Controversy over Rampal power plant site

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Green activists continue to protest setting up of proposed 1320 megawatt coal-fired power plant at Rampal in Bagerhat, which as they say, would destroy the Sundarbans which is only 14 kilometres from the project site. The environmentalists last week rejected the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report on the power plant. They observed that the EIA report, prepared by the relevant department of the government, did not take into consideration most of the important aspects of the environment of the Sundarbans, its ecology, flora and fauna as well as a large number of local people.

Tahsin Ahmed, a leading environmentalist told a consultative meeting, organized by the Power Division on April 12 last that the proposed power plant will destroy the world heritage site. “We need electricity, but not at the cost of the Sundarbans”, he was quoted as saying at the meeting. The meeting held at the Bidyut Bhaban in the city discussed EIA report on the proposed power plant at Rampal.

Engineer Shahidullah, Convener of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas and Power, informed the meeting that if the coal-fired power plant project is implemented nearer to the Sundarbans, it would cause more natural disasters like Sidr and Aila which damaged properties worth about Taka 100 billion (10,000 crore). He referred to his own study on the damage to the affected area.

The areas devastated by the Sidr and Aila still continue to suffer a loss of Taka 50 billion (5,000 crore) annually while the Bangladesh will derive a benefit of Taka 30 billion (3,000 crore) out of electricity.

Speaking at the meeting, environmentalist Iqbal Habib urged the government not to set up the power plant near the Sundarbans. Before the EIA study was done, Iqbal Habib alleged, the government finalized the plan for setting up the power plant at Rampal.

Mr. Abdul Matin, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) said that two expert teams of environmentalists of Khulna University and Mymensingh Agricultural University, completed separate studies on the impact of proposed coal-fired power plant at Rampal. Both the studies, he mentioned, projected 81% negative impact on the Sundarbans due to setting up of the power plant.

Experts at the meeting wanted to know how the National Thermal Power Company (NTPC) of India could obtain the clearance for the Rampal project when the same Indian company was not allowed to build coal-based power plant on the Indian side of the world’s largest mangrove forest.

It may be mentioned that the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) had signed a deal on January 29 last year with the NTPC of India to build the power plant. The proposed project, on an area of over 1834 acres of land, is situated 14 kilometres north of the Sundarbans. It will be the country’s largest power plant. Green activists have been expressing concern over the probable adverse effect on the bio-diversity of the Sundarbans for quite a long time with a call to shift the proposed plant to a place, distant from the forest.

Salinity and river erosion have already started taking their tolls on the green belts that surround the Sundarbans. Environmentalists fear that if corrective measures are not taken right now, the green belts around the mangrove forest will face a serious threat to their existence. Already excessive salinity has resulted in the deaths of large number of trees and vegetations at the coastal areas including Sarankhola and Morrelganj. Vast tracts of land along the coastal areas of the forest have been devoured by river erosion. Excessive saline water and heavy deposit of sand at the roots of trees following Cyclone Sidr and Aila in 2007 and 2010 have destroyed a large number of plants and trees such as Kewra, Huila, Palm and coconut.

We suggest that if the observation made by the experts on probable environmental hazards to the Sundarbans has any basis, it should be measured urgently by the competent authority before work on the proposed thermal power plant begins at Rampal. It is not difficult to find out a suitable alternative site for the power project in the country. True, we need electricity badly for country’s overall development, but surely not at the cost of our precious wonder of nature — the Sundarbans.

News source: The Financial Express, BD

Image source: The Beauty of Sundarban