The government has taken up a project to dredge the Pashur river so that coal-laden vessels from India can travel through it to Rampal Power Plant to be set up only 14 kilometres away from the Sundarbans.
Capital dredging of the Pashur channel from Mongla port to the proposed power plant in Rampal, Bagerhat is estimated to cost Tk166.50 crore.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the project yesterday at a time environmentalists fear damage to the ecosystem of the world's largest mangrove forest due to the power plant scheduled to be completed by December 2017.
Three ships, one carrying coal, sank in the Shela river in Chandpai range of the Sundarbans under Mongla upazila of Bagerhat in the last one and a half years.
Environmentalists say it is a signal that the operation of a power plant so close to the forest would inflict damage on it.
The dredging project has been taken to ensure that the Sundarbans is not damaged, Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal told reporters after the Ecnec meeting.
The Pashur river will be dredged at a depth of 7.5 metre so that large ships can sail into it, he said.
Operations of commercial cargo vessels have recently been stopped in the Shela river and so large vessels are using Mongla-Pashur-Kokilmoni-Akrampoint route. The biodiversity of the Pashur river snaking past the mangrove forest is threatened by vessels that dump oil into its water.
Earlier the condition of ships was not checked but now faulty ships will not be allowed to enter the river, the minister said.
According to the project, dredging will be done from the jetty no-9 of Mongla port up to 13 kilometres upstream to ensure navigability of the river so that imported coals can reach the power plant easily.
An agreement was signed between Bangladesh and India in April 2013 for setting up the power plant. One of the main conditions of the agreement was that the government will conduct the primary dredging of the Pashur river. The maintenance work will be done by Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Co.
Under the project, 38.81 lakh cubic metres will be dredged and 3.28 lakh cubic metre earth will be needed for constructing embankments. Hydrological and morphological impacts of the dredging work will be monitored by hydraulic experts.
The power plant will have two units, each with 1,320 megawatt capacity, built in collaboration with India. Land acquisition and building of the road networks have already begun amid a movement by environmentalists against the initiative.
The planning minister yesterday said 19 south western districts were undeveloped and so they were not contributing much to the GDP (gross domestic product).
The government has taken steps to develop Mongla port and Payra sea port and also moved to set up coal-fired power plants like the one in Rampal to increase economic activities in the region, he added.