THE killing of at least five workers of an under-construction power plant in Chattogram on Saturday is another instance of the government’s failure to resolve labour disputes. The workers of the plant, of the S Alam Group at Banskhali, had been on demonstration since Friday demanding a reduced work hour for Ramadan and an early payment of their wages. Wounded workers blamed the police for firing into the peaceful protest. Many workers complained of long work hours and the general tendency of the authorities to delay payments. The local police, meanwhile, claim that they acted in defence as the workers attacked them and damaged property of the plant. This is, however, not the first instance of police violence in the area over the plant construction. In April 2016, four people, including three of a family, were killed in a protest against irregularities in land acquisition for the plant. The use of lethal force to disperse a peaceful demonstration is a violation of the regulations that govern the police conduct and requires the government to investigate the incident of police brutality to make the force accountable.
In December 2013, the S Alam Group signed an agreement with China’s SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corporation to build the 1320MW coal-fired plant. Since its inception, the project has faced strong opposition, mostly by salt farmers and fishermen, as they feared that the plant would affect the environment and risk their livelihood. Green activists have also opposed the project as it went into the implementation phase without a public consultation or a proper environmental impact assessment. Such disregard for public opinions and well-being of people continued in the construction phase as recurring police violence suggests. In 2016, after the death of four people in police violence, investigations were set about and cases were filed but they were not followed through. It is, however, a clear violation of the Police Regulations 1943 that directs the police to exercise minimum force as a last resort for dispersing a gathering and it could do so only after issuing warning several times. Eminent citizens, therefore, demand that a judicial investigation should be set about to establish whether the law enforcement agencies followed due process in Banskhali.
The government must, under the circumstances, consider the demand of rights groups and set up a judicial investigation of the conduct of the law enforcement agencies that led to the death of workers. In so doing, the government must also investigate the allegations of worker rights violation at the power plant that include the non-payment of wages and labour forced beyond eight hours. The government should also make certain that the investigation is conducted without any political influence and the report is submitted in time. It is necessary to dispel the widespread allegation that the police acted to protect the corporate interest and fired into unarmed young workers of Banskhali.
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