Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Scrap the Rampal Agreement | Save the Sundarbans.

Scrap all agreements that are destructive for the Sundarbans and for the country and implement the 7-point demand for resolving the power crisis

Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Published prior to a procession towards the Prime Minister’s Office, Dhaka, Bangladesh. July 28, 2016

Honorable Prime Minister,

You have mentioned on various occasions that a coal-based power plant adjacent to the Sundarbans will not cause any damage. For your information we are presenting below a summary of our findings from our experiences across various countries and based on research and scientific analysis.

(1) At a coal-based power plant burning 47 lakh 20 thousand tons of coal in a year produces 7 lakh 50 thousand tons of fly ash and 2 lakh tons of bottom ash. This fly ash, bottom ash, concentrated liquid ash or slurry etc. causes massive environmental damage because it contains arsenic and other heavy metals like mercury, lead, nickel, vanadium, beryllium, barium, cadmium, chromium, selenium and radium. As a result, the flora and fauna of the Sundarbans including many lives and the ecosystem will be faced with terrible harm. (2) The poisonous sulphur and nitrogen from the coal power plant will react with the oxide gas emission and the lives of human beings, vegetation, and animals will be endangered. (3) While transporting imported coal, building materials and machinery through the waterways of the Sundarbans throughout the four and a half years that the power plant would be constructed there would be further vessel traffic, oil spillage, sound pollution, light, garbage spillage, dredging etc. which will create further disaster. Coal vessels that will be used to transport imported coal for the power plant from one end of the Sundarbans to the other will discharge solid and liquid waste, sound pollution from the vessel, waves caused by the ship, light from the searchlight, pollution caused by loading and unloading the coal will cause immense damage to the essential environment of the Sundarbans. (4) The turbines of the coal power plant, generators, compressors, pumps, and machinery used for carrying the coal back and forth, and transport the coal will cause terrible sound pollution. (5) The polluted water discharged from the coal power plant and other solid and liquid waste will contaminate the river and adjoining canals of the Sundarbans. Those rivers that are the lifeblood of the Sundarbans will be in a worse condition than the Buriganga. Therefore, it will not be possible to save the Sundarbans.

Honorable Prime Minister,

The Indian Environment Ministry’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) guidelines 2010 of the same country whose National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) wishes to construct the power plant clears articulates that construction of any thermal power plants must be avoided within 25kms of any towns, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, reserved forests, environmentally sensitive areas etc. In other words, the power plants that the various Indian organizations are together building in the Sundarbans is actually illegal under Indian law. As a result of which the alert people of India are also rising and gradually becoming vocal against this.

The fact that the 14km distance is by no means a safe distance becomes clear when we investigate the experience of an American coal power plant. In 1979-80 during the construction of a 1230 megawatt power plant at Fayette County in Texas, USA the local people were given reassurance. By the time the pecan (a type of hard nut, like cashew nuts) trees started to die away one after the other it was already too late. Between the year 1980 and 2010 poisonous gases discharged from the Fayette coal-based power plant, especially from the poisonous sulphur dioxide pecan, elm and various other species of trees were affected, many pecan gardens were destroyed and this impact had even reached 48kms from the power plant.

Honorable Prime Minister,

Many of your officers have stated that ‘super critical technology’ would be used to produce electricity in Rampal and so there would be no damage to the Sundarbans.

We would hereby like to inform you that according to thermal efficiency there are three types of coal-based power plants – sub critical, super critical and ultra-super critical. A sub critical coal power plant discharges more carbon dioxide, sulphur and nitrogen dioxide, mercury, lead, arsenic -filled poisonous ash etc. than a super critical coal power plant. Only eight to 10 percent reduction in pollution will be achieved by using super critical technology instead of sub critical technology, which is only a marginal reduction in the terrible damage. Another crucial issue is that no matter what technology is used there will be pollution from transportation of coal through Sundarban, in order to keep the power plant cool water will have to be taken from the adjoining Poshur River and waste discarded into it, as a result pollution in the Sundarbans’ Poshur River will be worse than Dhaka’s Buriganga River – sound pollution, water pollution, light pollution etc. are inevitable.

