How Not to Love Nature: Shove a Coal Plant Next to Earth’s Biggest Mangrove Forest

Smoke-belching behemoth near Bangladesh's Sundarbans National Park will threaten the home of Bengal tigers, river dolphins and other species

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Rafiqur Rahman / Reuters

Armed rangers patrol Bangladesh's Sundarbans forest, home to royal Bengal tigers, in an effort to protect the big cats from poachers

Man-eating tigers have long provided the best defense for Bangladesh’s Sundarbans National Park, the planet’s largest mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Each year between 20 to 50 people are recorded killed within the reserve’s shrinking boundaries (though guides say the unofficial toll could be much higher), striking fear into would-be poachers and anyone looking to carve out more turf in this small, overpopulated country. These days, however, environmentalists are alarmed by a more insidious threat to the park’s future: a massive 1,320-MW coal-fired power plant that’s due to be constructed just 14 km away, in the city of Rampal.

The government insists that the project, a joint venture with India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corp., is needed to bring affordable electricity to one of the poorest corners of Bangladesh amid rising demand and energy costs. But opponents counter that operating a coal plant so close to an ecologically critical area will devastate waterways and vegetation that support a range of extraordinary wildlife, from river dolphins to the iconic royal Bengal tiger. In a low-lying and already flood-prone country, there are additional fears that without the natural buffer the mangrove offers, people will be even more vulnerable to severe weather.

“No sane person in the world would agree to this project,” says Kallol Mustafa, an engineer and member of a newly formed protection committee.

To bolster their case, critics are quick to point to a coal-fired plant of similar size that was constructed in 1979 in Fayette, Texas, with pledges from authorities that damage would be negligible on the area’s agriculture. The authorities were wrong: in 2010, scientists reported that the roughly 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emitted by the plant each year was killing vegetation across the state, provoking a public outcry that has since pressured the Texas power authority into taking steps to shut the plant down. The proposed plant at Rampal, by comparison, is projected to discharge some 52,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually.

(MORE: Hell for Leather — Bangladesh’s Toxic Tanneries Ravage Lives and Environment)

Some broader concerns over projected emissions were acknowledged in a government-sponsored impact assessment published in January. But the report classified the region as “residential and rural” rather than ecologically critical, lowering the bar for emission levels deemed permissible by the state’s Ministry of Environment and Forest. Critics say this decision has been compounded by lack of transparency on fundamental questions surrounding the project, such as who will ultimately benefit from the power that is generated, and how waste and processed water would be treated to reduce pollution.

At the same time, there is anger over neighboring India’s willingness to help bankroll an environmentally dubious power project in Bangladesh after falling short at home. In recent years, India, which is home to about a third of the Sundarbans forest, has seen two major coal power plants halted in the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh because of more strictly enforced legal barriers and large protests. “It is hypocrisy. They were stopped in their own country so they are violating the law in other countries,” says Moshahida Sultana Ritu, an economist at the University of Dhaka.

Azizur Rahman, the Rampal project’s first director and now a government consultant, dismisses the notion that national laws have been flouted for political reasons. He says oil- and gas-powered electricity is simply too costly, leaving no alternative to coal for future energy security, and insists “there is no [outside] pressure — the Indian government follows its own guidelines, and we follow ours.” A team of experts approved the project after thorough tests, and details of their findings and the terms of the agreement are available to anyone who formally requests them, he says. “We must control all the pollution, in keeping with the standards of Bangladesh.”

(MORE: Bangladesh’s Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Hero of the Environment)

Yet given Bangladesh’s lackluster environmental record, there are plenty of skeptics. Designated water sanctuaries are threatened by rampant shipping, and — according to a recent study by the Dhaka-based Soil Resource Development Institute — logging, shrimp farming and other forms of human encroachment have shrunk the forest by nearly 50,000 hectares over the past decade. Meanwhile, the government has approved a shipbreaking yard on the river that forms the Sundarbans’ eastern border, effectively book-ending the forest with industrial projects. For a troubling preview of what may be coming, environmentalists cite the coastal yards near Chittagong, where toxic runoff from beached supertankers continues to poison local communities.

This week, protesters are making a 400-km march from Dhaka to Rampal in a bid to draw greater attention to what’s at stake. Abdullah Abu Diyan, a conservationist and veteran guide whose uncle founded the first Sundarbans tour company back in the 1970s, says despite the enthusiasm many people have for the reserve — born out by a steady rise in domestic tourism — there’s still a general lack of awareness over the reserve’s role as a protective barrier and environmental asset in a haphazardly developing country.

