MAC: Mines and Communities

Sunderbans wetlands threatened in India as well as Bangladesh

Published by MAC on 2016-03-15
Source: Statement, Sabrang India

While the majority of the Sunderbans lies within the borders of Bangladesh, nonetheless the remainder is in India - and the adverse
impacts of two proposed new  coal-fired power plants will be felt by those living across the entire  World Heritage site.

The following article provides valuale background on the predicament of those Indigenous communities in the Sunderbans whose rights are already being violated under India's own laws.

Previous article on MAC: Bangladesh: Coal Barge Sinks in World Heritage Site

‘The Sundarbans Declaration 2016’

by the National Committee to protect Oil, Gas, Mineral resources, Port and Power in Bangladesh (translated By Tanmoy Karmokar)

13 March 2016

Following a three-day nationwide long march to the Sundarbans, held between 10th to 13th March, 2016 by demanding a capping of all breeds of devastative – mischievious activities surrounding the Sundarbans, including the Rampal and Orion coal-based power projects, the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral resources, Port and Power in Bangladesh has declared the following ‘Sundarbans Declaration 2016’.

The declaration is a demand for the enactment of 7-points programmes in order to resolve the country’s power crisis. The declaration was agreed by the protesters and marchers who joined the three-day long march to protest the coal based Rampal power plant. It was signed by the central leaders of National Committee and was read out at Kantakhali on 13th March, 2016.

We, the people on the march, have reached Katakhali, adjacent to the Sundarbans, on 13th March noon, by crossing 400 kilometers in 4 days after the long march has started on the 10th March. Starting on 10th March, 2016 at the Press Club in Dhaka, we have marched to Katakhali via Manikganj, Rajbari, Faridpur, Magura, Jhinaidaha, Kaliganj, Jessore, Nowapara, Fultola, Doulatpur, Khulna and Bagherhat. Hundreds of thousands of community folks have expressed their solidarity with us in the course of progression of this long march and during the time of preparation focusing the 7-point demands and to protect the Sundarbans. People of Bangladesh from all walks of life have participated here.

Some of the many organisations are: leftist progressive democratic political parties, farmers-day labourers-women-students-youth-science organisations, music groups, theater groups, film organisations, study circle groups, little magazine groups and many more. Along with the political activists and leaders, there are participants from academics, school and college teachers, students, scientists, engineers, professionals, artists, writers, journalists, filmmakers, farmers, workers, housewives, and community women and men. During the long march, several solidarity demonstrations and public meetings were also held in London, Amsterdam and Paris.

During our long march in Bangladesh, we had been faced with administrative threats and harassment by Police when our long march tried to enter the district of Jessore. They attempted to downfall the long march by rescinding approval of a pre-scheduled demonstration in the final phase. Not only revocation but also had they tried to obstruct the program by menacing when entering Jessore and during our stay inside the city. But the Sundarbans long march had entered the district of Jessore by passing all the stumbling blocks, and successfully completed its journey by organising protest-rallies and processions. From today’s meeting, we, once again, strongly protest the odious conspiracy of the government and administration.

This long march has been organized with a view to voicing the ‘7-point demands’ to mitigate energy crisis, including immediate annulment of the  Rampal and Orion power projects, and to avert destruction of the Sundarbans. While the government is leading the violent invasion of the profiteers on the Sundarbans by wreck, ravage and appropriation in the name of power generation and development, people at the same time by virtue of their sovereign rights are forming a domain of resistance. This long march is part of that long-term resistance.

The Sundarbans is not just some flora and faunas but a splendid mangrove forest that offers much more than one sees. It is the noble sum of myriad lives, a peerless ecosystem and natural safety net as an extraordinary resorvour of biodiversity and a renowned world heritage. This mangrove forest does not only provide the livelihood of millions of inhabitants but also saves the life and belongings of about 40 million people from natural catastrophes like Sidr and Aila. The vast coastline area alongside the country’s geographical border and outside the border is in effect allied with the existence of the Sundarbans.

The agreement signed between the National Thermal Power Corporation  of India and the Power Development Board of Bangladesh is totally unequal, one-sided and against the national interest of Bangladesh. Likewise the Orion Company of Bangladesh was given permission to set up coal-based power plant by turning a blind eye to all kinds of laws and rules. Apart from the irreplaceable destruction of mankind and nature, Bangladesh will suffer from huge financial loss if this project is executed. Earlier land acquisition by abnegating the codes of environmental assessment, persecution and eviction of local inhabitants, rejection of the High Court ruling and late formulation of a self-contradictory, flawed, incomplete, and preposterous environmental assessment – all emphasised that the local and international groups are frenzied to establish these power plants. However, independent studies on and investigations about the Sundanbans implied that our forest will face a catastrophe once the power plants are established and the entire Bangladesh will be susceptible.

