Thousands of people in Gondamara union of Chittagong's Banshkhali fear that a coal-based power plant would not only affect their livelihood but also make the area inhabitable and force them to leave.
They have been holding protests against the move to install the power plant the moment they saw its signboard on the proposed site two months ago. And one such protest led to a clash with police on Monday that left four people killed and several others injured.
The locals, most of whom are farmers, fishermen and salt producers, vowed not to let anyone go ahead with the project “at any cost”, saying it would bring an environmental disaster to the area.
“We will even sacrifice our lives to stop [the establishment of] the power plant,” said Nurul Kader, who produces salt using seawater.
Shamsher Alam, a worried farmer, echoed Nurul.
Chittagong Mohsin College Associate Professor Edris Ali, also vice president of Chittagong chapter of the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), said such power plants usually run on low-quality coal and emit a huge quantity of Sulfur, making the air, soil and water in the area acidic.
The biodiversity of the locality could be harmed, he said.
Talking to The Daily Star, former UP chairman Liakat Ali, who is leading the protests, alleged that S Alam Group started buying plots in the area around two years ago, promising the locals of setting up an industry that could create local jobs.
“But now, they are constructing the coal-based power plant that would ultimately destroy our land.”
He also alleged that “the law enforcers and local administration were acting as if they were hired goons of S Alam Group”. The allegation was rejected outright by the police and the company.
Also, Bahadur Alam Hiron, assistant coordinator of the project, said, “It is Liakat who is instigating the locals. The protesters are not even the actual owners of the land.”
Two years ago, Liakat took Tk 1.3 crore from the company in exchange for his land, and then went into hiding. Recently, he had appeared once again and asked for another Tk 1 crore, alleged Hiron. ”But we refused him to give the money.”
He, however, said they did not file any case against Liakat over the matter.
Rejecting the allegation, Liakat said, “S Alam Group had offered me a lot of money so that I don't speak up. But, I did not accept their offer.”
The clash on Monday took place after two groups -- one in support of the installation of the power plant and the other against it -- were about to hold rallies at the same venue -- Pashchim Gondamara Government Primary School -- at the same time, ignoring a ban on gatherings (section 144), said police.
However, some of the locals alleged that there was no prior declaration of any ban.
“All of a sudden, police started hurling tear gas, charging truncheons and shooting,” said Mohammad Shoyeb, a local farmer. “They were out to thwart a peaceful demonstration.”
Contacted, Habibur Rahman, additional superintendent of police (Chittagong south zone), refuted the allegation, saying they had been attacked and compelled to open fire on the protesters.
Three cases were filed with Banshkhali Police Station yesterday in connection with the clash.
Moulana Bashir Ahmed, brother of deceased Anwarul Islam and Mortuza Ali, filed one of the cases, accusing six named, including Liakat, and 1,400 to 1,500 unnamed people.
Monowara Begum, wife of another deceased Zaker Ahmed, lodged the second case against 1,400 to 1,500 unnamed people, while the third one was filed by Sub-inspector Bahar Miya against 57 named and 3,200 unnamed people.
Three people have been arrested, said police sources.
Locals said they were passing their days fearing “police harassment and indiscriminate arrest”.
Some of them alleged that they had “sold” their land to the company but were yet to be paid the “promised amount”.
Project Assistant Coordinator Bahadur said, “We paid every single penny to the rightful owners.”
S Alam Group Chairman Saiful Alam Masud claimed that the power plant would not harm the locals as there is no “locality on the project site”.
Meanwhile, Banshkhali Chhatra Oikya Forum called for a dawn-to-dusk hartal in Banshkhali today, demanding arrest and trial of those who killed four people during the clash on Monday.
Shah Newaz Chowdhury, convener of the upazila-based student front, made the call from a human chain organised in front of the Chittagong Press Club yesterday afternoon.