THE twenty first century capitalism can yield profit from any crisis. Not just it exploit crisis for profiteering interest, it even produce crisis to come up with a business solution. It wages war and then sells arms in the name of defense support, it pollutes the environment first and then offers costly technology and medicine as environmental mitigation. It is this system that manufactures consent for development at the cost of environment through the controlled media and already sold out but disguised intelligentsia. Such practice is deepening the crisis all over the world and the case of Bangladesh is no different.
The mainstream development model measures everything in monetary term, such tendencies, techniques and strategies have fundamental flaws. Still the policy makers and industrial polluters approve this model to entertain short-term commercial interest, opportunist experts comfortably nods to this model to maintain the status quo. Thus, the system persists allowing the government of Bangladesh to proceed with the Rampal coal based power plant of 1,320 MW capacity near the world’s largest mangrove forest Sundarbans. No argument, research findings and protest are able to convince the policymakers to change their decision till date. A coal based power plant is easy to rationalise with per capita electricity consumption growth or with its contribution to country’s GDP, what this economic development model fails or refuses to recognise is the importance of the Sundarbans, let alone determining the monetary value of the ecological support it provides to multitude of local people, as well as the nation at large.
The same development model is implemented in the Chittagong Hill Tracks. Dispossessing indigenous people from their ancestral land and depriving them of their right to the forest, the Bengali chauvinist, profit mongering policy makers are promoting a tourism industry — an industry with no long term ecological foresight. The advancement of this tourism industry with patronage of a vested quarter make the dream of money a reality, but there is no record about how many dreams have already been shattered, how many families have been moved to shanty township, or how many indigenous practice have been lost forever with the rapidly disappearing forests.
Destruction of an entire system in the name of development is nothing new in Bangladesh; rather Bangladesh is still following the ‘development model’ introduced by the military dictator Ayub Khan during inter-colonial Pakistan period. The military dictator Ayub Khan built the Kaptai dam to run 230 MW capacity of hydropower by inundating 54,000 acres of land which was about 40 per cent of total agricultural land in Chittagong. That power plant is now struggling to generate even half of its estimated capacity and last year it contributed only 1.7 per cent of country’s total electricity generation (BPDB Annual Report 2016-17). During Ayub regime, people protested against this hydro project that displaced people in the name of development, but everything went in vein just like the present days when people of Khulna, Banshkhali and Maheshkhali are protesting against coal based power plant. The successive government paid no heed to them. For a single Kaptai power project the ecological cycle of the region was destroyed, 1 lakh of people had become homeless of which 40,000 were compelled to migrate in India and eventually become stateless (Samari Chakma, 2018). The staunch, greedy and blind follower of this economic model failed to learn from the history as they are making the same mistake, time and again. Drunk in the dream of exuberant profit, they do not foresee the disastrous impact of 19,000 MW of coal power plant and 7,200 MW of nuclear power plant which are planned to be built countrywide by 2041 along with 100 Special Economic Zone (Power Sector Master Plan 2016).
It is not a surprise that the implementation of such model of development needs indemnity law to restrict people’s legal right to seek justice against anti-people, environmentally destructive activities. This model also needs the support of experts, academics and environmentalists who are always aware of the environmental impacts and human sufferings but do not disrupt the status quo in exchange of a reserved seat in various global and local climate and environmental summit. This elite group of intelligentsia rightfully talks about climate justice in global forums in Europe or America, but when it comes to any in-country coal or environmentally damaging project, they remain silent. It is not just a matter of shame, they must know that they are complicit in this crime.
In today’s world common property is becoming private, indigenous practices are being patented, sacred values are appropriated. That is why farmers are becoming job seeker after losing their lands and land grabbers are becoming industrialist and being recognised as influential GDP contributor. In the same way, indigenous land is becoming attractive site where tourists are gathering from cities and indigenous people are migrating to cities to seek shelter in the slum. Such alternation of ownership and practice disrupt the ecological balance in the long run but brings benefit to the economy in the short run. As our shortsighted policy makers only measure development in terms of GDP growth, they are unable to see what type of environmental supports systems are broken and how many forms of livelihood are being destroyed as a result of these development activities.
New goods and services are being offered in the market but its real cost in terms of environmental degradation, air and water pollution is horrendous. Therefore, when Dhaka becomes the world’s most polluted city, market offers us the air purifier and medicine (Dhaka Tribune, April 4, 2018). Clean air does not have any monetary value, but air purifier and medicine does. But how many people are able to buy this technology or can spend thousands for medicine?
That’s why we need to question the merit of the traditional cost benefit analysis, which undermines the value of the forest, importance of the culture, appeal of the masses and put ‘development’ on top of everything. We also need to be aware of pseudo environmentalists who attend climate summit, talks about adaption, mitigation and resilience but pay no heed to the country’s coal power project, air pollution, river contamination or deforestation. Environment is surely not for sale. The real cost of any disruption in the environmental system is way too heavy than any short term benefit. Therefore, any idea, any argument or any project, which tries to rationalise the cost of environment and loss of land and livelihood in the name of GDP growth, needs the outright rejection.
Mowdud Rahman is an engineer and researcher.
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