NO doubt we feel proud of our Sundarbans, which is the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world. It was marked as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997, and also contested for the New 7 Wonders of Nature in the world. However, the world's largest mangrove forest is under threat because of proposed construction of a thermal power plant at Rampal. Although the government is arguing that the coal-based project will be constructed using modern technology for minimising any ill effects on the Sundarbans, no one can ensure that there will be no damage to the forest.
Locals and environmentalists started to protest against the proposed power plant from the very beginning, and are still determined to protect the Sundarbans because it is our heritage, and also for greater public interest.
Bangladesh has a legal mechanism for protecting the environment for greater public interest. The Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 provides provisions relating to protection of the environment. Section-2 of this Act defines environment pollutant as any solid, liquid or gaseous substance which has harmful effect on the environment, and it also includes heat, sound, radiation and hazardous substances whose chemical or biochemical properties are such that their manufacture, storage, discharge or unregulated transportation can be harmful to the environment.
Dr Abdullah Harun, Professor of Environmental Science Discipline of the Khulna University, has prepared a report on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which says that nearly 220 tons of different toxic gases will be emitted daily from the power plant. The authorities say that the toxic gases will be properly treated before emission by using higher technology but, according to environmentalists, that won't be enough to protect the forest. These toxic gases can be considered as environment pollutant and hazardous substance under Section-2 of Environment Conservation Act, 1995. The ships coal carrying through the forest will emit toxic waste, which is also restricted by Section-6 of the Act.
The Act also defines ecosystem as a balanced complex association of all components of the environment which can support and influence the conservation and growth of all organisms. Thus, because of the construction of power plant at Rampal the ecosystem will be largely affected due to traffic movements, oil and chemical spillage and dredging.
It is pertinent to say that the power plant is being constructed for producing electricity for betterment of the society, but the ill effects on the environment will lead to a worse situation. Safety of the people is the supreme law and construction of Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans will endanger the safety of the people living in the area by destroying the ecosystem. So, construction of power plant near the Sundarbans is against greater public interest.
In City Sugar Industries Ltd. And others Vs. Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh and others case (7 ADC 860,2010) Mr. Justice Md. Abdul Matin observed that public interest lies in protecting the rivers from encroachment and pollution by all means, and said that the safety of the people should be the supreme law.
The project will use deep tube wells and water of the Posur River for washing coal, which will push ground level water down and will completely destroy the ecosystem of the river. The EIA report prepared by Dr. Abdullah Harun also shows that the project will draw around 25,000 cubic metres of water every day, which is really a threat for the environment.
The Sundarbans plays an important role in the economy of the southwestern region of Bangladesh and thus it contributes in the national economy. It provides raw materials for wood-based industries, timber, fuel wood, pulpwood, thatching materials, honey, bees-wax, fish, crustaceans and much more, and the coal-based power plant will endanger the lives and livelihood of the people of the southwestern part of Bangladesh.
I am not against the project but I am against building of the power plant in Rampal. The project can be transferred anywhere else, far from the Sundarbans, to protect it and to protect public interest as well. The experts and environmentalists are really worried about the impact of the power plant project at Rampal. A great number of concerned people are protesting against this project. The government itself is violating environment law by constructing coal-based power plant at Rampal arbitrarily without considering public interest, and this arbitrary use of power is also against the rule of law. So the government should take notice of this issue, rather than being adamant.
This writer is a Research Assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA). E-mail: email@example.com