SEHD books "The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Man-Nature Nexus Torn" and "Energy Challenges and Phulbari Crisis" launched

“The government should not take any decision in haste allowing open-pit coal mining at Phulbari in Dinajpur. It should take decision on the issue only after due consideration of different aspects involved and in consultation with national and international experts,” urged Justice Habibur Rahman at the book launch and seminar organized by Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD) at the National Press Club in Dhaka on 26 June 2013.

The two SEHD books launched are: “The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Man-Nature Nexus Torn” and “Energy Challenges and Phulbari Crisis,” edited by Philip Gain. Justice Habibur Rahman graced the event as the chief guest. Chaired by Prof. Sakhawat Ali Khan, chairman of SEHD, the special guests and commentators on the books were Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Raja Devasish Roy, Prof. Anu Muhammad, Goutam Kumar Chakma, Prof. Amena Mohsin, and Principal Khurshid Alam Moti.

“Human beings, in action to control nature, bring only misery. We all should, therefore, be caring about nurturing nature," said Justice Habibur Rahman in reference to severe deforestation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. "Development should not take place in political or other interests. Common man should always be thought of in development efforts."  

On SEHD's two books that have resulted from its years of investigations Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman, Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) said, “Both books have a common thread and that is to raise voice of the local people in order to strengthen democracy. SEHD's investigative reports play an important role for inclusion of local people's voices and judgment in development philosophy."                       

 “We are in dire need of energy resources, but it is not understandable why the government needs to develop energy contracts in secret. The government must consult all concerned in framing energy policy,” added Dr. Hossain. “The rulers, since the British era, have created problems for the CHT people as the latter’s views have always been neglected in the development discourse.”

Prof. Anu Muhammad, a front line leader in the resistance movement against open-cut mining in Bangladesh said, “The two books question the contemporary development philosophy at the core of which is privatization and profit.”

“If development is not sustainable, then how is it called real development?” questioned Muhammad. Militarization in the CHT for four decades, the resulting violence and high cost involved in it are rooted in the Kaptai Hydroelectricity Project intended for generation of electricity. Prof. Anu Muhammad asserted, “Huge sum of state money spent to handle violence in the CHT was sufficient to generate several thousands megawatt of electricity. The Kaptai Hydroelectricity Project fails to fulfill the targeted generation of 250 megawatt electricity today.”

Muhammad also informed that the government is setting electricity production plant near the Sundarbans, the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world. Such plant [in Rampal, a coastal area in Bagerhat district] poses a serious threat to the Sundarbans. The idea of development is taking place without taking into account the man-nature nexus and sustainability. “In Phulbari, the company sees only coal; it does not see the people, agricultural land, and other resources. The government also does not see the people when it looks through the company’s eyes,” observed Muhammad.    

Raja Devashish Roy, Chakma circle chief referred to the dislocation of a large percentage of the CHT people due to the Kaptai dam and the artificial lake it created. “The local communities lose their traditions and livelihood due to implementation of such project and monetary compensation can never give back what they have lost. The open-cut coalmine would bring the same fate to the local people in Phulbari,” said Devasish. He mentioned the recent story of land taken away from the Chaks and said, "Many adivasi communities are insecure in the CHT. Many of them have fled to Myanmar." He held progressive loss of common land responsible for invasion of tobacco in the CHT. He asserted that the paharis (hill people) who have lost their jum land lean to the tobacco companies. He thanked the publisher of the book, SEHD, for addressing different issues of the CHT.

Principal Kurshid Alam Moti, convener of Phulbair Rakkha Committee said, "We never said that we do not want coal mined. But we are against open-cut mining. We were not opposed to Barapukuria coalmine. In future, if method(s) to mine coal without damaging people’s life and environment are introduced, we will definitely support the government."

In his welcome address, Philip Gain, the editor, gave an overview of the contents of the books. The book, “The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Man-Nature Nexus Torn", basically a state of the CHT environment, deals with geography and environment, forests, official and illegal logging, plantation [economy], environmental impacts of development projects [Karnaphuli Paper Mill and Kaptai Hydroelectricity in particular] land grabbing, serfdom in the colonial reserves, pillage of the reserved forests (special attention to Reingkhyong, Kassalong, Sangu, and Matamuhuri reserved forests), village common forestry (VCF), bamboo [with an attention to its flowering and rat flood], traditional use of medicinal plants, wildlife [animals and birds] and their threats, brick-burning, invasion of tobacco, timber and furniture trade, water, stone mining, houses, traditional foods of the indigenous peoples, and impacts of militarization. The other book, “Energy Challenges and Phulbari Crisis” compiles expert analysis of energy status and energy efficiency potentials in Bangladesh; revolutionary scope of renewable energy; reports, analyses, images, analogy of resistance movement against Phulbari Coalmine; and critique of Asia Energy’s Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the Phulbari coalmine project.