Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh yesterday unveiled the foundation plaque for Rampal power plant amid growing public concern that the coal-fired plant, only 14 km off the Sundarbans, may bring on a disaster for the world's largest mangrove forest.
Though the Rampal project site is in Bagerhat, the unveiling ceremony was held at Bheramara in Kushtia, where the two leaders also inaugurated the Bangladesh-India Power Transmission Centre.
Manmohan joined the programme through a video conference from New Delhi.
Through the Bheramara power transmission centre, Bangladesh will get every day 500 megawatt (MW) of electricity that will help the country address its ongoing power crisis.
This is the first time in South Asia that the two countries are trading electricity. Bangladesh yesterday got 175MW of power, which will gradually go up to 250MW a day next month and to 500MW at the end of the next month.
Hasina also inaugurated a 360MW gas-fired power plant in Bheramara.
Speaking via video conference, Manmohan urged the authorities of the Rampal plant, a joint venture of Bangladesh and India, to maintain the highest standard of environmental safety in operating the plant, given that the Sundarbans is a common heritage site of the two countries.
The transmission line and the power station in Bheramara provide a safe and reliable link between the power grids of the two nations, he said.
The Indian prime minister said it would add a new dimension and strengthen the bonds of friendship between India and Bangladesh.
Manmohan said India wishes to see a strong and prosperous Bangladesh.
“I assure you that India will remain a steadfast and long-term partner in your development efforts … I want to express my commitment to completing the tasks that we had agreed earlier,” he said.
In the future, there would be deeper cooperation in the energy sector as well as in other areas, he added.
In response, Hasina expressed deep gratitude to India for its invaluable contribution to the country's Liberation War in 1971.
She also talked of her government's interests in hydro-electric projects in India's north-eastern region.
NO HARM TO SUNDARBANS
Speaking at the inauguration programme later, Hasina asserted that the Rampal power plant would not cause any harm to the Sundarbans or the livelihood of the people in the surrounding areas.
Blasting the critics of the Rampal plant, Hasina said people should analyse the motive behind their criticism and opposition to the project.
“I want to say firmly that Sheikh Hasina will not do anything that will harm the country and its environment,” she said.
In its efforts to protect the mangrove forest, her government had dredged the Gorai River in Kushtia which has reduced salinity in the Sundarbans, said the prime minister.
Hasina invited the environmentalists and the critics to visit the coal-based Barapukuria power plant in Dinajpur to assess whether it had harmed the croplands and the environment in the area.
Claiming that her government would consider the environmental aspect of the mangrove forest with utmost importance, she said it was her government that took the initiative to put the Sundarbans on the list of world heritage sites.
Environmentalists, socio-political organisations, and political parties, including the main opposition BNP, have been opposing the government's plan to set up the plant at Rampal of Bagerhat, 14 kilometres away from the Sundarbans. They argue that it would spell disaster for the world's largest mangrove forest.
Hasina was scheduled to lay the foundation stone of the Rampal plant on October 22 and Manmohan was supposed to join her through a video conference.
But the schedule had to be changed as the Indian premier will be occupied with some urgent issues on that day.
Hasina said her government would set up several coal-based mega power plants in Moheshkhali of Cox's Bazaar, Banshkhali of Chittagong, Barguna, Munshiganj and Ashuganj.
Three power plants with a capacity of 1,320MW each would also be set up after signing government-to-government contracts with Malaysia, China and Korea, she said.
The prime minister said agreements would also be inked with Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar to import more electricity.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu, Prime Minister's Energy Adviser Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, State Minister for power and energy Enamul Haque, and Prime Minister's Special Assistant Mahbubul Alam Hanif spoke at the programme.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks from his New Delhi office through a video conference at the inauguration of Bangladesh-India Power Transmission Centre at Bheramara in Kushtia yesterday. The foundation plaque for controversial Rampal power plant was also unveiled at the programme. Seated right to left, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Indian Minister for New and Renewable Energy Dr Farooq Abdullah, Hasina's Energy Adviser Tawfiq-e-Elahi, and Shubid Ali Bhuiyan, chairman of parliamentary standing committee on power ministry. Photo: BSS
Shubid Ali Bhuiyan, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on power ministry, Abul Kalam Azad, secretary of Economic Relations Division, Monowar Islam, secretary of Power Division, also addressed the programme.
Indian Minister for New and Renewable Energy Dr Farooq Abdullah, Power Secretary PK Sinha and Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pankaj Saran also spoke.
They said the highest standard of environmental protection would be maintained for the implementation of the Rampal power plant.
Dr Abdullah promised that his country would do everything to help Bangladesh make steady progress.
He said India and Bangladesh need to work harder to root out terrorism and militancy from the region.