Rampal power plant will not harm the Sundarbans: HPM Sheikh Hasina

 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reiterated her government's firm stand for coal-based power plant at Rampal, 65 kilometers away from mangrove forest Sundarbans, saying the power plant would not cause any harm to the world heritage famous for home of Royal Bengal Tigers and rich biodiversity.

At a press conference at her Gonobhaban residence here this afternoon the Prime Minister ruled out the claim of a certain quarter that the power plant would destroy the mangrove forests.

The Rampal power plant is located about 14 kilometers away from the outer boundary of the Sundarbans and 65 kilometers away from the world heritage site. International rule permits coal-based power plant beyond 10 kilometers area of a deep forest, she said.

Recalling the announcement of UNESCO declaring the Sundarbans as a world heritage site in 1997, the Prime Minister said the recognition was earned during the time of Awami League government due to its effective initiative.

Blasting BNP chairperson for joining the propaganda against the power plant, the Prime Minister said, "Position of BNP chairperson is like that of showing more sympathy to a child by aunty than one's mother."

Sheikh Hasina said the proposed Bangladesh-India Friendship Thermal Power Plant at Rampal is one of those coal-based plants the government has decided to install in different parts of the country to meet the growing electricity demand and reach the electricity to people at a logical price.

But, a vested section against development has been spreading negative, baseless, fictitious and misleading information among people for the last few days and trying to make them fearful of the project, she said.

Saying that BNP chairperson's joining with the propaganda on August 24 last seemed to have her deep conspiracy, the Prime Minister said asking "otherwise why she (Khaleda) has come up in public with her negative attitude after a long time of beginning of the construction work of the power plant?"

"Khaleda Zia was giving instigation from inside. With the press conference on August 24 last she also joined that propaganda," Sheikh Hasina said, observing that there might have a deep conspiracy behind Khaleda's public appearance with the quarter opposing the power plant.

The Prime Minister said all the information and data furnished by BNP leader about the power plant are 'false, fabricated and misguiding'. She has come up with the false information to misguide the people, she said.

Terming the coal as the most reliable resource of future energy, the Prime Minister said in near future it would be impossible to continue supply of natural gas to the country's gas-based power plants. Developed countries like USA, France, Germany, China, Japan and neighboring India meet about 40 to 98 percent of their electricity demand with coal-based power. But, coal-based power in Bangladesh is a little bit more than one percent, she said.

The press conference of the Prime Minister was held against the backdrop of a constant propaganda and agitation by a group of people to press home their demand to abandon construction of the Rampal Power Plant and finally Khaleda Zia's support to the campaigners.

In the press conference the Prime Minister came up with necessary information, data and study report saying "I would be the first person to protest against the power plant if it would have any little impact on Sundarbans."

The Director General of power cell Mohammed Hossain gave a presentation on different aspects of the project before the speech of the Prime Minister.

"Hundred years ago the size of Sundarbans was bigger than present. The forest constantly lost its mass over the years because of over exploitation. For the first time our government has taken massive measures for its protection," she said.

The Prime Minister said her government has taken steps for alternate employment of the 'bawalis' of Sundarbans to stop cutting of sundari trees. New plantation drive has been taken while restriction has been imposed on tree felling, she said.

Sheikh Hasina said one of the reasons of the dwindling of the Sundarbans is climate change. But climate change and global warming are not limited within the geographical periphery.

Bangladesh is a worst victim of global warming for which developed countries are mostly responsible. If developed countries don't close their coal-based power plant, why we will do this"? she posed a question.

Highlighting horrible situation of the power sector in the past, the Prime Minister said constant power supply is very important for country's socioeconomic development as well as public comfort and relax. But the reality is that no government in the past had taken any steps for sustainable power generation, she said.

"The role of BNP in this regard is not beyond description," Sheikh Hasina said adding that the party came to power for two times since 1991, but didn't take any measure to increase a single megawatt of power. In 2001, she said, BNP has done brisk business on electric pole only."

Recalling the incident of killing 14 electricity-hungry people in police firing in Chapainawabganj in 2006, the Prime Minister said power generation was 4,300 MW when Awami League handed over power in 2001. But it declined to 3,200 MW during BNP's 2001-2006 rule.