Honorable Prime Minister,

People from the Company and the ministry often claim that a 275-metre-long chimney would be used at the power plant, which will not cause any pollution. And that if a wind blows from the north to the south, in other words, from the power plant to the Sundarbans, for three months a year, it will cause no harm to the Sundarbans.

Firstly, the amount of pollution does not decrease as a result of the height of the chimney, and the pollutants don’t fly away into outer space. If there are strong winds, the pollutants will be carried further away from the power plant and if the wind is weak the air close to the power plant will be polluted. Secondly, according to the government environmental impact assessment, it is not three months but four months from November to February that the wind will be going from north to north-east towards the Sundarbans. These four months are enough to put the Sundarbans in danger. In addition, through tornadoes, storms etc. many things can cause the winds to be directed towards the Sundarbans throughout the rest of the year. Thirdly, for the rest of the eight months the poisonous gases will be blowing from south to north, in other words, it will be blowing from the coal power plant to Khulna-Bagerhat town which will be dangerous for communities of Khulna-Bagerhat. Khulna-Bagerhat has fallen within the danger zone of the power plant. Fourthly, pollution from the coal power plant is not only in the form of air pollution, coal power plants also cause water pollution, noise pollution, ash pollution, pollution caused by transportation of coal which will take place throughout the year and which has no relation to the wind.

Honorable Prime Minister,

You have said many times that the Boropukuria coal power plant is not causing any environmental pollution, then why should there be any pollution from the Rampal power plant? Some time age you also said that coal is used to purify water, so how will this cause any harm?

Although you are surrounded by a lot of degree-holders, it is clear from this that you are being misled by wrong information in order to serve the interests of a few vested interest groups from home and abroad. In reality if anyone visits the Boropukuria power plant they will be able to clearly see the example of dangerous environmental damage. The cultivable land around the power plant has in fact turned black from the coal pollution, the level of the water below the ground has gone down, the ash from the power plant used to fill up the pond is causing ash pollution, crops and fish are affected by the poison. Secondly, a comparison between the Boropukuria power plant and the proposed Rampal power plant is not correct. The Boropukuria project is on a small-scale and there are no sensitive world heritage forests like the Sundarbans next to Boropukuria. The production capacity of the Boropukuria power plant is only 250 megawatts and in practice only one 125-megawatt unit is operational. On the other hand, the production capacity of the Rampal power plant is 1320 megawatts which is 10 times bigger than Boropukuria. As a result, the damage caused by the Rampal power plant will be much more damaging than the damage caused by the Boropukuria power plant. Thirdly, your advisers have not explained to you the difference between wood coal and mineral coal. The Sundarbans is being held hostage at the hands of these people, this a cause for grave concern for us.

Honorable Prime Minister,

Government sources have stated that the ash produced from the power plant will not disperse through the air and this ash would be used effectively in cement factories, road construction etc.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) itself acknowledges that ‘some fly ash’ would get into the air. In addition, 1414 acres of the 1834 acres of land that has been acquired for the power plant has been allocated for filling up with the poisonous ash that has been assured would not be discharged into the environment. If the land is filled up with the ash in this manner then the arsenic, mercury, lead etc. poisonous heavy metals contained in the ash would blend with the rainwater and this will seep down in to the ground and pollute the water below the ground and above the ground which will cause destruction to the Sundarbans.

What is being said about the appropriate handling of the ash is nothing but false assurance. Only 300 metric tonnes of waste ash are produced from the Boropukuria power plant. These are heaped together in an ash pond causing environmental damage. During the four years from 2006 to 2010 2 lakh 60 thousand 613 tons of ash have accumulated in the pond which has almost entirely filled up the pond. For the Rampal power plant as well 100 acres of ash pond near the Poshur River is part of the plan. The accumulated ash from the ash pond flies away into the air, the ash-combined water containing poisonous, heavy metals seeps into the soil below and the nearby rivers and swamps and causes deadly pollution.

