Bangladesh-India power plant can severely affect the mangrove forest, say environmentalists
Sundarbans at risk
Last month, Bangladesh inked a deal with India to set up a coal-based thermal power plant in Bangladesh’s Bagerhat district. Spread over 800 hectares, the 1,320 MW plant will be set up in Rampal upazila—4 km from the declared ecologically critical portion of the Sundarbans. This has agitated environmentalists who are demanding relocation of the plant.
Being the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans are rich in biodiversity. Bangladesh has declared three dolphin sanctuaries within the Sundarbans. “One of them is very close to the proposed plant,” says wildlife expert Ronald Halder in Dhaka. Effluent from the plant and coal transportation will severely impact the sanctuaries, adds Halder.
The project has worried the Ramsar Convention secretariat, too. The Sundarbans are registered with the Convention, an international treaty for conservation of wetlands. Last June when the project was in its proposal stage, the Convention secretariat wrote a letter to the Bangladesh Ministry of Environment and Forests. It said the joint venture between the Power Development Board of Bangladesh and India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) could be a possible threat to the Sundarbans.
But the Convention secretariat is not sure of the project’s impact since its environmental impact assessment (EIA) is yet to be made public. Lew Young, senior regional advisor for Asia/Oceania at the Ramsar Convention secretariat in Switzerland, says, “Since we have no information on the exact location of the power plant, it is difficult to give a position on how close it is to the Sundarbans and what impact it will have.” The Convention has clear guidelines on how governments should ensure wise use of Ramsar sites. The government can request the Convention secretariat to form a team of experts to visit a project site and recommend ways of minimising adverse impact, adds Young.
The department of environment in Dhaka says the project proponents have submitted the EIA report. “It is being reviewed,” says an official. The department will soon hold a meeting to discuss the project and suggest recommendations. The EIA report has also been sent to the department of forests for its opinion. The Sundarbans in Bangladesh are a protected area and fall under the jurisdiction of the forest department, while a 10 km buffer zone around the forests, which is an ecologically critical area, is the responsibility of the environment department. The project site is 4 km from the buffer zone.
Why it hurts
The water requirement of the power project will be met by the river Passur. But Syeda Rizwana Hasan, director of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, says, “The river helps maintain balance of sweet and saline water needed for the survival of the plant species of the Sundarbans.”
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