MAC: Mines and Communities

Barapukuria Coal-fired Project

Published by MAC on 2006-10-13


Barapukuria Coal-Fired Project

by Kongkon Karmaker with Sharier Khan, The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

13th October 2006

* Plant pumps out 1,100 tonne groundwater an hr
* Exhausts water level fast, poses ecological disaster in 15 villages

The Barapukuria 250 megawatt coal-fired power project pumps out a staggering 1,100 tonnes of groundwater per hour imposing an unforeseen environmental disaster in 15 villages around the coalmine area. The plant built by a Chinese consortium led by CMC is using at least 1,100 tonnes of water per hour for power generation and then wasting it all away, power plant sources said.

Within a span of about eight months, the underground water-table has apparently depleted by three times, villagers said. As a result, almost all the tube-wells in these 15 villages have become completely dry, creating an acute crisis of drinking water.

Villagers are now being compelled to use polluted and unfiltered water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and other purposes while the authorities are yet to take any remedial action.

Lowering of groundwater level now affects nearly 35,000 acres of land of the 15 villages, and the water level is going down day by day, much to the distress of the farmers, sources at the Department of Agriculture Extension said.

Farmers said at least 30 per cent arable land of these villages remain uncultivated due to water shortage. The affected people of the 15 villages formed a Sangram Committee to protest this excessive underground water usage by the power plant.

The situation is also posing a threat to the existence of fish species, aquatic resources and birds of the area as most of the ponds in the area are drying up, said experts in the Parbatipur Fisheries Department. Many ponds and small canals of the affected area became vulnerable for fish and birds, they added.

It is not clear how the CMC was given the government's environmental clearance for such an operation, and why the authorities till date took no action to force the CMC to change its design or penalise the company for the disaster.

To meet the huge water demand for the plant, the authorities installed 24 deep-tube-well pumps with 35 to 40KW horsepower sinking 350 to 420 feet pipes at West Sherpur village near the Power Plant, according to the project outline.

To produce power, each of the two 125 MW units of the power plant demand 550 tons of water per hour by running eight pumps round-the-clock, plant sources said.

The second unit of the plant also emits black smoke and creates noise pollution in the area.

Locals of Sherpur, Dudipukur, Jaruadanga, Tuniapara, Ramvadrapur, Chakbir, Muzidpur, Bagra, Sultanpur, Hossainpur, Telipara, Pacheempara, Rampura and Yousufpur villages alleged that the water levels fell since the plant went into operation in February this year.

Locals and power plant officials agree that excessive pumping of water is the reason for the depletion of the underground water level in the 15 villages for the last 8 to 10 months.

People of these villages used underground water by sinking hand tubewell pipes to the depth of 60 to 65 feet a year ago. But now, they need to sink pipes to a depth of 150 to 200 feet to reach the underground water table, said the locals.

Nurzahan, a housewife of Yosufpur village, said as the local hand tubewells have gone dry, she has to go two kilometres from her house every day to bring safe water.

Mukti, a trader of Barapukuria, said affected people of the villages informed the plant authorities about the depleting underground water level five months ago, but till date nobody took any initiative to resolve the matter.

"To meet the current crisis, we need to spend between Tk 9,000 and Tk 12,000 to sink extra pipes for one deeper hand tubewell in each of the affected villages," he added.

During a spot visit, a Daily Star correspondent noted that about 98 per cent installed tubewells have become dry in Barapukuria area whereas these tubewells were functioning earlier this year.

There has been very inadequate rainfall in the region for the last six months and so the chances of natural replenishment of the underground and surface water remain very slim, officials of the Department of Agriculture Extension observed.

Most people of the affected villages are now depending on the discharge canal of the plant that drains the used water into the Tilaimari river.

The local people said instead of draining this water into the Tilaimari river, the plant authorities should consider scientifically channelling the water to the villages for irrigation as a compensation.

The plant officials, however, said the water is polluted with chemicals.

"The drain's water is unfit for irrigation purposes, even for consumption by livestock and humans," said an official.

The unplanned use of water is harming nature in many other ways that may not be directly observable, said local Union Parishad Chairman Anwar Hossain.

Many villages complained of increasing cases of diseases in the eyes, teeth, skin and stomach and loss of hair and jaundice.

A power expert who has been involved in several power projects said the use of water is based on plant design. Inefficient and cheap equipment use more water than cost-effective machinery.

"Generally, the contractor is required to conduct a ground water reservoir usage modelling and then design the plant based on the results. The CMC should have obtained permission for ground water extraction by submitting water modelling results. Bangladesh Department of Environment, World Bank, and other relevant water resources authority have guidelines that should not have been violated," said the expert.

"There is also guidelines for water quality discharge. Depending on the effluent discharge, they should have constructed wastewater treatment plant at the site and channelise the waste-water through that plant," he said.

"Another thing to look at is the heat-rate of the plant. If they have supplied cheap boiler, it will use more coal per unit of electricity produced," he pointed out.

A letter was sent to Petrobangla on the underground water situation of the area, Barapukuria Power Plant Project Director Shamsur Rahman told The Daily Star.

When asked what remedial measures the authorities took, he said several letters were written to the CMC that built and designed the plant but it has not taken any steps.

The Department of Environment has given clearance to the power plant, he said.

The CMC officials declined to make any comment to The Daily Star.

The CMC built the 250 MW plant with two 125 MW units, at a record high price of US$ 257 million under a Chinese Supplier's Credit. In contrast, the 450 MW Meghnaghat plant needed $170 million as designing, engineering, installation and procurement costs. The over-priced plant that benefited only the CMC consortium and its local representative Hosaf Group, however, failed to perform as per the contract. The plant started partial operation after months of delay and kept on tripping repeatedly. The second unit of the plant has remained shut for quite sometime due to technical glitches.

The power plant requires 2,500 tonnes of coal every day, produced by the mine that was also developed by the CMC at a staggering price of Tk 1,600 crore.
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