A delegation of the national committee carried out a field visit to India to find out how ash from the NTPC’s large coal-based power plant is endangering the water and food production in the extensive area. Because Bangladesh is a country of water and fertile land, and because the Sundarbans is next to the area under discussion, the level of damage will be a few times more.

Honorable Prime Minister,

The ministry has stated that many ships navigate through the Poshur River no matter what. So what is so problematic about the passage of coal-filled ships through it? In addition to this, the coal-filled ship will be completely covered during transportation, so how will this cause damage to the environment?

The ships that navigate through the Sundarbans now are comparatively small in size, their capacity is a few hundred tons. Destruction of the Sundarbans has already started as a result of those. Experts have said that long-term, immeasurable damage has already been caused by a number of accidents involving coal and oil tankers. Even you have asked earlier for a stop to the transportation of ships through this route. The eastern part of the Sundarbans has started to become lifeless as a result of the ships navigating through the waterways of the Sundarbans. Nearly 150 large vessels navigate through the forest everyday. The waves from these vessels, the expelled waste oil and noise pollution has caused the erosion of the river banks on both sides. Trees, plants, have started to die. As a result of all this the forest’s biodiversity is already under threat.

If this happens as a result of the navigation of normal boats then one shudders to think what could happen when a polluting, coal-laden, large vessel navigates through or sinks in the Sundarbans on a regular basis. In addition, no matter how well the coal is covered during transportation and no matter how much the speed of the ship remains under control it will not be possible to control damaging effects of the coal poisonous bilge water that will trickle down from the coal-heap, the pollution that will result from the loading and unlading of the coal at the anchorage point, the coal powder, the garbage expelled from the ships, the sound from navigation of the ships, waves, the intense light from the ships’ searchlights, and the poisonous sulphur and nitrogen gas emanated from the ships’ engines.

Honorable Prime Minister,

You, along with the officials of the company, have said that there are coal-based stations in cities in different parts of the world including in Oxford and they do not cause any harm. Why should this be any different?

The fact is that a coal-based power plant by the name of Didcot was constructed in Oxford in 1970 when the level of awareness of the pollution caused the coal power plants was not at the level it is today. But when there was heightened awareness about pollution caused by coal power plants and followed by a movement against it the power plant at Oxford was closed down in March 2013. Apart from the one in Oxford, people can inquire about any of the coal power plants that are mentioned and they will know what effects these power plants are having on people and nature. Thousands of people have suffered from lung diseases that was caused by the Mae Moh coal power plant in Thailand that was constructed in the 1990s, it caused damage to the crop yield to the agricultural region around it and the swamps around it have been polluted with arsenic, chromium and manganese. At Vietnam’s Quang Ninh coal power plant a large amount of coal was washed away into the Dien Vong River during floods and storms which has caused massive pollution. Because of this and a few other power plants, Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, has suffered from heavy pollution. No matter how it looks on picture, Taiwan’s Taichung coal power plant is known to be one of the most polluting coal power plants in the world. Because of this coal power plant, the pollution inside Taiwan and the southern areas has gone up so much that at one point under pressure from a movement against it the authorities were forced to reduce its level of production. It is s yet technologically impossible to have a coal power plant and prevent water and air pollution around it and not cause harm to people and the habitat. We hope you will not be misled by shiny photographs of power plants.

