Thursday , 26 April 2018

Rampal Power Plant: Image of Contradictions


Md. Shafaat Ullah

The government of Bangladesh seems to be very confident about turning it into a developed country within 2041. And yes, it is noticeable that our GDP growth is going at a stable pace. Apparently, this growth rate satisfies many of us. However, when someone tries to look deep down into the issues or conditions at the expense of which this growth is made from, something dangerous emerges. We need to be cautious about the sacrifices we are making in the name of achieving our development objectives. Sometimes we are sacrificing too much to achieve temporary development objectives which are not likely to benefit us in the long run and sometimes we are sacrificing not even for our own benefits and these sacrifices will surely be harmful for us eventually..

These concerns draw our attention towards what is happening in Rampal, Sundarbans. Almost everyone knows that ‘Rampal Coal Fired Power Plant’ which is known as the ‘Maitree Super Thermal Power Project’, a 1,320 MW coal-fired power station is being constructed in Rampal, Sundarbans. We need to raise concerns about Rampal Power Plant because after making careful cost-benefit calculations it was found that something fishy is happening there. There have been protests against this project from multiple sources. Therefore, now we need to ask why these protests are taking place while our government is assuring time and again about the non-harmful character of this project and trying to divert our attention towards the benefits which we will earn from this project. We must find out that whether this project is harming the natural stability of the Sundarbans or not and if it is, to what extent. If it is doing so, we should then ponder whether we should sacrifice the natural protection we get from this mangrove forest during natural calamities or should we just care for the achievement of developmental objectives and benefits. When the question of benefits arise, we must carefully calculate who are actually benefitting from this project and how much. If we are not benefiting from the Sundarbans with a power plant operating inside it then why is the power plant being built? Is this because our government is trying to achieve some kind of Omni-balance through this project as it lacks internal support? The anxiety is over how the government of a country constructs a ‘wonderful image’ of such a vicious project to its population and destroys the environment in the name of development. This piece of writing will try to distinguish between the ‘image’ and ‘reality’ of Rampal power plant.

Rampal project is a joint venture of ‘Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB)’ and ‘National Thermal Power Corporation of India (NTPC)’ by using Indian ‘supercritical technology’ under the ‘supervision and management’ of ‘Indian experts’ and ‘loan form Indian banks’ where Bangladesh is contributing by donating a land that is a ‘world heritage site’ as announced by UNESCO! Earlier, Bangladesh government allotted a piece of land in the Sundarbans for a coal fired power plant but later they permitted another power plant of the same category that was constructed by ORION group of Bangladesh.

From the beginning, the government of Bangladesh has rejected the debates that the coal-based power plant would harmfully affect the largest mangrove forest in the world. “The Energy Adviser of the Bangladesh PM, Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury said that the controversy over the power plant and its impact on the Sundarbans was ‘not based on facts’. (Rampal power plant, It was also stated that this plant will not negatively affect the mangrove forest because the emission of greenhouse gases will be kept at the minimum level and they will import high quality coal, build a 275 metre high chimney, install state-of-the art technology and other steps to keep its impact on the Sundarbans at a negligible level but the ingredients of pollution do not depend on the height of Chimney, it will just emit the carbon in a higher atmosphere. Rampal power plant will produce 45 tons of Nitrogen dioxide and 142 tons of Sulfur dioxide daily. (“Rampal Power Plant: Govt to lay foundation stone Oct 22”, The Daily Star, September 26, 2013, -22/).

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina criticized protestors of establishing Rampal Power plant in a program on May 3 saying that “The protestors are protesting to save animals, birds instead of human beings”. Unfortunately, few days earlier, in the opening ceremony of the ‘International Summit for Tigers’, she said, “If tiger survives, the Sundarbans will survive and if the Sundarbans survive, Bangladesh will survive” (Muhammad, Anu. “Sundarban to Ruppur: Wrong information and Ambiguity”, May 07, 2015, Daily Prothom Alo). The Prime Minister also stated that the power plant will be in a ‘safe distance’ away from the Sundarbans but according to the government’s document, Rampal power plant is only 14 km away from the Sundarbans. However, a measurement done by prominent Geographers Wahiduzzaman and Salam, with the assistance of Geographical Information System (GIS) software, reveals that the original distance is 9-13 km (A.K.M Wahiduzzaman and Mohammed Tawsif Salam: “Rampal Electricity Plant and our Environmental Consciousness”, Here, a point is to be noted that according to the Indian Law, ‘Coal fired power plant should not be around 25 km from the reserved forest.’

