The National Committee to Protect Sundarbans yesterday demanded suspension of all development activities of Rampal power plant and the adjacent private Orion power plant until a fresh environment impact assessment (EIA) by a United Nations-led neutral team.
The Committee, a citizen platform of 101 eminent personalities, also sent a letter to the Unesco headquarters earlier this month and requested the UN body to recognise the site on the list of its World Heritage in Danger.
In a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity, the Committee called on the government to stop and cancel all the ongoing and future projects in and around the world's largest mangrove forest.
Advocate Sultana Kamal, convener of the platform, said they had long been demanding that the government stop development activities there, but without success.
“We have come to know that the government is going to sign a deal with a company very soon to start the work [of the main power plant],” said the rights activist.
Under the government plan, the 1,320MW power plant will be jointly built by India and Bangladesh, roughly 14km from the Sundarbans, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
On February 1, the committee wrote to the Unesco to intervene. A copy of the letter was also sent to the state minister for power and energy.
According to the letter, obtained by The Daily Star, the Sundarbans will face serious threats from air pollution, from storage and production of toxic gas, from shipping, from river dredging and from excessive use of river water.
As part of its own assessment of the impacts, a Unesco team was due to visit the site this month, but the government requested the delegation to come in March.
The Sundarbans does not belong to Bangladesh alone but to the whole world. “The Sundarbans is our national resource. It is our constitutional right to protest any activity that might harm the forest,” said Sultana.
And it is also the duty of the government to listen to our logical arguments and act accordingly, she said.
“If the government does not do that, we need to think how democratic this government really is,” she said, adding that the area of the Sundarbans was 17,000sqkm in 1911, which has now come down to 10,000sqkm.
The mangrove forest is already facing many threats. And the people of the country and also the international communities are expressing their concerns about further perils to it. But the government has been showing an indifferent attitude, said Sultana Kamal, also the TIB trustee board chairperson.
Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of TIB, was also present at the press conference.
“We are the worst victim of climate change. It will be very embarrassing for us as a nation if we become a polluter country through constructing coal-based power plants, as our prime minister has recently received an award for her contribution to protecting the environment,” he said.
He said the Committee was not against electricity generation or the power plant itself, but that they merely wanted to protect the Sundarbans.
Professor M Shamsul Alam, a coordinator of Consumer Association of Bangladesh, said, “The Sundarbans protects us from natural disaster. It is our duty to protect the Sundarbans.”
He added it was already proven that the existing EIA was not up to the mark. So the government should conduct a fresh impact assessment.
Abdul Matin, joint convener of the Committee and also general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said the government was not showing any interest to protect the Sundarbans.