The Forest Department has initiated a strategic environmental assessment project for the Sunderbans excluding the construction of two coal-fired power plants at Payra in Patuakhali although the IUCN fears that the plants may have an adverse impact on the forest.
The prospectus of the Tk 20 crore project states that possible development activities till 2041 at the areas adjacent to the Sunderbans, up to the Baleswari River in Bagerhat district will be assessed under the project.
The prospectus, published recently, also contains a map of the assessment area excluding development activities near the River Payra, which flows into the same bay as the Sunderbans.
A joint venture of a state-owned company and a Chinese company has constructed a 1320MW coal-fired power plant on the Payra in Patuakhali while it has a plan to construct another such power plant at the same location.
Green activists and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature have said that the development of coal-based power plants at Rampal and Payra and over 150 industrial projects near the Sunderbans would put severe impact on the biodiversity of the largest mangrove forest of the world, the Sunderbans.
The government has faced severe criticism over its move to develop a 1320MW coal-fired power plant under a joint venture with India at Rampal, near the Sunderbans.
Expressing concern over such development activities at Rampal and Payra, the IUCN, official adviser of the UNESCO, in the past year requested the UN body to relegate the status of the Sunderbans from the World Heritage Site to the World Heritage in Danger.
The UNESCO at its 43rd World Heritage Committee meeting held in 2019 in Baku, Azerbaijan decided to review status of the Sunderbans in its next meeting.
It requested Bangladesh to produce a report on the forest by February 1, 2020, to invite a reactive monitoring mission for assessing level of threats to the Sunderbans and to conduct an EIA of dredging projects in the area and a SEA of the South West region of Bangladesh, reads resolution of the conference.
The UNESCO’s scheduled 44th meeting in June 2020 in China did not take place for the COVID-19 pandemic but the threat of relegation of the Sunderbans would continue unless the government presented a credible SEA report and other conditions set by the UNESCO, Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan general secretary Sharif Jamil said.
When asked why the Payra was excluded from the SEA project area, its project director Md Zahir Iqbal said that according to the national water management plan 2001, Payra belonged to the central-South region while they were assessing the impact of the development activities of the South-West region.
Iqbal, also deputy chief conservator of forest, claimed that the assessment would not be limited to any specific region but would cover impacts of development projects of Rampal, Payra and Padma Bridge and the withdrawal of water from the trans-boundary rivers on the upstream.
The state-run Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services and Czech Republic-based Integra Consulting have been assigned to conduct the SEA, he said.
‘A report would be handed over to the environment ministry in 2021 assessing policies, plans and programmes covering areas like forestry, fisheries, transport and communication, industry, power and energy, water resources, shipping, urbanisation and tourism,’ he claimed.
CEGIS executive director Malik Fida A Khan, who also participated as a government delegation member at the UNESCO’s Baku meeting, claimed that the primary data showed that the power plants at Payra, over 50 kilometres away from the Sunderbans, had no impact on the forest.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Country