Government is only saying that it will not bring any harm to Sundarbans and Former Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh said, “India will not do anything that can be a cause of loss for Bangladesh.” So the question is how NTPC got permission to build “Rampal Power Plant” in Bangladesh when it was rejected by their Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to construct coal fired power plant in the Indian part of the Sundarbans for ‘irreparable damage’ of the forest. Green Tribunal of India has rejected NTPC’s numerous projects for its terrible past records.

There is also ambiguity about the wind blowing from Rampal power plant. Advertisement of Power Board announced that “Wind flow from Rampal plant does not go towards the Sundarbans ever. There is no possibility of wind flow from the Chimney of the plant and ‘ultra-super thermal technology’ will be used in the plant to keep emission of carbon at the minimum level.” However, the realty is, EIA of “Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services” (CEGIES) under the Ministry of Water -Resource said, wind from Rampal power plant will blow over the Sundarbans for four months of the year. And it will move towards ‘Bay of Bengal’ by hitting the ‘Chandpie range’ of the forest directly. (Al-Amin,Mehedi ”Air Ambiguity of Rampal Power Plant”, November 26, 2015, Daily Bonik Barta ). The EIA report also showed, if any accident takes place due to ash management through chimney, it will affect the nearby cisterns, agricultural lands, wildlife sanctuary and locality.

The government is smearing propaganda that Rampal plant will reduce local people’s dependence on Sundarbans and deforestation, fishing; wildlife risk will remain low by creating alternative workplace for them (Bangladesh Power Developmend Board, “Rampal Power Plant is a Environment Friendly Project“, November 2, page 16, The Daily Star). However, the fact is that the power plant will create only 600 workplaces for skilled persons where there is little chance for local people. Currently, millions of people directly and indirectly depend on the forest.

It is firmly spread that, “Coal will be carried on cargo in covered state; from where air or water of Sundarbans will not be affected” (ibid). Does it really make any sense? Blitz water of coal stock, coal powder, toxic sulfur and nitrogen gas of vessels engine, powerful searchlight and sound will obviously interrupt the natural ecosystem of Sundarbans. “Over the last 12 months, the waterways of the Sundarbans have been blighted by two major cargo vessel spills: one, last December, involved 350,000 litre of fuel oil, and the latest, just a few weeks ago, resulted in the dumping of 510 tons of coal.” (Rahman, Mowdud & Aitken, Greig, “Coal plant threatens world’s largest mangrove forest – and Bangladesh’s future“, December 10, 2015, ECOLOGIST,

Water of the Poshur River will be used in a low quantity as BPDB as stated in their advertisement is nothing but a total bluff. For refrigeration works of the plant, 9150 cubic litre of water will be needed in one hour and 5150 litre of which will be returned into river (Mustafa, Kallol,”BPDB’s Advertisement on Rampal Power Plant and It’s respond, November 2, 2015, ) which will turn Poshur river dead just like the Buriganga and Shitalakkha.

Besides, economic and wildlife resources of the Sundarbans work as a natural safeguard against frequent natural calamities. Not only Rampal Power Plant, Sundarbans is also going to be allotted for new projects like shipyard, ship breaking, 5 star hotel and eco-tourism. In order to protect the Sundarbans, there is no alternative without shielding against such projects from anywhere which destroy the Sundarbans. To understand the significance of Sundarbans, we can cite a sentence by Anu Muhammad that, “There are many alternatives for power generation, but there is no alternative for Sundarbans.” Government should not juggle with its own people by creating “allegory of the cave” on exploiting state’s natural resources in the name of development.

~ Writer is a student of B.S.S (7th Semester), International Relations, University of Dhaka.

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