Gas tops agenda in Bangladesh election campaign

Vol 5, PW 15 (12 Sep 01) People & Policy

Read the election manifestoes of the three main Bangladeshi political parties and there's no doubting their intention.

"No export of gas by surrendering national interest" screams the Awami League, whose manifesto says: "Our natural gas reserves are our only major source of energy. We promise a clear national policy on energy and gas exports and any decision on exporting gas will be dictated by careful examination of national needs and the availability of gas for the next fifty years." The BNP: "No export of gas with closed eyes." Its manifesto promises to oppose "tooth and nail" any "hasty decision by any other government." It wants a decision after "serious assessment of our own needs and the exact size of our reserves." Jamait's battle cry: "No gas to India.

We will never be India's colony." Jamait's manifesto is unambiguous "We will never allow gas export to India. Once Bangladesh starts doing that, it is only a matter of time before we become India's colony." Separately, Bangladesh's Centre for Policy Dialogue, or CPD, an independent think-tank, wants a five-year moratorium on gas exports to India.

Forest Cookson of the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh dismissed the CPD position as "silly". On 21st August CPD organised a day-long gas seminar in Dhaka and came up with the following three-point resolution: "We recommend a five year moratorium on export of natural gas from Bangladesh to any other country.

"In these five years, we expect the country's next government to commission scientific studies that will provide a comprehensive assessment of Bangladesh's gas reserve and its projected demand for the next fifty years. "Only if such studies indicate a clear surplus after calculating our national needs for fifty years, should a future government decide to export gas.

That decision should not be taken in a hurry because our natural gas reserves are the country's only major energy source and we should make the best use of it."