Strike over Dhaka awarding oil exploration contracts to foreign firms


Dhaka : Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is facing protests over its decision to award contracts to foreign firms for oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal. It now plans to get international expertise to improve its ports and build new highways.

Support TwoCircles

A citizens’ “pressure group” Monday partially paralysed work in cities across Bangladesh and issued an ‘ultimatum’ to the government to roll back its decision by Oct 15.

The protest came a day after the government announced in parliament ambitious plans to improve infrastructure for which it needs foreign expertise and funds.

Its plans include construction of an underground railway across Dhaka to ease traffic jam and building tunnels under the Padma and Karnaphuli rivers.

It also plans to build a total of 142 bridges to expand country’s road and railway network, Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain informed lawmakers, The Daily Star reported.

This was the first ‘hartal’ (cease work) since the Hasina government took office in January that lasted from dawn to noon, when protesters blocked roads and shouted slogans at rallies, New Age newspaper said Tuesday.

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port is backed by a section of left-leaning political parties.

The first protest organised by the organisation Sep 2 had led to violence causing injuries to both protesters and policemen.

The committee gave the government a fresh one-month ultimatum to accept its five-point charter of demands.

There was violence and damage to public transport Monday as well as protesters marched to the office of the state-run Petrobangla, the corporation that is coordinating the off-shore exploration work for the government.

The government Aug 24 approved oil and gas exploration deals with US Conoco Phillips and Ireland’s Tullow Oil Ltd in three offshore blocks.

More such moves are afoot as Bangladesh is perceived as having lost the exploration race in the upper reaches of Bay of Bengal, where neighbours India and Myanmar are already active.

Bangladesh took care to award only those blocks in the bay where it is not likely to face protests by its neighbours.