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Commentary

We must save Sundarbans: Big mistake for India

16 July 2016


Editorial Desk :
The Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company on Tuesday signed a $1.49 billion contract with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited to build the 1360 MW controversial Rampal coal-fired power plant only 14km from the world's largest mangrove the Sundarbans forest.
The agreement has been signed defying popular protest by local people and environmentalist groups at home and abroad demanding relocation of the plant site at a distance to save Sundarbans. The fear is high that the mangrove forest may be slowly destroyed by thermal heating of the air and pollution of water.
The popular argument for relocation of the plant is that such power plant can be build at any time but the Sundarbans can't be reproduced. It must be saved. As Indian news media suggests the Indian government is now systematically closing down most coal-fired power plants within the country because of environmental safety.
It is also planning to cancel four such proposed plants that could produce combined 16 gigawatts electricity in Chhattisgarh,
Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Odisha but our government is defiantly moving ahead to build the coal-fired power plant in Bangladesh.
It also plans to set up a second unit of coal-fired plant at the same location with equal power generation capacity. It means that the Indian government plans to generate over 2,700 MW electricity in the area closer to the Sundarbans to make an exclusive power generating city there based on imported coal from India.
Reports in a national daily in Bangladesh yesterday said Indian government's coal mining ambition has gathered momentum apparently with eyes on new market in Bangladesh, although they are producing poor quality coal that seriously pollute environment. India has already removed adivashi population from their ancestral land to vacate the mining zones to produce more coal.  
Media report in Dhaka on Thursday said Power Secretaries of both countries who signed the construction deal of Rampal power plant on Tuesday has agreed to redesign the second unit from coal-fired to solar power plant. The decision has been made in view of serious protest against the coal-fired plant near the Sundarbans at home and abroad.
But it remains a mystery all over the past several years as to why the government of Bangladesh is so much committed to set up the coal-fired power plant with India at such sensitive location defying local opposition on valid reasons. It is also not clear why the India government is not taking seriously the protest of Bangladesh people that calls for relocation of the plant site, not to shut the project altogether.
It is really mysterious why our government is ready to take the risk of destroying the Sundarrbans as many local and international environmental studies amply made it clear and even the UNESCO has warned of the consequences that include the risk of delisting the Sundarbans from world heritage to the category of endangered heritage. We are at a loss at whose interest our government is ready to sacrifice everything despite so many road marches and street protests all over the country.
It is also not clear why the government so quickly inked the agreement at a time when the UN expert panel is scheduled to release its report on the overall situation. Power plant officials claim they have agreed upon several conditions that would protect the forest and its environment. They would use low sulfur-coal with low ash and also make sure that it would be managed with best technology and their limit will not exceed as has been set by World Bank and IMF.
But question remains as to who would ensure compliance when our government has totally given up to the Indian government plan. What appears quite surprising is that the environment directorate is yet to give permission to the project and yet the move to set up the plant is on the way and agreement signed. As things develop, our people's opinion has no place within our country while our government is openly moving with the Indian plan to help it achieve their goals.
Indian government order relating to setting up thermal power plant showed that environmental clearance must be obtained from the central government if a proposed project will be located within 25 km of reserve forest, or in ecologically sensitive area including national parks, animal sanctuaries, biosphere reserves, critically polluted areas and within 50 km of inter-state borders.
The order also has earmarked how to seek environmental clearance, composition of expert committees and procedure of taking public hearing. It appears that none of these requirement is essential when the construction of Rampal power plant is concerned. Many believe only a sensible government can protect the nation.

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