Statement of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson and former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia at a press conference on Rampal coal-fired power plant, Aug 24, 2016, at her Gulshan office.
Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
Electricity is an essential commodity for the development of the country and for an acceptable standard lifestyle of the people. But when the larger interest of the country is ignored, people’s lives are put at risk, the environment and biodiversity are endangered for producing electricity, then that power production project has to be considered an anti-state and anti-people move.
The coal-fired power plant at Rampal in Bagerhat is just such a project.
The installation work for the 1320mw Rampal coal-based plant, only 14km away from the world’s largest mangrove forest the Sundarbans and a 564mw Orion coal-fired power plant, a mere 10km off the Sundarbans, has been progressing.
Completely disregarding the protests of environmentalists, social and research organizations at local and global levels, and in spite of similar devastating projects elsewhere in the world, the unelected anti-people government sanctioned money for filling up the land for setting up the Rampal power plant.
This autocratic authority has been imposing the burden of this anti-national project on the people by ignoring public opinion.
Despite knowing the obvious dangerous impacts of this project adjacent to the Sundarbans, the government is not only displaying a rigid attitude but also it is moving forward rapidly with the project.
Once again it has been proved that this government does not care for the people as it’s an autocratic regime. The project that’s going to wreak havoc to the natural wall in the southern part of the country, disrupt the ecosystem and biodiversity, cause the extermination of the lives and livelihoods of millions, pollute the environment and water, reduce the productiveness of farm lands and fish resources, the government’s pigheadedness to implement the economically non-profitable project is not only suspicious but it is also very alarming for the people.
We cannot let government to execute the forthcoming destruction of the Sundarbans – the home of livelihoods for millions, protector of our natural calamity-prone country from the natural cataclysms like Aila, Sidr etc, and a UNESCO-declared World Heritage site. It’s our solemn duty of the time to stop this government’s attempt to implement such a project in exchange of the nation’s existence and interest for the profit of individuals or groups.
The government is steaming ahead ignoring protests by UNESCO World Heritage authority, secretariat of the Ramsar Convention, even the forest department of Bangladesh. About eight thousand families were forcibly displaced from the vicinity of the project ignoring the protest of the local people and without giving them the proper prices of their lands and resources. Farm land and fisheries were also filled up by force.
Thousands of families who are earning their livelihood by collecting wood, leaves, and honey from the Sundarbans and fishing in the adjacent rivulets and waterways will also become unemployed and lose their way of life.
It’s worth mentioning here that the Indian National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) – the body with which the government is jointly set to implement the Rampal Power Plant – the Indian government canceled the installation of the same type of 1320 mw coal-fired power plant planned by the same body at Narsinghpur in Madhaya Pradesh. The Narsinghpur project was supposed to be set up on 1000 acre land. But here 1834 acre of land was acquired for Rampal power plant.
The Narsinghpur project was cancelled primarily for three reasons:
- Coal-fired power plant cannot be installed in the crowded locality.
- Coal-fired power plant cannot be set up on farm land.
- 32 cusecs water per hour cannot be collected from the Narmada River.
We can find the following facts from a comparative analysis with the Rampal project:
- Narsinghpur covers 5125 square km and 187 people live per square km. On the other hand, the total area of Bagherhat district is 3959 square km and the Rampal project area covers 335.46 square km. The number of people is double of that of Narsinghpur per square km at 382.
- Crops are cultivated twice a year in Narsinghpur, but thrice in Rampal. Moreover, fishing operations go on round the year.
- As 32 cusecs water per hour cannot be collected from the Narmada River, Narsinghpur projet got cancelled. But 144 cusecs water per hour will be collected from the smaller Pasur River, and additionally, water will be made salt free in separate plants. But if they want to get sweet water from tubewells, 72 tubewells would have to be set up there. Tubewells can be installed only by keeping a distance of one thousand feet from each other. This will bring complete devastation to ground level water. Moreover, the Indian government doesn’t allow installation of coal-fired power plant within 25km of a reserve forest. This means, a government entity of that country can be in operation for business interests in our country which isn’t possible in their own country. This can happen in our country only because of our government’s callousness to the people and the interest of the country.
Furthermore, 20km away from Rajib Gandhi National Park in Karnataka, a 1000mw project was cancelled in the face of massive protest in 2008. The size of that park is just 1/10th of Bangladesh’s Sundarbans. Again, the Indian government cancelled another coal-fired power plant in Tamilnadu in 2012 as it’s within the 25km of a forest. Significantly, the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) marked Indian NTPC as the most pollution creating company in India. And this is now partnering with Bangladesh in the Rampal coal-fired power project.
It’s found in different researches that installing a coal-fired power plant so near to the Pasur River would destroy the ecological balance in that area and the impacts would be widespread. There is much scientific evidence available to show that the Sunadrbans – the UNESCO declared world heritage site and home to rare species of animals and birds, fish resources in the rivulets and canals flowing through it and large quantities of forest resources will be in grave danger.
30 thousand tons of sulphur dioxide used to be discharged from the Fayette power project at Texas, US, resulting in the destruction of trees along 48km wide Texas Highway 21. Then the plant was abandoned. It is scientifically proven that the water discharged from coal-based power plants contains various types of polluting materials at different rate and amount. This is why a “Zero-Emission” policy has been practiced at coal plants worldwide.
