ফুলবাড়ি থেকে বাঁশখালীঃ অন্যায় রুখবোই

Police_gunsখবর (দুঃসংবাদ) — বাঁশখালীতে উন্নয়নকাজে বাধা দেওয়ায় একজন আন্দোলনকারী আটক।

অন্যদিকে ৪ঠা এপ্রিল সরকারি সন্ত্রাসী ও পুলিশের গুলিতে নিহত কমপক্ষে চারজনের খুনীদের ধরতে মানা আছে।

দেশের প্রচলিত আইন ভঙ্গ করে ও এলাকাবাসীকে মিথ্যা তথ্য দিয়ে কাজ শুরু করে এস আলম গ্রুপ। ধীরে ধীরে এলাকাবাসী কয়লা বিদ্যুত কেন্দ্রের ক্ষতিকর প্রভাব সম্পর্কে অবগত হয়ে প্রকল্পের বিরুদ্ধে অবস্থা নেয় এবং বিক্ষোভ করে। এমতাবস্থায় স্থানীয় প্রশাসন একটি প্রকল্পবিরোধী এক সমাবেশের আগে বায়বীয় ১৪৪ ধারা জারি করে। তারা যুক্তি দেখায় প্রকল্পের পক্ষের গ্রুপ একই সময়ে একই সময়ে নাকি সমাবেশ ডেকেছিল। তাই নিষেধাজ্ঞা দেওয়া হয়েছে এবং এলাকায় মাইকিং করা হয়েছে। কিন্তু আদতে অন্য কোন গ্রুপকে পাওয়া যায়নি এবং মাইকিং-ও করা হয়নি। সেদিন পুলিশ আর এস আলম গ্রুপের সন্ত্রাসীরা (সরকারি দলের মদদপুষ্ট ভাড়াটে কর্মীরা) নির্বিচারে গুলি করে এবং নির্যাতনের এক ন্যাক্কারজনক নজির সৃষ্টি করে কমপক্ষে চারজনকে হত্যা করে। কিন্তু তারা আন্দোলন দমাতে ব্যর্থ হয়।

অতঃপর সমস্যা সমাধানের আশ্বাস দিয়ে এলাকার আওয়ামীলীগের নেতার মাধ্যমে প্রধানমন্ত্রী ১৫ দিন সময় চেয়ে নেন। স্থগিত হয় ইউএনও কার্যালয় ঘেরাও কর্মসূচী। এরপর এলাকার সংসদ সদস্য নিহত ও আহতদের পরিবারকে ক্ষতিপূরণ দেওয়ার সময় গুলি করার জন্য সন্ত্রাসীদের দোষারোপ করেন। পুলিশ আদৌ তদন্ত করছে কিনা তা নিয়ে সন্দেহ তৈরি হলো।

প্রথম সুযোগে সমাধানের বদলে উন্নয়নবিরোধীদের একহাত নিলেন প্রধানমন্ত্রী। জানালেন কয়লা ও কয়লা বিদ্যুত পরিবেশের কোন ক্ষতি করেনা।

আমাদের প্রধানমন্ত্রী আবার বাস্তবতার সাথে সামঞ্জস্যতা রেখে কথা বলতে ভুলে যানঃ তিনি কিছুদিন আগে পরিবেশের উন্নয়নে জাতিসংঘের একটি পুরস্কার পেয়েছেন। অন্যদিকে তার সরকার নবায়নযোগ্য জ্বালানীকে কম গুরুত্ব দিয়ে আমদানী নির্ভর কয়লাভিত্তিক বিদ্যুত কেন্দ্র বানাতে উঠেপড়ে লেগেছেন যা কিনা বৈশ্বিক উষ্ণায়ন ত্বরান্বিত করবে; তাও আবার অনিয়ম, দুর্নীতি সহযোগে।

