BDI Statement on Rampal Power Plant
Bangladesh Development Initiative
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BANGLADESH DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVE’S POSITION STATEMENT ON RAMPAL POWER PLANT
The Rampal Power plant, designed to have a capacity of 1,320 MW, is a joint venture between the Government of India and Bangladesh. Its stated objective is to alleviate the perennial power shortages in Bangladesh. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsed the project on his visit to Bangladesh in June 2016 and it has been placed under a Fast Track Project Monitoring Committee headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to facilitate its timely completion.
There are many problems with this project, and various environmental and civil society groups throughout the country have voiced grave concerns about moving ahead with the project without having it adequately vetted by the public. In fact, there have been demands that this project be abandoned.
Among the issues critics have raised, the first is the location of the proposed power plant in the Ramsar site in the Sundarbans. The Directorate of Forests has said that it would not be prudent to construct an industrial factory inside the Sundarbans and the Landscape Zone which potentially could have a serious negative effect on the biodiversity of the Sundarbans. The construction of a coal-based power plant will threaten the flora and fauna of this precious natural resource. Since Bangladesh is a signatory to the Ramsar Conservation, the country has made an internationally recognized commitment to preserve the fragile ecosystem and biodiversity of the Sundarbans.
Environmentalists are concerned that the power plant would be located less than 10 miles from the protected Sundarbans mangrove forest. This would lead to the forest’s environmental degradation from increased maritime transportation, dredging, and pollution of air and water. In addition, coalfired thermal power plants routinely belch toxic gases that could impact wildlife and human health as well as forestation in the region.
Located in the Southwest Bangladesh, the Sundarban forest is one of the largest continuous blocks of mangrove forests in the world. The portion of the forest located in Bangladesh is now in a precarious condition because of primarily anthropogenic factors. The overexploitation of natural resources has caused severe damage to the ecosystem. A growing human population with few alternative livelihood opportunities poses a serious threat to this delicate natural treasure. The rapidly expanding shrimp farming industry, illegal deforestation, poaching of wildlife, and other forms of encroachment have already resulted in substantial loss of biodiversity in this area and the deterioration continues at an alarming rate.
Yet another concern is the size of the proposed plant. Given the population density of Bangladesh, a power plant that generates 1,320 MW poses substantial environmental risks to the millions of area residents. The power plant is huge, compared to the recent collaboration between India and Sri Lanka for a significantly smaller 500 MW gas-powered project.
Reports have found that the power plant does not meet the minimum environmental and social standards established by the Equator Principles and the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards. As a result, several French banks have refused to finance this project.
Another concern is that the Indian state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), which has a long history of relying on fossil fuels, is now turning its attention to renewable energy sources within India, even as it chooses to support this coal-fired project outside its borders.
It would seem none of these factors – location, energy source, size, potential risk to humans and to the delicate biosystem - were taken into account when the Rampal power plant was conceived. There were neither consultations with Bangladeshi experts, nor any open discussion in the parliament, or in the media, before the authorities decided upon this environmentally-sensitive project with high risk to humans and natural resources.
It is notable that there is considerable controversy and resistance to the project within the various government agencies. The Planning Commission, Ministry of Environment & Forests, and Ministry of Shipping have all opposed this project. Nonetheless, Bangladesh’s Power Development Board (PDB) is moving forward with the current plan with the acquiescence and patronage of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. This is very much a hastily made political decision, which is unlikely to result in the best interests of the nation.
The project is to be owned 50:50 between the two countries, and will enjoy a 15-year tax holiday in Bangladesh. Only 30% of the initial investment is being shared, the remainder will be funded with loans from NTPC. The Indian state-owned enterprise will also operate as an independent power company, selling power to the PDB in Bangladesh. In these deliberations, there are no provisions to ensure that the NTPC, a foreign company, will necessarily act in the best interests of the environment in Bangladesh, or provide electricity to Bangladeshi consumers in Bangladesh at an affordable rate.
Bangladesh Development Initiative (BDI) is committed to the development of Bangladesh, especially inclusive and sustainable development. It firmly supports development that is environment friendly. In this case, as a nation, we must protect and conserve what little remains of the biodiversity of the Sundarbans. The undersigned members of the BDI fervently appeal to the Government of Bangladesh to immediately abandon the Rampal Project as planned. We urge the government to direct its energies in renewal energy sources, and sustainable technologies that are friendly to the people and environment of Bangladesh.
Dr. Munir Quddus, President
Dr. Rahim Quazi, Vice President
Dr. Ashraf Ali, Treasurer
Dr. Farida Khan, Secretary
Dr. Ahrar Ahmad, Executive Member
Dr. Muhammad Faizul Islam, Executive Member
Dr. Sukomal Modak, Executive Member
Mr. Waziuddin Saud Chowdhury, Member
Dr. Akhlaque Haque, Member
Dr. Adnan Morshed, Member
Dr. Navine Murshid, Member
Dr. Elora Shehabuddin, Member
BDI is a non-profit corporation promoting socio-economic development in Bangladesh.