A leading pro-left civil society group here appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi today to scrap a deal with Bangladesh for building a coal-fired power plant near the fragile Sundarbans even as UNESCO warned against the project it says threatens the world's largest mangrove forest.
"We have sent the Indian premier an open letter reiterating our demand to scrap the Rampal power project to save the Sundarbans through the Indian High Commission in Dhaka," National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral, Resources, Power and Ports spokesman Anbu Mohammad said.
He said the letter was sent as construction process of the plant being built with Indian assistance near the World Heritage Site of Sundarbans was underway despite widespread criticism and protest from national and international experts and general public.
Witnesses said police allowed five representatives of the group to hand over their letter to the High Commission as over 200 activists marched towards the mission at upmarket Gulshan diplomatic enclave.
The protesters submitted the letter a day after police stopped them on their way to the Indian mission.
The UN's culture and science agency UNESCO, meanwhile, issued a second statement in the past month yesterday urging Bangladesh to halt construction of the huge coal-fired power plant reiterating its fears that it posed a serious threat to the delicate ecosystem of the Sundarbans forest.
"The Sundarbans in Bangladesh is part of the world's largest mangrove forests, home to the famous Bengal Tiger and a hotspot for dolphins, turtles, and birds. Millions of people depend on this labyrinth of tidal rivers for food, homes, and flood protection," the UNESCO statement read.
It added, "The proposed Rampal power plant, a 1,320 megawatt super-thermal power plant located just 65 kilometres from the World Heritage property, poses a serious threat to the site".
UNSECO identified "pollution from coal ash by air, pollution from wastewater and waste ash, increased shipping and dredging, and the cumulative impact of industrial and related development infrastructure" as four key concerns related to the plant's construction.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina earlier denounced protests against the proposed coal-fired power plant.
"Let me tell you one thing, I would have been the first person to oppose the power plant had there been the slightest chance of damage to the Sundarbans," she had said.
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The premier said the proposed plant would be a "ultra-super critical plant" having "all available ultra modern technology to prevent pollution" using "highest standard coal to be imported from Australia, Indonesia and South Africa" instead of low-grade Indian coal.
"I would like to suggest those who are opposing the coal-based plants to visit Barapukuria Plant at densely crowded location (in northwestern Bangladesh). Despite being a sub-critical plant, it did not cause any harm to the environment and public life in the past 10 years and rather it made fertile the land there," she said.
Bangladesh and India in July signed the landmark deal paving way for launching the construction work for the plant marking the transition in cooperation from electricity export to generation
Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Limited (BIFPCL), a joint venture enterprise, inked the deal with state-run Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) which was selected under an open international tender for constructing the plant at Bangladesh's southwestern Rampal near the Sundarbans.
India's Exim Bank will finance the USD 1.49 billion project, scheduled to launch generating power in 2019 while Bangladesh will share 50 per cent of the profit with India while the produced electricity would be used entirely by Bangladesh.
Bangladesh earlier earmarked Maitree Super Thermal Power Project as one of its fast track projects under a bilateral agreement signed during Hasina's India visit in 2010.