Honorable Prime Minister,

You will surely admit that the Sundarbans is an invaluable resource for Bangladesh. We can build anything from a needle to a rocket but we will not be able to create another Sundarbans with all its extraordinary biodiversity that has received recognition as a world heritage. The Sundarbans is a source of immense wealth for us. The Sundarbans provides employment to hundreds of thousands of people, and as a reservoir of extraordinary biodiversity it is enriching for all our lives. As a natural protection against natural disasters this forest is the last resort for millions of people in the coastal areas. This forest is the principal strength for fighting climate change for Bangladesh. That is why we repeatedly say there are many alternatives to power generation but there are no alternatives to the Sundarbans. Today it is not sufficient to merely preserve it, but it is also necessary to take all measures for its expansion.

Honorable Prime Minister,

All signs show that people from all over the country are against this project. If you have any doubts about it, then please go for a referendum. If everyone gets the opportunity to express their opinion on this and exercise their voting rights, then we are confident that 99 percent of the people will vote against this project.

Propaganda documents circulated by the ministry have insisted that since you have received the Champion of the Earth award and so it should not be possible for you to carry out an environmentally destructive project. We say the same. And that is why we request that you immediately scrap this project that is surely going to destroy the Sundarbans. We do not want you to be known in history as someone who was environmentally destructive. You may very well ask then how will it be possible to solve the electricity problem?

Therefore, for your information, we are proposing seven alternatives before you. If necessary, we can discuss details of these proposals with you. Instead of the company or greedy national and international interest groups, if you consider the opinions of the national and international independent experts, if you give priority to the interest of the common people of the country, if you give importance to public opinion then you will surely agree with us that instead of having the destructive Rampal in the Sundarbans, or the high loan and risk involved with the dangerous Rooppur nuclear power plant, or the dead bodies of Banshkhali, the seven points recommended by the National Committee will bring about a lasting solution to the energy problem. Through these measures it will be possible to maintain continuous power supply cheaply and safely and ensure sustainable development.

 

Seven demands by the National Committee 2016

  1. Full public ownership should be ensured over all natural resources including gas, oil and coal. All mineral resources should be preserved for the interest of the people and necessary guideline and expertise should be developed to ensure that. A comprehensive energy policy should be formulated with the best possible mix of renewable and non-renewable energy by keeping the interest of the people and the environment. In order to develop national expertise there needs to be more departments at the university level and various research institutions. Overseas Bangladeshi experts should also be involved in this.
  2. Immediately repeal the Indemnity Act which is used as shield to protect corruption and actions against national interest. A law should be passed to prohibit export of mineral resources. Privatization of energy and power sector should be stopped.
  3. All projects including Rampal and Orion which are destructive for the Sundarbans needs to be cancelled. In order to prevent erosion of the Sundarbans and increase its propagation capacity a ‘Sundarbans Guidelines’ needs to be drafted and implemented.
  4. Instead of the high-loan dependent and dangerous Rooppur nuclear power plant, a much less expensive and less hazardous extensive gas, waste and solar-powered plants should be set up. The killing of protesting people in Banshkhali should be brought under trial. The forgery, land-grabbing and oppression by S Alam and the Chinese companies for building coal fired power plant should be stopped. Instead gas, waste, solar and wind-powered plants should be set up with public consent.
  5. Asia Energy (GCM) should be expelled from the country, open-pit coal-mining should be made illegal and the Phulbari Agreement should be implemented in full. A plan should be undertaken to make optimal use of mineral resources and power plant installation giving importance to Bangladesh’s need for cultivable land, water resources, human settlements and environment.
  6. The PSC process which is corrupt and goes against national interest should be cancelled immediately. Instead, national organization should be provided with necessary capacity, power and allocation so that they can explore new oil and gas sources on land and in the sea. Chevron and Niko should be charged at least 50 thousand crore takas as compensation for the destruction of two gas fields in Magurchara and Tengratila and that money should be used to build national capability.
  7. All deals related to energy, electricity and ports signed during the reign of different governments should be published and those individuals and groups who are responsible for corruption and going against public interest should be identified and disciplinary actions should be taken against them.

 

Oh behalf of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports

 

Engineer Sheikh Mohammad Shahidullah  

Professor Anu Muhammad