ACC opens probe into coal scam
12:00 AM, July 24, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:10 AM, July 24, 2018

Barapukuria Coal Scam: ACC swings into action

PM for thorough probe

The Anti-Corruption Commission, which yesterday began probing the coal going missing from the Barapukuria mine, shifted to high gear and is already smelling graft.

The anti-graft body formed a committee in Dhaka around noon yesterday to investigate the alleged scam involving 1.45 lakh tonnes of coal, worth over Tk 227 crore, going missing from the yard of Barapukuria Coal Mining Company Ltd (BCMCL). By 3:00pm, a team from ACC's Dinajpur office was at the mine in Parbatipur upazila going through documents.

"After examining the papers and the coal yard of the mine, it appears that corruption had been committed here," said Benjir Ahmed, who led the five-member team.

"As per the documents here, around 1.46 lakh tonnes of coal should have been at the yard, but, we found hardly 2,000 tonnes during the visit," said Benjir, deputy director of ACC Dinajpur. His team spent two and a half hours at the mine yesterday.

He, however, said what exactly happened there could not be explained without examining all relevant documents.

The ACC officials in Dhaka would talk to mine officials who had been removed, he said, adding that the probe would take time.

The ACC had formed the three-member committee in Dhaka, with its Deputy Director Shamsul Alam as its chief, and asked it to complete the enquiry within 15 working days, said ACC's Public Relations Officer Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya.

The probe body formed Thursday by state-run Petrobangla, parent company of the mine, is yet to visit the site, said a mine official. Md Kamruzzaman, a director of the company, leads the committee.

The managing director and a general manager of the mine had been withdrawn on Thursday. Petrobangla also suspended another general manager and a deputy general manager in this connection.

The disappearance of coal triggered a crisis for the 525MW Barapukuria power plant, the single largest buyer of the mine's coal. The plant had to be shut down indefinitely Sunday night as it did not have any fuel.

The plants contribution to the national grid was lost and many in the northern region were getting poor power supply.

PM FOR PROPER PROBE

State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resource Nasrul Hamid yesterday said the prime minister directed the authorities concerned to probe the entire incident at the mine, reports BSS.

Talking to reporters at his ministry office yesterday, he said, “The investigation will find all the people involved … The prime minister urges all to be patient for a short time.”

Replying to a question, he said Petrobangla failed to play its role in monitoring Barapukuria coalmine and its stock.

Nasrul said BCMCL has been directed to file a case against the people involved in the coal going missing, reports BSS.

He said steps had been taken to ensure that the northern region, especially Rangpur, got smooth power supply within a month.

“We have enough electricity. Power is being supplied to Rangpur from Sirajganj. Due to the unexpected incident, the northern region of Bangladesh may experience low voltage issue,” he said.

NORTH SUFFERING

Apart from power cuts, people of Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Thakurgaon and Nilphamari were experiencing voltage fluctuations, a direct result of the Barapukuria Coal Fired Thermal Power Plant going offline, said Abdul Hakim Sarkar, the plants chief engineer.

Khalid Mahmud, chairman of Bangladesh Power Development Board (PDB), echoed his statement at a press briefing at his office in Dhaka yesterday.

PBD is trying to handle the crisis by producing more power, said the chairman.

“We have been experiencing voltage fluctuations and frequent power cuts for the last couple of days,” said Kudrat E Khuda, a college teacher and a resident of Mosjidpara in Panchagarh town.

Mine's coal going missing affected the power plant and now the power plant going offline could affect the mine.

Officials of the coalmine and of Petrobangla's Maddhyapara Granite Mining Company Ltd said their operations were likely to suffer due to voltage fluctuations.

The coalmine suspended production on June 29 to relocate equipment to a new coalface. Production is expected to resume at the end of August, a general manager of the mine had said.

But Barapukuria power plant's chief engineer Hakim was hopeful that electricity generation could resume “from the 3rd week of August”.

Mine sources, however, were sceptical. “We need more than 45 days to prepare the mine for resuming coal production,” said a source.

After the coal was found missing, the government formed a six-member committee to assess coal production, sale and current stock at the 17-acre yard of the mine.

According to its findings, 1,01,66,000 tonnes of coal was produced between 2005 and June 29 this year. Of that, 66,87,000 tonnes were supplied to the PDB since 2006 for generating power, said Jubaer Ahmed, deputy general manager (operations) of the mine who led the probe committee.

Besides, 33.19 lakh tonnes were sold to different organisations and brickkilns. The mine authorities took another 12,000 tonnes for their own use, such as for running their air conditioners and heating systems, he added.

So, there should have been a stock of 1,48,000 tonnes of coal at the yard. But the committee found around 3,000 tonnes, Jubaer told The Daily Star.

Coalmine officials tried to downplay the findings, saying the shortage was a result of a system loss that had not been recorded over the years.

Since production started at the mine in 2005, some coal might have been lost due to system loss, such as washout in rainwater and spontaneous combustion, a mine official said on Sunday asking not to be named. 

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