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21 September, 2016 11:07:48 AM

An alternative to thermal power

According to the National Committee to Protect Sundarbans (NCPS), if the Sundarbans is destroyed by setting up of a coal-fired Rampal power plant, the nation will be liable to history
Prof Sarwar Md Saifullah Khaled
An alternative to thermal power

The world’s biggest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, is a gift of the Almighty Allah (SWT) to Bangladeshis. But unfortunate enough, such a glorious gift of the Creator is set to be scrapped by man-made imprudent actions. The world’s largest mangrove forest is under threat because of a proposed and already under construction thermal power plant at Rampal in the vicinity of the Sundarbans. In response to the critics the ruling government is arguing that the coal-based project will be constructed using modern technology for minimising any ill effects on the Sundarbans. But no one can ensure or guarantee that there will be no damage to the precious forest. 

The Rampal power plant is a joint venture of Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) and the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited of India under the name of Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company. The Sundarbans, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site and a habitat to endangered famous Bengal Tigers and river dolphins, is situated about only 14 kilometres off the proposed 1,320-megawatt coal-based power plant site. 
According to the National Committee to Protect Sundarbans (NCPS) if the Sundarbans is destroyed by setting up of a coal-fired Rampal power plant, the nation will be liable to history. It said the power plant is being set up to serve the interests of a particular quarter, not the nation. They are trying to gain their business interest by using the government through setting up the power plant. So, protecting biodiversity of the Sundarbans has little value to them. In consequence, from the very beginning locals and environment specialists started to protest against the proposed power plant, and are still determined to protect the Sundarbans because it is our heritage. And the Sundarbans should be protected also for greater public interest and safety as it has no alternative. 
Bangladesh has a legal mechanism for protecting the natural environment of the country for greater public interest and safety. The Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 provides provisions relating to protection of the natural 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. 
A report on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) says that nearly 220 tons of different toxic gases will be emitted daily from the Rampal power plant once in operation. The government say that the toxic gases will be properly treated before emission by using higher and updated technology. But, according to environmentalists, that would not be enough to protect the immensely useful natural forest. The emission of such huge amount of toxic gases can be considered as environment pollutant and hazardous substance under Section-2 of Environment Conservation Act, 1995. 
The ships carrying coal to feed the power plant through the natural forest will emit toxic waste. That is restricted too 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 a mega thermal power plant at Rampal in the vicinity of Sundarbans the ecosystem of the region, nay the country, will be largely affected and harmed due to traffic movements, oil and chemical spillage and dredging. 
Moreover, the project will use deep tube wells and water of the Possur River for washing coal. That will push ground water level down and will completely destroy the ecosystem of the river. The EIA report also shows that the project will draw around 25,000 cubic metres of water every day, which is really a threat for the environment. 
It is quite pertinent to argue that the power plant is being constructed for producing much needed electricity for betterment of the society and the country’s economy. But the cruel truth is that the ill effects of the power plant on the environment will lead to a worse situation detrimental to the country’s interest. Every sensible one will agree and understand that the safety of the country’s people is the supreme law of the land. And construction of Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans will endanger the safety of the people living in the area by destroying the ecosystem. Consequently, the construction of a power plant near the Sundarbans is against the greater and overall interests of the countrymen.
Since the country is in direr need of electricity an alternative to the Rampal mega power plant needs to be found out. A possible and safe alternative might be a mega solar power plant. Such a move will be conducive to the country’s greater interest and at the same time will quell the anti-Rampal movers and the concerned people some of whom are no doubt elite of the country’s well wishers and well known patriots as well. The government authorities should keep in mind that everyone need and want electricity but not at the cost of our heritage the Sundarbans.  
Appreciating the urgent need of electricity for the country even the NCPS proposed and demanded that a mega solar power plant be set up at the Rampal site. The NCPS made the proposal by renewing its demand for cancellation of the coal-based Rampal power plant as an effective alternative to save the precious gift – the Sundarbans – to the nation by the Almighty Allah (SWT). The NCPS told a press conference at the BILIA Conference Centre in the capital that "We've placed our demand again with more confidence for scrapping the Rampal Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Project. We're also demanding for installing a mega solar power project at the site". 
The NCPS organised the press conference to press home its genuine demand on behalf of the concerned nation by presenting the findings of their research, and observations and comments that came from some reputed international experts on coal-fired power plants to rebut the Rampal power plant authority's “wrong and misleading answers to some questions”. The NCPS convincingly argued that the government has recently responded to the questions of a Bangladeshi-origin Canadian national on the Rampal power plant project. But, international experts observe that the information the government has given are half-truth or false, irrelevant, misleading and contrary to the environmental impact assessment. The NCPS said this is why it is terming the government's answers unscientific and insufficient, which are not acceptable to the nation at all.  
Similarly, the National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas, Natural Resources and Power-Port, maintains that the Rampal power plant project will not only threaten the flora and fauna and biodiversity of the Sundarbans, but also will adversely affect the livelihoods of locals living in the adjoining areas of Rampal, including Bagerhat and Khulna. An expert in the press conference presented convincing remarks international experts made in response to Rampal Maitree Super Power Plant Company's statement. As a result the country’s common people are now convinced that the local and international experts opposing the Rampal project are correct and prudent. So, the plan to continue with the thermal power plant at Rampal has to be scrapped for the greater interest of the safety of the Sundarbans in particular and the country in general.
The people of the country could seek a referendum on the issue. But their experiences relating to the elections of various levels held so far under the present government/election-commission including the 05 January 2014 general election, do not encourage them to ask for that. So, the people has no alternative but to appeal to the authorities concerned to abandon the idea of Rampal coal-based power plant and opt for a mega solar power plant there and save our national pride the Sundarbans from sure ruin.      
The writer is a retired Professor of Economics


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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