The National Committee to Protect Sundarbans doubts whether the Unesco team would be able to prepare an accurate report on its recent visit to the world's largest mangrove forest.
Speaking at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity yesterday, leaders of the citizen platform said they could not meet the Unesco team as “the government probably didn't have any interest in the meeting”.
The Unesco team toured Bangladesh on March 22-28. The tour schedule was drawn up by the government, said Abdul Matin, member secretary of the national committee.
The committee reiterated its demands for immediate suspension of all activities of Rampal power plant, cancellation of the government's “unscientific and non-documented” survey reports on the coal-based power plant, and conducting impartial, international and scientific impact assessments on any projects in the area under the supervision of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
The government has planned to set up the 1,320MW power plant, an India-Bangladesh joint venture, at Rampal of Bagerhat, some 14km off the Sundarbans. Besides, local firm Orion Group would build another power plant near the forest, environmentalists said.
Different green organisations have been protesting the moves saying the construction of power plants near the forest, a Unesco World Heritage Site, would spell disaster for it. The national committee sent a letter to the Unesco headquarters in Paris early last month, requesting the UN body to put the site on its list of World Heritage in Danger.
Sultana Kamal, convener of the committee, said the Unesco team had planned to meet four social movement groups, including the national committee. But the meetings were cancelled.
She alleged that no national-level scientists or experts were appointed to help the Unesco team. Rather, the appointees were political supporters of the government or members from the beneficiary quarters of the project.
“As the activists and experts, who have long been working for the protection of the Sundarbans, were not given the opportunity to meet the Unesco mission, it's clearly understandable that the mission completed their visit after having statements and explanations from the government only,” she said.
“Hence, it won't be surprising if the probable report was incomplete and one-sided,” added Sultana, also a former adviser to a caretaker government.
She, however, hoped such a situation would help the mission members to be more cautious about preparing the report.
Prof Anu Mohammad said as the power plant projects have no social and technological acceptability, it is time to cancel those.
The weakness of the government has become evident in disallowing the mission to meet the environmentalists, said Prof MM Akash.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said they were not against construction of power plants, but those should not be built hampering people's interest.
Prof Badiul Imam and Prof Shahidul Islam of Dhaka University, among others, spoke at the press conference.
Despite making repeated attempts, The Daily Star could not reach Environment and Forests Minister Anwar Hossain Manju over the phone for his comment.