Long-term research by the environmental and climate scientists show that the Rampal coal-based power plant will annually generate 52 thousand tons of toxic Sulfur dioxide, 30 thousand tons of Nitrogen dioxide, 0.75 million tons of fly ash and 2 hundred thousands of bottom ash. Further, water withdrawal from the River of Pashur at a rate of 9150 cubic meter per hour, subsequent colossal discharge of the polluted water into the river, and temperature of the discharged water and various toxic elements dissolved in the water will damage the natural water flow of the river, its ability to carry sediment and the life cycle of fishes, plants and other living beings. Indeed, what we see is that ultimately aquatic ecology of the Sundarbans will be destroyed by those coal based projects. Coal transportation through the Sundarbans, liquid and solid toxic wastes from the ships, oil spillage, flood lights will be devastative for normal life cycle and biodiversity of the Sundarbans. In addition, the pollution will take on its worst form if the 565 MW Orion plant and another 1320 MW unit in Rampal will be established.

As it seems now all arrangements to assassinate the Sundarbans are in full swing - the massive shelter of life - by establishing Rampal and Orion power projects on the one hand, by ignoring all forms of protests from the people and rejecting expert opinions on the dire consequences; and on the other hand, various projects in the name of power plant are being undertaken for the interests of land-grabbers.

The forest is getting damaged everyday by the aggression of the profiteers. Various commercial and illicit activities like shipyards, silos and cement factories are on the rise. While the country, especially the coastal areas, are facing climate change threats, many indiscreet projects along the coastal line, such as, Rampal and Madarbari are simply worsening the situation and posing new dangers to our climate and livelihood. A nuclear power plant in Rooppur is also under process of construction, posing grave threats to our environment and communities.

We want to declare firmly that sustainable solution to country’s power crisis can only be found in the implementation of the 7-point programmes of the National Committee. Sustainable development or solution to energy crisis cannot be found in destructive projects like Rampal, Rooppur or Moheshkhali power plants.

For the last one and a half decades, one of the leading issues that National Committee has been working on is how to ensure a sustainable system of constant power supply. We said:

If the primary fuel for energy production remains under national ownership,
if a ban on export of mineral resources can be legally adopted,
if the renewable and non-renewable fuel-based segments of power generation can be expanded,
if the growth of national capability can be prioritized in all these aspects, Bangladesh can very soon attain its level of self-dependency.

It is very much possible to deliver power in every household and a major change is agro-economy is also probable. But the power sector remains with crises and it has become increasingly expensive and aid-dependent for the government is engaged in nourishing the local and foreign plunderers instead of adopting the right path as per continuation of the previous governments. What the government has adopted in the name of energy-crisis mitigation is actually serving the local and international looters. Terrible burdens of aid along with newer threats of environmental dangers are being imposed upon people. This is why this public-march is strongly demanding the execution of the 7-point demands of the National Committee, including immediate annulment of PSC agreement, immediate cessation of handing of oil and gas resources of the Bay of Bengal over to the foreign companies without any tender process, and complete enactment of Phulbari agreement and legal ban on export of mineral resources.
We have been constantly illustrating examples that there are many choices for power generation, but there is no substitute to the Sundarbans. This mangrove forest along with the country is now bearing the bruises due to adoption of wrong governmental policies, corruptions and invasions slanted towards profits, over and over. We showed with evidence that the Rampal and Orion power plants will be the death blow. We will not let the Sundarbans, the part of our existence to be destroyed for the sake of span-less profit of some Indian Company. We will not let the local land grabbers go uninterrupted. We cannot allow our Bangladesh go in the hands of occupant pillagers – regardless of whether it is India, China, the USA or Russia. We cannot let our Bangladesh emerging from the freedom fight drag into some imperial ploy.

In order to save the Sundarbans, situated alongside both the borders of Bangladesh and India,  and to prevent our existence from being destroyed by a coal-based project, this is a timely call to join our hands with our Indian activists and community people. We are demanding the Indian government to repeal this project and also urging the people of India to join the fight. It is also a juncture when we need to interconnect the fight of the people across the world. Many have already expressed their solidarity with us, whom we would like to thank and congratulate as timely comrades.

