Dhaka, August 20 (The Daily Star): The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, held a daylong sit-in at the Central Shaheed Minar here on Saturday, demanding cancellation of all projects, including the Indo-Bangladesh joint venture to set up a coal-fired power plant at Rampal, that will harm the Sundarbans, the only remaining reserve forest in Bangladesh.
Eminent personalities took part in the sit in with a seven-point list of demands. Educationist Prof Serajul Islam Choudhury, Communist Party of Bangladesh, President Mujahidul Islam Selim, were among the participants.
“Among the 160 million people in this country, not even 1600 people are in favor of the Rampal power project,” said the noted columnist Syed Abul Maksud.
The names of the people working for implementing the Rampal project will be written along with those of war criminals, Ghulam Azam and Delawar Hossain Sayedee, one day, Maksud added.
A Bangladeshi-India joint venture company signed an agreement with India’s state-run Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd on July 12, 2016 paving the way for the start of construction of the much-debated Rampal coal power plant.
The construction for the project is to start within three to four months. The plant is expected to go into commercial production by July 2019.
Rape of Sundarbans
Anu Muhammad, Member Secretary National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, says that the Sundarbans, the last reserve forest in the country and a world heritage site, is being willfully destroyed to serve vested interests within the country and abroad.
On March 19, 2016, a cargo vessel carrying 1,300 tonnes of coal sank in Shela River of the Sundarbans. This incident, along with other similar cases of oil and cement-laden cargo sinking since 2014, clearly illustrates the enormity of the threat of carrying coal through the forest and of coal-related pollution in the power generation process of the Rampal coal-fired power plant, Muhammad says in an article in Daily Star.
“Earlier in the oil spillage disaster on December 2014, the government was hopelessly ill-prepared to control the damage. The local population came forward with whatever knowledge they had, to clean up the river, risking their lives and health. We did not see any effective action from the government except a flurry of rhetoric,” Muhammad recalled.
“In the last one year, the government has repeatedly promised to stop the plying of vehicles through this route within the Sundarbans. These words have proved to be hollow and that’s why we have seen another disaster in the Sundarbans. We can only conclude from the government’s attitude that they are not sincere about protecting the mangrove forest.”
“We have repeatedly urged the government to stop this controversial project. But the government, paying no heed to these demands, allowed plying of big vessels through the nearby river route, construction of large coal-fired power plant and encroachment of forest lands by land grabbers and business groups.”
“ The cabinet has already allocated funds for the coal-fired power plant at Rampal. This power plant project in the vicinity of the Sundarbans lacks transparency. Most worryingly, the project would destroy the Sundarbans that plays the role of a natural shield to protect the people and nature of Bangladesh and maintain the ecological balance nurturing invaluable biodiversity.”
“Millions of people will lose their livelihood due to destruction of the forest. The whole population of the coastal area will be affected. The Prime Mnister said that her government would not embark on any development project that affects the environment. Contrarily, we see the government is impatient about carrying out this project,” Muhammad points out.
“UNESCO has sent several letters to the government urging it to stop constructing the power plant near the forest. They have even threatened to strike the Sundarbans off the list of world heritage sites unless the stop the construction. The Norwegian government has withdrawn their investment of Global Pension Fund from the Indian company NTPC for its involvement in this catastrophic project. Many international banks have refused to fund this project.”
“ After conducting a field level survey at the project site, the South Asian Human Rights body has urged the government to stop it. Initially, various branches of the government had also expressed reservations about this project. These concerns and warnings have fallen on deaf ears.”
The government is pursuing this questionable project in the name of solving power and energy crisis. There is no doubt that we have to solve these problems. But from the way the government is approaching this issue, it seems that they are more eager to protect the interests of some local and international companies than solving the crisis.”
“ We can give more such examples of destructive development projects, such as open pit mining at Phulbari-Barapukuria, leasing out gas blocks in the Bay of Bengal to foreign companies, maintaining high price of oil amid global slump in oil price, undertaking questionable projects at Cox’s Bazar, constructing foreign company-dependent Ruppur Nuclear power plant and so on.”
“Since the oil and gas of the Bay of Bengal are the main resources for our future, it is only expected that our plans of using these resources are judicious. Otherwise, the country will be totally deprived of the huge potential it possesses.”
“Without floating any tender, and based only on “mutual understanding,” the government has decided to lease out the oil and gas blocks of our sea. In order to do so, the government has resorted to the Speedy Supply of Power and Energy Special Act for 2010, which is essentially an ‘indemnity law’. As per this law, no one can seek the court’s assistance in matters of the energy ministry,” Muhammad pointed out.
“The above mentioned Act not only applies to the energy sector, but also exempts the directors and officials of nuclear power companies from all possible damages and expense.”
“On September 8, 2015, the Nuclear Power Plant Bill 2015 was passed in the parliament. In its 28th clause, under the title ‘Protecting the activities done with innocence,’ it said: ‘No civil or criminal case can be filed or any other legal steps can be taken against the government, chairman, managing directors, project directors, other directors, advisers, consultants, officials or employees for their innocent activities done for building and running nuclear power plants before or after the issuance of this ordinance.”
“On February 15, 2016, Finance Minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhit admitted that the Sundarbans will be harmed because of the Rampal power plant. But then added that the location cannot be changed. Why must the government implement this project despite the fact that it will devastate the resources and shelters of the country which is incomparable to anything? Are their hands really tied, and if so, to whom?” Muhammad wonders.