14 Dec 2017, Thursday

Save the only Mangrove Forest Sundarbans a World Herritage Site

By Monaz Haque

Published : 2017-08-17 01:19:11

Updated : 2017-08-17 04:47:15

An International conference is going to be held at Berlin on 19-20 August, 2017 in House of Democracy and Human Rights, Greifswalder Str 4, 10405 Berlin, organized by the National Committee to Protect oil, gas and mineral resources power and ports in Bangladesh (NCBD) and European Action Group under the framework of “Sundarbans Solidarity Action Networking and An Alternative Energy Solutions for Bangladesh”.

Why Save Sundarbans Mangrove Forest Solidarity Action Networking? Bangladesh government believes that the best place to build a coal-fired power plant is next to the world's largest mangrove forest Sunderbans.

But the environmentalists have argued it according to scientific research they made, that the largest mangrove forest could be facing serious trouble if the plan of Bangladesh government be realized. Government has planned to produce electricity in form of two coal-fired power plants a total of 1320 MW electricity to add in its national grid. Environmentalists, and "the National Committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and ports" protesting since many years. The overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis have criticized the project since its founding in 2010. The business case also seems to be falling apart, as costs are rising and international investors are pulling out. Why is it still being built?

A 1320 MW coal-fired power plant, will be large enough to provide around 10% of the country's electricity generation, thinks the government. It is planned to be operational by 2020 at Rampal, a South-West town of Bangladesh. The project is owned jointly by Bangladesh Power Development Board and India's state-owned energy utilities NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd), which each have 15% equity, while the remaining 70% of the total funding of bank loans.

The coal-based power plant proposed to be built near the city of Khulna, close to the Sundarbans mangrove forest, is a joint venture between India and Bangladesh’s state-owned entities. Mastering the government Power Sector Master Plan 2016 costly, import-oriented and destructive to the environment, central leaders of the National Committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and ports recently placed an alternative design of a master plan focusing on renewable Power generation system. Bangladesh government is on the other hand neither discussing with the National Committee nor accepting the alternative design. What gives a government the ignorant to be so reckless when they are not the owners of the country, but rather the guardians, on behalf of the people, of Bangladesh's natural resources?

Professor Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the National Committee, said in a press conference at Dhaka that, cost-effective and renewable energy-based power generation capacity of the country could be increased at 91,700MW in three phases by 2041 if the government adopted the committee’s plan.

The government was implementing its master plan that exclusively dependent on hazardous coal and costly liquid natural gas fired power generation, he said.

The Indian government is not subsidising the project in any form. It is only providing loan through Exim Bank of India to promote Indian investment in Bangladesh.

NTPC is building the plant together with BPDB, forming a 50:50 joint venture called the Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company (BIFPCL). The New entity formed, BIFPCL, would invest 30 per cent equity of which Bangladesh 15% and India 15% ($546 million) and the Indian government would facilitate 70 per cent debt to amounting $1.6 billion through the Indian Exim bank.

Bangladesh government has planned to give a 15-year income tax exemption for the plant, which will be an exemption worth $936 million. Besides, “a below-market-rate loan by Indian Exim Bank represents a $988 million subsidy effectively paid by Indian taxpayers to Bangladeshi consumers”. Bangladesh would be granting an effective annual $26 million subsidy by conducting maintenance dredging to assure coal delivery to the plant, the report pointed out.

The most obvious problem with Rampal is its location on the edge of the Sundarbans, a large dense mangrove forest spanning the Bangladesh-India border. The forest is a UNESCO World Heritage site and hosts endangered species such as river dolphins, Chital Deer and Bengal Tigers who will see their habitat damaged when the plant becomes a reality.

Reiterating their call to scrap the Rampal coal power plant, citizens’ platform National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Ports Saturday said that they would come up with alternative proposals for power generation. But Bangladesh government vehemently rejects all these protest and even reform proposals of the National Committee.

The 41st session of Unesco’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) in Krakow, Poland ended on 15 July 2017, finalising and adopting several decisions regarding the World Heritage Sites, including the Sundarbans.

Throughout the 10-day meeting, the committee examined the status of the World Heritage Sites and made decisions based on their observations.

In the last session of the meeting on Wednesday, the committee focused on the protection of the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Sites.

Earlier on July 5, the WHC partially withdrew its objection to the construction of the coal-fired power plant in Rampal, Bagerhat, which is only 65km away from the Sundarbans north border, and gave a number of conditions to Bangladesh regarding the protection of the mangrove forest.

The World Heritage Committee asked Bangladesh to submit an updated report of conservation measures put in place for the Sundarbans and the implementation of all the conditions and measures set by the WHC by December 2018, during its 42nd session.

If the conditions remain unfulfilled or Bangladesh fails to submit the report within the deadline, the WHC will enlist the mangrove forest as a World Heritage in Danger.

When Bangladesh submits the updated report in the 42nd session of the WHC, it will be forwarded to the IUCN for review. Until the IUCN and the WHC are satisfied with the report, Bangladesh cannot start the construction of the coal-fired power plant.

Considering all these facts and figures the national committee and European Action Group will bring their own arguments at the International conference. The keynote speaker are Professor Hartmut Beerwolff, Professor Dr. Wilfried Endlicher of Humboldt University, Berlin, Professor Anu Mohammad, Jahangirnagar University, Profossor Gudrun Kammasch, Technical University, Berlin, Krstin Doernbruch, GreenPeace, Berlin and Katherina Finke, Journalist.

Monaz Haque: Environmental Engineer, Berlin 

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