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Rampal Power Plant: Govt to comply with Unesco conditions

Say two ministers; Unesco decisions to be released likely after July 12; green groups to continue movement
Star file photo of the Rampal coal-fired power plant project site near the Sundarbans.

The government would fulfil the conditions set by Unesco for implementing the Rampal power plant project near the Sundarbans, two ministers told The Daily Star yesterday.

Unesco retreated from its earlier position that the plant cannot be built at Rampal and gave Bangladesh some conditions regarding its construction, said State Minister for Power Nasrul Hamid Bipu.

“We will meet the conditions,” he told this correspondent.

When asked about those, he said Unesco urged the Bangladesh delegation at the ongoing 41st session of its World Heritage Committee in Poland to carry out Strategic Environmental Assessment of the country's south-western region including the Sundarbans.

“We will do so,” he said, adding that the government would complete it by December next year.

Contacted, Environment and Forest Minister Anwar Hossain Manju said they would be able to do the assessment within the timeframe set by Unesco. They would start the task once the officials of the ministry, now attending the session in Poland, return home.

About the withdrawal of Unesco's objection, he said the “positive outcome” came following “hectic consultations” between Unesco officials and the high-powered Bangladesh delegation.

Earlier, Nasrul told reporters at his Gulshan residence that the Bangladesh delegation at the conference pointed out various technological aspects of the power plant.

It also gave details of the plant's impact on environment and made the Unesco understand that environmental safety has been given the utmost priority in setting up the plant and that there would be no negative impact on the Sundarbans, said the minister.

Bangladesh answered different queries from Unesco officials at the conference and assured them that it would meet the Unesco's conditions in setting up the plant, he added.

Bangladesh Ambassador to France M Shahidul Islam, member of the delegation and Bangladesh's permanent representative to Unesco, told this newspaper that the decisions made at the conference are yet to be published on the Unesco website.

All the decisions made so far would be placed before the committee with necessary amendments and then the Unesco Secretariat would post those on the Unesco website, he said. 

The session ends on July 12, and the details of the decisions are likely to be uploaded on the website either on that day or the day after.

Meanwhile, one of the participants in the conference provided The Daily Star with a copy of an amended draft detailing the decisions made at the 41st session of the committee.

However, The Daily Star could not independently verify the details of the document.

The Bangladesh government cannot proceed with any “large scale industrial or infrastructure developments” before completion of Strategic Environmental Assessment. It also needs to submit a progress report on “the state of conservation” of the Sundarbans by December next year. The committee would examine the progress in its 43rd session, says the document.

Bangladesh has to assess all likely environmental impacts arising from air and water pollution and withdrawal of fresh water from the Sundarbans area for Rampal coal-fired power plant. 

The committee also requested the Bangladesh government to assess all these impacts and put in place adequate technological measures to mitigate these impacts, according to the document.

Unesco also asked it to develop “National Oil Spill and Chemical Contingency Plan” and also implement a management system for shipping to minimise negative impacts on the mangrove forest. The government would have to make environmental impact assessment for any future dredging of the Passur river, the draft mentions.

Meanwhile, the National Committee to Protect Sundarbans yesterday vowed to continue its movement to save the world's largest mangrove forest.

“As far as we know, Unesco is seriously considering air and water pollution to be caused by the power plant as well as the dangers of coal transport and dredging,” it said in a press release yesterday.

Transparency International Bangladesh has called upon the government to implement the Unesco's recommendations for protecting the biodiversity of the Sundarbans.

It is a temporary relief that the Sundarbans has not been included in the list of heritage in danger at the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee, the TIB said in a statement yesterday.

"But this actually increases the responsibility of the authorities of Rampal power plant project, the Bangladesh government and the government of neighbouring India for protecting the environment, ecology and biodiversity of the Sundarbans," said TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman.

As per the Unesco's recommendations, it is necessary to scale up the Bangladesh-India joint initiatives to protect the Sundarbans, added the TIB.

On Thursday, the foreign ministry issued a statement claiming that Unesco withdrew its objection to the setting up of the plant at its current site in Rampal.