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5 die in police firing at Banshkhali coal plant

  • Published at 06:51 am April 17th, 2021
Banshkhali Upazila Health Complex
People crowd outside Banshkhali Upazila Health Complex in Chittagong after a clash between police and workers of a power plant in the upazila on Saturday, April 17, 2021 Courtesy: Bangla Tribune

Villagers also joined the workers’ protest that began Friday demanding dues

At least five people died and dozen others sustained critical injuries during a clash between the police and workers of an under-construction coal-power plant of S Alam Group at Banshkhali upazila of Chittagong on Saturday.

Police claimed that they had to open fire as the workers had attacked them during a meeting with the local administration over unpaid wages and allowances. 

The deceased are Ahmad Reza, 18, Rony Hossain, 22, Shuvo, 24, Md Rahat, 24, and Rayhan, 25.

Banshkhali Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Saiduzzaman Chowdhury confirmed the figures of fatalities, reports Bangla Tribune. He added that local people had joined the workers’ protest. 

Azizul Islam, officer-in-charge of Banshkhali police, said that tension had been prevailing since Friday over non-payment of the workers' dues, reports UNB.

“On Saturday morning, the leaders of the workers' union sat in a meeting with the local administration to settle the issue. At one stage, an altercation ensued between the police and the power plant workers around 11:45am, triggering a chase and counter-chase.

“Later, police fired bullets to disperse the workers,” the OC said.

Five of the injured, who sustained bullet injuries, were taken to Chittagong Medical College and Hospital while the others were undergoing treatment at Banshkhali Upazila Health Complex.

Several police members were also injured yesterday. The agitated workers carried out vandalism and arson attacks inside the power plant, the OC said.

This is not the first time protesters are killed over construction of the $2.4b ultra supercritical thermal power plant, partially funded by two Chinese companies, on the bank of Sandwip Channel of the Bay of Bengal at Gondamara Union of Banshkhali.

Also Read - Banshkhali clash: Authorities pledge to meet demands of power plant workers

Locals – mostly fishermen and workers of salt and fish farms – waged a massive protest in 2016 after the government signed a deal allowing construction of the 1,224MW plant on a land of 660 acres fearing that it would jeopardize the livelihood of  30,000 people. 

During the protest on April 4, at least four protesters were killed and 30 others injured after the police and supporters of the plant project opened fire on them during a rally at Gondamara.

Another person was killed and a dozen others were injured during a clash between two rival groups of villagers on February 2, 2017, following a meeting organised in favour of the power plant by the Navy, local administration and S Alam Group.

The plant – two 612MW generation units – was expected to start commercial production on November 16, 2019 but the sponsors could not complete the construction works. On July 12 last year, they were fined Tk200 crore and got an extension of two years. 

S Alam group holds 70% stake of the project while Chinese companies SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corporation and STG Development Group hold 20% and 10% shares respectively.

The contract was awarded on the basis of unsolicited offer under the Speedy Supply of Power and Energy (Special Provision) Act 2010.

Locals argue that S Alam group bought land from them saying that it would build garments and other factories which would generate huge employment in the area. But later they learnt that they would build a coal-based power plant which is harmful for the air, water and land of the area.

The local Land Office gave its clearance to S Alam Group to buy 3,000 acres of land, terming it a “barren land,” which would be used for setting up the Genesis Textile and Apparels Limited” and S Alam Vegetable Oil Ltd.

In the face of protests, a top officer of S Alam Group said that they would try to convince the locals about the plant. If failed, they would shift the plant to Chokoria. 

But they did not change the plan apparently after the prime minister castigated the protesters saying that some people opposed coal-fired power plants in the name of protecting the environment, whereas the government’s priority was to increase power generation.

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