Renting Bangladesh Asunder?
Coal projects threaten unique wetlands
Having waited some years for a national coal policy to be introduced by the government, citizens of Bangladesh are still in the dark over whether coherent regulations will be introduced this year.
The ruling party still seems intent on allowing open-pit coal mining of the major Phulbari coal deposit, despite massive opposition from local people and a well-coordinated national campaign against the proposal. See: Bangladesh: Energy at what cost?
A fundamental objection to Phulbari is that the transportation segment of the project, as currently designed, would directly threaten the Sundarbans - the largest wetlands in the world, which are shared between Bangladesh and India.
Now, the two govrnments are proposing to construct two coal-fired power plants only 9 Kilometres from this unique World Heritage site.
According to critics this could have a disastrous impact on both people and wildlife.
Experts denounce Bagerhat coal-fired power plant plan
By Manjurul Ahsan
14 May 2011
The proposed Bangladesh-India joint venture to set up a coal-fired power plant at Rampal in Bagerhat might destroy Sundarban, one of the world's largest mangrove forests, said experts and environmental activists.
Sadrul Amin, former dean of Haji Danesh Science and Technology University, told New Age that the project would destroy the ingredients of the soil that support the lives of millions of inhabitants of a large region, increase the proportion of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the air, and seriously harm the flora and fauna of Sundarban.
Faridul Islam, chief coordinator of Save the Sundarbans, pointed out that the selected location of the project was only nine kilometres from Sundarban, which would be disastrous to the World Heritage Site.
‘The area of Sundarban is shrinking for many reasons and the power project will accelerate the process,' he added.
Citing the devastation caused by cyclones Sidr and Aila, Farid said that Sundarban would not be able to serve as a natural barrier to the protection of the people in a large area of the country's coastal region from such calamities if the power plant is built because it would destroy the trees that are 3-8 metres high.
An independent team of experts from civil society led by Abdus Sattar, who is chairman of the environment science department of the Bangladesh Agriculture University, after visiting the proposed location of the project revealed their findings in which they said that the eco-system of Sundarban would be severely damaged for 23 reasons.
The Bangladesh Power
Development Board and the Indian National Thermal Power Corporation have decided to ink a deal and register a joint venture company with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms.
The power board signed a memorandum of understanding with NTPC in 2010 to set up two coal-fired power plants, each of which will have a capacity of 1,320MW, with partnership shared equally between them.
According to the report produced by the team of experts, the coal-fired power project will drastically reduce the diversity of vegetation, wildlife and micro-organisms.
The experts said that a huge amount of coal would be burnt by the power plants which would result in the discharge of an enormous volume of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide into the air.
The injurious particulate matter and sulphur dioxide discharged into the air would adversely affect the growth of plants and finally result in massive deforestation in the region.
Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide will cause acid rains that will destroy the living conditions by polluting the soil and air.
Deer and tigers as well as other living animals will face minor to major abnormalities in living conditions including a reduction in their hormonal and/or reproduction capacity.
The report also said that quality of the water of the nearby rivers would deteriorate and reduce number of shrimps and other fishes because of the degradation of habitat. Moreover, fish will become inedible due to increasing contamination and toxicity.
The loud noise produced by the plants will also affect the wildlife of Sundarban.
The number of visits by tourists will decrease drastically because of contamination of air, water and environment due to the smoke and other emissions of the coal-fired power plants.
Dark clouds of black fumes, smog and ashes will cover the region, posing a great danger to the human inhabitants and the flora and fauns.
The quality of the grass will change and ultimately affect the health of the herbivores, including cows whose milk will become unsuitable for consumption.
Shrimp production will be reduced tremendously due to increase of metals and chemicals like arsenic, lead, mercury in the water.
The team of experts also gave a summary of the resources of Sundarban that have 334 plant species of 245 genera, and where trees like sundari, gewa, keora, dhundol and passar are the major plant species.
The jungle is named Sundarban because of the presence of millions of sundari trees in the region.
There are reportedly 450 Royal Bengal Tigers, 50,000-80,000 spotted deer, 20,000 wild boars, 315 species of birds, 95 species of waterfowl, 38 species of raptors, 53 species of reptiles, 120 species of fish and 100 million mud crabs. The Sundarban crocodile still rules the rivers.
The report also said that 20,000 fisherman are dependent on the rivers and canals in the region. About 2.5 million human lives depend on Sundarban region where 3,00,000 people are working as wood-cutters, fishermen, honey hunters, golpata leaves and grass.
