129 individuals, 74 orgs demand stop to Banshkhali Coal Power Plant project

The site for the proposed coal-fired power plant at Gondamara of Banshkhali upazila in Chittagong. S Alam Group is developing the site. Four people were killed and at least 30 injured in a clash between police and locals in the area on April 4 over setting up the plant there. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das

One hundred twenty-nine individuals and 74 organisations from 21 countries including Bangladesh wrote a letter to Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao calling upon him to withdraw and end provision of finance and technical support to the SS Power I Ltd (Banshkhali Power Plant) immediately in Chattogram.

They also urged all companies involved to withdraw support from the project.

Advocate Sultana Kamal, president, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (BAPA); Shaheen Anam, executive director, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF); Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, Health Rights Activist and Trustee, Gonoshasthaya Kendra; Khushi Kabir, coordinator of Nijera Kori; Anu Muhammad, Professor, Department of Economics, Jahangirnagar University and Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Chief Executive, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) are among some of the 129 individuals who penned the letter.

"The involvement is contrary to President Xi Jinping's speech at the second Belt and Road Forum in 2019 where he said, "We need to pursue open, green and clean cooperation...We may launch green infrastructure projects, make green investments and provide green financing to protect the Earth which we all call home," they said in the letter.

"In February 2021, Economic and Commercial Counselor (ECCO) of China in Bangladesh sent a letter to the Bangladesh's Ministry of Finance stating that 'the Chinese side shall no longer consider projects with high pollution and high energy consumption, such as coal mining and coal-fired power stations," they mentioned.

Terming the project "A Blood-coloured BRI project", the personalities and organisations said, "Since the beginning of the project in 2016, 12 people have lost their lives, more than 100 got injured and harassment cases have been filed against over 6,000 workers and villagers in three different incidents around this power plant."

"The project has been marred by lack of transparency, irregularities and rampant human rights violation since its inception. Lead sponsor S Alam group evicted thousands of local residents and they were not paid a single penny for their land. Those who refused to give up their land were harassed with fake lawsuits. S Alam acquired several times more land than the actual 640 acres of project area using their muscle and mobsters," the letter said.

"Banshkhali power plant will be extremely harmful to the public health in the area. According to estimates, the coal power project will emit 192,200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over its operating lifetime. It is estimated that the proposed coal power projects in Chattogram including Banshkhali will risk the premature death of more than 30,000 people due to air pollution related to respiratory and heart diseases, among others," it added.

They also added, "The project plans to apply very weak emissions standards, which would not be allowed even in China, and the flaws and omissions in the EIA help justify this. The ongoing construction itself creates a permanent waterlogging over a large area of the adjoining villages."

The signatories demand the Chinese minister to get aligned with those Chinese measures for foreign investment, and respond to their following demands:

-Withdraw all involvement of your institution from the Banshkhali coal power project.

-Investigate the issues in relation with human rights violation and erroneous Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

-Ensure adequate compensation and rehabilitation of the dead and injured workers and the affected villagers.

-Without exceptions, cancel all ongoing and future investments in fossil fuel including coal, oil and gas.



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