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Anger over Bangladesh coal plant project

Fears for world's largest mangrove forest

Anger over Bangladesh coal plant project

Bangladesh's Sundarbans are the world's largest mangroves (AFP photo/Munir Uz Zaman) reporter, Dhaka

October 2, 2013

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Campaigners have petitioned Bangladesh’s Supreme Court to delay signing off on a proposal for a coal-fired power plant near the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans.

The project would be jointly run by Bangladesh and India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Company (NTPC) at Rampal town, about 14 km from the UNESCO world heritage site.

Activists, who are demanding the formation of a specialist committee of local and international experts to evaluate the environmental impact of the project, have pointed out that India is facing criticism for environmentally destructive projects at home, and may be opting instead to export these projects abroad.

It was forced to quit two major coal power plants in recent years in the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh states because of stricter legal barriers and large protests.

“India can’t consider Bangladesh a test laboratory for a dangerous project while it failed for the same at home," said MA Matin, secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, a prominent environmentalist group.

The signatories fear that the plant will reduce the natural shield offered by the mangroves, making millions of coastal people even more vulnerable to extreme weather in low-lying and already natural disaster-prone Bangladesh.

“Sundarbans is like our mother who protects us from natural disasters,” said Dr Anu Muhammad, an economist and a key organizer of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports. “We can’t allow power production at the cost of our mother nature.”

The committee has called on the government to cancel the project by October 11 or face wider protests. The government is adamant that it will break ground on the plant on October 22, and insists that the project is needed to bring affordable electricity to one of the poorest corners in a country where nearly half of 160 million people have no access to power, and when demand and energy costs have risen sharply.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s power, energy and mineral resources adviser, Dr Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, dismissed the criticism in a press briefing last week.

“Coal fire plant is the cheapest solution for power generation. Top class technology and waste treatment will be used for the plant, to ensure that the Sundarbans remain unharmed.”

Sources at the Environment Department, however, said that environmental guidelines were flouted to validate the project.

“In the environmental impact assessment report, the project location was cited as a residential and rural area, instead of an ecologically critical area,” said an official from the department who requested anonymity.

“It was done to override legal bindings to lower emissions, waste and processed water treatment, which will surely have a seriously negative impact on the Sundarbans.”     

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