The people of Gandamara union at Bashkhali upazila in Chattogram consider the under-construction 1320-megawatt coal-fired power plant a "curse" for themselves.
The people of the locality said 10 people have so far lost their lives in clashes centring the implementation of the power plant project, while at least 10,000 people have been affected by the losses of homesteads and farmland. Many villagers also served time in jail and are still grappling with the cases over the clashes.
On 17 April, five workers were killed in police firing during demonstrations to press various demands including due salaries and allowances. One of them is Mahmud Reza Minhan, 19, a youth from Gandamara Union. In all, six of the 10 people killed in three separate violent incidents after the start of the project, are residents of Gandamara Union.
Ahmed Reza Khan, brother of the deceased Minhan, said, "Minhan was the Dakhil examinee this year and a Hafez in the Qur'an. Khatme Tarabi is also closed at the mosque, so he joined the coal power plant as a labourer 18-20 days ago to cover the cost of Eid. But my brother returned home in a blood-stained dress, not a colourful Eid dress."
Jahangir Alam, a resident of Katakhali mouza of Gandamara union, said, "Three years ago, the S Alam authorities occupied some of my land and filled it. To date, they have not paid me any money for this. Thousands of residents have been evicted, but no one has been paid their fair share."
"If any landowner refused to give the land, he was harassed with fake lawsuits. To protest against this, people have sacrificed their lives. The power project has become a curse for the people of Gondamara," he added.
Earlier on 4 April 2016, four villagers were shot dead in a clash with police over a rally against the power plant, being constructed by S Alam Group and China-based SEPCOIII, injuring 50 people including 11 policemen. Later, on 1 February 2017, at a reconciliation meeting held for resolving the dispute, another person was killed in a clash between supporters and opponents of the power plant.
Villagers claimed to The Business Standard that although the project area is supposed to be of 606 acres, the S Alam Group has already taken possession of several times more land in the name of the project.
The investigation committee formed over Saturday's killings of labourers by the district administration visited the spot on Monday.
At that time Mohammad Mostan Billah, head of the real estate department of the S Alam Group, informed the committee that the group has acquired 606 acres of land for the under-construction power plant.
He also informed the district administration that in addition, they have also "purchased" another 1,500 acres of land in the vicinity, which they will use for "other purposes".
When contacted over the issue on Tuesday, Mohammad Mostan Billah told this reporter, "It is not necessary to bring forth the issue of land. Please do not mention it in the report. Write positive news. "
Badi Ahmed, brother of the two brothers Mortuza Ali and Anwar who were shot dead in 2016, said, "When the movement for land started, we did not have any land of our own. We used to cultivate salt on other people's land as contractual labourers. At that time, my two brothers joined the movement in fear of losing their jobs after seeing one salt field after another being occupied for the power plant."
Neighbouring villages drowning in waterlogging
A visit to the project area on Monday showed that a large area had been filled with sand for the power plant, creating a permanent waterlogging over a large area of the adjoining Gandamara village.
Kausar, a resident of the village, said, "Waterlogging has occurred in a large area of Gandamara due to S Alam's power plant. Especially during the rainy season, ward number-3 gets completely flooded."
In this regard, Professor Anu Muhammad said, "The coal power plant is being built on the coast which is most affected by climate change. Irregularities have been a part of the process from the very beginning to occupy the huge area for the power plant. Now S Alam Company has a lot of power; due to which all the administration of Banshkhali has turned into a private army."
Cases tools of harassment
Following the recent clash in which five workers were killed in police firing, Bashankhali police have filed a case against around 2,500 unnamed people in connection with the killing of their fellow workers. The villagers termed the case a tool of harassment. They said although workers have an identity and there is CCTV footage too, the case has been filed against the unnamed people, which is nothing but an attempt to suppress the voice against the injustice.
The villagers said in 2016 when they opposed the power plant under the leadership of local union parishad chairman Liakat Ali, five people were killed and a thousand were accused in cases. They had to leave their locality in fear of arrest. But Liakat Ali now is working for S Alam group. He was acquitted from the cases filed in 2016. In the recent case, he has not been accused as well.
So, they said ultimately, poor villagers are the most sufferers after losing their means of earnings because, in the name of the power plant, their paddy land, fish farms, and salt fields have been grabbed.
In the case, police have claimed that workers along with outsiders shot and killed the workers during the clash at the Gandamara coal-fired power plant in Chattogram's Banshkhali upazila that left five of them dead.
Bashankhali police have also filed a case against the workers on allegation of killing their colleagues.
Mohammad Rasheduzzaman Beg, in-charge of the Gandamara police outpost, filed a case against 2,500 unnamed people following the incident.
According to the case statement, workers launched an attack on police and Chinese workers at a power plant. Later, agitating workers fired at the police from Bangla Living (Worker's accommodation inside the plant under construction). At that time, the police fired on the agitators to protect the lives of the Chinese workers and property of the power plant.
However, no Chinese workers were injured in the attack or no cops sustained bullet injuries; No weapons were recovered from the spot.
Banshkhali Police Station OC Shafiul Kabir said, "Three policemen were injured and no Chinese workers sustained injuries in the attack."
Professor Anwarul Haque, head of Surgery department of Chattogram Medical College Hospital, on the day of the incident, said all of the workers brought here sustained bullet injuries. However, the policemen were injured by brick chips.
According to the case statement, workers had been staging demonstrations to press their 9-point demand including reduction of working hours and payment of their due arrears and allowances before the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr.
However, the workers claimed that the police shot and killed the unarmed workers without any provocation while they were protesting to realise their just demand.
Zahidul Islam, Rigerman at the power plant, alleged, "The police shot and killed my colleagues. The police themselves set fire on a car inside the power plant that deteriorated the situation. " According to the case statement, no senior police officer was present at the time of the shooting. The firing took place as per directions of Sub-Inspector Mohammad Rasheduzzaman Beg, in-charge of Gandamara police outpost.
Rasheduzzaman Beg could not be reached for comment despite multiple attempts. Besides, Farooq Ahmed, chief coordinator of SS Power Plant, filed a case against 1,040 unidentified persons, including 22 named.