A three-hour long meeting between environmentalists and academicians who advocate vehemently against the coal-based Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans and the government officials yesterday ended without any result.
The Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources met with prominent environmentalists and academics at Bidyut Bhaban. State Minister Nasrul Hamid initiated the meeting.
Though they appreciated the government’s initiative for dialogue, environmentalists and academicians said the meeting ultimately would change neither their stance nor that of the government.
The government on the other hand said that it was considerate enough to take the suggestions of the protesters into consideration, but it remained firm about implementing the project.
In November 19 last year the ministry arranged a visit for some of these environmentalists and academics to the Rampal project site in a bid to convince them about the plant’s environment friendliness. That trip too, ended without any outcome for either side.
At the beginning of the meeting, UK Bhattacharya, Managing Director of Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company Limited (BIFPCL), gave a digital presentation on the power plant.
He said the coal-based 1,320 megawatt (MW) Maitree Super Thermal Power Plant would not cause any harm to the ecology of the Sundarbans and its surrounding areas.
Modern Ultra Super Thermal Technology would be used in the plant and no environmentally harmful substance would be discharged, he said. Moreover a 275-feet long chimney would be used to emit smoke from plant. These measures would protect the Sundarbans, said the BIFPCL MD.
He said no polluted or hot water would be discharged into the rivers.
Bhattacharya also said the plant was located at a safe distance from the Sundarbans: 69km from the area marked as UNESCO World Heritage site and 14km from the forest’s outer boundary.
After his presentation, Engr Kallol Mustafa, a member of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Electricity and Port placed a detailed presentation opposing the presentation of BIFPCL MD.
He said because of their serious environmental impact, no country in the world permits the setting up of large coal based power plants within 25km of forests, agricultural land and residential area.
While the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on Rampal claimed 14km was a safe distance for the plant, “the very company which will build this plant would not be able to do the same in its own country,” he said.
“The EIA guideline manual for coal-based thermal power plants prepared by the Indian environment and forest ministry clearly states that the locations of such plants cannot be within 25km of the outer periphery of any national forest.”
He asked that if India cannot implement the project within its own boundaries, why an Indian company would be allowed to do the same thing in Bangladesh.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune after the event, UK Bhattacharya said that in Bangladesh, the regulation said that thermal plants cannot be within 10km of forests and they were following that rule.
“Why don’t they talk about changing the regulation instead of criticising the plant?” he said.
Dr Badrul Imam, Professor of Geology at Dhaka University, told the Dhaka Tribune that the three-hour meeting had failed to bear any fruit.
“The government couldn’t convince me about the harmful effects of the power plant implementation.”
He said that for coal-based power plant implementation, more advanced technologies like Ultra Super Critical Technology and Advanced Ultra Super Critical Technology were available.
“Then why did the government opt for Super Critical Technology?” he asked.
Asked about this, UK Bhattacharya said there was very little difference between the Super Critical and Ultra Super Critical technologies.
State minister for Power Nasrul Hamid ruled out any possibility of putting the project on hold for an interim period until the questions and issues are resolved.
The national committee’s Member Secretary Anu Muhammad strongly urged the government to cancel the Rampal power plant project to save the world’s largest mangrove forest from destruction.
Convener of the National Committee for protecting the Sundarbans Advocate Sultana Kamal ecoed with the demand at the meeting.
Mohammad Hossain, the director general of Power Cell, Engineer Md Shamsul Hasan Miah, Chairman of Power Development Board and Monowar Islam, secretary of the Power Division also spoke on the meeting.
Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Limited (BIFPCL), a 50-50 joint venture between Bangladesh Power Development Board and India’s National Thermal Power Corporation, is building the 1,320MW coal-fired power plant near the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.