Sheikh Hasina said the country would need 24,000 MW power in 2021 and 60,000 MW by 2041. In view of this, she said, the present government has prepared a roadmap with many long and short term projects including quick rental power plants.

The group of people who are opposing the Rampal power plant also opposed the government initiative for quick rental power plant to meet up immediate demand of electricity in 2009, she said.

The premier said the BNP chief has said that the power plant will be constructed on 1,834 acres of land whereas an area of 915 acres has been taken for the power plant.

"The main power plant would be set up on 465 acres of land and a sonar panel would be installed and green belt made on the remaining land," she said.

Sheikh Hasina said Begum Zia alleged that the population density in the neighbourhood where the power plant is being constructed is 382 per square kilometer and over 8,000 people were have been evicted and the land produces three crops there.

"In reality, there was no permanent residence of people. No house was evicted. Low and fallen land has been upgraded through earth filling," the premier said.

Begum Zia, she said, alleged that 144 cusecs of water will be taken from the Pashur River per hour for Rampal power plant and this water will pollute environment after the use.

"Her (Khaleda Zia's) statement is not correct. The Pashur river water is salty. That water will be treated and then used in the power plant (and) after cooling the used water, it will be reused in the power plant," the premier said.

Sheikh Hasina said no polluted or hot water will be discharged in the Pashur River and the quantity of water to be lifted would be very insignificant.

In the dry season, only 0.05 percent of the total water flow of the Pashur will be required, she said.

"Regular dredging will be carried out to enhance navigability of the Pashur river. It will increase father flow. With the increase in navigability, movement of vessels will increase in the Mongla Port," she said.

In regard to the example cited by Begum Zia about the legal bar in India regarding constructing power plants within 25 kilometers of forests the premier said "India is a country of vast area. It is not appropriate to compare that country with a densely populated country like Bangladesh".

"She (BNP chief) has pointed out the issues of sound pollution, light pollution and so on. We are fully aware of this. We have taken all measures to keep sound and light pollution to the lowest level," the premier said.

Explaining the preventive measures, Sheikh Hasina said, coal will be transported from deep sea in covered barges and covered and low-sound engines will be used in the barges and therefore "there is no possibility of environment pollution".

"There will be arrangements in Rampal power plant for controlling sound pollution. Sound will not go 14 kilometers away. It will remain limited within 200 meters," she said.

The primer said the BNP chief mentioned about the closure of coal-based power plant at Texas in the US "but does she know how many coal-based plants are in operation (in USA)?"

"About 40 percent of the total power produced in the US comes from coal. The country (US) has over 7,000 coal based power plants," the primer pointed out.

Sheikh hasina also called as "completely untrue" Begum Zia's statement about the electricity price saying "she (Khaleda) has said the price of electricity has been fixed at Taka 8.85 whereas the price of electricity of this power plant will be fixed on the basis of coal price".

The premier said Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company was formed with equal partnership of India's NTPC and Bangladesh's PDB and both the agencies will invest 15 percent and the rest 70 percent will be provided by India's Exim Bank.

She said Bangladesh will be the bank guarantor for this 70 percent funding but "due to ignorance", some people are trying to explain it in a different way.

"Being the guarantor does not mean making an investment. If the company fails for any reason, then the question of compensation will arise. There is no possibility of that," she said.

The premier said a guarantor is required even to take a personal loan and "as the establishment is in Bangladesh, I see nothing wrong to be the guarantor. Why will India become the guarantor for an establishment in Bangladesh?"

She said world famous German firm Fichtner Group has been appointed as the consultant to ensure the highest standard in setting up the plant and hence, there is no scope to raise questions over the quality of work.

"We will not make any compromise regarding this," the premier said.

She has Begum Zia alleged that the plant will destroy lives and livelihoods of lakhs of people which "is not true at all".

"Rather, it will create employment for thousands of people. The people dependent on the Sundanbans will not need to pilfer trees. Lakhs of people of the locality will be benefitted," the premier said.

