By Golam Rabbani
Sheikh Hasina’s desperate and dangerous move for Rampal Power plants will simply take the Sundarbans to its final grave. Despite substantial scientific evidence and analysis, the government goes on to implement the devastating project. There are many feasible alternatives to coal based power plants to meet the energy needs of the country, but all gets ignored bluntly.
Evergreen land of alluvial soil, Bangladesh has already suffered from the following environmental catastrophes:
- Carrying capacity is under serious threat due to one of the highest population density in the world.
- Climate change related vulnerability index put Bangladesh in top ten of the world.
- Air, rivers, coasts and lands are already polluted to its maximum possible. These have displayed among the worsts in the world’s health indexes.
- 15% current forestry where 25% is the required minimum.
Prime minister’s advisors and secretaries could look into available renewable technologies and generate funds from India as well as many other countries. They looked into imported coal based power plants, instead and India has finally won the international bids as always. The power relations between these two countries are “All YES to India” but “OK to Ignore Bangladesh” since the beginning.
Let’s look at the project details of Rampal Power Stations:
- Sponsor:Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Pvt Ltd. (BIFPCL)
- Parent company:Bangladesh Power Development Board and NTPC India
- Location: Rampal, District: Bagerhaat (11km from the outer periphery of Sundarban)
- Exact Coordinates:5924582, 89.556427
- Gross Capacity:Phase I: 1320 MW (2 x 660 MW); Phase II: 1320 MW (2 x 660 MW)
- Type:Ultra-Supercritical (Not Supercritical!)
- Projected in service: December 2018
- Coal Type: Not specified
- Coal Source: Not specified
- Source of financing:BPDB and NTPC (30%), Exim Bank India (70%)
Given the details, there is no doubt that the plant will cause environmental disaster to at least one third population of the country. This is why environmentalists have expressed their concern and warned us from the very first days. But Sheikh Hasina and her government insult scientific evidences and advertise through media in supporting the project. They can easily get away high court bench, academic research, Environmental Impact Assessment Report and even huge public protests. Here is a brief history of the project development:
On January 11, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Bangladesh Power Development Board (PDB) and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). Both are state organisations.
On March 1, Bangladesh High Court asked the government ‘why the construction of the plant should not be declared illegal’. [Investigation found no response available online]
On July 9, Protests against proposed Rampal Power Plant started by five local organizations along with National Committee to protect Oil, Gas, Mineral resources and power-port, an environmentalist group in Bangladesh. Police foiled the protests rally in Rampal. Political party BNP expressed solidarity after a week.
On January 29, an agreement was signed with PDB and NTPC set up a joint venture company under the name of Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC). They chanted the name of the plant to be as Maitree Super Thermal Plant which is expected to be implemented by 2016.
On August 1, Department of Energy of Bangladesh approved construction later on with 15 preconditions where one of the conditions was to avoid 25km from the outer periphery of any ecologically sensitive area.
Once September, thousands of people marched 400 km to oppose the power plant concerning inevitable direct threats to Sundarban and its entire ecology.
Initially the inauguration was scheduled on 22nd October but on 5th October, PM Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the plant by pressing an electric switch at Veramara.
Report from PDB on July 2014 expects commercial generation by December 2018
In January, Export Import Bank of India (EXIM Bank) signed an agreement to finance the entire project.
In March over a thousand people marched from Dhaka to Rampal urging government to stop the plant.
On July 12, Bangladesh India Friendship Company Limited (BIFPCL) signed contract for construction with Bharat Heavy Electric Ltd (BHEL). Estimated cost $1.68 Billion.
On July 28 Police blocked Save the Sundarbans march towards the Prime minister’s office, arrested six and 16 were hospitalized due to baton and tear cell charges.
In August UNESCO has questioned the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and called to halt the project and asked for a revised EIA report from PDB of Bangladesh.
This year has started with a Global Day of Protest in which an unprecedented number of people from across the world have participated and gave verdict to save the Suburbans. Nevertheless, observers have seen 1834 acres of land has been surrounded by high boundary walls last month (in March). Inside the newly built wall, soil filling has already been completed. There are five high watch towers standing, awkwardly, high. Office cum residence for project officers and care takers are already in use. Workers and engineers are building six kilometers of bypass road from Mongla to the power station. There are two pontoons and jetties that have been set on the bank of Poshur River to unload the ships and tugboats.
Clearly the destructive project is now going ahead with the permission of Bangladeshi and Indian Government. The construction of the main site started end of March 2017, with their expectation that, this would be completed and go to operation by July 2019.
There are another two 660 MW Coal-fired power stations near Chittagong Port was initially being considered but there’s no details found and suspected to be on hold or cancelled.
Champion of the Earth awarded prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, along with her renowned advisors goes bluntly for fossil fueled electric plants but you could not question this destructive move. If you raise a question the result would be unendurable torture and abuse by Police and Rapid Action Battalion, those who meant to protect citizens from odds. This desperate move of Awami League government has resulted in over 90% price hike in just four years while experts are expecting even sharper raise of price in the year ahead.
Sheikh Hasina’s government claims that they have a vision to provide electricity to every house in 2021. Environmentalists, such as Professor Anu Muhammad and comrades of NCBD, also share this vision but they cannot see how it is possible without stopping fossil fuel industries and without ensuring renewable energy production. There are enormous possibilities of renewable energy sources which national environmental scientists have already demonstrated with strong evidence.
Bangladesh can easily set example that Green Development is not a utopian idea. The country has unique geographical advantages for longer coasts, surplus sun lights throughout the year to produce more than enough electricity from renewable sources. It is no longer a big challenge to achieve funds and technologies to meet the goal. But a government is desperate for a destructive project that will ruin the country’s ecology, thereby leaving devastating impact on the planet earth.