আন্দোলনকারী খুন হওয়ায় এস আলম গ্রুপ বিকল্প স্থান নির্বাচন করে চকরিয়াতে। আবার পাশাপাশি সরকারদলীয় নেতা এবং অন্যান্যদের দিয়ে এলাকাবাসীকে রাজী করানোর চেষ্টা চালিয়ে যায়। এর মধ্যে দুঃসংবাদ আসলো; ২৮ তারিখে পরিবেশ অধিদপ্তরের সভায় সিদ্ধান্ত হলো এখন এই প্রকল্পকে অবস্থানগত ছাড়পত্র দেয়া হবেনা। এলাকাবাসীকে রাজী করানো এবং প্রয়োজনীয় আরো কাগজপত্র জমা হলে পরে তখন এ বিষয়ে আবার আলোচনায় বসবে কর্মকর্তারা।

সরকারি কর্মচারি, দলীয় কাডার এমনকি সাংবাদিকদের আপনারা টাকা দিয়ে ম্যানেজ করতে পারবেন, কিন্তু হাজার হাজার এলাকাবাসীকে কিভাবে ভূগোল বুঝিয়ে হাত করবেন?

আসলে ব্যবসায়ি ও দুর্নীতিবাজ আমলা ও রাজনীতিবিদদের কাছে পরিবেশ বা সাধারণ জনগনের জীবনের কোন মূল্যই নেই।

সরকারি ও সরকার সমর্থিত প্রকল্পের বিরুদ্ধে আন্দোলন করতে গিয়ে জীবন দেওয়ার ঘটনা এদেশে খুব বেশি নেই। তবে পুলিশ ও সরকারিদলের নেতা-কর্মীদের নির্মম লাঠিচার্জ ও গুলিতে আহতের সংখ্যা হয়তো অনুমানকেও ছাড়িয়ে যাবে।

২০১১ সালে মুন্সীগঞ্জে বিমানবন্দর বানাতে গিয়ে বিক্ষোভের মুখে পড়ে সরকার। আন্দোলনকারীদের উপর পুলিশ আক্রমন করলে গুলি ও লাঠিচার্জে কমপক্ষে ১০০ জন আহত হন, মারা যান একজন পুলিশ সদস্য।

এর আগে ২০১০ সালে নারায়নগঞ্জের রূপগঞ্জে সেনাবাহিনীর আবাসন প্রকল্পের জন্য জোরপূর্বক জমি দখল করতে চাইলে বিক্ষোভ করে এলাকাবাসী। এতে কমপক্ষে একজন নিহত হন, আহত হন ৫০ জনের বেশি। তবুও নির্যাতন শেষে সেই গ্রামবাসীরাই আবার মামলার আসামী হন।

২০০৬ সালে দিনাজপুরের ফুলবাড়িতে উন্মুক্ত খনিবিরোধী আন্দোলনে বিডিআর-পুলিশের গুলিতে প্রাণ হারান তিনজন। স্থগিত করা হয় প্রকল্পের কাজ। তখনকার বিরোধীদলীয় নেত্রী শেখ হাসিনা সরকারকে বলেছিলেন এলাকাবাসীর দাবি মেনে নিতে, মানে এশিয়া এনার্জির সাথে চুক্তি বাতিল, উন্মুক্ত খনি না করা, আন্দোলনকারীদের বিরুদ্ধে মামলা তুলে নেয়া এবং ক্ষতিপূরণ দেয়া ইত্যাদি। কিন্তু ক্ষমতায় এসে তার সরকার সেই এশিয়া এনার্জিকেই কাজ পাইয়ে দিতে উঠেপড়ে লেগেছে; চুক্তিটিও বাতিল করেনি।