“It’s the only patch of forest left in Bangladesh that you can truly call a forest,” he says. “If it goes, we will have generation after generation that will not care after the environment because you only care about things that you can touch, feel and love.”

MORE: Last Chance to Save the Wild Tiger

39 comments
IndranilSaha
IndranilSaha

Though there are some technical differences with the views of the article, thanks a ton for bringing up the issue in global public domain. Please note that though NTPC is a partner and executor of this project, there is a protest launched by us, the Indian people. The Avaaz petition which has got 10K+ support in one week itself, was launched by Indian citizens. We tried to deliver the same to NTPC on 27th September as a mark of solidarity towards the people of BD fighting this monster. NTPC Kolkata has refused to accept it. The news is hardly covered in media and I just wanted to ensure people in BD can hear our voice loud enough.

Sign the avaaz petition, we want to fight an undemocratic, illegal decision democratically.
 
https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Save_Sundarbans_Stop_Rampal/    

krisoks
krisoks

This must be an smart decision and action of a highly intelligent and powerful, greedy for self (person, Organisation, family, NGOs, state) centered syndicate. The group and the effort of destroying the Sundarbans part in Bangladesh must be damned by the fool group- those believe really that it is not wise to do the destruction. International communities must lend hands to the people's power- as they remain the last resort of Humanity. 

Fugstarnagar
Fugstarnagar

@tunkuv a government covering up massacres isnt exactly going to have a kindly relation to nonhuman creation

AvijitSharker
AvijitSharker

We the people have to stop building this thermal power plant. If don't, rapidly Bangladesh as well as the world will suffer for global warming.

The Sundarban keeps us alive. It is high time to stop the plant.

Daniel Christopher Holt
Daniel Christopher Holt

But won't the humans starve to death without those jobs, what about the human species?

Sri Bayu
Sri Bayu

Sunderbans ecosystem, make way for "'progress".

Shahinur Akter
Shahinur Akter

Bangladesh’s Sundarbans National Park, the planet’s largest mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage site..........

sweptinrain
sweptinrain

this is one of the many beautiful gifts that hegemonistic India so far offered to one of its smaller neighbors and it has been graciously accepted by India's puppet government currently sitting in power despite people's serious apprehension that the nature's most beautiful gift to Bangladesh - the Sundarbans - is on the verge of extinction. what else can we, the hapless people of Bangladesh, do other than looking forward to interventions from leading environmental campaigners of the globe to rescue us from this imminent debacle for our beloved country. however thank you TIME for your timely escalation of this gravely concerning issue for Bangladesh and its people.

Rubina Ahmed
Rubina Ahmed

Its digital media...is that your focus? Where TIME is? such flimsy thoughts!

navneet25
navneet25

@TIME @TIMEWorld After you post these articles do you just learn to forget? Action would be cool if you have an opinion

