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Indo-Bangla coal-fired power project "threatens" world's largest contiguous mangrove forest, Sundarban

By Our Representative
Protests have broken out in Bangladesh against a joint India-Bangladesh power project at Rampal, situated in the immediate north of the world’s Sundarban mangrove forests, declared world heritage site by UNESCO. The world's largest contiguous mangrove ecosystem stretching over 10,200 sq km across India and Bangladesh, Sundarban’s 4,263 sq km of reserve forest is in India and 5,937 sq km is in Bangladesh. Proposed as 1320 MW coal-fired power station at Rampal of Bagerhat district in Khulna, Bangladesh, the project is a joint partnership between India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation and Bangladesh Power Development Board.
As part of ongoing protests, in October last week, several cultural organizations, writers and activists, in association with the National Committee to Protect Oil Gas Mineral Resources Port and Power, Bangladesh, organized a rally in the centre Bangladesh capital Dhaka. Leading cultural organizations took part with street drama, satire, songs, poetry and other performances.
The joint venture company under which the project is being implemented is known as Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC). The proposed project, on an area of over 1834 acres of land, is situated 14 kilometres north of Sundarban. To be the country’s largest power plant, construction work for the project has begun, dredging and land filling is going on.
“The plant will inevitably have an impact on the water within the forests, which is vital to the riverine ecosystem. The local University of Khulna estimates that half a million tons of toxic sludge will be released into the forests’ waterways annually. All the coal for the power station will be transported through freshly dredged rivers in the forest to a depot within the UNESCO World Heritage site”, says Mowdud Rahman of the Southeast Asia Renewable Energy People’s Assembly (SEAREPA), Bangladesh, in a statement.
Rahman, in a statement issued in Dhaka, has quoted Dr Y Jhala of India’s Wildlife Conversation Society as saying that the environmental impact assessment of the project was “poorly done” without “significantly assessing the impact of the coal plant on the wetlands ecosystem.” Dr Jhala adds, “Infrastructure to supply the plant with coal will cause problems.”
According to Rahman, “The mangrove forest is intersected by rivers, which the tigers must swim across. The continuous stream of barges, carrying coal will fragment the population by preventing the tigers crossing key rivers. There are only around five viable wild tiger habitats left in the world for long term hope. This is one of them. If you break these up into smaller parts you lose that, not ecologically, but biologically.”
He adds, “The views of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the forest department, and the department of environment were sent to the Ramsar secretariat on August 1. The forest department has expressed its concern over emissions of hot water, ashes and pollution from the power plant.”
Already, in response, “the United Nations’ Ramsar secretariat has expressed its concern over the Rampal power plant, unauthorized river route and coal depot being set up by the side of the Sundarbans.” Bangladesh is as a signatory of the Ramsar Convention, and it has been asked to explain the project; If the Sundarban faces any harm due to manmade reasons or the government’s activities, it will be considered as a violation of the Ramsar convention, informs Rahman.
Rahman quotes a Bangladesh forest department report to say that it will lead to hot water waste emission from the power plant into the Sundarban waters, killing plants and animal micro-organisms in the rivers near the forest. This will also harm the dolphins in the Sundarban rivers. The birds too will not be able to survive in their forest habitat because of this hot water. The diverse variety of frogs will also be harmed. 
Then, coal will be transported through the river Pasur in the Sundarbans for this project. “This will emit huge amounts of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and mercury into the air, causing acid rain in the area”, the report has been quoted as saying.

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