We demand the Bangladesh government to immediately stop all kinds of vindictive activities against the Sundarbans. We also demand an immediate constitution and implementation of ‘The Sundarbans Policy’ to help the forest develop in a healthy and regenerative way. We are demanding from the long march that, Rampal, Orion and all other harmful projects around the vicinity of the Sundanbans must be turned around within 15th of May. If necessary, we urge the government to come to an open discussion or debate with us. And if the government fails to abandon this cataclysmic project within this time line, we with the rank and file of the country will be compelled to declare Dhaka going long march, sit-in, besiege, strike, blockade and other programs to trigger a larger movement.

We urge scientists, engineers, academics, writers, artists, day-workers, farmers, students, teachers and community women and men at all levels of the society to strengthen the national defense by collective and active participation. It is this Sundarbans that protected us from dangers in many ways. To protect these beautiful and kind forests is our national obligation. We all have to come forward with this obligation. We shall in no way let our noble and motherly icon Sundarbans be a victim to profits of the local and international extortionists.

Kantakhali. 13th March, 2016


Sunderban: Breaking the Chains of a Historic Injustice

Written by Avijit and Ashok Choudhary

3 March 2016

A public hearing brings to focus the ongoing struggle between the indigenous peoples and a forest department, always exploitative and increasingly being coerced by industry that has little regard for the preservation of national resources that the Sunderban embodies

“Present-day discourses such as those on the ‘environmentally degrading prawn seed collectors’ or the ‘thieving locals’ are in line with a history of discrimination against the poorest and most marginalised.” Annu Jalais in her path breaking study of the Sunderban[i] echoes our core understanding about the essential relation between forest-dependent people and the forest, or more specifically, with the “political forest” – forest as a political entity with its own governing institution - the Forest Department.

This Forest Department engineered by colonising powers represents a story of forcible ouster, regulation, control and thus discrimination, resulting in “historical injustice” on the forest- dependent Dalit, Adivasi and other minority sections.

The history of the people of Sunderban is no different. And it is this history of continued injustice on the forest-dependent populace of Sunderban which is what we wanted to bring out through the very voices of the people of this pristine mangrove forest - people who bear the brunt of the vagaries of weather such as the devastating cyclones; people who are constantly forced to arrange their living as per the daily ebb and high tide water level fluctuations of the labyrinthine channels of rivers running into the sea at the mouth of the largest delta in the world - the Ganga Bramhaputra delta as it flows into the Bay of Bengal whose salty waters, in turn, run backwards to envelop large parts of the mangroves during high tides; people who have to deal with crocodiles and sharks which abound in these salty sweet confluence spots of the sea and the river, and the royal Bengal tigers. And also the most dreaded entity which oppresses and terrorises and demeans them the most – the Forest Department.

The deep discrimination manifested through sheer arbitrariness and verbal and physical abuse perpetrated, day in and day out on the forest dependent people of Sunderban by the overlord of the forest – the Forest Department - burst forth in the depositions of the people who could manage to voice their horror stories in front of a distinguished panel along with hundreds of local people from different islands of Sunderban and close to a hundred forest dependent Adivasis and Dalits from different corners of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, at a public hearing in Gosaba, South 24 Parganas on January 31, 2016.

On being prodded by the panellists, Sufia Bibi from Shamsernagar island admitted that though she was not personally a victim of sexual harassment she was well aware of such pains inflicted on other forest going women. The minister in charge of Sunderban from the West Bengal government, vows to bring justice if such cases of sexual harassment are proven. But the same minister looks at the persistent tales of physical and verbal abuse by the forest department quite differently, in his suggestion that people are over reacting in order to voice their latent anger at being denied fishing access in the Core Zone of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve.

This Forest Department engineered by colonising powers represents a story of forcible ouster, regulation, control and thus discrimination, resulting in “historical injustice” on the forest- dependent Dalit, Adivasi and other minority sections.

We do not know what his reaction would be to peoples’ claims that they do not understand the very need, the absolute arbitrariness, in the declaring of the Core and Buffer zones.