Kaushik Reddy
Kaushik Reddy

East Hyderabad – The Next Hub for IT/ITES Growth It is no longer Madhapur! A lot of activity is happening in the East side of the city – Pocharam, Uppal, Adibatla, etc. For many of the IT/ITES companies, it is the new destination. Infosys has its new branch at Pocharam presently with an employee strength of 6,500, which is expected to become a team of 45,000 – largest in the country. IBM, TCS, Genpact, Cognizant and many more companies are moving to East. Why many of the big players are eyeing East parts of the city? What are the issues with other parts of the city or what is so good about East? Let us see in this article. West West part of the city, i.e., Hitech city and other parts in and around the outer ring road are already developed. There is no scope for further development, as any kind of expansions will affect the Osman Sagar and Himayath Sagar catchment areas. This will lead to problem for drinking water and ground water levels. Further, even if any kind of expansion is forced, it will have to move out of the ORR, which becomes too far from the city. This will lead to long commute, increased congestion, traffic and pollution. North Most parts in the North come under cantonment area and SCR (South Central Railway). Major part is military area, in which all the development and maintenance works are carried out by army. Some of the areas and roads are highly restricted for entry of general public. There are many toll gates and check points, which may obstruct the ease of traffic. Population in this region is increasing, but not the road connectivity. Mostly two lane roads, though lot of open land is present on both sides. South Not much modern life is seen when compared to other parts of the city. There are no new organized offices or positive developments (political, social and business) seen in this area since years. Low pass percentage in education, as majority of the population is below poverty line. This area is also susceptible to communal violence. Curfews are imposed unexpectedly, which affect the day-to-day life, transportation and pose threat to employees. East There is a huge development in this area as it has great potential to be a good residential as well as business center. With lot of city and migrant population settling in areas like A.S.Rao Nagar, RK Puram, ECIL, there is lot of scope to track the immigrant population. Locational advantages of East Hyderabad Good local talent: Nearly 40 to 50 lakh city populations under the age of 25 years reside here, and are actively looking for jobs. Probability of availability of talented individuals is more in these areas due to presence of good institutions Hundreds of good schools and colleges are already established – HPS, Little Flower, St. Anns, Kendriya Vidyalaya, etc. Lot of engineering, pharmacy and management colleges – OU, CVR, Aurora, Srinidhi, etc. Youth coming form well educated and social family backgrounds are present. The population here is well connected with city’s cosmopolitan culture. Hence, they make up for the quality human resources. Easy and convenient commute Easy to reach from center of the city – 20 min from Sec’bad/Nallakunta/Begumpet; 30 min from Himayathnagar/Narayanguda/Abids Direct road connecting A.S.Rao Nagar to Secunderabad Inner ring road – one of the widest roads in the city Close to outer ring road & International airport – 45 min from Uppal Ring Road 2 highways passing through it – 202 (Hyderabad to Chattisgarh) – 6 Lane highway & NH9 (Pune to Machilipatnam) Good rail and road network – makes it easy to commute – has metro rail line passing through Habsiguda, Uppal and Nagole with major terminal at Uppal and L.B.Nagar Good living environment and facilities You can find a good number of residential colonies. Areas like Hubsiguda, Tarnaka, Ramanthapur, A.S. Rao Nagar and Uppal have well organized colonies Good social environment – lot of state and central govt. employees live in ECIL, A.S.Rao Nagar and Uppal Close to good neighborhoods – Secunderabad, Mettuguda, Marredpally, Sainikpuri, etc. People here are well educated, have cosmopolitan outlook, have social and cultural values and are pure urbanites (living in the city since years) Access to good number of city clubs – Nizam Club, Hyderabad Boats Club, Deccan Club Easy to get domestic help. This makes it easy to manage life, as few villages surrounding these areas have people willing to serve as house-maids High level of ground water, as Musi flows from West to East Shopping complexes and vegetable markets within 15 min reach of residential colonies Hospitals in 15 to 20 min reach – Kamineni, Gandhi, etc. Commercial establishments With Uppal Industrial Development Area (IDA) and many other state and central govt. establishments like ECIL, IICT, CCMB, ATI-EPI, NFL, BPCL & IBP, FCI, L&T ECC Infrastructure, Ashok Leyland, HPCL, HEL (Hindustan Electricals Ltd.), Doordarshan, NIN, NGRI, Survey of India, Tata Institute, GSI, etc. in place since many years, East Hyderabad is not new to industrial development. Rather it has much organized planning for industrial development, when compared to Western Hyderabad. Genpact already has a big office at Uppal. List of upcoming and notified SEZs There are many SEZ’s that are notified in the east Hyderabad. Few areas with high number of notified SEZs are – Uppal, Adibatla, Pocharam village and Narapally. Some of the major upcoming organizations in this area in next few years are: Infosys, Pocharam IBM Center TCS, Adibatla Tata Aero Space, Adibatla Mind Space, Pocharam Genpact India Business Processing Pvt. Ltd., Shameerpet Cognizant Technology Solutions, Pvt. Ltd., Adibatla East Hyderabad has been one of the greatly neglected areas in the city. This is high time the upcoming IT/ITES companies realize and capture the huge potential that this area offers. Further, this part has more advantages than the West Hyderabad, mainly in terms of good quality human resource – key for the strategic development of good, professional organizations.

MohammadRuhulAmin
MohammadRuhulAmin

Don't know how UNSCO can help to stop the Thermal plant project, but we need to stop the thermal power plant near Sundarbans of Bangladesh to save this invaluable natural resources of the world.  

Titik G Gieel
Titik G Gieel

what's in Hong kong? this all location map are fake