contract with the government of Bangladesh for 'exploration and mining of coal in northern Bangladesh,' he asserted.
According to the Energy Ministry, AEC (GCM) has been operating in Bangladesh since February 1998, under contract 11/C-94 given by the first Awami League government and then endorsed by the then BNP government (2001-2005).
'Yes, the officials of GCM often visit Phulbari, although the company does not have any valid stake in Bangladesh,' Energy Division Secretary Abu Bakar Siddique said.
'We are now scrutinising the legal aspects of the company's existence in Bangladesh,' he added.
Now the government is the main party and should clear its position on GCM or Asia Energy's stake in the country otherwise the confusion would continue at home and abroad as huge money is at stake, said Prof Anu Muhammad.
Locals and rights activists, including the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, have been demanding shutting down of AEC's operation in Bangladesh since 2005 saying it would destroy the water table of a vast area, environment and habitats. The project was later postponed.
According to the BMD the company maintains a bank account as per the conventional rules of Bangladesh and also comply with the requirements set by the Board of Investment, Bangladesh Bank and the National Board of Revenue.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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