In the last week of November 2016, I was in Bangladesh to attend a long march organised by people’s movements against coal, demanding to stop the construction of the 1,320MW Rampal coal plant in Sundarbans.
The India-backed Rampal coal plant is being built on the edge of the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Asia’s largest mangrove forest.
The coal plant poses a major threat to the mangroves and to millions of people who depend on the Sundarbans for their mere survival.
Named as The Maitree Super Thermal Power Project, the Rampal power station is a joint venture between Bangladesh’s Power Development Board (PDB) and India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).
As an Indian, I wonder, what kind of friendship is this, built on the power of a destructive coal plant? I would love a friendship built on the power of renewable energy.
Can’t India help build a solar power station?
A solar plant that will not cause harm and will not destroy the Sundarbans? It would be a true act of friendship, especially with NTPC already on its way to become the largest solar power generator in India by 2030.
Bangladesh needs to have a closer look at NTPC’s long-standing problems in India, especially with regard to several of its projects being denied environmental clearance, human rights problems in mines operated by it, and lastly, its contribution to air pollution.
NTPC’s record in India
In 2010, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forest denied clearance to NTPC’s 261-MW Rupsiabagar-Khasiyabara hydro-electric project in the Pithoragarh district, stating that it would be built on a highly ecologically sensitive wildlife habitat.
In 2015, India’s National Green Tribunal denied clearance to NTPC’S proposed 2,640MW coal plant in Madhya Pradesh due to its close proximity to Panna tiger reserve.
Now the question that comes to mind is, is NTPC pushing the destructive Rampal coal plant on the Sundarbans because environmental laws in Bangladesh are not as strong as those in India?
A coal plant operated by one of India’s worst public sector companies will spell disaster, not only for the Sundarbans’ environment but for the entire people of Bangladesh
NTPC’s fly-ash problem in its Badarpur plant in Delhi
The fly-ash pond in NTPC-owned Badarpur plant spreads over 900 acres. Experts have pointed a finger to this fly ash being a major factor to Delhi’s polluted air. In November 2016, the plant was closed down for four days as Delhi’s pollution level hit an all time low.
“Despite using water sprinklers and planting thousands of Ipomoea plants, there is no way to stop fly-ash from being airborne, especially during dust storms,” conceded an official of NTPC. At present, there are approximately 25 million metric tonnes of fly ash in the pond.
Human rights violations in NTPC-operated coal mines and coal plant projects
An Amnesty India report published in October 2016 pointed at NTPC and its private partners in the Pakri Barwadih mine in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand for undertaking operations without adequately consulting affected indigenous communities.
Since 2010, when the project was announced, the area has witnessed many protests against the NTPC project.
The corporation already forcibly acquired 3,260 hectares of land, out of almost 7,000 required for the project. The majority of the people who lost their land have been protesting to reclaim their ancestral land.
People have demanded fair monetary compensation for their loss, as well as employment and proper rehabilitation in accordance to Indian law, which mandates that the company have people resettled in an alternate, adequate habitat.
However, most of these issues remain yet to be addressed by the company and the public administration. On the morning of October 1, 2016, four people were shot dead during a protest against the NTPC-operated mine, and more than 40 were injured.
All the above facts lead to one conclusion that a coal plant operated by one of India’s worst public sector companies will spell disaster, not only for the Sundarbans’ environment but for the entire people of Bangladesh.
Instead, Bangladesh would do better if it ditched coal once and for all and ramped up its deployment of solar home systems, in which the country is already a major player in South Asia.
Shibayan Raha is an environmental activist in India.