Dhaka puts on hold coal policy, award of offshore blocks

November 11th, 2008 - 4:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Nov 11 (IANS) Preparing to quit after the Dec 18 poll, Bangladesh’s military-backed interim government has put on hold the draft coal policy and awarding of nine offshore blocks, two key issues that need to be addressed in the country’s quest for more energy. The possible return of India’s Tata group, which withdrew investment proposals worth $3-billion from the country earlier this year, depends on the final approval of the coal mining policy.

Even as Bangladesh seeks to defend its “territorial sovereignty” against eastern neighbour Myanmar that began oil exploration work in the Bay of Bengal last week amidst controversy, it has become clear that the government’s Energy Division may not push for awarding of nine blocks to two international oil companies.

With elections on the cards, the council of advisers of the caretaker administration will not take the responsibility of approving such sensitive issues, New Age newspaper said quoting unnamed officials.

“At least five advisers in recent meetings of the council of advisers on the policy and offshore blocks observed that the interim government should not make decisions on such sensitive issues as the government does not have adequate time in hand,” the newspaper said quoting a source in the government.

“Most likely, we will not place the proposals again before the council of advisers as we have realised that the present government will not take any decision on the issues,” the official said.

“We will, however, finalise our tasks and complete the coal policy and the proposal on the offshore blocks so that the next elected government, if it wants, can make decisions on the issues,” he added.

The caretaker government is taking a line similar to its predecessor, the government of then prime minister Khaleda Zia, that put on hold the “politically sensitive” Tata proposals, leaving it to the future elected government.

However, the election was put off amidst political turmoil in January last year and the caretaker government, tasked to hold the poll within 90 days, has since remained in office.

The move for formulating a coal policy was first taken in 2005 by the Zia government, but it is yet to be approved because of controversy over the coal mining method and royalty rate issues and protests by environmentalists and NGOs.

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