উন্নয়ন কাজ করাই সরকারের কাজ। নেতারা সাগ্রহে উন্নয়ন কাজ করেন কেউ সম্মানের আশায় আর কেউবা প্রকাশ্যে দুহাতে টাকা কামানোর জন্য। কোন সরকার যদি উন্নয়নের নামে খেয়ালখুশিমত প্রকল্প নেয় এবং আইন-কানুন না মেনে, এলাকাবসীকে আস্থায় না নিয়ে এবং জোরপূর্বক কিছু করতে যায় তখন এটা স্পষ্ট যে, এখানে কোন ঘাপলা আছে। আর জনগন যখন কোন ঘাপলা সম্পর্কে একবার সচেতন হয়ে যায় তখন সেই প্রকল্প জোর করে বাস্তবায়নের চেষ্টা না করে ইমেজ ভালো করার জন্য হলেও বাতিল করে নতুনভাবে শুরু করা উচিত, যেন কেউ প্রশ্ন তুলতে না পারে এবং উল্টো আরো বাহবা দেয়।

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Sundarbans Oil Spill: Is Bangladesh capable of facing disasters?

Dhaka Tribune
Dhaka Tribune

Now Dolphins‬ started dying after the Sundarbans‬ oil spill. Fishes, birds, crabs are already dying. Next are the deer and tigers, and what not!

However, it’s no big deal for this ‪‎government and the administration of 2014‪ Bangladesh! Its minister says the oil spill will not harm the forest much!

They are building two 1320MW coal-run power plants – despite knowing about the possible threats – near the world’s largest mangroves forest in the next few years while allowing new shipbreaking yards, cement factories and other hazardous industries too.

It’s been reluctant since ‪#Rana Plaza‬ ‪#collapse‬ that killed over 1,140 poor‪ garment‬ workers‬!!! Still we find bones and skull of humans at the site where the Army conducted a rescue and salvage operations for two weeks!

Last Eid, the government failed to rescue Pinak 6 launch carrying over 200 poor passengers beyond its capacity – a common risky trend during Muslim festivals. Only around 45 bodies were found while more than 150 remain missing. Despite making pledges, the government is yet to make the probe report public!

Every year we see unfit vessels are given face-lift and these are even reported in media. But…

This year like every year, the government has failed to take precautionary measures before floods in monsoon that devastate houses and crop lands while displacing millions of people. But the government is never ready!

Yet the United Nations appreciates Bangladesh for its efficiency in disaster management. Hilarious!!!

Coal: Why is India so shameless?

Rampal power project map-1India has a lot of coal underneath the ground, and so, it started to exploit the resource a bit early and has been doing it abruptly to meet the rising electricity demand of the industries and households.

The consequence is not pleasant, though the power generation capacity has reached rocket-high, because now the next-door neighbour has polluted most parts of the country’s land, water and air where coal-fired power plants are installed.

Moreover, the massive extraction of coal through hazardous but cheap “open-pit mining method” across the country has already left serious impact on the environment and particularly the health of the miners and people of the nearby areas.

It should be noted that the quality of India’s coal is one of the worst in the world!

It is astonishing that the subsequent governments in India, which is a fast-growing super power, have ignored the people and the Nature only for the greater interest (!) of saving money of the government and private investors!!!

Okay, every development initiative is praiseworthy, but at what cost?

The gigantic moves of the state-owned National Thermal Power Company (NTPC) — corrupt and callous — have made the government highly-ambitious. Now they’ve been upbeat about setting up more coal projects in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka!

India’s scientists are ridiculous as they have been staying reluctant over the issue.

So far, none but the conservationists voice concern over the ever-degrading environment in India.

It is, however, praiseworthy that India’s National Green Tribunal acts sometime in favour of the environment, for instance, on March 12, 2014 it suspended the environmental clearance issued for the NTPC to build a power plant in Karnataka state.

The reasons behind the decision are more concerning: 1) to get the clearance, the NTPC gave wrong and unclear information about the land of the project area; it said the arable land was not fertile, 2) the clearance was issued before the NTPC prepared compensation and rehabilitation plans, 3) softened the impact of coal-fired power plants, and 4) the NTPC ignored locals’ opinions.

While constructing the 1320MW coal-based power plant on the bank of Pashur River — a fresh water dolphin sanctuary, and beside the Sundarbans — a Unesco World heritage Site, both the Bangladesh and Indian government violated a number of rules they formulated. They committed serious crimes by giving false information in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and the feasibility study. The Department of Environment (DoE) of Bangladesh violated its own condition given for the project upon the government pressure.

