THE government’s allowing the establishment of power plants, on its own or by way of permission given to others, in environmentally critical areas appears to be mindless in view of the harm that they could cause to the environment and the grave consequences that they could entail in future. In the latest move, the government is reported to have begun acquiring about 199.85 hectares of land in the River Chhota Feni for a dual-fuel power plant. About 120 power plants have been set up, mostly along the rivers and the coast, in 10 years, with 100 more plants, fired by gas, coal or oil, having already been on the cards. The environment department in August flagged that the location of a furnace oil-fired power plant, being constructed by a private company, falls only 4.5 kilometres off the Sunderbans which constitutes the ecologically critical area of the world’s largest contiguous stretch of mangrove forest, which needs to be protected for a sustainable ecosystem. About a fifth of the construction of the coal-fired Rampal power plant, a joint venture of Bangladesh and India, within 14 kilometres of the Sunderbans has already been completed amidst a prolonged opposition that green campaigners and ordinary people had put up.
While the environment department in June closed down a government power plant at Hathazari in Chattogram for having released, since its establishment in 2012, sludge and untreated liquid wastes into the River Halda, the only natural breeding field of Indian carps such as catla, mrigal and rohita in Bangladesh, nothing is reported to have done in the case of Teesta Solar Power Ltd, which has already built a 1.7km portion of the planned 4.5km embankment around a major part of the River Teesta at Sundarganj in Gaibandha. A National River Conservation Commission report made public in July fears that the embankment could change the course of the river, setting out flooding and erosion of a vast area in Kurigram. Meghna Power Plant authorities have, as the commission says, already dirt-filled 4.45 hectares of the Dhaleswari floodplain at Singair. Another Bangladesh-China joint-venture coal-fired power plant at Kalapara in Patuakhali, two-fifths of which has already been completed, is feared to be polluting hilsa sanctuaries in the Bamnabad, Andharmanik and Tiakhali rivers. While some of the plants are set to pollute river by way of chemical waste discharges, some others are set to pollute air by way of toxic emissions; yet, some others could meddle with the nature, adding to the risk of catastrophes.
While many of the projects are reported to be going ahead without all the required approval for all their aspects, the Power Development Board chair seeks to say that the projects have environmental clearance and are in adherence to the law. Even if this is the case, the question that still needs to be answered is: can, and should, the government go on or allow power plant projects that endanger rivers, forests, the environment, the nature and, above all, life even if they are in adherence to the law? While people at large should rise up against such projects for the government to relocate them and to minimise their negative impact on the environment and nature, the government must stop mindlessly taking up and allowing such harmful projects.
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