South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), the regional network of human rights defenders is extremely concerned of the uncompromising stance taken by the government of Bangladesh to proceed with the construction of the 1,320MW coal power plant in Rampal, in the close proximity of Sundarbans mangrove, a Ramsar and World Heritage Site.
The government has reportedly announced the finalization of the financial arrangement and is to go ahead with the construction. However, despite the government’s elaborate development rhetoric about this collaboration of National Thermal Power Corporation of India (NTPC) , the affected local community, civil society representatives, environmentalists have vehemently opposed the construction of this project from the inception citing adhoc and inappropriate administrative processes in land acquisition, faulty reporting process of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), severe environmental degradation happening to Sundarbans’ sensitive ecosystem with well-known biological diversity as well as the considerable socio economic cost such as loss of land and livelihoods of the local community.
The proposed coal power plant site is geographically located 14km away from the edge of Sundarbans. In contrast, the EIA Guide Manual prepared by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests, states that there can be no preserved forest, animal sanctuary or bio-diverse forest within 25km of such a plant.
The UNESCO expert report of the Reactive monitoring mission in March 2016 which has been submitted to the government of Bangladesh this month registers a serious concern about the imminent impact of the coal power plant on Sundarbans and demands the location of the Rampal coal plant to be shifted away from Sudarbans. According to newspaper reports the UNESCO report entails four core potential threats from the coal power plant in Rampal to Sundarbans: Increased shipping and dredging; contamination of coal ash through air; pollution from waste water and waste ash; and cumulative impact of industrial and related development infrastructure.
SAHR learns that reportedly dredging of the river Passure will commence soon to facilitate the transport of coal through it. Further, the current construction that is underway has already begun to have a negative impact on the environment and the people of the area. Experts have said that over 10,000 tonnes of coal will be transported passing Sundarbans everyday if the plant is set up. However, the occurrence of oil spillage in the area contaminating the ecosystem, with 66 species of vegetation, 200 species of fishes, 42 species of mammals, 234 species of birds, 51 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibian and countless invertebrates will not be guaranteed. They have warned against the maintenance of the 25 acre ash pond with annually generated 10 lakhs of ash entailing residue of harmful heavy metals closer to the river, for the inevitable risk of water pollution. Further, the coal plant in operation will need about 9,000 cubic meters of water per hour to function the boilers, and will discharge about 5,000 cubic meters of hot and polluted water per hour. If not treated this water has a high potential to contaminate the entire environment. Moreover, this process will disrupt the marine life of the river.
It is during this escalated protests against the imminent construction of coal power plant in Rampal that SAHR welcomes the Sri Lankan Government’s assurance to the Supreme Court that it withdraws building a 500MW coal power plant in Sampur, Trincomalee District, North East, with the collaboration of NTPC. This great news is heard a decade after Sri Lanka signed a joint venture with India and a strong opposition by environmental groups, environmentalists along with the land rights activists and the affected local community.
Taking into consideration the above factors and the findings of the Fact Finding Mission conducted in Rampal coal power plant in April 2015 (which can be found at http://www.southasianrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Report-of-the-FFM-Rampa-Bangladesh.pdf), SAHR would like to advocate to the government of Bangladesh to heed the people’s voices and immediately abandon the development project of the coal power plant in Rampal, so close to the Sundarbans. SAHR promotes sustainable development enriched by the adherence to fundamental rights of the people.
Furthermore, SAHR, as a regional human rights organization, would like to emphasise its concern that such projects of regional cooperation should not violate the fundamental rights of the people and must adhere to the laws and standards of all countries involved.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights
Dr. Nimalka Fernando