Speakers also said the government is providing false information regarding the project
Experts and environment activists have demanded scrapping of the Rampal power plant project in Bagerhat on the grounds of using low quality coal for energy generation and polluting the Sundarbans mangrove forest.
The demands were put forth during a press conference organized by Bangladesh Environment Movement (Bapa) and National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans (NCSS) at 11am on Monday.
Speakers at the event demanded immediate cancellation of all the coal-based power plants, including the Rampal power plant, and halting the transportation of all kinds of harmful goods, including coal, through the Sundarbans, according to a press release.
The event was presided over by Sultana Kamal, president of Bapa and the NCSS, and was moderated by Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bapa.
Construction of the 1,320MW power plant was supposed to be completed by December last year, but the government was forced to extend the deadline till December this year as they failed to meet the deadline.
Yet, the progress of the "Maitree Super Thermal Power Project" was only 65% as of April.
The Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Limited (BIFPCL) under the Power Division is constructing the Tk160 billion-plant with some 7,000 staff members, of whom 2,200 are Indian nationals.
The construction work started in April 2017 after land acquisition, amid a huge outcry at home and abroad by environmentalists, who expressed concerns over the long-term impact of the plan on the biodiversity and ecology of the mangrove forest.
Sultana Kamal asked why the government has planned to bring low quality coal from India for the Rampal project when coal-based projects are being shut down all over the world.
She said the nation wants to know why the government is trying to confuse the people with untrue information regarding the Sundarbans.
In 2016, a Unesco report said that hot water and chemicals to be discharged into water bodies from the coal power plant would cause significant damage to the aquatic life in the river and canal networks of the Sundarbans.
However, Power Division Additional Secretary Nurul Alam told Dhaka Tribune in May that they will use standard quality coal (of 5700 caloric value) likely to be imported from Australia or Indonesia. "On the other hand, modern technology has been adopted in this plant to ensure high efficiency and less coal consumption,” he added.
Vice President of Bapa Rasheda K Chowdhury said Bapa is never against development, but Bapa is against coal-based projects. She thinks it is not reasonable to take up any project without scientific research.
Environmentalist and Coordinator of Nijera Kori Khushi Kabir said: “The government is not providing us with proper information in this regard. What is being disclosed is also incoherent and isolated. As citizens of this country, we want to know why the government is destroying the Sundarbans, which is known as the lungs of the country.”
Executive Vice President and Member Secretary of the NCSS Dr Md Abdul Matin called upon the people across the country to stand beside the local protesters at Rampal.
He called for greater unity and movement across the country among Bapa and other environmental organizations.
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Professor of Economics at Dhaka University MM Akash said the Unesco said in 2019 that no coal-based project could be undertaken in the Sundarbans without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), but the government is not paying heed to anything.
Chief Executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) Syeda Rizwana Hasan asked why Bangladesh needs a harmful coal-based power plant beside the Sundarbans mangrove forest when the country has surplus electricity generation capacity. She questioned why people will pay taxes of Tk14,500 crore for some idle power plants.
State Minister for Power and Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid in mid-June said now the country’s highest consumption is 15,000MW while the actual demand is 17,000MW and the generation is more than 24,000MW.
“Some 7,000MW is not a big surplus in power generation,” he said during a virtual discussion on June 12.
One of BEN’s organizers and professor at Lock Haven University in the US Md Khalequzzaman said the EIA report prepared by The Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) was nothing but a joke. A survey says that this EIA report violates all international standards.
Member of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports Ruhin Hossain Prince said 99% of the people in the country are in favor of stopping coal-based projects in the Sundarbans. He demanded closure of Rampal and Bashkhali coal power projects along with the 10 projects declared scrapped by the government.
Internationally established expert and engineer on coal-based power plants Dr Ranjit Sahu said that no matter what kind of technology is used, coal fuel will pollute the environment. In the environmental clearance certificate, the government said high quality coal will be imported from Indonesia, Australia or South Africa. Although there is no mention of the use of Indian coal, now low quality coal is being imported from there.
Mentioning that at least 30% of the coal being imported by India is ash, he said that if this coal is burnt, one-third of it will directly turn into waste.
In his opening remarks, Bapa General Secretary Sharif Jamil demanded that any heavy industrial construction work be stopped until an independent, scientific and participatory Strategic Environmental Survey (SEA) is conducted in the entire southwest as per the decision taken at the UN’s World Heritage Committee meetings in 2017 and 2019.
However, the government did not appear to have complied with the recommendation, he said, showing satellite images.
State Minister Nasrul Hamid recently said the technology in power generation is changing fast and the country may not require in the future to install any new power plant.
“So, we should go for short-term planning of between two and five years,” he said, adding that a big change is coming in power sector planning as the Power Division has already made a review in consultation with the prime minister.
He said many coal-fired plants which were not implemented will be left out. “This review will be reflected in the next Power System Master Plan.”
Bangladesh is also lagging behind in terms of increasing the use of clean energy. The government failed to produce the 5% power from renewable sources by 2015 and 10% by last year. Renewable energy production has never been close to hitting the targets.
The country now produces only 730.62MW (349.78 off-grid and 380.84 on-grid) green energy, accounting for just 2.91% of the total energy mix. Despite such poor performance, the government is optimistic that 40% of electricity will come from renewable sources by 2041.