Banshkhali power plant yet to get environmental clearance

Iftekhar Mahmud | Update:

The much-touted Banshkhali coal-fired power plant project has not yet obtained the clearance from the Department of Environment (DoE).

S Alam Group’s sister company SS Power Limited in collaboration with a Chinese company, SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corporation, struck a deal last year to set up the power plant in Gondamara of Banshkhali upazila, Chittagong, with a cost of Tk 240 crore.

As the S Alam Group has started acquiring lands for the project, the villagers protested against the coal-fired power plant, saying the coal-fired power plant will take a heavy toll on the environment and ecosystem in the area.

On 4 April, at least four villagers were shot dead and 20 others injured in a clash between the law enforcers and villagers who were demonstrating against the power plant.

Three types of clearance certifications are required to set up such a plant. This type of plant is considered a red-listed one in line with the Bangladesh Environment Protection Act 1995, suggesting that it is harmful for the environment.

According to the act, red listed projects need to get site clearance and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval before starting any infrastructural work. Environment clearance is needed before setting up any kind of machineries for the power plant.

S Alam Group executive director Subrata Kumar Bhoumik told Prothom Alo that they have already submitted the EIA report to get the clearance from the DoE and are also expecting to get the clearance soon, he added.

DoE officials said the environmental clearance committee will discuss the report of SS Power on 12 April to give approval of site clearance and EIA.

Alleging that SS power already started constructing pillars, deployed excavation machines for land development and also set up temporary tin-sheds to monitor and manage the work, the environmental organisations said one of the preconditions to setup such a power plant is it has to have support of the local people. The environmentalists think that the Banshkhali protest shows the locals do not support the project.

S Alam Group however said that four public hearings were held with the locals as part of preparing the EIA report of the project. There were enough people present at those public hearings who supported the project.

Ecologist and North South University ecology department’s professor Mizan R Khan said there is a restriction on any kind of construction work on the project site before EIA approval. The recent protest in Banshkhali proves that public support had not been garnered. He also suspected that the public hearing was false.

The DoE said Asia Energy got the clearance from DoE for the Phulbari coal project in 2005, during the BNP-Jamaat tenure. However, DoE cancelled the clearance of the Phulbari project in 2009. The DoE in this case said the protest in Phulbari proved that locals are not supporting the project.

Talking about Banshkhali power plant, state minister for power and energy Nasrul Hamid said this is a private project. The government only gave permission to S Alam Group to setup power plant. If they can setup the power plant and generate electricity, then government will buy the electricity from them, he said. The government is not related in any way with the project, he added.

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