By Ayesha Dsouza and Sanjeev Kumar*
In yet another major initiative strengthening people-to-people cooperation between South Asian nations, people’s movements in India joined hands with their Bangladesh counterparts to save the Sunderbans. This was declared in Delhi by a delegation of 11 senior activists who took part in the Long March organized by National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and started from Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka on March 10 to Kathakhali Morh, Bagherhat district, Bangladesh – a distance of 250 kms from the capital.
Ashok Choudhury and Roma Malik of All India Union of Forest Working People, Soumya Dutta of Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha and India Climate Justice, Magline Peter of National Fishworkers Forum, Bharat Patel of Machimar Adhikaar Sangharsh Sangathan, Gujarat, representatives of Delhi Solidarity Group and other environmentalists were part of the Indian delegation.
The Rampal power plant is being built through a joint-venture by Bangladesh’s Power Development Board and India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), with machinery coming from India’s Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), finance coming from Indian ExIm Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers (India) contracted for Long term coal sourcing, maritime transportation, transshipment, inland water transport and logistics.
“People’s movements in India resonate with the key message of the Bangladesh movements – that while there are alternatives for sources of energy, there is no alternative to the Sundarbans. Sundarbans is a critical life-support ecosystem to India as much as it is for Bangladesh. Protecting it is the responsibility of people of both countries”, Ashok Choudhury, General Secretary, All India Union of Forest Working People said.
“If Rampal and the adjacent Orion projects are allowed to come up, everyday, lakhs of litres of hot water would be pumped out from these projects to the Passur river along with the release of millions of tons of toxic coal ash in the surrounding air, water and soil every year., severely affecting , vegetation, fish and other aquatic wealth, and reducing the oxygen level in the river drastically, devastating farming and fishing livelihoods ”, Soumya Dutta, Convener of the Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha said.
“Amongst the fishworkers, women are the worst affected,” Magline Peter of National Fishworkers Forum said. “While they are already burdened with running the household, Rampal project makes it further difficult. The project would be detrimental to the food security of the region,” she added.
The delegation, after talking to different political and civil society representatives, expressed concern about the increasing anti-India sentiment in Bangladesh. “At a time when it is important to strengthen relationship with neigbouring countries, it is unfortunate that India is promoting this project which is alienating India further. It is important that a Parliamentary delegation visit Bangladesh and discuss the implications of the project with different stakeholders and take a pro-people position on the project to restore the faith and confidence on India,” Roma, deputy General Secretary of All India Union of Forest Working People said.
Recalling his experience from two mega coal projects in Kutch – Tata Mundra and Adani projects – Dr. Bharat Patel of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan warned that projects like Rampal are promoted in the name of poor and development of the country. “However, we have experienced that such projects endanger the livelihood of the poor and push them to destitution, and only a handful of rich corporations profit from it,” he said.
The delegation reiterated their support to the movement to protect the Sundarbans and called upon the Governments of India and Bangladesh to cancel the project and seek decentralized and sustainable solutions to address the energy issues. They warned that in the coming days a more coordinated opposition will be build on both sides of the boarder, bringing together likeminded people’s movements, political parties and intellectuals, to protect Sundarbans.
*Delhi Solidarity Group