Taking a swipe at green activists for their silence about keeping the Mongla-Ghoshiakhali River Channel inoperative for long 21 years harming the Sundarbans, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday said now they are very much vocal against Rampal Power Plant.
"Environmentalists are now making a hue and cry although the power plant (at Rampal) is being set up 14 kilometers away from the Sundarbans, but I never heard them uttering any word when the Ghoshiakhali channel was shut alongside closing down the access points of some 234 connecting canals and leasing them out for shrimp enclosures," she said.
Sheikh Hasina was addressing a function while inaugurating the re-excavated Mongla Ghoshiakhali River channel alongside 11 newly-built dredgers and 76 auxiliary vessels from her official residence Ghanobhaban through a video conference.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan spoke on the occasion. Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud, PM's Political Affairs Adviser HT Imam, Parliamentary Standing Committee chairman on Food Ministry Abdul Wadud were, among others, present. Senior officials were present at the other end of the videoconference in Mongla.
During the long 21 years, the Prime Minister alleged , many trees were felled while the wild habitat of the Sundarbans was also destroyed.
Hasina said she never saw any concern and anxiety among the environmentalists over the Sundarbans at that time although it was a matter well inside the Sundarbans. "But, now they're whining over a matter (Rampal plant) which is 14 miles away from the Sundarbans."
Due to the closure of the Ghoshiakhali channel, she alleged, the marine vessels and ships had to ply through the Shela River endangering the habitats of dolphins, Bengal Tigers, and other wild animals.
But, after the assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975, Hasina said the BNP and the successive governments did not take any step to dredge the Ghoshiakhali channel rather they misused it in many ways and thus made the Mongla port inoperative.
She further alleged that Ziaur Rahman, Ershad and then Khaleda Zia destroyed the channel through leasing out some 234 connecting canals in the Sundarbans for shrimp enclosures.
Hasina said the plying of river vessels and ships through the Shela River after passing a long way was very much harmful to the Sundarbans.
To maintain the navigability of rivers and canals, the Prime Minister also put emphasis on conducting round-the-year maintenance and dredging.
Hasina said she has already ordered the Water Resources Ministry to dredge some 83 big canals near the Sundarbans.
The dredging of the channel began on July 1, 2014, to improve the navigability so that large vessels could pass through it. The aim was to protect the Sundarbans and save time and fuel.
Nearly 182 lakh cubic meters of silt have so far been removed from a 26-km stretch of the 31-km Mongla-Ghoshiakhali channel. Besides, 62.12 lakh cubic meters of silt was removed during maintenance dredging. Eight dredgers are still at work in the channel.
The channel's dredging had shortened river routes by about 81 km. A total of Tk. 250 crore has been spent on the project.
The Mongla-Ghashiakhali channel is an international protocol route between India and Bangladesh. Imported goods can be easily transported through this channel to the country's north-southern region.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had inaugurated the route, constructed by the BIWTA in November 1972-74, to link Mongla Port, Khulna and Noapara with other parts of the country.