plant threat to Sundarbans By
Syed Tashfin Chowdhury
DHAKA - Prime
Minister Hasina's Awami League government is
pushing through construction of a 1,320-megawatt
coal-fired power plant, the country's largest, in
Bagerhaat district, close to the Sundarbans world
heritage site, reportedly against the advice of
Environment Ministry officials.
Finance Minister A M A Muhith and Indian Power
Secretary P Uma Shankar attended the signing of
the power plant agreement in Dhaka on January 29.
The Sundarbans mangrove forest on the Bay
of Bengal is recognized as one of the world's
largest, and with the inland seasonally flooded
freshwater swamp forest it offers an important
attraction for tourists keen to catch site of a
Royal Bengal Tiger. Although home to an estimated
4 million people, its vast area is
largely free of permanent
habitation while providing as much as 40% of the
country's forest produce. It also helps to protect
a coast that is frequently ravaged by cyclones.
Some Environment and Forests Ministry
officials objected to the project during an
inter-ministerial meeting last May, saying the
power plant could pose a serious threat to the
Sundarbans, News Today reported last June, citing
Critics claim fly ash and
other discharges from the plant will have
disastrous consequences for fauna, and flora of
the mangrove swamps. Hot water dumped from the
power plant will also adversely affect the various
species of marine life, Bangladesh Poribesh
Andolon (Bapa - or Bangladesh Environment
Movement), a non-government organization, said
after the signing. Local residents are also
concerned about the effect on local waterways in
the widespread delta of imported coal being
transported to the proposed plant.
power plant will involve the first joint venture
deal by the Power Development Board (PDB) of
Bangladesh with a foreign firm. PDB chairman A S M
Alamgir Kabir says the plant would keep emission
levels as low as possible by using supercritical
pressure technology, which minimizes coal
The primary environmental
report used by the government to give clearance
for the location of the project did not discuss
the plant's impact on the Sundarbans, although the
site is within four kilometers of vulnerable areas
of the forests, News Today reported. The
Department of Environment paid little attention to
the issue when granting a certificate, although
the law does not allow such a project outside an
industrial area, the report said.
of 12 eminent Bangladeshis, including advisers to
former governments and led by Transparency
International Bangladesh executive director Dr
Iftekhairuzzaman, demanded immediate withdrawal of
the government's decision.
plant is to be operated by India's NTPC (formerly
National Thermal Power Corporation), which says on
its web site that it is "committed to the
environment [and] continues to take various
pro-active measures for protection of the
environment and ecology around its projects".
Bangladesh suffers an acute power shortage
despite having an estimated 2.7 billion tonnes of
coal reserves (whose exploitation is limited due
to internal politics) and an increasing quantity
of discovered off-shore gas.
last year were stopped to new factory owners while
older plants and residents struggle to keep going
amid regular blackouts. The daily supply of gas is
about 2,000 million cubic feet (mmcf) against
daily demand of 2,500 mmcf.
Santos International, an Australia-based gas
explorer and producer, was permitted to sell gas
in Bangladesh to parties other than state-owned
Petrobangla, a move seen as helping to liberate
industrialists from the crippling power shortages.
Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is the Editor of Xtra, the
weekend magazine of New Age, in Bangladesh.
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