Moreover, she said, the company will deposit Taka 30 crore to CSR fund annually and socio-economic development of the local people would be carried out with this money.

The premier urged everyone to remember that advanced technology could make many impossible things possible while the plant would be an "ultra-supercritical power plant".

"An ordinary power plant has a 28 percent capacity of burning coal while an ultra-supercritical power plant has a capacity of 42 to 43 percent. It means we will get 1.5 times more power by burning the same quantity of coal. The highest quality coal will be used here," she said.

The premier said to ensure the quality, the coal will be imported from Australia, Indonesia and South Africa.

"We will ensure use all sorts of state-of-the-art technologies available for the prevention of pollution. There will be real time continuous emission monitoring system (CEMS) to monitor emission of flu gas temperature, nitrogen, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide etc," she said.

Sheikh Hasina said Rampal power plant will have Electro-static Precipitator (ESP), which will be able to retain 99.99 percent of emitted fly ash to be used in cement factories. In the same way, she said, 96 percent sulfur gas will be soaked up following the installation of flue gas desulphurization and gypsum fertilizer will be made from this sulphur.

"The height of Rampal power plant chimney will be 275 meters (and) the carbon dioxide to be emitted through this chimney will remain limited within 1.6 kilometers," the premier said.

She said: "The density of gases to be emitted slightly will be less than the quantity recognized by World Health Organization (WHO) and other international agencies."

The premier urged all who say that coal based power plans could harm environment and ecology to visit Baropukuria power plant.

"Baropukuria is a sub-critical power plant. There is a gulf of different between a sub-critical and an ultra-supercritical power plant. Supercritical plants emit 40 percent less carbon, sulphur and nitrogen gas compared to sub-critical plants. It is possible to bring the level of pollution to zero in an ultra-supercritical plant," she said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her government had started setting up coal-fired power plants in Barapukuria in 2000. Khaleda Zia, however, did not close the power plant after taking office in 2001.

"That time she did not shed crocodile tears for environment, rather she killed half a dozen of people who were demonstrating against open-pit coal power plant at Fulbari," she said.

Sheikh Hasina said there was no negative impact on the densely populated and green area of Barapukuria though sub-critical plant is being used there. The land of the area has become more fertile and more rice is being produced there.

There are some examples of power plants which are situated in the midst of forest areas and near densely populated cities, she added.

Giving examples of coal-based power plants in different parts of the world, the Prime Minister said West Virginia Coal Power Plant in the UK is located within one kilometer of the National Park which has the capacity of producing 1300 megawatt power. In 2015, West Virginia produced 94 per cent of total power from coal.

The Quang Ninh Power Plant in Vietnam has the capacity of producing 1200 MW which is situated only six kilometers away from Ha Long Bay (UNESCO heritage site), she said.

The Isogo Power Plant is near the residential area of Yokohama in Japan which is capable of producing 1200 MW power and the Taichung Power Plant in Taiwan is situated in the central point of the city which has the capacity to produce 5500 MW power, she added.

Sheikh Hasina also mentioned about a number of power plants in Germany which are situated near the city and river saying hundreds of examples of power plants can be given which are located near forest and densely populated areas.

"No country raises a hue and cry over the issue but in our country the wisdom sinners are making a hue and cry. Who are they? They themselves cannot do anything good but always obstruct others from doing something good," she said.

Sheikh Hasina said the opponents of Rampal power plant are opposing Rampal on the plea of saving Sundarbans. But there is no Sunderbans in Anwara. So why are they opposing to Anwara too? No developmental work can proceed if anyone pays heed to them, the Prime Minister said.

Sheikh Hasina said if coal based power plants create huge pollutions, Japan would have not set up coal based power plants. "Few days ago, Japan government has approved to set up a coal based power plant of 7000 megawatts," she added.

Constructions of 300 coal-based power plants are underway in China, she mentioned.

Prime Minister raised a question that who gives money to arrange road march and allies involving hundreds of people. "They are not spending money from their own pockets," she said.

"They are pawns of anti-Bangladesh forces and they work as their agent," Sheikh Hasina added.

"Those people who are living in air-conditioned houses could temporarily misguide the people, but once they will understand their ill-motive," she said.

