'But I’m still fighting to make a living, and passing a miserable life staying under the open sky'
A group of environmental activists and experts has urged the government to stop building the 1,320 megawatt coal-fired Rampal Power Plant for the greater sake of the Sundarbans and the people living in and around the mangrove forest.
Putting emphasis on renewable energy instead, they observed that a number of such under construction, and proposed coal-fired power plants, appeared as environmental threats to the localities surrounding the respective sites.
They made the remarks while addressing a public hearing on “development, displacement, human rights, and ecological destruction” organized by ALRD, ActionAID, BAPA, TIB and Water Keeper Bangladesh at the Liberation War Museum auditorium in Dhaka yesterday.
The victims of Matarbari coal-fired power plant, and the 2016 Gobindaganj eviction drive, among others, placed their testimonies at the hearing.
Prof Anu Muhammad, who is leading a movement to save the Sundarbans, said development projects like the power plants are definitely helping economic growth, but causing havoc to the environment, and local people.
“Development is underway by damaging the natural forces of the Sundarbans,” he said, adding that the projects are destroying the environment.
“They (the government) are prioritizing foreign states, instead of thinking about the masses,” he furthered.
The plant is only 14 kilometre north of the world's largest mangrove forest, he mentioned.
Echoing similar sentiments, rights activist and eminent citizen Sultana Kamal urged the government not to destroy the environment and nature on the pretext of any development activities.
Claiming that the government did not take opinions from the locals while planning the coal-fired power plant in Matarbari of Cox’s Bazar, she demanded compensations for those evicted from the project site.
As construction of the plant advanced a lot, she urged the government to proceed for the next phases of the project taking opinion from locals, and experts.
Rights Activist Khushi Kabir alleged that the project victims did not only lose their own land, but are also facing torture.
No govt representative was present
Despite being invited, not a single government representative attended the hearing, causing an uproar with the participants including the organizers, and the project victims.
Anu Muhammad said this act of the government proved how much it does care about the people.
Expressing resentment over the issue, Sultana Kamal said: “By avoiding the event, the government proved that it does not believe in the process of accountability."
Nur Alam Sheikh, a resident of Rampal upazila of Bagerhet where the 1320-MW plant is being built, said they were promised proper rehabilitation, jobs, and compensation while being evicted from the site.
“But I’m still fighting to make a living, and passing a miserable life staying under the open sky,” he said.
He also said that the government should fulfill its pledges.
Another Rampal resident Kamal Sarkar said: “We want electricity and other development, but not at the cost of our environment.”
Priscila Marmu, who is among those evicted in Gobindaganj upazila of Gaibandha in the name of recovering land for a sugar mill, said the local administration had pledged employment for the evicted families in the facility, but it never materialized.
“We were told that the government would employ 70% of us in the mill, but outsiders were appointed there,” she maintained.