About 1,00,000 people visit Sundarban each year though tourist facilities are very poor.
Anu Mohammad, member secretary of the national committee to protect oil, gas, natural resources, power and ports, told New Age that they were also much concerned about the impact of the proposed power plants on Sundarban and areas in and around Mongla Port.
He called on the government to make public the feasibility study and stop repression of the local protesters. ‘Otherwise it will make people more suspicious and the situation will worsen,' he added.
The power board assigned the NTPC to conduct the feasibility study in September 2010, and it will pay the Indian organisation $2,50,000 for its report which was submitted in April.
An official told New Age that the Power Development Board will be able to submit the environment impact assessment report to the environment department within two months.
Najmul Ahsan, deputy director of the environment department, told New Age that they had approved the terms of reference for the environment impact assessment for the project.
Put pressure for coal policy: Muhith
17 May 2011
Dhaka - Bangladesh is not going to get a national coal policy by this June, the finance minister has said.
And it will take even more time for the policy to be finalised unless the stakeholders put 'constant pressure' on the government, A M A Muhith warned at a pre-budget seminar on Tuesday.
The seminar on development of northern Bangladesh and the forthcoming budget was organised by North Bengal Development Forum at a city hotel.
Legislators, senior government officials, businessmen and elite from the northern part of the country attended it.
"You must be vocal because, if a decision is taken today it will take five years to get coal from the mine," he said.
"Strong public support will override any resistance."
The government since long has been trying to finalise the policy, which can be used for power generation and other uses. But a citizen forum has been campaigning against plans by foreign firms for open-pit coal mining.
The National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports has threatened to sue those who are serving interests of foreign countries at the cost of nation's coal resources.
State minister for land Mostafizur Rahman Bhuiyan said the government should immediately formulate a coal policy.
"Environment hazards like explosions in gas well in Sylhet did not come in the way of development of gas sector," he argued.
"Similarly, environmental issues should not be an obstacle to formulation of coal policy."
A few are instigating the people in the coal mine areas and no case has been filed against them, the junior minister said.
"They barricade rail road with tree trunks but the administration did not file case against them," Bhuiyan complained.
Shahriar Alam, the Rajshahi lawmaker, said the government should provide necessary allocation for coal mining from Phulbari and Barapukuria under open-pit method.
"About 10,000 megawatt of power can be produced for the next 50 years from the coal," he said.
Kurigram MP A K M Maidul Islam said the government should assure the people that coal would not be exported.
The parliamentary standing committee on energy ministry in November last year recommended generating public opinion in favour of open-pit coal mining.
It said that open cast mining was possible by ensuring effective water management, proper rehabilitation of the affected people and keeping environmental damage to a minimum.
Asia Energy *, a British company, proposed to set up an open-pit mine in Phulbari, Dinajpur covering some 17,000 hectares.
The locals, however, did not accept Asia Energy's proposal on the grounds that it would seriously affect their livelihood and the surrounding environment.
They demonstrated against the proposal and on Aug 26, 2006 three persons were killed when law enforcers opened fire on a huge.
On Aug 30, the then BNP-led government signed an agreement with the protestors led by the National Committee, pledging to ban open-pit coal mine anywhere in Bangladesh.
The government also agreed to expel Asia Energy from Bangladesh.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, then opposition leader, at a rally in Phulbari on Sep 13 vowed to meet the demands of the people, including the one to stop open-pit mining altogether.
But since coming to power in Dec 2008, several key players of the ruling Awami League government have been trying to popularise the open-pit method, arguing it would yield higher economic benefits.
The government now appears set to implement an open-pit pilot project at Barapukuria.
Muhith said district-wise budget would ensure decentralisation of the administration.
"The central government performs about 40 functions and 17 to 18 of them can be delegated to the district administration," he said, adding, "The prime minister is interested about it."
Rajshahi City mayor A H M Khairuzzaman Liton demanded fair and equitable allocation in the budget.
"The administration is too much centralised and a provincial form of government will help the decentralisation," Shahriar Alam, an MP from Rajshahi, said.
The feasibility study of Ganges barrage is going on and it is expected that an accord on Teesta River will be signed between Bangladesh and India, Muhith said.
Naogaon lawmaker Sadhan Chandra Mazumder said Ganges water-sharing accord was signed alright but no initiative had been taken to preserve water in the dry season.
* Editorial note: Asia Energy is the Bangladesh subsidiary of the UK-listed Global Coal Management (GCM Resources plc).