But NTPC is going to set up the coal-fired power plant at Rampal in Bangladesh without maintaining this standard, though the NTPC promised to maintain this benchmark for a plant at Chhattisgarh, India. Because they will not be applying “Zero-Emission”, 5150 cusec water will be discharged per hour from Rampal plant into the Pasur River, resulting in raising the temperature of the adjacent environment and route of the water flow and the dissolving different chemical substances in the water – all of which will bring unprecedented havoc to the entire Sundarbans.
According to an EIA report, 47 lac and 20 thousand ton coal will be burnt at 1320mw Rampal power plant. 79 lac tons of carbon dioxide will be released into the air using a super-critical system, a government report said. Even if tall chimneys are used, this dangerous gas would return to the Sundarbans and adjacent areas as this gas is heavier than air.
According to 1997 Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, the density of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide cannot be more than 30 microgram per cubic metre in an area like the Sundarbans. But, according to the EIA report, the density of these gases will be 54 microgram pcm during November-February. To make this unlawful level of these gases in this area legal, the government showed the Sundarbans as a residential village area, trying to deceive the people.
The same deception was made by stating that the chimney will be 275 metres tall and 125 degree Celsius temperature of the released gases will not increase the temperature in the area. The most dangerous waste from Rampal will be the ashes burning from two different types of coals. 7 lac 50 thousand ton fly ash and two lac ton ‘heavier-than-air’ ash will be produced from 47 lac ton 20 thousand ton coal used at Rampal. The heavier than air elements like mercury, lead, nickel, arsenic, beryllium, chromium and radium and similar types of radioactive metals will remain mixed with the bottom level ashes.
The EIA report also admitted that some fly ash will also be released into the air. If this “some” means 1 per cent then annually 7 thousand 500 tons of fly ash will be spread over the Sundarbans, resulting in radioactive pollution of that area and causing lung related diseases. A part of the hard waste of this project will be used to fill the low land in the project vicinity that will bring more dangers as these ashes will fly over the area and mix with the underground water making these waters poisonous and will flow into the adjacent rivulets and canals.
Coal crumbs, broken coal, oil, wastes, polluted water from the ships will be poured into river water making all distributaries, rivulets, canals and soil dangerously polluted. The forest along the route of shipping 47 lac and 20 thousand ton coal starting from Hiron point to Akram point and Akram point to Rampal will be also polluted during the transfer of coal from one ship to another, innumerable times in the future. In the same way the air, soil and water of the area will be polluted. Besides, while the transporting the coal along the Pasur River, the two banks of the river will be eroded quickly and there will be sound pollution, and searchlights at night will hinder the lifecycle of the wildlife in the region.
A joint letter was sent to the CEO of Indian EXIM Bank – which is investing in this project — by 149 of the world’s social and environmental organizations to scrap the Rampal power project to save the world’s largest mangrove forest. Three banks in France and two state-owned Norway pension funds backtracked from this project upon the same request.
Everyday around the world, in one place or another, environmental organizations have been staging protests to stop the Rampal project.
In our own home of Bangladesh, people are vocal against this project, but the government is not only rigid in its stance but it is also confronting the movement against it with force.
One of the main reasons to object is this project is unprofitable for our country. The Bangladesh Power Development Board (PDB) and the Indian company, the NTPC, will each invest 15 percent of the total cost, while the rest of 70 percent will be sourced from bank loans, and significantly, Bangladesh alone would have to repay the loan, if the joint venture is closed or the loan is not repaid for some reasons. On the other hand, the net profit will be shared by the two sides at a cost of 100 percent damage to Bangladesh’s environment. The Indian company will be allowed to take back its profit without paying any tax.
Again, the procurement cost of coal is used as the base of fixing the electricity price. In the meantime, the government has finalized the buying cost of coal at 145 USD per ton. As a result PDB will have to buy electricity at Tk 8.85 per unit, although PDB will buy electricity from Orion at Tk 4 per unit and Tk 3.80 from Orion’s two separate plants at Mawa in Khulna and Chittagong. Evidently as PDB will have to buy the coal at twice the price, it will have to incur loss. Naturally the people are inquiring as to why and in whose interest the government is going ahead with such a project. The administration has no answer, and that is why it has resorted to beating up people who are opposed to the project.
The generation of power for rapid industrialization, economic emancipation, and meeting public demand is essential, and it is the responsibility of a government to take necessary steps in this regard. But there is no scope to sacrifice public and national interests to implement such an initiative and the government certainly doesn’t have the right to do this. The government should explore alternative sources of power and energy, like small gas generator power plants, hydro-power, bio-gas projects and solar energy. We need to invest in environment friendly, renewable and cheap technology to produce electricity.
I want to remind our people, the flows of the Padma, the Jamuna and the Brahmaputra have already fallen drastically, triggering massive desertification in northern and central parts of Bangladesh. And if the Sundarbans is destroyed with the plant in the southern region, Bangladesh will no more be livable. The people of Bangladesh will never accept this.
When the whole world is fully aware of climate change and its adverse consequences on Earth, the government is knowingly moving fast with this ill-conceived project by throwing millions of our people into unfathomable dangers. Now it’s our solemn responsibility to exert pressure on the government to scrap this anti-state project. There are many alternative sources of electricity but there is no alternative for the Sundarbans.
I strongly demand the immediate halt to this anti-national, illogical and unprofitable Rampal power plant project. I also call upon our people to resist this harmful plan.
Thank you all. Allah Hafez.