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Chittagong admin tries to dispel fear

S Alam Group will have to ensure alternative livelihoods for the villagers in Gondamara of Banshkhali upazila if it is to set up a coal-based power plant there, speakers at a views-exchange meeting said yesterday.

They also urged the firm to provide information to convince locals that the proposed plant would not have any adverse impact on the area.

The Chittagong district administration organised the programme at the Circuit House.

Former lawmaker from Banshkhali Mahmudul Islam Chowdhury called upon the government to conduct an enquiry into why the Banshkhali upazila nirbahi officer went to Gondamara on April 4,

imposed Section-144 in the area and ordered cops to open fire.

“So far as I know, the situation there was not so bad that the authorities needed to impose Section-144,” said Mahmudul, also a former mayor of Chittagong City Corporation.

The locals would support the project only if it does not damage the environment, he added.

Section-144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure prohibits assembly of five or more people, holding of public meetings, and carrying of firearms.

Mahmudul, the chief patron of Gondamara Union Bachao Andolon Committee, demanded the government immediately release all the people arrested in connection with the April 4 clash and ensure punishment for the perpetrators of the police-villagers clash that left four people killed.

He also pressed for arranging a visit for local people and their representatives abroad to see coal-based power plants there.

Kafil Uddin Chowdhury, president of Chittagong District Bar Association, said those killed in the April 4 clash did not understand politics. Rather, they staged protests for fear of losing their livelihood.

“The authorities concerned should seek opinions from the locals whether the majority of them favoured the coal-based power plant. The project should go ahead only if majority people supported it,” he added.

Shafiqul Islam, deputy inspector general of Chittagong police, said S Alam Group will have to make sure that there are alternative livelihoods for the affected people. “Building houses for the affected people is not enough. Rather, they must have alternative livelihoods.”

Moqbul Hossain, director of the Department of Environment in Chittagong, said the company will be issued an Environmental Impact Assessment certificate only if it is can ensure that the project would not have any adverse affect on around 10km radius of the project area.

Mofjal Hossain of Gondamara said they watched on TV that coal-based power plants emit smoke and so they did not want the plant to be set up there.

“We are poor people. We don't have the capacity to relocate to another area,” he mentioned.

Additional Secretary of Power Division Ahmed Kaikawsar, Vice Chancellor of Chittagong University Prof Iftekher Uddin Chowdhury, former Chittagong mayor ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury and Alamgir Kabir, adviser of S Alam Group for the power plant, spoke at the programme, among others, with Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong Mejbah Uddin in the chair.

Earlier in the day, the Chittagong DC in a meeting with Gondamara Union Bachao Andolon Committee assured it of taking action against the Banshkhali UNO and officer-in-charge of Banshkhali Police Station if they were found at fault in the firing incident.  

He gave the assurance after villagers at the meeting at the conference hall of the Circuit House demanded immediate removal of the UNO and the OC.

The DC also assured the locals of withdrawing the three cases filed against around 3,000 villagers.