Rampal power plant project defies UNESCO

Iftekhar Mahmud | Update:

Experimental piling for Rampal coal-fired power plant construction. Photo: CollectedThe government is implementing the Rampal power plant project in defiance of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

However, progress is very slow. Only three and half per cent of the project has been implemented so far.

UNESCO's World Heritage Centre recently responded over e-mail to questions of Prothom Alo.

The director's office of the centre said factories and infrastructure including Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans couldn't be constructed before carrying out the survey of Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) on the southwest region including the Sundarbans.  In July, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO at its 41th meeting conveyed this decision to the government of Bangladesh.

Contradicting the heritage committee decision, energy adviser to the prime minister Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury at a press conference in July said the UNESCO had withdrawn its objection on Rampal power plant project.

On 7 July, the foreign ministry in a press release also said UNECSO had withdrawn its objection on Rampal.

However, the National Committee to Protect the Sundarbans and National Committee to Protect Oil Gas Mineral Resources Power and Ports at a press conference at that time said UNESCO had not withdrawn its objection on the Rampal power plant.

Bangladesh power cell director general Mohammad Hossain, who attended the heritage committee meeting in Poland, said the implementation of Rampal project and SEA survey will go on simultaneously. If any recommendation comes from the survey, it would be included in the project, he added.

Convener of National Committee to Protect Oil Gas Mineral Resources Power and Ports professor Anu Muhammad said the implementation of Rampal power project will destroy the Sundarbans.

On 7 October, Prothom Alo through an e-mail asked UNESCO if it had withdrawn its objection on the Rampal power plant?  

Replying the e-mail on 9 October, chief of Asia Pacific unit of World Heritage Centre Feng Jing said the world heritage committee requested the Bangladesh government to ensure that no development project including Rampal  be implemented before the SEA survey.

When contacted, state minister for power and energy Nasrul Hamid declined to comment.

Despite repeated attempts at office and over cell phone, energy adviser to the prime minister Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury was not available for comment.

In 2009, Bangladesh and India jointly decided to construct a power plant in the southwest region of the country.

In 2010, a total of 930 acres of land were acquired to implement the project at Rampal of Bagerhat some 14 kilometers away from the Sundarbans, a World Heritage site declared by the UNESCO.

Earlier, it was estimated that the plant would start generating electricity in 2018.

But the Indian implementing agency told the government in September that generation would begin in September of 2020.

 *This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.             

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