Yes, pressure; it comes from both the governments when the Bangladeshi one is eager more to implement the project. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated construction of the project on October 6 last year through a video conference — apparently to avoid ire of the conservationists who few days back carried out a long-march from Dhaka to Rampal in Bagerhat protesting the project.

Before that the Bangladesh Army was given the job of land-filling in the project area to avoid the protesters. Still, the work was underway defying environmental laws.

Much before that, the High Court of Bangladesh showed its shit-face by rejecting and not hearing all the three petitions filed against the power plant project.

While approving the faulty EIA, the DoE said the adverse impact of the plant would be slow, and they’ll monitor the operation. The high-ranking official who deals the project justified the approval saying that there had been many big installations around the mangrove forest for long, including an export processing zone and several cement factories.

It’s also shocking to know from newspaper reports that the local administration has long been allowing sale of land in the area for hazardous shipbreaking yard and other industries.

Latest, an Indian delegation visited the Rampal site on April 2 and has continuously been giving wrong information about the project.

Who cares? Who to blame? How to get away from the hands of the corrupt authorities? How to protect the mother Nature for the future generations?

The last resort was an international arbitration. During my Poland visit in November I spoke to the chief of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, to know whether there were any means to stop the Rampal project through the UN body or by any other international court dealing with related issues.

“There is no such effort or such authority. Every country is sovereign, and establishes [projects] the way it wishes to pursue its sustainable development,” she said.

“In particular with developing countries, our most challenge right now is how they pursue their sustainable development; which means, in their pursue of energy and supplying growing energy demands, the developing countries must pursue a path of energy which is accessible, reliable and environmentally responsible. And we will expect those three different characteristics that all countries would pursue,” she frustrated me!

Remove power plant from the Sundarbans

Published on ‘Responding to Climate Change’ on 23 February 2012

The Sundarbans are located in the dark green areas (NASA)

The Sundarbans is one of the largest remaining mangrove forests in the world, and lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. The area is rich in biodiversity, hosting a large variety of mangrove forests, as well as tigers, crocodiles, snakes and wild deer.

The Sundarbans — stretching around 6,017 square kilometres — also provides an effective flood and storm barrier for the millions who live in and around Kolkata, West Bengal. But this precious area is also under threat from development. Bangladesh is a developing country, and it needs energy.

Plans are afoot to build a large coal power station on the Bangladesh side of the border with India.

It is frustrating that the government is moving ahead with the much-opposed 1320MW coal-fired power plant at the mouth of the Sundarbans in Rampal of Bagerhat, along Poshur river, despite the fact that the proposed project is yet to get complete environmental clearance and nod from the High Court.

Averting the possible hazards on the people around the project and the Sundarbans’ creatures and plants, the Bangladesh government on January 29 signed a joint venture agreement with India’s state-run electricity generation company to implement the $1.5 billion project keeping the issues of ‘price of electricity’ and ‘funding’ unresolved. The JVC is likely to be formed in March.

Last year, the High Court ordered the project to be delayed after a public interest litigation filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB) on behalf of the locals opposing the plant. But the court withdrew its order temporarily following a petition by the attorney general.

By this time, the government has also secured a location clearance from the Department of Environment (DoE), which at the same time, put some conditions on mitigation measures to ease hazards by the project – situated around nine kilometres off the Sundarbans.

Surprisingly, the government has recently allocated Tk 62.45 crore to acquire 1,834 acres of land in Satmari-Katakhali and Koigordashkathi areas of Lubachhora under Rampal upazila, and the land development work is set to begin in March.

The process of acquiring the land for the project began formally earlier in January, avoiding publicity, with the Khulna mayor, with support from the local MP, distributing cheques worth Tk 2.5 crore among 67 landowners.

The government has also taken an initiative to dredge 10 kilometres of the Poshur river to allow easy access of Indian ships carrying coal for the plant.

