Coal worth Tk 8.46 billion vanishes into thin air

Coal worth Tk 8.46 billion vanishes into thin air

M Arifuzzaman, Dhaka | Prothom Alo Oct 21, 2019

Barapukuria coal mine yard. Photo: UNBBarapukuria Coal Mining Company Limited (BCMCL) has paid the consortium comprising two Chinese companies bills for which extracting 100.16 million tonnes of coal over the last 13 years (from 2005 to 2018) from coal from the Barapukuria coal mine in Dinajpur.

The mine authorities meanwhile acquired another 500,000 tonnes of coal from the mine which has not been documented. The market price of the coal is over Tk 8.46 billion. There are allegations that this entire sum has been embezzled.

The coal contained extra moisture. The price of coal should not be paid if the water content or dampness in the coal exceeds by a certain limit. BCMCL is buying coal with 5.1 per cent moisture according to the deal signed with Chinese Consortium. Yet BCMCL is selling the same coal with more than 10 per cent moisture to Barapukuria power plant and in the open market. There is not record of the extra money earned from this sale.

Energy expert professor Shamsul Alam told Prothom Alo that question in the first place is, how did the company sell coal with high moisture content while buying it with low moisture. Embezzlement has also been highlighted in investigations of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). It has filed a complaint with the court for exemplary action to free the energy sector of corruption.

How the incident came to light

In July 2018, BCMCL for the first time admitted that 144,000 tonnes of coal were stolen from Barapukuria mine. The 525-MW Barapukuria Power plant was shut down due to coal shortage. BCMCL was supplying coal to the power plant. The shortage of coal then only came to light when the officials noticed that the coal reserves were inadequate. A case regarding coal pilferage was filed and ACC took up investigations.

ACC recently submitted a charge sheet, accusing seven coal mine officials of embezzlement. These officials are M Mahbubur Rahman, Khurshidul Hasan, M Aminuzzaman, M Kamruzzaman, Abdul Aziz Khan, M Nurul Aurangazeb and Habib Uddin Ahmed. Among them, Petrobangla suspended Habib Uddin Ahmed. M Nurul Aurangazeb was made Officer on Special Duty (OSD) and has been attached to the chairman’s office of Petrobangla.

M Mahbubur Rahman, Khurshidul Hasan, M Aminuzzaman went on retirement. Yet M Kamruzzaman has been made the managing director of the state-owned Rupantarita Prakritik Gas Company Limited (RPGCL), and Aziz Khan has been made a member of Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC).

Asked why Abdul Aziz Khan has not been suspended, BERC chairman Monowar Islam over the phone on 15 October said, “I don’t have the authority to suspend him. The president has the power to do so. The energy division will make a recommendation to the president for his suspension. Then the president will decide on it.”

Arrest warrants have been issued against 23 people including the seven managing directors on 15 October after the ACC file the charge sheet with the court. Among them, three BCMCL officials including Habib Uddin are in jail. Others are on bail.
Asked about 5 tonnes of undocumented coal of the last 13 years, BCMCL’s current managing director Md Kamruzzaman Khan on 25 September told Prothom Alo, saying, “I’ have only joined this office recently. I have no idea about the matter.”

In the meantime, the power division held a meeting regarding the coordination of bills over damp coal supply to the Barapukuria power plant by BCMCL’. Power secretary Ahmad Kaikaus presided over the meeting.

According to the meeting minutes, the contract says the power plant was supposed to buy coal with moisture content not exceeding 10 per cent. But, the coal supplied to the power plant between September and December of 2018 had moisture over 16.34 per cent. Besides, the presence of iron particles in the coal harms the power plant.

Former director general of the p[ower division’s power cell and energy specialist Md Rahmantullah told Prothom Alo that the people at the coal mine are involved in the coal theft. This theft is not possible without their connivance.

He also said in order to unearth the facts, the government must interrogate the accused with no consideration for their social status.

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