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Update : 2016-08-21 00:00:00
Rethink Rampal Power Plant to save Sundarbans

Rethink Rampal Power Plant to save Sundarbans

The Rampal Power Plant is a most burning issue in Bangladesh. On Jan 29, 2012 the National Thermal Power Corporation of India and the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) signed a Joint Venture Agreement to build a 1,320 MW coal-fired thermal power plant, known as Moitree Super Thermal Plant, at Rampal in Bangladesh’s Bagerhat district.  From then on till now environmentalist, economist, journalist, conscious citizens of Bangladesh especially The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources and Ports and Power stands against building of the plant for the likely dangerous effect on the Sundarbans area. We know power generation, load shedding and power crisis is a most concerning matter in the country and the government is searching for every possible solution to mitigate the power crisis. Like other Asian countries Bangladesh also wants to find a way to energy solvency through coal fired power plants, nuclear power plants and renewable energy sources in Rampal upazila, but it is considered to be one of the most controversial decisions as this project has environmental issues although the government of Bangladesh rejected allegations that the coal-based power plant would adversely affect the world’s largest mangrove forest. The energy advisor to the prime minister said that the controversy over the power plant and its impact on the Sundarbans was “not based on facts”. He also said that the plant will not negatively affect the mangrove forest because the emission of greenhouse gas will be kept at a minimum level. The government also affirmed they will import high quality coal, build a 275 meter high chimney and employ state-of-the art technology to keep its impact on the Sundarbans at a negligible level. UNESCO, EIA, Environmentalist and The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas and Ports are strongly against the decision taken by Bangladesh government. They and their friends in Bangladesh and around the world are worried that the area and its inhabitants may be in jeopardy. Two coal-fired power plants have been proposed, both within a few miles of the Sundarbans, and activists are concerned that the power plants’ presence could alter the critical water balance in the region, pollute the surrounding water and air, and increase the risk of oil and coal spills, all of which they say could seriously damage the mangrove forest and threaten the well-being of the people and animals who call it home. This danger is also reflected in an independent EIA of physical, biological, social and economic environment of Sundarbans done by Dr. Abdullah Harun of Khulna University. His study shows that most of the impacts of coal fired power plant are negative and irreversible and cannot be mitigated in any way. According to that study climate, topography, land use pattern, air quality, water quality, wetlands, floral and faunal diversity, captured fisheries and tourism will be affected permanently. The coal-fired power plant with its environmental management plan will not be able to stop increase in water logging conditions, river erosion, noise pollution and health hazards; fall of ground water table; loss of culture fisheries, social forestry and major destruction of agriculture. So, if anybody comes up with the idea of compensation, this is where no compensation is good enough.  Another point to ponder. The targeted production of 1320 mw electricity may lead to higher economic growth of the country and the power it is likely to generate can be used for industry, agriculture, and residential purposes. If we want to see who is going to benefit from the economic growth, it is only those who can afford to pay for electricity. Having Rampal Power Plant in operation the per unit electricity cost might be Tk 8.85 if the coal costs $145 a ton. Will any poor people of Bangladesh be able to pay tk.12-15 per unit as electricity bill? Currently BPDB purchases electricity at Tk 3 per unit from coal-fired power plant. Then what is the logic to purchase electricity at the rate of Tk 8.85 /per unit instead of 3? This means the whole nation will suffer the loss of Sundarbans while only few users and the businessmen will benefit from this choice. The plant will need to import 4.72 million tons of coal per year. This massive freight will need about 59 ships per year, each having 80,000-ton capacity that would be taken to the port on the bank of the Poshur river. The path from the port to the coal plant will cut through 40kms of the Sundarbans. Environmentalists claim these coal-carrying vehicles scatter large amounts of fly ash, coal dust and sulphur, and other toxic chemicals. The predictions made by environment and ecology experts are that the plant will release various toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide, thereby putting the surrounding villages and, most importantly, the Sundarbans at grave risk. No country in the world usually gives permission to set up large coal based power plant within 20 to 25km of forest, agricultural land and residential area. But the Bangladesh government set up its mind to build the coal-based power plant near the mangrove forest though India’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Guideline 2010 stated, no power plant can be built within 25 kilometres of forests. They clearly states that, the “locations of thermal power stations are avoided within 25 km of the outer periphery of the following: metropolitan cities; national park and wildlife sanctuaries; ecologically sensitive areas like tropical forest, biosphere reserve, important lake and coastal areas rich in coral formation.” That means Indian state owned NTPC is operating the Rampal project violating its own principle and legal restrictions. Nevertheless, the Indian government is pushing for that. No company including the NTPC will be allowed to implement similar or much less disastrous projects in India. But, the same rule was not followed in Bangladesh’s case! Development and sustainability are two hot words. The government of Bangladesh seems to focus on the development avoiding sustainability and announces vision 2021 depending upon this context while often undervaluing the issues of society, people’s will, ecology, bio-diversity, and the overall scheme of things; mainly, the environment and its climactic impact on Bangladesh. Bangladeshi people especially those in southwestern region suffered heavily from the various natural disasters like Aila, Sidr etc. If Rampal Power Plant is built in this area then natural disasters will increase. Under these considerations, we urged the government to stop construction work of Rampal Thermal Power Plant and shift the project to safer places in the country for the sake of biodiversity and environment of the world’s largest mangrove forest.                      Md. Sharifur Rahman Adil, Feni South-East Degree College