Protecting the Sundarbans from devastation

MNA Editorial Desk: Sundarbans, a magnificent and unique ecosystem of the world, faces an existential question today with a coal power plant to be set up at Rampal. It has been a content of discord between environmentalists and those who are pushing the plant.

Both sides are giving out their own arguments in favour of and against the plant to be set up within 14km of the mangrove forest.

The recent capsizing of a coal carrying ship in the Sundarbans has raised the stakes on the assessment being carried out by UNESCO on the Rampal power plant.

Located on the fringes of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, the power plant may add to the troubles of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

So far, despite the sustained criticism of environmentalists, the Bangladesh government continues to back the construction of the 1,320 megawatt coal fired power plant in Rampal.

The Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company Ltd (BIFPCL), a joint initiative of India’s National Thermal Power Company and Bangladesh’s Power Development Board signed an agreement to build the power plant with BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited) on 29 February 2016.

Though the project was originally expected to be awarded by early 2014 and completed by 2017, the process was delayed as the company could not manage to secure donors in the face of environmental concerns.

The state-owned Government Pension Fund Global of Norway was scheduled to invest BDT 4,300 million (USD 55 million) for the project, but they withdrew the fund as Norway’s Council on Ethics recommended dropping the project due to the threat to the Sundarbans.

Frustrated, Bangladesh had also reportedly approached the Chinese government, but with Indian funding coming through, the plant is now set to be completed by 2019. There were three bids for the USD 1.5 billion job.

According to the conditions of the tender, the construction company BHEL would arrange 70% of the financing from the Indian Exim Bank on behalf of BIFPCL, who will fund the additional 30% of the project cost.

The government has defended the plans for the plant, saying its emissions would not cause any harm to the Sundarbans. Bangladesh faces enormous pressure to generate electricity. According to World Bank data only about 60% of Bangladesh’s population has access to electricity.

The Sundarbans area is “the lifeblood of Bangladesh”, because of its important function as a buffer between Bangladesh and the Indian Ocean, as well as its rich biodiversity. The shrinking of the protective Sundarban forest, coupled with a rise in poverty due to income loss from failed crops, has pushed this area into a vicious circle of poverty and ecological destruction.

Coal is without any doubt the dirtiest among the fossil fuels. But in technical analysis it does not support claims that coal fired power plant would destroy Sundarban, Even if all the planned coal fired power plants are constructed beside Sundarban the planned technology would ensure release of SOX and NOX within tolerance limits. Hence these must not be any cause of concern.

I think monitoring system must be strengthened and effective for addressing the concerns of anxious civil society and green groups.

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