Several Indian experts have expressed disbelief at how Bangladesh government even approved the coal-based Rampal power plant in the first place, saying such a project near a vulnerable environment site like the Sundarbans would have been shot down in India at the first instance.
Talking to the Bangla Tribune recently, Indian environment specialists and rights activists said that no matter what the government in both countries claim, the construction of the 1,320MW Maitree Super Thermal Power Plant in Bagerhat's Rampal would surely have dire consequences on the Sundarbans.
They also said it was incomprehensible why the NTPC Limited – India's largest thermal power agency – was building a plant near a mangrove forest in Bangladesh when it had never done so near any mangrove forest in India.
One of the vocal opponents of the project is the chairman of West Bengal Pollution Control Board, Dr Kalyan Rudra, who said: “There is no precedence – not in West Bengal or India – of constructing a thermal power plant so close to a reserved forest.
“According to a list of India's central Environment Ministry, this thermal power plant falls under the 'red category industry' – meaning this industry is extremely dangerous for environment. This [plant] produces both effluent and emission. So there cannot even be a question of setting up such a plant near a reserved forest.”
Dr Rudra also cautioned about the potential for river pollution caused by the Rampal plant.
“Around two years ago, monsoon waters washed away ashes produced by West Bengal's Bakreshwar Thermal Power Station. From an ash pond, the material was carried to the nearby Chandrabhaga River.
“In accordance with a directive from India's National Green Tribunal, we carried tests on the river and found that the level of pollution had reached such an extent that there was no existence of biodiversity in a 30km area of the Chandrabhaga River. The waste ashes from the thermal power plant had killed off all fishes, insects, algae, crabs of the river,” Dr Rudra said.
There are now plans to use the Pashur River for transporting coal to the Rampal plant and bringing out waste produce from it; so there remains a considerable risk for the wildlife – including the endangered Ganges Dolphin.
Indian environmentalists also expressed their worries about the fate of the Bengal Tigers that are native to the Sundarbans.
Gauri Maulekhi, a trustee for the animal rights organisation People For Animals, said she had no doubt that the activities of the Rampal thermal power plant would destroy the natural habitat of tigers in the Sundarbans. It was impossible to prevent pollution at a place so close to a thermal power plant, she said.
“Several years ago, when the Kalagarh Dam was built in India’s Uttarakhand state, many tigers in Jim Corbett National Park had to be uprooted from their homes. But that was a hydro power plant which causes far less pollution. I fear that building a thermal power plant so close to the Sundarbans would be a danger signal for many Bengal Tigers,” she said.
“One of the biggest causes for concern is that coal, which has dangerous polluting effects, will be used as fuel for Rampal. It is shocking for many Indian environmentalists and activists that how in 2016 – when the world is becoming more vocal against the use of coal – Bangladesh is choosing to use coal for power production; even more, doing it so close to the Sundarbans,” Maulekhi added.
KC Ayappa, a long-time activist with Greenpeace who has done extensive research on the harmful effects of coal pollution, said: “The Sundarbans is an extremely vulnerable terrain. It gives me shivers just to think that a coal-based thermal power plant is being built so close to it.”
He pointed out that different researches have shown that coal-based or nuclear power plants were capable of causing far more damage than other sustainable power generation sources like wind turbines.
“Considering the risk for wildlife, thermal power plants are undoubtedly at the top of the danger list,” Ayappa said.
Despite all the warnings and protests, India’s NTPC Ltd continues to insist that the Rampal project would have almost no impact on the Sundarbans.
An NTPC spokesperson declined to make any comments on this issue, but said the project’s environmental impact report shows how authorities were using the most modern methods and proceeding with caution to protect the environment.
The Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Limited, 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 Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.
Demanding that the plant be shifted from the current location, local and international green activists have long been opposing the construction of the project, fearing that it would harm the Sundarbans, the Pashur River and the nearby areas in the long run.