Due to the unexpected shutdown, the northern region of Bangladesh may experience unusual power cuts or low voltage problems
In a major blow to the country's power sector, the Barapukuria thermal power plant in Dinajpur has been shut down owing to an acute shortage of coal after 142,000 tons of coal meant for the power plant disappeared.
The operations of the power plant was stopped around 10:20pm on Sunday, Power Development Board (PDB) Director Saiful Hasan Chowdhury told UNB.
Officials at the PDB, which operates the plant, said they had to completely shut down the plant because of the short supply of coal from the nearby Barapukuria Coal Mining Company Ltd (BCMCL).
Northern districts to suffer power outage
Due to this unexpected shutdown of the power plant, the northern region of Bangladesh – especially comprises Rangpur, Panchagarh, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Dinajpur and Thakurgaon districts – may experience unusual power cuts or low voltage problems.
The PDB chief said the authorities were trying to ensure power supply to the districts from alternative sources, such as power plants in other districts like Sirajganj, Khulna and Rajshahi.
"The PDB has urged Petrobangla [Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation] to ensure adequate gas supply to the gas-fired power plants in Sirajganj and other districts so more power can be generated and supplied to the northern region," he added.
Probe committee formed
Allegations have been raised that the coal, worth around Tk227 crore, was illegally sold from Barapukuria coal mine.
BCMCL Managing Director Md Habib Uddin Ahmed has been withdrawn by Petrobangla, while the company's Secretary (GS Administration) Md Abul Quashem Pradhania has been transferred to the Pashchimanchal Gas Distribution Company Ltd.
BCMCL Mining Department General Manager ATS Nuruzzaman Chowdhury and Deputy General Manager Md Khademul have been suspended.
Md Ayub Khan Chowdhury, director (planning) of Petrobangla, has been appointed as the acting managing director of the coal mine company.
Meanwhile, State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid Bipu told the Bangla Tribune on Sunday that a committee had been formed to probe the allegations.
The committee will submit its findings within seven working days, he said, warning that the culprits behind the scam will be brought to book.
When contacted, Md Abul Quashem Pradhania said they had been suffering system loss ever since the company started mining coal in 2005.
The mining department of the company did not adjust the system loss in its annual audit report, leading to the “mistake” in coal stock, Quashem added.
According to Quashem, coal extracted from a mine is usually wet and it gets thinner as it dries up over time – a major issue that contributes to system loss.
A large amount of coal is wasted every year, which is not mentioned in the audit report, he further claimed.
The power plant has three units, and two of them, with 125MW capacity each, are already out of operation. The third and the biggest one, with 275MW power generation capacity, is still in operation.
For optimal operation, the power plant requires around 4,000 tons of coal on a daily basis, which is supplied by the Barapukuria coal mine. However, the mine has a slew of problems, which exacerbated the crisis.
The chief engineer of the power plant, Abdul Hakim, said: “The plant will be shut down in a few days due to the coal shortage. Coal production at the mine is presently halted.”
Backed by the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, General Manager (Administration) Md Mazedur Rahman on July 19 passed the order, sources said.
The Energy and Mineral Resources Division secretary was unavailable for comments. Petrobangla Chairman Abul Mansur Md Faizullah could not be reached over phone.
Expressing great concern over the matter, energy expert Prof M Shamsul Alam said the disappearance of the coal was premeditated.
“This is not an instant decision as to how much coal will be extracted from a mine. Some unscrupulous officials at the government might have sold out the coal out of extreme greed to make a quick buck.”
There is no technical reason behind the coal disappearing, he said, terming the incident “a national disaster.”
He also blamed Petrobangla for the issue and demanded that a committee comprising members from the civil society be formed to investigate the scam.