People in an area of Muharraq are threatening to form a human blockade to prevent work starting on two controversial cement factories. The government previously gave verbal permission for the new plants as Bahrain battles with a cement crisis caused by a quota on imports from Saudi Arabia.
However, it yesterday issued licences to the investors, which means work can officially start at any moment. People living near the proposed sites in Hidd are up in arms and the Muharraq Municipal Council has already voted against the projects, claiming they posed a health risk.
Residents have been staging demonstrations against the factories for past month after learning that Municipalities and Agriculture Minister Mansoor bin Rajab had overruled the council’s decision.
The minister later told councillors in an official letter that his decision was based on orders from the cabinet. However, councillors yesterday vowed to continue fighting for the plan to be scrapped and are planning to contact Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.
"Residents will not only demonstrate, but will form a human blockade in front of any construction machinery that comes close to the site," council vice-chairman Abdulnasser Al Mahmeed told the GDN from Cairo, Egypt, yesterday. "The decision has been taken against the council’s will. Now, the factories have received their official licences, but this will remain on paper because we won’t allow them to go ahead."
One of the two factories will do grinding, while the other will handle packaging. Work on one of the factories in the Hidd industrial area has been halted for the past nine months after councillors refused to give it a permit, saying it was too close to homes.
But councillors say they knew nothing about the second factory until last month when they heard it had been approved. They decided to take their case to parliament hoping that MPs would intervene, but parliament was on holiday and cannot intervene until in October.
The council rejected permission for the first factory last September after area councillor Sameer Khadim submitted a petition signed by hundreds of residents who feared it would lead to pollution in the area.
Councillors agreed to give the new factories the go-ahead on the condition that a written guarantee was submitted by the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife that any citizen happens to fall ill would receive treatment.
Commission secretary-general Dr Ismail Al Madani said last month at a Press conference that the grinding factory was safe. He said that there won’t be any cement production involved, adding the factory used new technologies, which takes health and environmental safety into account. He said cement dust wouldn’t even leave the factory.
However, Mr Khadim remained sceptical yesterday- saying residents would continue demonstrating against the factories’ construction. "I dare those investors to do things against the will of residents," he said. "We will be back next week and will address the issue with the Premier as we hope to have those two factories put somewhere else. "All we want is a clean environment, but that’s not happening here as the interest of investors comes first, rather than people’s health."
The Industry and Commerce Ministry said that permission for the first cement factory was granted after it received all required approvals from other concerned entities, especially the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife. It assured the public that environmental cleanliness and public health were utmost concern to the ministry.
Studies submitted by the investors showed that the factory would utilise advanced technology for production and it would be equipped with environmental pollution protection equipment, said the ministry.
It said the factory was in an industrial zone and nobody could override the ministry’s authority, adding that it had adhered to all regulations in granting a licence for the cement factory.