Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Concerned Citizens and Fish Workers of West Bengal Protest Rampal Thermal Power Plant

On June 23rd 2016 around 70 social activists, representatives from fish workers’ organisations, scientists, environmental workers and concerned citizens assembled in the seminar hall of Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata to register their protest to the Rampal Thermal Power Plant being constructed on the fringe of Sundarban in Bangladesh with Indian support.
The protest meeting was jointly convened by NAPM (West Bengal), Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum (DMF), Sabuj Mancha, Nagarik Mancha, Manthan and DISHA.
Inline image 1
Anu Mohammad, veteran leader of the National Committee for protection of Oil, Gas, Minerals, Electricity and Ports of Bangladesh was the main speaker. Soumya Dutta, eminent activist of science movement and Jai Sharda, economist were co-speakers. Naba Datta, well known social activist, conducted the proceedings.
The meeting started with welcome address by Dr. Samar Bagchi. Dr. Bagchi stressed on the need to evonve an alternative paradigm for development that would save the natural resources from destruction and the society from irreparable degradation of air, water and soil. He derided the insane plan to build up a thermal power plant just on the fringe of Sundarban mangrove forest.
Dr. Sujoy Basu, ex Head of the Department, Energy Studies, Jadavpur University spoke of the banality of thermal power plant at Rampal and the continued impact it would have on the fragile ecosystem of Sundarban. He urged for united protest of the people of both India and Bangladesh.
Inline image 8
Pradip Chatterjee, President, Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum (DMF) said that people of the Indian Sundarban share the same eco-system with the people of Sundarban of Bangladesh. A thermal power plant at Rampal means added impact on the ecosystem entailing further destruction of mangroves, pollution of air and water and eventually further decrease in the stock of fish in the waters of Sundarban. And this is going to hit the fishing communities directly. He also pointed out the grave risk involved with the international navigation channel from India to West Bengal that passes right through the Sundarban. Oil, coal and fly ash spills are recurrent. He said that Indian citizens have a greater responsibility to oppose the Rampal project as NTPC, an Indian PSU, is building the project. He mentioned the objections and protests made by Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum to Government of India and International Fora in the matter.
Soumya Datta mentioned that actually the Government of India is involved in four major ways in the project – while NTPC is building it, BHEL is supplying it with the plant, finance i is looked after by EXIM Bank of India and the supply of coal will also be provided by India. He stressed the need to build up strong popular movement against the Rampal thermal power plant. He suggested the demand for a separate environment impact assessment by an independent agency. He also mentioned that the project is going to subject Bangladesh to absolute dependence on India. He criticised the Inland Water Transport authorities for having the international navigation channel right through the Sundarban forests. Mr. Datta highlighted the scope of building up peoples’ solidarity of the two countries in the movement against Rampal project.
Jai Sharda spoke on the economic non-viability of the project. He laid bare the highly subsidised nature of funding and concluded that the subsidies are going to be paid by peoples’ money. He also warned that since the Indian Exim Bank collects fund from foreign sources, funding such an environmentally disastrous project may result in shutting off the foreign funding sources.
Main speaker of the evening, eminent environmental and social activist from Bangladesh Anu Mohammad narrated the whole story of Rampal Thermal Power Plant that lies within 14 kilometres of the Sundarban forest and within 4 kilometres of the Eco Conservation Area. He said that the area acquired for the purpose, as many areas of Sundarban, was not a thickly populated one . The people who resided in the acquired area were forced out. Others living just outside did not feel the danger. They will get a taste of the peril once the plant starts functioning. He submitted that the huge area acquired is much above the actual requirement and as such the hidden plan was to accommodate other projects. And it is now apparent as Orion, a private sector company, has now come up to build another power plant of the same capacity there.
Anu Mohammad cited the case of Banshkhali in Bangladesh where a Thermal Power Plant, proposed to be built with Chinese assistance, has been stopped due to peoples’ resistance. He warned that if such a harmful project as Rampal is built with Indian assistance then it may result in developing mistrust between the two countries. As such, the joint struggle of the people of two countries against this dangerous project would develop the bond and friendship between the two peoples.
He also mentioned the absolute unreasonable position of the Bangladesh authorities in proposing and taking forward the project. Even the intellectuals who support the present Government of Bangladesh are not supporting Rampal project – he said.
Inline image 9 Inline image 10 Inline image 11
In the end, he said that every crisis brings forth an opportunity. The proposed Rampal power plant has presented us with an opportunity to go to the people and make them aware of the dangers involved in such projects as well as the need and possibilities to have alternatives. He urged the house to build up a strong campaign on the issue and join their efforts with the protesting people of Bangladesh. He suggested public awareness meetings both in and outside Sundarban, media sensitisation through statements and write-ups, utilisation of social media and a Kolkata – Sundarban – Dhaka Long March in protest of the Rampal project.
There was a brief discussion session in which speakers like environmental journalist and activist Jayanta Basu, Pradip Datta, Sasanka Dev and others took part.
In the end the house resolved to launch an e-signature campaign in protest of the Rampal project and also to take up other forms of citizens’ protest in future through further course of consultations.