'This is autocratic behaviour'
The government is continuing the Rampal power plant project in an “autocratic manner” by abusing power and its impact on the Sundarbans is now visible, said Sultana Kamal, convenor of National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans, yesterday.
“The government seems stubborn and is not paying heed to anyone. This is autocratic behaviour,” Sultana Kamal said while informing the media on the latest state of the Sundarbans in the perspective of Unesco decisions 2017.
National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans (NCSS) and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) arranged the briefing at Dhaka Reporters' Unity in the capital.
Sultana Kamal said governments of Bangladesh and India have been continuing work on the 1,320 megawatt Rampal power plant despite protests of millions of people, violating UN environmental law and directives.
“All the decisions government made regarding Rampal are perhaps from political consideration, not from any scientific ground,” she said while reading out a written statement.
She said Unesco World Heritage Centre will hold a meeting this year to assess what the Bangladesh government has done in the last two years following the Unesco decisions 2017. Bangladesh government is supposed to submit a report in this regard.
Sultana Kamal said they have also written a letter to the Unseco World Heritage Centre calling for action in view of continued disregard of the decisions by the Bangladesh government.
Unesco has made it clear that no large-scale industrial or infrastructural development should be allowed in the vicinity of the Sundarbans before Bangladesh carried out a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for its south-west region.
On July 9, 2017, briefing the media about the outcome of the Krakow session in Poland, Prime Minister's Energy Affairs Adviser Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury said the government would continue building the Rampal power plant and do an SEA as per Unesco's request.
The High Court on August 24, 2017 also directed the government not to approve any factory within 10 kilometres of the Sundarbans, declaring the zone an ecologically critical area (ECA).
As per Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995 (amended in 2010), no one is allowed to set up any factory in the ECA.
However, going against its own policy, the government over the last few years permitted setting up of 190 industrial and commercial units in the ECA, which, according to experts, pose a serious threat to the biodiversity of the world's largest mangrove forest.
Twenty-four of those units belong to the “red category”, meaning those are extremely harmful for the fragile biodiversity of the Sundarbans, said Sultana Kamal.
Expressing frustration over the government's silence, Sultana Kamal said the country is running on the ideology of Bangabandhu, and he said that even if only one person says something logical, he/she should be listened to.
“But her daughter is not listening to anyone,” Sultana Kamal said.
She said they submitted 13 research papers regarding Rampal project to a high government official, challenging the position of the government.
“One and a half years have passed by. They are yet to respond. We don't know what makes the government so stubborn to carry on with the Rampal power plant,” Sultana Kamal said.
Botanist Dr Azizur Rahman; Dr Badrul Imam, professor at the Department of Geology of Dhaka University; National Committee for Saving the Sundarbans member-secretary Abdul Matin, and Bapa Joint Secretary Sharif Jamil, also spoke at the programme.