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Barapukuria left in the lurch from the start

Northern region reeling from power plant shutdown

Published : Tuesday, 24 July, 2018 at 12:00 AM  Count : 506

Coal at Barapukuria mine site.	file photo

Coal at Barapukuria mine site. file photo

The unusual shut down of Barapukuria Coal Mine Company Ltd (BCMCL) and Barapukuria Power Plant is an example of complete mismanagement between the two state-owned authorities and lack of monitoring of Petrobangla, experts feels. Petrobangla which runs BCMCL has already removed Habib Uddin Ahmed and Abul Kashem Prodhaniya from the posts of Managing Director (administration and secretariat) and Secretary of the BCMCL respectively and suspended General Manager (mine operation) Nuruzzaman Chowdhury and Deputy General Manager Khademul Islam. It appointed Ayub Khan Chowdhury as its Managing Director on Thursday night.

The entire Rangpur Division is reeling from huge load-shedding and experiencing continuous low voltage disrupting all sorts of electricity-run devices including household water pumps. "It is ridiculous to believe that there has been an inventory at the coal mine since 2005. They calculated its production through taking an average coal production scenario of Barapukuria Coal Mine. How is it running? What is the concerned wing of the Petrobangla doing there?" former energy adviser Dr Tamim questioned while talking to the Daily Observer on Monday.

Chief Engineer of the power plant Abdul Hakim wrote on July 19 that 'the plant will be shut down in a few days due to coal shortage'. But suddenly it was reported in the media that coal worth around Tk227 crore was illegally sold from Barapukuria Coal Mine.  "I do not know the real fact but it is not acceptable that the coal production has been suspended due to shortage of coal supply. The power plant is going to be inoperative and it is not the common scenario. Only a story of pilferage behind the shut-down cannot be accepted," Dr Tamim said, adding that it is a mess.

He said without increasing a definite production level, the mining authority gave its nod to commissioning the third unit of Barpukuria power plant. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday sat with State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Nasrul Hamid and officials concerned of the Petrobangla and BCMCL and PDB to know about the situation. Nasrul Hamid told the Prime Minister that the power situation in the northern part of the country will be normal within next two months.

Meanwhile, Petrobangla formed a three-member body led by its Director (operation) Kamruzzaman to investigate the incident of coal pilferage. Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) too has taken up the issue in their own way as an allegation was raised that the coal worth around Tk227 crore was illegally sold from Barapukuria Coal Mine. "The power plant has three units. Two of them are with 125MW capacity each while the third and the biggest one has the capacity of 275MW power generation. The plant went into operation in November 2017.

It was said that the present rate of coal extraction would not be able to support the three power projects at a time," a senior official said.
BCMCL sources said the authority is going to extract coal from a new site for which it is shifting all of its equipment from one area to another and shut down the production. Earlier, the plant required around 5000 thousand metric tonnes of coal per year but now it requires around 4,000 tonnes of coal on a daily basis which is supplied by the Barapukuria Coal Mine. Regarding the coal siphoning issue, the former boss of the BCMCL Md Abul Quashem Pradhania told the media that "it had been suffering systems loss ever since the company started mining coal in 2005. However, the mining authority did not adjust the systems loss in its annual audit report, leading to the "mistake" in coal stock," Quashem added.

According to Quashem, coal extracted from a mine is usually wet and it gets thinner as it dries up over time - a major issue that contributes to system loss. A large amount of coal is wasted every year, which is not mentioned in the audit report, he further claimed. Expressing great concern over the matter, energy expert Prof M Shamsul Alam said the disappearance of the coal was premeditated. "This is not an instant decision as to how much coal will be extracted from a mine. Some unscrupulous officials in the government might have sold out the coal out of extreme greed to make a quick buck."

There is no technical reason behind the coal disappearing, he said, terming the incident "a national disaster."  He also blamed Petrobangla for the issue and demanded that a committee comprising members from the civil society be formed to investigate the scam. State Minister Nasrul Hamid said: "The government formed a committee and asked it to submit its findings within seven working days with an warning that the culprits behind the scam will be brought to book."

He admitted that due to this unexpected shutdown of the power plant, the northern region of Bangladesh - especially Rangpur, Panchagarh, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Dinajpur and Thakurgaon districts - may experience unusual power cuts or low voltage problems. The PDB Chief said the authorities were trying to ensure power supply to the districts from alternative sources, such as power plants in other districts like Sirajganj, Khulna and Rajshahi and beg apology from its consumers for the sufferings.

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