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Friends of the Earth Bangladesh calls for independent investigation into coal plant workers police shooting

“As an environmental organization, we hope that this project will get canceled”, BELA's lawyer said.

It has been a month since police opened fire on a workers peaceful demonstration at the under-construction Banshkhali Coal Power plant in Bangladesh [1]. They were defending their worker’s rights and payment of their overdue salary.

“They were protesting because of their underwages, disgusting working conditions and also because they want to reduce a few working hours during Ramadan month”, summarized Bareesh Hasan Chowdhury, BELA’s research lawyer.

As result of that police shooting on April 17, seven workers were killed, 21 people were injured and 3,562 were sued by the Sub-inspector of Banshkhali Police Station Rashed and Chief Coordinator of the plant Faruk Ahmed. Workers of the site said that more than 4,000 workers are working on the power plant project.

The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA/Friends of the Earth Bangladesh) with other five human rights NGO’s(*) filed two public interest litigations before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, against S. Alam group. This industrial company is behind the SS power plant construction, and has also agricultural and textile businesses in the country.

What had happened until today with injured and sued workers and victims’ families? RWR asked Mr. Bareesh Hasan Chowdhury, BELA’s research lawyer, to know how this case is going on and how litigation petition has advanced.

Right now there is a policial investigation going on, but on the litigation petition NGO’S asked the Court: the formation of a a committee to impartially investigate the shooting, time limit for the submission of reports by the investigation committees formed by district administration and the police administration after the shooting, report of the Ministry of Labor and Employment on labor safety, protection and medical treatment and the payment of adequate compensation to the injured workers and families of the deceased workers. “Until now, injured didn’t receive the cares they needed -also because of COVID and lockdown situation”, Bareesh Hasan Chowdhury told RWR.

After the shooting, around 3,000 people have been sued by the police; most of them are unnamed. “This is part of the harassment they suffered, basically to keep them quiet” Bareesh added. “In all the incidents mentioned, the police filed cases against a number of anonymous workers, establishing a reign of terror in the area”.

This was not the first attack against workers with firearms: four villagers were killed on April 4, 2016 and one villager on February 1, 2017 in the firing of the armed forces of the owners and police with the local people over the land acquisition of this power project. People were mobilized fearing negative impact of these projects on their lives.

Besides, the owners of the SS Power Plant have not paid any compensation to the workers killed in any of these three incidents, nor have they paid any medical expenses to the workers injured in any of these three incidents. That’s why BELA, based on the written petition filed at the Court, ordered S. Alam group to provide BDT 500,000 to the families of each of the deceased workers, which is actually almost USD 6,000.

“As an environmental organization, we hope that this project will get canceled. We should be funding renewable energies projects”, BELA’s lawyer concluded.

Energy business

The coal power plant it’s been constructed in the city of Banshkhali, on the coast, nearby the ocean, in Chittagong region, South East of Bangladesh. Supposedly, the plant had to be finished by 2019, but they got a two-year extension from the government on the project, so it is still under construction, Bareesh explained.

The 1,320 megawatt power plant named SS Power Plant was jointly built by the Bangladeshi industrial company S. Alam Group and Chinese companies Sepco Three Power Construction Corporation and HTG Development Group Company Limited.

“The government gave quite a large tax exemption to S. Alam and co-financing Chinese group when they acquired the land for this project and this sort of construction to be there. There is a partnership between industrial groups like that and the government to, not only facilitate, but also sort of protect their interests as well. [Also] they did not have appropriate environmental cares when they begun to build this coal power plant”.

In 2017, BELA denounced the plan of the government of Bangladesh to go for 28 more coal based power plants in a world heritage site, Sundarbans.

(*) BELA, ALRD, BLAST, Nijera Kori, SRS and ASK.