Although the Unesco World Heritage Committee (WHC) withdrew its earlier objection to the construction of Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans, it is yet to fully give its consent to the project.
The WHC gave a number of conditions to Bangladesh, setting an 18-month deadline to fulfil those, before it can initiate the construction. The committee also asked Bangladesh to submit an update report of conservation measures of the Sundarbans and the implementation of all the conditions and measures by December 2018, during its 42nd session.
Hence, if the conditions given to help protect the Sundarbans remain unfulfilled or Bangladesh fails to submit the report within the deadline, the WHC will enlist the mangrove forest as a World Heritage Site in danger.
The WHC and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in October 2016 urged Bangladesh to relocate the power plant site, saying that it was posing a serious threat to the Sundarbans.
But the government on Thursday announced that the committee withdrew its objection to the construction of the proposed 1320 megawatt super thermal power plant, which is just 65km away from the world heritage site.
On July 5, the WHC, during the 41st session being held in Krakow, Poland requested Bangladesh to submit the report, adopting 11 recommendations for the Sundarbans.
The committee, however, praised Bangladesh’s decision not to approve the Orion power plant and Phase II of the power plant project. It also lauded the country’s initiative to carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of its south-west region, including the Sundarbans.
In its fourth recommendation, the committee asked Bangladesh to ensure that any large-scale industrial and/or infrastructure development (including the Rampal power plant) is not allowed to proceed before the SEA has been completed.
After completing the SEA, Bangladesh has to submit its report to the WHC, which would be reviewed by the IUCN.
According to the recommendation, Bangladesh cannot build any infrastructure near the Sundarbans until the SEA report is submitted and the IUCN reviews it.
The committee also asked Bangladesh and India to follow the recommendations made by the Reactive Monitoring Mission in March 2016.
The WHC, through the eighth recommendation, urged Bangladesh to put in place a shipping management system to minimise the negative impact on the Sundarbans. It also asked Bangladesh to draft “National Oil Spill and Chemical Contingency Plan” (NOSCOP).
The committee criticised Bangladesh as it did not update the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for dredging the Passur River to include an assessment of impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, as requested by the WHC.
The committee also concluded that the coal-fired power plant has a high likelihood of impact on the Sundarbans arising from air and water pollution, a substantial increase in shipping and dredging, and additional removal of freshwater from an already increasingly saline environment.
Meanwhile, the prime minister’s Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Affairs Adviser Dr Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, who led the Bangladesh delegation in the session, agreed to conduct the SEA and submit the report on time, saying that they would fulfil the recommendations.
Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury explained to the gathering why Bangladesh is so keen to construct the power plant.
He said: “Bangladesh is committed for the economic development of its ordinary people and is working to ensure sustainable economic development and access to energy for the masses, especially the women living in rural areas. He said the project could transform the life of the rural women in poverty.”
He also said that Bangladesh is looking forward to continuously working with the ICUN to find out pathways that will ensure the government’s commitment to save the Sundarbans as a world heritage.