‘Displaced by development’
Locals from two coal-based power plant project areas in south and southeastern part of the country yesterday said their everyday life has been hampered severely due to the government’s ongoing development activities.
Meanwhile, Santals of Gaibandha’s Gabindaganj said they were forcibly displaced from their ancestral land by the authorities in the name of development about three years back, and are yet to get back their land.
They raised the allegations at a public hearing on “Development, Eviction, Human Rights and Environmental Degradation” organised by Life and Nature Safeguard Platform at Liberation War Museum auditorium in the capital.
Attending the programme, green activists and civil society members called upon the government to shun the path of development that brings sufferings to people and poses threat to environment.
Among several others, the government is implementing two coal-based projects -- a 1,200-megawatt power plant in Matarbari at Maheshkhali upazila of Cox’s Bazar and the controversial 1,320-megawatt power plant in Rampal of Bagerhat near the Sundarbans.
Beside the government, some foreign countries are financing the projects, said organisers.
Hamed Hossain (45), a union parishad member from Matarbari, said due to land acquisition, many locals -- involved in traditional salt cultivation and shrimp farming -- lost their occupations.
Some 20,000 labourers involved in salt supply chain through cargo-vessels also became jobless, he added.
Land acquisition caused displacement of some 45 families at Matarbari but houses have been built for only 10 families so far, he alleged.
Homaira Begum (26), member of a displaced family, said they were served with a notice and given only seven days in 2014 to evacuate their home. “We were assured that we will get a new house under the project within six months. We are still living in a rented house,” she said.
Rent has increased significantly over the years there because of high demand as many outsiders involved in the project now live in the area, she added.
Mohammad Mohsin of the same area said they face severe waterlogging round the year as the mouth of Rangakhal, a local canal, had been filled with earth for the project. “Now, children have to travel on small boats for at least 0.5km to reach school,” he said.
Fisherman Abdur Rashid of Mongla said his catch from the Pashur river, which is used as a route for carrying goods for Rampal plant, has reduced significantly.
Coals and burnt furnace oil are now dumped in the river more frequently, he alleged, adding that some 8,000 fishermen from Mongla depend on the river.
Manindranath Roy (53), a resident of Rajnagar near the project area, said although the project authorities promised to create jobs for locals, only a handful of them were hired as cooks, sweepers and gardeners.
On the other hand, Olivia Hembrom, an evicted woman from Gabindaganj, said the government wanted to give them houses under a shelter project away from their ancestral land. “But we don’t want to go there. We want our ancestral land back,” she said.
Addressing the programme, economist Prof Anu Muhammad said people living in other ongoing development project areas taken by the government have been facing similar challenges.
He said the way the government was implementing the projects would only help increase the number of displaced people due to development.
Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said while undertaking development projects, the government has to make sure that affected people are getting due compensation.
On Matarbari project, Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua said development project there put locals in identity crisis as they lost their traditional occupations while their life has also been hampered.
Decision regarding development projects has to be taken through discussion with those for who the purpose of development is, said noted rights activist Sultana Kamal.
She said locals’ accounts reflected that this was not being followed in Matarbari project.
Environmental lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan said land acquisition for Rampal power plant was completed before conducting an environmental impact assessment. She urged the government to cancel the coal-based project to save the world’s largest mangrove forest.
Rights activist Khushi Kabir and Prof CR Abrar were also present, among others.