“Taking this into account, I think it’s not right to approach with financial issues on the project. It would be wasted if the court orders against the project,” said Manzill Murshid, lawyer for the petitioner HRPB.

ECONOMY V ENVIRONMENT

According to a UNB report published recently, at a meeting between the DoE and the Power Division in May last year the officials of the division admitted that the environmental aspects of the project were ignored when it was initiated – rather its economic advantages were considered.

And even though the JVC is divided 50-50 between the two sides, it will have an Indian chairman, and the plant will be built and run by India.

Due to an inadequate supply of local coal, the operator suggests that the project uses imported coal – presumably of Indian origin considering the low price of coal and transportation cost. The Bangladesh government has decided to bring in coal through the Mongla sea port.

The price of electricity could be between Tk 5 and 7, officials say, when the government purchases power at around Tk 3 from the only state-run coal-fired power plant at Barapukuria.

India’s National Thermal Power Company and Bangladesh Power Development Board are the two signatories of the project.

The court in its order last year asked the government to explain why the project should not be declared illegal. It is yet to hold further hearing and give its order on the issue.

LOCAL ANGER

Most of the locals of three villages who will have to leave their lands are protesting the project. They claim the project will jeopardise their dependency on agriculture and other farming once the land is acquired by the government.

It will have impact on their lifestyle and education – moreover, the effect on the people of the surrounding areas, land and water will also be adverse, environmentalists say.

The Rampal project has drawn much criticism for its location due to the ecological significance of the forest – declared a global heritage declared by UNESCO in 1997 – and at a time when the present government is outspoken and leading the way against climate threats.

Besides this project, the Bangladesh government is creating a deep-water anchorage at Akram Point, in the middle of the Sundarbans, to export coal. The construction of a naval shipyard nearby is also underway.

The government is also in negotiations with the Malaysian state-run power generation company to install a 1400MW coal-fired power plant in Cox’s Bazar – the largest single sea-beach in the world.

ENDANGERED FOREST

The proposed coal power-station is marked in the top left-hand corner

While recognising the Sundarbans, UNESCO’s evaluation committee said the forest supports an exceptional biodiversity with a wide range of flora and fauna, including the Bengal Tiger – and provides a significant example of on-going ecological processes (monsoon rains, flooding, delta formation, tidal influence and plant colonisation).

Meanwhile, it is a matter to be concerned when the forest is already facing threats from pollution, deforestation, rise in salinity and extinction of many species mainly due to human carelessness, ignorance and lack of implementation of laws, poaching and illegal wildlife trade.

The Sundarbans is intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests, and presents an excellent example of ongoing ecological processes.

The area is known for its wide range of fauna, including 260 bird species, the Bengal tiger and other threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python.

Because of the dominance of saline conditions, the forest flora in the western Sundarbans is not as diverse

as in the east.

Forest areas are dominated by a few species mostly Sundri and Gewu and patches of Nypa palm and several other of the 27 species of mangrove that are found in the Sundarbans.

Local people and environmentalists have been opposing the plan and urged the government to shift the location considering the possible effect on the one of the world’s largest remaining mangrove forests.

On January 28, 12 eminent citizens sought the prime minister’s intervention to protect the Sundarbans – after the people had voted to elect the area as one of the new seven wonders of nature, the decision to construct such a power plant was not acceptable, they observed.

POLLUTION

The plant is likely to burn around 4.75 million tonnes of coal annually when some 3 lakh tonnes ashes and around 5 lakh tonnes sludge or liquid waste would be produced. It would also emit a good amount of carbon dioxide – key factor for global warming – some other toxic gases and airborne particles, according to Union of Concerned Scientists, a USA-based group.

But the government maintains that the project would not be harmful, citing possible mitigation measures to be undertaken.

I disagree – even though the project is likely to contribute significantly electricity to the national grid by 2016 – firstly, considering its location and secondly, due to the government’s moving ahead with the land acquisition process before the petition is disposed of at the court.