Sheikh Hasine also questioned, "Are you the only patriotic, Sundarbans lover and understand environment? Do we understand nothing?"

"I will protest first against Rampal power plant construction, if there is any possibility of harmful impact on Sundarbans," she added.

"I myself have taken huge initiatives to conserve Sundarbans. Area of sundarbans was more larger 100 years ago than current times," she mentioned.

Sundarbans are shrinking gradually and taking this current existence, she said. She questioned whether the Sundarbans shrinking for installing power plant?

"Raising of global warming or pollution are not limited geographically. If anything causes global warming in America, we would suffer also," she added.

She also raised a question to protesters that would America, Japan, China and India stop construction of coal-based power plants.

Trees of Sundarbans disappeared due to various causes including human intervention. "We are creating alternative livelihood for the people those who depending on Sundarbans. We are also planting saplings at Sundarbans and imposing a ban on cutting trees," she said.

Areas of Sundarbans are increasing because of various steps taken by the present government, she added.

"Greenbelt has created in coastal areas. We have also planted saplings of trees on char areas to protect decay of land," she said.

The Prime Minister said, "We have enacted law for conservation of wildlife. And we also have taken tiger action plan for protecting tigers."

Forest resources have been increased to 17.08 percent in 2014-15 from 7-8 percent in 2005-06 as a result of various initiatives taken by the present government, she added.

Sheikh Hasina said, "Over a half-dozen laws have been enacted for preserving environment. We have brought fundamental changes in constitution for protecting environment and biodiversity. We have incorporated 18 (Ka) in 15th amendment."

Dissertation process had started in the western parts particularly Rajshahi, Pabna, Kushtia due to withdrawal of water from the Ganges river, she said.

BNP government did nothing in this regard, she added.

"We have signed Ganges water Treaty with India in 1996 to realize equitable share of water. As a result of treaty, dissertation trend has stopped in the region," she mentioned.

The Prime Minister said, "We carried out capital dredging at the Gorai river in 2001. BNP stopped the dredging after coming to power. And we again started capital dredging in the river in 2009."

"I have some conception about vulnerability of environment as well as confidence on power science and technology. Nobody deny the advantage of technology," she said.

Many people die due to various diseases including cholera, she said adding advancement of medical science prevented deaths caused by these diseases.

"There is no doubt regarding emission of harmful elements from burning coal at the power plant. But we will use high technology to stop spreading of harmful elements," the Prime Minister added.

Rather we will convert those elements for well-being of human beings, she said.

The Prime Minister said, "We are moving the country forward. I know some people cannot tolerate the progress of the country. Why Bangladesh will move forward, why Bangladesh will be self-reliant country, why the people will remain happy. They are not tolerating this," she said.

They are trying to find out an excuse to halt the progress of Bangladesh,she added.

She questioned to those environmentalists that whether they have planted a single sapling of trees? "Ask your conscience, what are you doing, will it be benefit for the people" she said.

"Do not try to misguide the people giving wrong, ill-motivated and false information," she added saying "You are presenting the information which existed in 1960."

"The world has changed a lot. Technology has advanced. Do not try to misguide the people giving this old-fashioned information," she said.

BNP has failed to achieve ill-political gain through killing people by petrol bombs, patronizing militancy as well as carrying out Holy Artisan and Sholokia incident, Sheikh Hasina said adding now BNP chairperson is thinking to get new issue.

They are instigating the protesters to push the government into troubled situation. But the people are not foolish and they understand ill-motive of BNP, she said.

"We will resist any unstable situation with iron hands, if anyone want to create Rampal power plant as an issue," she warned.

"I must do that whatever will be better and for welfare of the country as well as its people," she said.

Sheikh Hasina urged the countrymen to keep trust on her. "I am daughter of Bangabandhu. I did not do anything earlier and in future, which will harmful for the people of the country," she added.

She urged the people not to be misguided by those people who are politically bankrupt.

"Let us all build a poverty-free, hunger-free and non-communal Bangladesh as dreamt by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman," she said.

Photo: Saiful Islam Kallol

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