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Payra Power Plant clash: Bangladeshis allege cover-up by Chinese, police arrest 16 locals

June 24, 2019

Payra Power Plant clash: Bangladeshis allege cover-up by Chinese, police arrest 16 locals

Representational images

Ashish Mani Tiwari and Pinaki Roy

Dhaka: Violence broke out at Payra power plant in Patuakhali, which is about 200 kilometres away from capital city Dhaka, after the death of 32-year-old Sabindra Das on June 18. The protestors accused the Chinese of trying to suppress the incident. According to sources, Bangladeshi workers saw a Chinese supervisor take the identity card from the body of the deceased and destroy it. After that Bangladeshi workers of the plant vandalised the office space, canteen and training centre situated inside the power plant.

Police and power plant officials stated the brawl ensued after the death of Sabindra in the afternoon on Tuesday. He had reportedly died after succumbing to a 70 feet fall from an installation, which was under construction. During the clash, a Chinese worker was killed, and seven others sustained injuries.

The deceased, 26-year-old Jhan Yang Fang was an electrician at Kalapara power plant in Nishanbaria area. Dr Md Bakir Hossain, the Director of Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital (SBMC), told Dhaka Tribune, “The injured workers were admitted to the hospital early on Tuesday. Out of them, Jhan Yang Fang died due to excessive bleeding from his head, early on Wednesday.”

“The remaining injured Chinese workers have been sent to Dhaka for better treatment,” he added.

The Chinese have denied the allegations and claimed Sabindra died due to his negligence. As tensions simmered, local workers brought out a procession carrying the body of Sabindra, reported bdnews24.com. The body of Sabindra Das was sent to Patuakhali Sadar Hospital for autopsy.

“The local people did not take part in the attack as the quarter is located inside the site of the power plant. It is a secured area, and local people do not have access to the site, but they worry they would be harassed for this incident,” said Reaz Uddin Talukder, the Union Parishad Chairman.

Two separate cases were filed with Kalapara police station accusing around 1,200 unidentified people of killing a Chinese worker, vandalising and attacking labourers at the construction site on Thursday evening (June 20). The local police have already arrested 16 people—12 workers and four villagers—from different places across the country. The 12 workers were arrested by Dokkhin Karanigonj police station in Dhaka as they were allegedly fleeing from the construction site, and four others from Modhupara village under Kalapara Upazila. Md Monirul Islam, Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Kalapara police station, said four laptops, which belonged to Chinese employees, were recovered. He claimed they were looted during the clash.

After the incident, State Minister for Power Nasrul Hamid visited the site on Wednesday and held a meeting with the protesting workers.  According to media reports, Bangladeshi workers agreed to rejoin the workforce, and the administration assured them of proper security measures. On Wednesday night, Home Minister of Bangladesh Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said, “The police will certainly file a case over the death of the Chinese worker. The police are investigating his death.”

“We have asked the police to contact the Chinese embassy to ascertain whether they want to conduct an autopsy of the victim. If the Chinese embassy agrees, we will conduct an autopsy; otherwise not,” he added.

Funded by Beijing, the proposed Payra power plant is a 1,320-megawatt coal-fired power station, which costs around $2.5 billion and employs around 6,000 workers of which 2,000 are Chinese. A report by Global Construction Review suggests, in 2016, China’s Exim Bank agreed on a $1 billion loan for the Payra power plant, which is being built on a 50:50 joint venture between Bangladesh’s North-West Power Generation Company and China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CMC).

Apart from Payra power plant, China is investing billions of dollars in Bangladesh for ports, roads and power stations. However, a lot of apprehensions has erupted in the past between the locals and Chinese in Bangladesh. In April 2016, four people were killed after police opened fire on villagers protesting against the construction of two China-backed power plants in south-eastern Bangladesh, reported Times of India.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will visit Beijing in July, where Bangladesh will sign two agreements with Beijing to borrow $2.37 billion for two power projects.