Bangladesh’s comments on divisive power plant scorned

15-07-2017
UCAN


The concern follows claims made by a government official who said the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has withdrawn objections to the proposed 1,320-megawatt Rampal coal plant located 14 kilometers from the World Heritage-listed Sundarbans mangrove forest area.

Last year, a UNESCO-sponsored fact finding mission called for relocation of the plant as it poses a serious threat to the Sundarbans.

Tawfiq-e-Elahi, energy adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said July 9 that 12 countries, including Turkey and Finland, favored Bangladesh in lifting the UNESCO’s objections during a July 2-12 meeting in Poland.

"It is because of our goodwill and capacity, UNESCO has lifted its objection on the construction of [the] mega power plant," said Tawfiq as reported by The Daily Star.

While activists point out that UNESCO has relaxed its stance against the plant by asking the government to address certain environmental concerns within an 18-month deadline, it has not dropped its objections.

Shrif Jamil, joint secretary of a leading environmental group Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon who attended a World Heritage Committee meeting on the issue as an observer labeled the government’s statement as confusing propaganda.

"We are ashamed to hear what the government is saying," Jamil told ucanews.com.

"UNESCO didn’t change its objections, only revised its statement partly. Previously, it said Bangladesh must remove all industry by 2018, but now it asked it to conduct Strategic Environmental Assessment and submit it to UNESCO by December 2018 instead of February," Jamil said.

"Bangladesh must refrain from setting up any industry near the Sundarbans and submit the report within the new deadline. During the 42nd Session in 2019, the World Heritage Committee will decide whether the Sundarbans would continue to remain a World Heritage site or not," he said.

Father James Mondol, secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission in Khulna Diocese, also doubted the government’s claims.

"I suspect the government is circulating misleading information to weaken protests against the Rampal plant to accomplish its agenda," Father Mondol told ucanews.com.

"People concerned know well the plant would be disastrous for the forest, yet the government continues to defy opposition for political interests," said Father Mondol.

Last year World Heritage Center and International Union for the Conservation of Nature released a report that found that the proposed plant poses a serious threat to the World Heritage site.

"The mission recommends that the Rampal power plant project be cancelled and relocated to a more suitable location," the report said.

The Sundarbans mangrove forest spreads between Bangladesh and India. The largest portion lies in southern Bangladesh and is considered a natural shield against climate change-infused natural disasters.

The Rampal plant is a joint venture of the national power companies of Bangladesh and India. The Indian company has had to abandon two projects in India in recent years due to strict environmental guidelines and mass protests.

Activists say the Sundarbans already faces serious threat from air and water pollution due to overpopulation and encroachment. They fear smoke and ash from the proposed plant would slowly destroy the forest, making millions of coastal villagers more vulnerable to natural disasters. They have staged a series of protests against the plant since 2013.

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