The government is implementing a coal-fired thermal power plant at Payra in Kalapara, Patuakhali, which may affect the environment of two Ilish sanctuaries in the region and halt production altogether, experts fear.
The 1,320MW power plant is currently under construction on a 397-hectare plant located near the cross section of Andharmanik River and Golachipa River. Andharmanik is one of the five river spots declared to be Ilish sanctuary, and Golachipa is the migration route for the fish.
The other sanctuary – Tentulia River in Bhola – is merely 10 kilometres upstream from the power plant site.
Having a coal-based power plant this close to two Ilish sanctuaries – which together produce around 10,000 tonnes of Ilish every year – is detrimental for the life of the Ilish in those areas, said Dr Anisur Rahman, prinicipal research officer at Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI).
“Ilish is one of the most sensitive aquatic species in the world. It requires careful handling,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. “A heavy industry like coal-fired power plant will definitely have a negative impact on the sanctuaries, especially if the authorities concerned do not put proper measures to protect the environment in place.”
In addition, the coal, to be used to generate power in the plant, will be transported via the Golachipa River, the migration route for the Ilish that goes to the Andharmanik.
Anis said coal will adversely affect the growth and sustainability of the Ilish, but to what extent the fish will be affected has yet to be determined as not enough research has been done on this issue.
The Environment Impact Assessment report of the project, however, says the ultra-super critical technology used to establish the power plant will protect the environment of the rivers.
Syed Nazmul Hasan, director at the Department of Environment, the government agency that issues environmental clearance, also assured that this project was safe for the sanctuaries.
“We issued the environment clearance for this project after we were sure that it had proper environmental management plan,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Yet, doubt remains among the experts.
“The power plant authorities told us that they will take water from the river, but they will not release hot water to the river,” said Jahid Habib, project director of Ilish conservation initiatives under the Department of Fisheries. “But I think the chances of pollution still remains as the power plant will likely release different chemical by-products in the river, which will harm the Ilish population.”
The project, a joint venture between Bangladesh and China, is being implemented by Bangladesh’s North-West Power Generation Company Ltd (NWPGCL) and China’s National Machinery Import and Export Corporation. It is expected to start generating power by the end of 2018.
NWPGCL Managing Director AM Khurshedul Alam also told the Dhaka Tribune that an ultra super-critical technology would be used to generate power at the plant which would both cut back the use of coal than usual and would not release hot water in the environment.
Ilish: a national treasure
According to the Fisheries Statistical Report of Bangladesh 2015-16, Bangladesh annually produces 395,000 tonnes of Ilish which bring in a substancial amount of foreign currency through export.
Of that amount, 65% comes from the marine sources and the rest from inland rivers.
There are three other Ilish sanctuaries in the country: the stretch of Meghna River between Satnol and Char Alexander, the Shahbazpur channel of Meghna, and a part of the estuary of Padma and Meghna rivers in Shariatpur.
The national fish of Bangladesh contributes to 12% of overall fish production in Bangladesh, which is equivalent to around 1% of the country’s GDP.
Around half a million fishermen are directly dependent on Ilish production for their livelihood, and another two million are dependent indirectly.
Due to high demand in both home and abroad, excessive catching of Ilish in the past couple of decades has led to concerns regarding its endangered existence.
In order to conserve this species, the government has taken several initiatives, one of which is ban on Ilish catching during two breeding seasons.
The first ban of the year is in March-April, in all Ilish sanctuaries except for Andharmanik River.
The second ban is in November-January in the Andharmanik sanctuary.