Indo-Bangladesh joint venture coal plant at Rampal, Bangladesh, threatens Sundarban mangroves, a World Heritage site

photo-11By Mowdud Rahman*

The Rampal power station is a proposed 1320 megawatt coal-fired power station at Rampal Upazila of Bagerhat District in Khulna, Bangladesh. It is a joint partnership between India’s state owned National Thermal Power Corporation and Bangladesh Power Development Board. The joint venture company is known as Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC). The proposed project, on an area of over 1834 acres of land, is situated 14 kilometres north of the world’s largest mangrove forest Sundarbans which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It will be the country’s largest power plant. Construction has started and dredging and land filling is going on.

The Sundarbans is a World Heritage Site, Ramsar wetland and the largest mangrove forest in the world. The Sundarbans is rich in biodiversity, is one of the last remaining habitats for the Asian tiger, and also acts as a huge natural safeguard against cyclones, storms and other natural disasters.

The plant will inevitably have an impact on the water within the forests, which is vital to the riverine ecosystem. The local University of Khulna estimated that half a million tons of toxic sludge will be released into the forests’ waterways annually. All the coal for the power station will be transported through freshly dredged rivers in the forest to a depot within the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The EIA was poorly done and did not significantly assess the impacts of the coal plant on the wetlands ecosystem. Dr Y Jhala, of India’s Wildlife Conservation Society says infrastructure to supply the plant with coal “will cause problems.” The mangrove forest is intersected by rivers, which the tigers must swim across. The “continuous stream of barges, carrying coal will fragment the population” by preventing the tigers crossing key rivers. “There are only around five viable wild tiger habitats left in the world for long term hope. This is one of them. If you break these up into smaller parts you lose that, not ecologically, but biologically,” he said.

The views of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the forest department, and the department of environment were sent to the Ramsar secretariat on 1 August. The forest department has expressed its concern over emissions of hot water, ashes and pollution from the power plant.

In response, the United Nations’ Ramsar secretariat has expressed its concern over the Rampal power plant, unauthorised river route and coal depot being set up by the side of the Sundarbans. Bangladesh, as a signatory of the Ramsar Convention, has been asked to explain these three projects. If the Sundarban faces any harm due to manmade reasons or the government’s activities, it will be considered as a violation of the Ramsar convention.

The two-page report of the forest department mentions the following ways in which the Rampal project could harm the Sundarbans:

  • Hot water emissions: The hot water waste from the power plant will be emitted into the Sundarban waters, killing off the plant and animal micro-organisms in the rivers near the forest. This will also harm the dolphins in the Sundarban rivers. The birds too will not be able to survive in their forest habitat because of this hot water. The diverse variety of frogs will also be harmed.
  • Coal storage and transportation: Coal will be transported through the river Pasur in the Sundarbans for this project. Expressing concern at the open-air transportation of coal, the forest department in its report says that this will emit huge amounts of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and mercury into the air, causing acid rain in the area.

bangla protestProtest rally

Several cultural organizations, writers and cultural activists, in association with National Committee to Protect Oil Gas Mineral Resources Port and Power, Bangladesh, organized a cultural protest rally as a part of countrywide protest programmes against Rampal  coal fired power plant that would destroy Sundarban, on 25 October, 2014 3 pm at the centre of the Capital city Dhaka. Leading cultural organizations took part with street drama, satire, songs, poetry and other performances.

This was a part of ongoing protests of different forms including demonstrations and long march. The organizations included Udichi, Samageet, Charan, Ei Banglai, Sangskritik  Unioun, Leela, and Biborton. Noted writers and intellectuals including Engineer S M Shaheedullah, Prof Anu Muhammad, Professor BD Rahmatullah, Professor Akmal Hossain, Dr Tanzimuddin Khan, Professor Moshahida Sultana, Prof Samina Lutfa attended the rally. Main demand of the series of protest programmes is to stop all projects including Rampal Coal Fired power Plant that would put Sundarban at risk.

The rallyists highlighted that Sundarban is a rare forest in the world, also a combination of rich eco-systems. It plays an important role in creating jobs for millions of people. In recent years millions of lives have been saved from Sidr and Aila only because of this forest. Bangladesh has always been protected from so many natural disasters by the mighty Sundarban. Survival of this forest is now at stake as India’s NTPC, Bangladesh’s BPDB and Orion are building coal fired power plants beside the forest. Land grabbing has already been started smelling of their opportunities to make big profit by destroying life-saving Sundarban.

Protesters said that there is no alternative to Sundarban but there are many alternatives for generating electricity. Writers, singers and artists began country wide cultural campaign to save Sundarban protesting the ongoing destructive projects surrounding Sundarban. They urged all at home and abroad, all concerned national and international organizations including UNESCO, to come forward to build strong resistance against destruction of Sundarban, the largest mangrove forest in the world and also the world heritage site.

* Southeast Asia Renewable Energy People’s Assembly (SEAREPA). Bangladesh. Email:  mowdudur@gmail.com, Cell: +880-1911447499

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2 thoughts on “Indo-Bangladesh joint venture coal plant at Rampal, Bangladesh, threatens Sundarban mangroves, a World Heritage site

  1. They are wrong who say that the coal-based power plant would destroy the ecology of the mangrove forests. The whole power plant project area is surrounded by water bodies and greeneries, paddy fields and there was no effect of the power plant on the ecology.

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