At the last meeting of the World Heritage Committee in 2019, it was recommended to stop work of Rampal Power Plant. They also demanded the closure of the Payra Power Plant at Kalapara in Patuakhali. After that meeting, work is underway to set up another new power plant at Taltoli in Barguna. The Reactive Monitoring Mission considers all the three power plants as risky for the Sundarbans.
UNESCO called for the formation of an expert committee to monitor the impact of industries located along the Sundarbans as a condition for the preservation of world heritage. Although the government has formed a committee, the organisation has questioned its neutrality. Most of the members of this committee are former bureaucrats of the ministry.
"We have taken a number of steps to comply with UNESCO's requirements. If those who we have put in the expert committee are not neutral, then UNESCO should select neutral members for us," said the director general of the power cell, which is in charge of coordinating the power plants.
The issue will not be resolved this way. The matter has to be settled with UNESCO. The mission not only raised objections about building industries around the Sundarbans, but also urged to ensure the supply of fresh water to protect the Sundarbans. The meeting at the highest level of Bangladesh and India called for the formation of a joint task force to protect the Sundarbans. It never took place though.
Stakeholders need to keep in mind that environmental issues are inextricably linked. If we want to save the forest, we also have to save the rivers. India is the source of most of our rivers. Therefore, India's cooperation is essential to ensure the flow of water in the Sundarbans.
The declaration of the Sundarbans as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997 was a matter of great joy and pride for Bangladesh. Although this forest is located along the coast of Bangladesh and West Bengal of India, the larger part of it is in Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh want the Sundarbans to survive as part of the world heritage. We cannot lose this glory because of the stubbornness of any individual or group. Integrated and sustainable measures are needed to protect it.