The nation was in a state of disbelief on hearing the news that some 1.44 lakh tonnes of coal had gone missing from the Barapukuria Coal Mining Company Limited's (BCMCL) stockyard last year.
The disappearance of the coal was largely believed to be an act of a large-scale embezzlement.
Contrary to popular belief, however, investigations by experts and fact-finding committees found that the missing coal was the result of accumulated system loss during production since the company's inception.
But this technical explanation was not taken into account in the Anti-Corruption Commission's (ACC) report, because the commission did not ask any experts about the issue even though it had the option to do so under the ACC act.
Therefore, the charge sheet submitted by the ACC investigation officer accusing 23 BCMCL officials, including seven former managing directors, has raised questions.
However, ACC officials refused to comment, saying that the issue is sub judice, as they had already submitted the charge sheet.
The system loss
According to experts, up to 5 percent system loss in any coal production and handling system is considered a benchmark, globally.
The 1.44 lakh tonnes of coal going missing from the BCMCL stockyard is 1.42 percent of the company's total production.
The Barapukuria coal mine began operations in 2005.
Until June 2018, 101.64 lakh tonnes of coal was produced by the company, and 99.81 lakh tonnes was sold to Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) and other buyers.
At a meeting between Petrobangla and BPDB officials in the capital on June 20 last year, a mine official said the coal stock in the yard was around 1.80 lakh tonnes.
On July 16, a BPDB team inspected the coal yard and found only 3,000 tonnes, though there was supposed to be 1.47 lakh tonnes.
The missing coal accounted for 1.42 percent of the total coal produced at the mine between 2005 and July 21, 2018.
The BCMCL could not explain immediately how so much coal had simply disappeared from the stockyard.
Later, a panel of experts formed by Petrobangla found that this was the result of system loss in production and transportation.
The eight-member committee headed by Md Kamruzzaman, director of Petrobangla (Operation and Mines), submitted its report on November 20, 2018.
"There was system loss at the BCMCL due to spontaneous combustion, rainwater wash-out, wind blow-out, spillage loss, and extraneous material. But the percentage of system loss was not high because a larger amount of coal was supplied to the power plant through a conveyor belt which is close to the stockyard," the report read.
"It was not a case of theft. It was all system loss," said Md Maqbul-E-Elahi Choudhury, former managing director of Bapex, one of the members of the expert panel.
The BCMCL also accepted the missing coal as system loss in its 20th annual general meeting.
ACC ignored expert report
However, the ACC gave a counter-statement in its charge sheet where the corruption watchdog claimed the missing coal had been embezzled.
Abu Hena Ashiqur Rahman, ACC deputy director in Dinajpur, submitted the charge sheet on July 24 this year to the Senior Special Judge's Court on behalf of Shamsul Alam, deputy director at the ACC headquarters and also the investigation officer of the case.
The ACC charge sheet said the BCMCL coal was directly supplied to the thermal power station through a conveyor belt, and the coal yard is protected with Surface Silo. So, there is no chance that the amount of coal will reduce if there is no mismanagement.
"A total of 1.44 lakh tonnes of coal worth Tk243 crore was embezzled in collusion with BCMCL officials," read the charge sheet, where no comment from any expert was included.
But Article 23 of the ACC Act 2004 says the investigation committee has the option to take experts' opinion if it wants to submit a report on a technical issue.
"We have already submitted the charge sheet after the investigation. Now the matter is sub judice. We can say nothing more about it at this stage," said ACC spokesperson Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya.