Bangladesh: deadly repression of anti-coal protest

Police opened fire on peasant protestors at the site of a coal-fired power plant project in the Chittagong district of Bangladesh April 4, killing at least four. Thousands of people were charged with assault and vandalism in connection with the demonstration against the Chinese-financed project near the village of Gandamara  "We demand an immediate, full and independent inquiry into yesterday’s events to hold those responsible to account for the unnecessary murder of at least four people," two Bangladeshi groups, the National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said in a joint statement the following day. According to the groups, 15,000 peacefully marched on the site to protest land-grabs by the plants' developer when police opened fire. Police said one officer was shot in the protest and another 10 injured—a claim denied by the villagers, who also said the death toll on their side could be higher, with several still missing. 

Protests had been mounting for days after S. Alam Group, the Bangladeshi conglomerate behind the project, began levelling farmland in preparation for building the plants. "More than six thousand farmers are dependent on this fertile land for agriculture and salt production," Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), said in an statement. "These farmers traveled to Gandamara to save their livelihoods and some paid for it with their lives."

S. Alam began buying land in the area two years ago, but reportedly didn't disclose why it was purchasing the properties until this year. There was immediate outrage when locals found out about the proposed 1,224-megawatt power plant. The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports (NCPOGMRPP) claims no environmental impact assessment was prepared for the plant. In addition, it said "incidents of fraudulence and lack of transparency was visible from the very beginning of the project."

Two Chinese firms—SEPCOIII Electric Power and HTG—are financing $1.75 billion of the plants' estimated $2.4 billion cost. Because Bangladesh has limited coal reserves, the plants are expected to import millions of tons per year from Indonesia, which is itself experiencing protests over coal-mining, as farmland and forest are destroyed and communities are evicted. (, The Guardian, PowerMag, April 6; Climate Progress, AFP, April 5)