In the face of a debate between the government and those concerned, the court had asked the attorney general to arrange discussions with the prime minister to resolve the issue, the lawyer added.

PRECEDENTS

Another High Court bench on October 10, 2010 gave a similar ruling on the government for an explanation over the 1,320MW coal-fired plant at Anwara of Chittagong. The government has recently signed a deal with a Chinese company to implement the plant.

Environmental activists and citizens’ groups in Bangladesh side condemn the government’s hastening with the project when the feasibility study and the EIA are yet to be approved and the court is yet to give its order.

They fear that the biodiversity and ecology of the rain forest will face adverse threats due to the disposals of wastes triggering pollution. These may put the trees, bushes, fish and water in threat while forcing insects, birds and animals move away from their sanctuary.

ENERGY DILEMMA

If implemented, the proposed project, however, would contribute significantly to ease the nagging power crisis in the country as well as pressure on the declining natural gas reserves.

But the negative aspects of the plant are copious too.

With the existence of strict laws to protect the environment and the wildlife, the government has recently decided to declare a part of Poshur and Andharmanik rivers sanctuaries for dolphins.

The project will possibly use deep tubewells to draw water for washing the coal and will certainly push the ground water level down – drawing around 25,000 cubic metres of water every day.

Moreover, it will discharge the used water – relatively hotter and whether treated or not – into the river threatening the availability of drinking water and creatures dependent on water.

The ground water and that of the Poshur would also be polluted by the huge amount of waste produced due to burning of the coal. The liquid waste or sludge contains hazardous arsenic, mercury, cadmium and chromium.

These toxic substances can contaminate drinking water supplies and damage vital organs and the nervous system of people living around the place and the natural resources of the Sundarbans.

Environmentalists say the possible air pollution will certainly be higher than what is anticipated if it uses Indian coal – considered to be of low quality due to the presence of high sulphur in it. The coal of Barapukuria, however, is recognised as a high quality type has less than 1% sulphur.

The quality of Bangladeshi coal is also better than that of Indonesia and Australia, experts say.

Moreover, when a typical coal-run power plant uses around 35% of the coal’s heat to generate electricity, the majority of the heat produced will have to be released into the air or absorbed by the cooling water.

GOVERNMENT CLAIMS

Bangladesh Power Secretary Abul Kalam Azad told journalists in the Indian capital on February 29 that the Joint Steering Committee meeting agreed to form a joint venture company in March for the plant. An MoU in this connection was signed between PDB and India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation in Dhaka on January 31.

According to Azad, both sides agreed to hold the first meeting of the Board of Directors of the newly-incorporated company Bangladesh-India Maitree Bidyut Kendra in March, when land development work for the proposed plant is expected to begin, The Daily Star reports.

Azad dispelled apprehensions about the environmental impact of the plant pointing out that as per environmental norms no power plant should be set up within 12km of the Sundarbans buffer zone. The proposed project is 14km away from the Sundarbans.

He also cited more reasons as to why the environment would not be affected by the plant.

Firstly, the direction of the wind at the plant site is south east to north west in the summer and the reverse in the winter, which clearly means that ash contents of the plant will not be carried towards the Sundarbans, he claimed.

Secondly, the proposed power plant will use imported high-grade coal in which the ash content is just 0.2 percent.

Thirdly, the plant will have in place an environment mitigation plan.

FINAL DECISION

A senior official at the DoE said they gave the location clearance upon meeting certain conditions including a complete EIA report. “We won’t accept it if the environmental hazard mitigation measures found not to be satisfactory,” said Md Shahjahan, a technical director.

The issue must be publicly debated and its pros and cons published for drawing opinion, he observed. But, so far, neither of the governments has disclosed any detail information on the project let alone discussing it in public.

Taking into consideration the need of using coal and other energy to generate power, we strongly demand that the proposed plant be relocated to another place where the environmental impact would be less harmful than it is going to be for the Sundarbans. Moreover, the government should be sincere to ensure that low quality coal is not imported for power plants and other usage.