The bizarre demarcation patterns of the ‘Core’ and ‘Buffer’ are designed to necessitate people’s entry into the Buffer only through the Core. Thus they are almost always being caught while crossing the Core to go the Buffer and being heckled and fined for this idiosyncrasy of the Forest Department. We know what the Tiger lobby and the Conservation lobby think of the peoples’ claims to their inalienable rights to the forests of Sunderban now enshrined as a Special Act of Parliament

Fully Loaded, Coal-Laden Vessel Sinks in the Sundarbans

by Tina Posterli

21 March 2016

Waterkeeper organizations call on governments of India and Bangladesh to stop construction of Rampal and Orion Power Plants situated by the bank of River Pashur

DHAKA, BANGLADESH — On Saturday, the Sea Horse, a large bulk cargo vessel carrying 1,245 metric tons of coal, sank in the Shela River inside the Sundarbans. In addition to the large amount of coal, hundreds of gallons of fuel oil, batteries and other toxic contaminants may now be polluting the Shela River. Waterkeepers Bangladesh in Mongla, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) and Pashur River Waterkeeper have been on site working with communities to demand immediate measures to protect the Pashur and Shela Rivers and the Sundarbans.

The sinking coal barge marks the fourth incident (see map) over the course of two years where there have been devastating impacts to the waters of Bangladesh. Last October, a fully loaded coal barge sank in Passur near the Sundarbans and in May 2015, a vessel filled with 500 tons of toxic fertilizer sank in the Bhola River. And in December 2014, an oil tanker carrying 350,000 litres of furnace oil collided with a cargo vessel and sank in the Shela River, spilling oil into the Dhangmari and Chandpai dolphin sanctuaries created to protect the rare Irawaddy and Ganges dolphins. The oil spread more than 37 miles throughout a network of canals in the Sundarbans, blackening the shoreline and threatening trees and vast populations of fish and dolphins. In each of these instances, government did not adequately protect these precious waterways or regulate shipping business in the waters of the Sundarbans.

The governments of India and Bangladesh are aggressively moving forward with the construction of the proposed Rampal coal-fired power plant which will dramatically increase the shipping of coal, coal ash and gypsum through the Sundarbans. Bangladesh is also moving forward to approve a second coal plant — Orion Khulna — that will be even closer to the Sundarbans than Rampal.

“These recent developments show that the leaders of India and Bangladesh are not taking steps to protect the Sundarbans, rather they are taking multiple joint actions that will result in greater damage and destruction,” stated Sharif Jamil, Buriganga Riverkeeper, Council Member of Waterkeeper Alliance and Joint Secretary of BAPA. “This accident again proves the carelessness of the government towards the protection of the Sundarbans and justifies the call to stop construction of Rampal and Orion Power Plants by the bank of River Pashur.”

A United Nations monitoring mission to Bangladesh is slated to begin today and will continue through March 28. The monitoring mission is being conducted due to concerns about the potential damage to the Sundarbans as a result of pollution, development and shipping if the proposed Rampal and Orion coal-fired power plants are constructed.

“Four recent episodes of ships capsizing have created a cumulative impact that endangers the rare aquatic ecology of the Sundarbans,” said Donna Lisenby, Clean & Safe Energy Campaign Manager for Waterkeeper Alliance. “If the Rampal and Orion coal-fired power plants are built, the resultant dramatic increase in ship traffic will further imperil the Sundarbans.”

Waterkeeper Alliance supports recommendations by the UN, the Bangladesh Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Ministry of Environment and Forest and civil society groups to stop commercial shipping through the Sundarbans in order to protect the site from additional damage and the risk of yet another capsized ship spewing toxicity into one of the world’s most important water dependent world heritage sites.

Waterkeepers Bangladesh and Pashur River Waterkeeper will continue to monitor the situation to assess whether proper clean-up, mitigation and enforcement is completed by the government of Bangladesh.



On Sunday March 20, 2016 Waterkeepers Bangladesh took this video on the Shela river at the site where the Sea Horse sank. In the video you can see many large bulk cargo ships still traveling through the Sundarbans World Heritage site after the ship sank. Waterkeepers Bangladesh filmed the arrival of government officials as they began investigating the scene of the accident more than 18 hours after it occurred. The video shows that the vessel was fully submerged under the murky waters of the Shela River deep in the eastern part of the Sundarbans. Government officials in the video did not deploy any lighted floating marker buoys to warn other ships away from hidden danger of the sunken ship. They relied on a long wooden stick to probe the water in an attempt to locate it. No safety, salvage or pollution control teams were dispatched to the capsized ship to prevent additional collisions, begin salvage operations or stop leaks of fuel oil or coal from the sunken ship. The Sea Horse was more that double size of another coal barge that sank in the Sundarbans just six months ago in October of 2015.


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