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UNESCO team due soon

NCPS seeks UN-led EIA to protect Rampal project

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Staff Reporter  :
'The National Committee to Protect Sundarbans' NCPS demanded of a United Nations-led committee, comprising of scientists and environment experts, to protect the World's largest mangrove forest.
The National Committee also demanded that the plan for setting up two power plants in the Sundarbans- the government-run Rampal and private-run Orion- be suspended till a new Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) under the new UN-led committee is formed. They sought UN intervention in this regard.
Meanwhile, the BNP has alleged that the government is forcibly setting up the power plants, giving up the
 country's interest though it knows it very well that the projects will badly affect the Sundarbans.
The National Committee and the BNP viewed their allegations in two separate programmes at the Dhaka Reporters' Unity (DRU) ahead of the visit of a UNESCO delegation, which is scheduled to come to Bangladesh soon to assess the possible impacts of the proposed coal-based power plants.
Convener of the National Committee Sultana Kamal, its joint convener Dr Abdul Matin, energy expert Dr Shamsul Alam and Executive Director of the TIB Dr Iftekharuzzaman, among others, were present at the press conference of the National Committee in the DRU Auditorium.
Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (BAPA), TIB, Save the Sundarbans Foundation, Green Voice Centre for Human Rights Movement, Rampal Krishi Jomi Rakkhha Committee and Bagerhat Development Commission and Nature Campaign and some other organisations are under fold of the National Committee.
In her speech, Sultana Kamal, also an adviser to the former caretaker government, presented several other demands including withdrawal of all projects in and around the Sundarbans. "The Sundarbans is our national resource. It is our constitutional right to protest any activity that will harm the forest," she said.
Dr Abdul Matin, who is also general secretary of BAPA, blamed the government for ignoring the demands of the environmentalists about the issue. Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, "We are the worst victim of climate change. It will be very embarrassing for us if we become a polluter country through constructing coal-based power plants in the Sundarbans, as our Prime Minister was recently awarded for her efforts in the environment sector." Meanwhile, BNP Joint-Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed, who is current spokesman of the party, at a roundtable discussion alleged that the government is forcibly setting up the power plants, giving up the country's interest and as a result of 'deep affection' towards India.
Save the Sundarbans Foundation arranged the roundtable to mark 'The Sundarbans Day', which day will be observed today (Sunday).
Rizvi Ahmed said, "A vast portion of the Sundarbans is in India. There had been a move to set up a thermal power plant near it there. But India shelved the plan following their peoples' strong protest and filing of a case.  But, our government's stance to set up the power plant for the Prime Minister's stubbornness aimed at to making the neighbouring country happy."
BNP is not against India, the BNP leader said, that they are opposing the plan of power plants, as it will badly harm Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, the high-profile UNESCO delegation is coming to Bangladesh any time in March to assess the environmental impact of the Rampal coal-fired power plant, and to see the steps taken by the government to address the possible impact. It will also review the damage caused by sinking of vessels in rivers through the mangrove forest carrying oil and coal.
 "UNESCO wants to send its team this month (February) but we have requested them to be here in March next," Chief Conservator of Forests Yunus Ali told media on Saturday. An official at UNESCO's Dhaka office, however, said that the team is coming in late February or early March.
Yunus Ali said that the UNESCO team, which will be accompanied by a delegation of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is going to visit the Sundarbans, as it is a UNESCO's world heritage site. During the visit in Bangladesh, the team will hold talks with the government, inhabitants around the forest, civic bodies, media, university teachers and experts, he added. In 1997, the Sundarbans was declared as a world heritage site by the UNESCO. Bangladesh signed a deal with India in 2012, to set up a 1,320-megawatt thermal power plant in Bagerhat's Rampal, which is located about 14 kilometers from the Sundarbans. But the peripheral area of the forest begins within four kilometers from the Power Plant.
The two countries will have equal partnership in the venture called Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Ltd.
Environmentalists and locals have been saying that the coal-fired power plant will threaten the ecological balance of the Sundarbans. The project, if implemented, would destroy the forest already under several threats. The government, however, insists that proper measures will be taken to protect the environment from pollution. According to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project, the Rampal power plant will produce 7.5 lakh tonnes of fly ash and 2 lakh tonnes of bottom ash per year. About 15 percent of the ash will be generated as a result of burning coal.

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