Multiple international news organizations have reported that at least four people were killed, and as many as 100 more were injured, when police opened fire on an estimated 1,500 villagers who were protesting the construction of two coal-fired power plants in Chittagong, in southeastern Bangladesh, on April 4.

Discord Over Power Plant

According to reports published by The Daily Star, a newspaper based in Dhaka—the capital of Bangladesh—thousands of people near the proposed site of the plant fear that its development would not only affect their livelihood but also make the area uninhabitable, forcing them to leave. Most of the locals are said to be farmers, fishermen, and salt producers who believe the project would bring an environmental disaster to the region.

Chittagong-based S. Alam Group is behind the plan, but some people are upset that two Chinese companies—SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corp. and HTG—are financing a majority of the $2.4 billion project. About two years ago, S. Alam apparently began buying land in the area, but it didn’t disclose why it was purchasing the property until about two months ago. When the locals found out about the proposed 1,224-MW coal-fired station, they were immediately up in arms over the venture.

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports (NCPOGMRPP, an advocacy group) claims no environmental impact assessment report was prepared for the plant. In addition, it said “incidents of fraudulence and lack of transparency was visible from the very beginning of the project.”

The group claims that construction of the plant would displace 7,000 households, about 70 mosques, a technical education institution, a high school, eight primary government schools, five markets, and a government hospital, among other things.

“[A] Massive level of illegal practices have also been observed on the dealings of land. A good number of people have been reported to be victimized by the fraudulence of the agents of S. Alam group,” NCPOGMRPP said in a press release.

Rally Turns Violent

The clash on Monday resulted when a group protesting the plant held a rally at the Pashchim Gondamara Government Primary School. Another group, which NCPOGMRPP claim was made up of “paid locals of the company” brought in “to spoil the event,” showed up at the same time to support the project. Police arrived about a half hour later, and that’s when the stories start to conflict.

The administration is said to have imposed a ban on gatherings. AKM Emran Bhuiyan, Satkania Circle assistant superintendent of police, was quoted by The Daily Star to have said, “As soon as police reached the field, several hundred people opposing installation of a power plant attacked police with brickbats and locally made weapons, and then opened fire. Police retreated, but the locals again swooped on them, prompting the law enforcers to fire shots at the mob in self-defence.”

However, other witnesses claimed that protestors were unarmed and no shots were fired on police. The NCPOGMRPP even alleged, “Around 30 to 40 goons hired by the company began to fire on the unarmed villagers.”

Regardless of how it began, in the end, four people paid the ultimate price while trying to halt development of a coal-fired power plant.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)