As a result of repeated bans, coal has been imported irregularly for the last decade
Bangladesh has resumed importing coal from India through the Barchhara customs station in Sunamganj. Such imports had remained halted for a long time for many reasons including an Indian Supreme Court order and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Five truckloads of Indian coal entered Bangladesh through this customs station on Thursday.
The resumption of coal imports has revived the employment of thousands of workers at the Barchhara, Bagli and Charagaon customs stations in the district.
The disruption of coal imports began in 2000 when the indigenous community of India's Meghalaya state started a movement to protest against the unplanned mining of coal and uranium in India.
Later, an environmental organisation filed a case with an Indian court, alleging that unplanned coal extraction from mines in the hills of Meghalaya was causing an environmental disaster in the region. Since then, coal imports from Meghalaya have become irregular.
On 19 April, 2014, an Indian court imposed a ban on the export of coal and limestone to the state of Meghalaya in the wake of an environmental disaster case. Following a court order, imports of coal and limestone from India were stopped.
The situation left more than 800 importers and about 30,000 workers of the three customs stations in trouble.
Additionally, the Bangladesh government suspended coal imports for some time in 2010 due to protests by various environmental groups over the presence of more than one percent of sulfur in Indian coal. The ban was later lifted.
As a result of repeated bans, coal and limestone have been imported irregularly for the last decade. Even though imports are now open for a few months with several conditions, customs stations are not as open as before.
Therefore, importers of these stations tend to import coal from Indonesia or other countries, causing importers to face losses and thousands of workers to become unemployed.
Alkas Uddin Khandaker, president of the Tahirpur Coal Importers Group Association, said, "Our stations were closed for various reasons as well as Covid-19 outbreak. The import of limestone and coal resumed on Thursday."
Barachhara Customs Officer Sudipta Shekhar Das said imports through three customs stations in Sunamganj have been taking place irregularly for the past decade. Now, a small amount of coal has entered Bangladesh since Thursday.
"The government has been deprived of huge amounts of revenue due to the suspension of coal imports through land customs stations, for a long time. Moreover, the situation has left thousands of workers unemployed and importers incurring huge losses," he added.
However, the area will return to its previous state if import activities here resume in full swing, Sudipta Shekhar added.
He said the coal which entered Bangladesh was imported with the letters of credit opened before the pandemic.