Expressing concern over the potential damages to the Sundarbans, the Unesco has requested the government to conduct a revised Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) before going ahead with the Rampal power plant.
The government was also requested to submit a revised EIA report with the advice note of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) before advancing with the physical work of the power plant.
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Following the visit of a three-member reaction mission team from the Unesco, a report was sent to the government last month, seeking a specific assessment of the potential impacts of a thermal power plant near the Sundarbans and the dredging of the Pashur river, said a source.
The government would have to respond by October 11.
Contacted, Nasrul Hamid, state minister for power, energy and mineral resources, told The Daily Star yesterday that the ministries of energy, and the forests and environment were preparing the response.
“We hope we will be able to make our response ready by next week,” he said.
Nasrul, however, claimed that the Unesco report was largely based on the opinions of the people and groups who are against the power plant.
Asked whether the government would conduct a new environment impact assessment on the Rampal project as requested by the Unesco, he said the government had not decided on the issue yet.
So far, the Unesco has expressed concerns about the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest with “Outstanding Universal Value”, for the third time in the last two years.
The Unesco report came at a time when the Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company Ltd (BIFCL) is expected to sign a loan agreement with the Exim Bank, India and the physical work of the Rampal power plant is to start soon.
Expressing concerns about the potential damage to the Sundarbans, the report said the world heritage site and its biodiversity will be dangerously affected if the thermal power plant is built there.
Recently in an interview with The Daily Star, Environment and Forest Minister Anwar Hossain Manju said the Unesco expressed their concerns but specifically could not say what kind of damage it (the power plant) would cause.
The government would not go for the power plant if the Unesco or some other organisation could specifically say about the harm.
"An inter-ministerial committee will decide about the government position on the response to the Unesco," he said.
The World Heritage Committee of the Unesco will discuss the issue in its upcoming 40th meeting due next month.
Earlier in the 39 annual meeting held in 2015 in Bonn, Germany, the Unesco had requested the government to undertake a comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) in order to assess the indirect and cumulative impact from power plants and other developments in the vicinity of the Sundarbans, according to the website of the Unesco.
They mentioned to include a specific assessment of potential impacts on the “Outstanding Universal Value (OUV)” of the Sundarbans.
According to the Unesco, only those heritage sites have OUV that contain the most important and signiﬁcant natural habitats for the situconservation of biological diversity.
Expressing concerns, the Unesco in an earlier report had requested Bangladesh to provide further details on the mitigation measures taken for the power plant project considering the findings of the SEA.
Since the oil spill in the Sundarbans in 2014, the Unesco has been pursuing the government to monitor the long-term impact on the biodiversity of the Sundarbans.
It also urged the government to take measures to prevent such incidents in the Sundarbans areas.
It was not possible to reach the minister or the secretary of the environment and forest ministry for a comment on the issue as they were abroad.
However, Nurul Karim, joint secretary of the ministry, said the government received a report but declined to comment as he was not “dealing with the matter”.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association, said it was not new that the Unesco expresses concerns about the Rampal power plant.
Contacted, Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmed, the country representative of IUCN Bangladesh, said no body contacted them for the advice note.