Another Nail in the Sundarbans coffin?

With a heavy heart I watched the news pour in. The Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) Contract between Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL) and the Bangladesh India Friendship Company Pvt. Ltd. was signed last week on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. This is one more step towards the financial closure for the Rampal Power Plant, Bangladesh. And it doesn’t take an expert to know that once the finances are in place, stopping massive projects like Rampal only get ALOT harder.

The 1320 MW Power Plant is being built on the banks of the Passur River in the Bagherat district of Bangladesh only 14 kms from the Sundarbans Forest, the world’s largest mangrove forest. The Governments of Bangladesh and India are jointly building this project of mass destruction through a joint venture called the Bangladesh India Friendship Company Pvt Ltd. Finance for the project 1.6 billion (and counting) will be provided by a gracious loan from the Indian Exim Bank (aka Indian taxpayer money). And if the loan isn’t repaid, the Government of Bangladesh will back it up with a sovereign guarantee and Government of India counter guarantee. Do the citizens of Bangladesh and India have anything to say about their governments pouring money into a black hole?

BHEL signs EPC contract
Image source: NTPC Press release on signing the EPC contract

And this is only just the beginning for the fragile ecosystem that is the Sundarbans. Port expansions, railways lines, cement industry and more thermal power plants are all in the pipeline.

A Friendship company! Sounds ‘friendly’ you say, not such a bad thing! Well, in my eyes this friendship reeks of bullying, manipulation, corruption and greed. How is it that a project that is wrong on so many levels is still being pushed forward with such ferocity.

Let me break it down for you. Catch you up on why this project is hated by so many. And why groups across the world are fighting to stop it from coming up.

  1. The Sundarbans – facing irreversible damage. Need I say more? – the largest wetlands and mangrove forest in the world are facing the a formidable opponent that is the Rampal Thermal Power Plant aka Government pet projects.And we thought Climate Change would get em first.
  2. Climate Change – Without the protection of the mangroves, the Bangladesh coastline will be left alot more vulnerable to climate threats like increasing cyclones and sea level rise.
  3. People’s lives and livelihoods – the poorest and most oppressed sections of society must always bear the brunt of so called “development” projects. ALWAYS. A fact finding mission in 2015 by experts from India and Bangladesh reported a faulty EIA, a lack of process for land acquisition and negligence when it came to rehabilitation. Leaving hundreds without rehabilitation or adequate if at all compensation.
  4. Tigers, Dolphins and thousands of other not so cute looking species are left to deal with a massive threat to their habitat. A place considered safer than most other Tiger Reserves because of the density of the mangroves.
  5. Financially unviable – We can’t forget the money! According to a recent report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the project is heavily dependant on subsidies by both governments to make it look like it’s a profitable venture. It’s reliance on imported will be exposed to the Global Coal market and even a slight increase will have a huge impact on the tariff of electricity thus throwing out the window the promise of cheaper electricity for the consumer.
  6. It’s a coal fired power plant incase you’ve forgotten while thinking of the cute tigers and dolphins. The impacts that coal has on health, environment, water, land and air are well documented. This power plant won’t be any different. No matter how super ultra or mega critical the technology is.
  7. Transhipment – What we know so far, is that coal will be brought in by ships that will ply up and down the river. Larger ships will bring the coal to a bigger and deeper point, transferred onto smaller ships that will make dozens of trips a day ferrying coal while further polluting the waters. The area has seen oil spills and coal barges sink to the bottom of the river. It is worrisome that this trend won’t end.
  8. NTPC Track record – A recent report on thermal power projects across the country by the Centre for Science and Environment, shows the NTPC projects fairing the worst by being the most polluting power projects in the country.
  9. Bangladesh has huge solar potential, so why this bullying by India? Is it so India can sell off it’s dirtier coal to it’s less powerful neighbour?
  10. It’s just over a terrible idea. 

Now that you have the lowdown, join people around the world urging the two Governments to stop the power plant from causing irreversible damage and endangering the lives of countless people on both sides of the border. There’s still time and plenty to do. Join us.

Ayesha D

July 2016

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