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Protesters March Hundreds of Kilometers to Save Sundarbans from Coal Plant

Activists in Bangladesh marched more than 400 kilometers for five days from the country's capital Dhaka to Rampal near the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, to protest a proposed coal power plant there that would threaten the diversity of the forest's ecosystem.

The long march, which began on 28 September, 2013, was arranged by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports.

The coal power plant is going to be built in the area of Rampal in the southern Bagerhat district (see Global Voices report) which is only 14 kilometers away from the Sundarbans, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The groundworks and land development for the project has already began according to news reports.

Many environmental organizations have opposed it from the beginning. The UNESCO World Heritage Center has also expressed its concern over the environmental impact of this project. But the government in response to such concerns issued a statement 26 September that while the proposed power plant is situated 14 kilometers away from the Sundarbans, it is 72 kilometers away from the UNESCO designated world heritage site, which is deemed a “safe distance”.

It was earlier announced that the official launch of the construction of the plant will take place on 22 October, 2013. On 28th of September, the last day of the Long March, activists issued an ultimatum of 11 October, 2013 advising the government to cancel the power plant or else they would escalate their opposition to the construction the next day. But as of now, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as well as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh joining in via video call are scheduled to lay the coal plant's foundation stone on 5 October, 2013 as part of an official ceremony to kick off construction.

The five-day march commenced after a brief rally in front of the capital's National Press Club. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (24 September 2013)

The five-day march commenced after a brief rally in front of the capital's National Press Club. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (24 September, 2013)

Leftwing political activist Firoz Ahmed described in a Facebook post [bn] how this power plan will cause environmental disaster and urged people to attend the march:

[…] কয়লাবিদ্যুৎ প্রকল্প থেকে উদগীরিত বিশাল ধোঁয়ার রাশি গ্রীস্মকালে মৌসুমী বায়ুর সাথী হয়ে গোটা উত্তরবঙ্গ এবং মধ্যবঙ্গকে কলুষিত করবে,সমুদ্র থেকে ভেসে আসা জলীয় বাষ্প কয়লার ধোঁয়ার সালফারের সাথে মিশে তৈরি করবে সালফিউরিক এসিড। মারাত্মক অম্লবৃষ্টিতে আক্রান্ত হবে এই অঞ্চলের মানুষ, প্রাণ, প্রকৃতি, কৃষি। শীতকালে আবার উত্তুরে বায়ুর ধাক্কায় তা আচ্ছাদিত করবে গোটা সুন্দরবনকে, সেখানাকার স্পর্শকাতর প্রাণব্যবস্থা অচিরে বিলুপ্ত হবে। বঙ্গোপসাগরের মাছের ভাণ্ডার, তিমি আর ডলফিনের বিচরণক্ষেত্রও বিনষ্ট হবে।

The toxic fumes from the coal power plant will be carried via the summer winds towards the middle and northern Bengals. The vapors from the ocean will react with the sulfur of the coal fumes and will be turned into sulfuric acid. Toxic acid rain will impact the people, agriculture and flora and fauna of these areas. In the winter, the northern winds will push those toxic clouds into the Sundarbans area killing its endangered species. Gradually it will affect the fish reserves of the Bay of Bengal including the dolphin safe havens.

“The Sundarbans not only saves the country from natural disasters, it also supplies natural resources including food. So we believe that we should all save Sundarbans”, wrote blogger and activist Kallol Mustafa:

সুন্দরবন আমাদের অস্তিত্বের সাথে যুক্ত। সুন্দরবন এতদিন আমাদের গোলপাতা, কাঠ, মোম,মধু,মাছ দিয়েছে, প্রতিরক্ষার দেয়াল হিসেবে ঘূর্ণিঝড় থেকে বাচিয়েছে। সেই সুন্দরবনের অস্তিত্ব যখন রামপাল কয়লা ভিত্তিক বিদ্যুৎ কেন্দ্রের জন্য হুমকীগ্রস্থ, তখন সেই বিদ্যুৎ কেন্দ্রের বিপদ থেকে সুন্দরবনকে বাচানো আমাদেরই দায়িত্ব।

Sundarbans is with our existence. The Sundarbans have given us wood, giant leaves, honey, fish and a protective wall across the coastal belt to save us from tornedos. When the very existence of the Sundarbans is in peril, then we should save it by stopping this power plant.

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports started its five day Dhaka-Sundarban Long March to press its seven-point demand, including scrapping of the Rampal Thermal Power Plant project to save Sundarban forest. Image by Indrajit Ghosh. Copyright Demotix (24 September, 2013)

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports started its five-day Dhaka-Sundarban Long March to press its seven-point demand, including scrapping the Rampal Thermal Power Plant project. Image by Indrajit Ghosh. Copyright Demotix (24 September, 2013)

Journalist and cultural activist Muniruddin predicted in an op-ed on that the march would make history by saving the forest.

Everest conqueror Musa Ibrahim (@beyondallpeaks) tweeted a plea not to erect the power plant:

There are millions of birds tweeting in the Sundarbans. Please don't destroy their voices…

Jawwadul Fattah (@JawwadulFattah) gave reason to save the Sundarbans:

You can erect a power plant anywhere else.. but you cannot build an artificial Sundarbans… #SaveSundarban

Blogger Akter Ahmed wrote on Facebook satirically:

সুন্দরবনের ক্ষতি হইলে হোক। আমাদের বিদ্যুৎ কেন্দ্র দরকার। ইলেক্ট্রিসিটি থাকলে বাঘ, হরিণ, গাছপালা এইসব টিভিতেও দেখা যাবে। ব্যাপার না!

Don't care whether the Sundarbans will be destroyed. We want a power plant. If we have electricity we can see the tigers, deer and forest on TV. It doesn't matter.

Environmental activist and engineer Muntasir Mamun sees this from another perspective. He wrote:

আমি জানি কথাটা আমার বন্ধুদের খারাপ লাগবে, রামপাল নিয়ে আমার বেশ কিছু নামিদামী বন্ধুরা বল্গগীং এবং স্ট্যাটাস আপডেটের মাধ্যমে এর বিরধিতা করে আসছেন। কিন্তু খুবই লজ্জার বিষয় হলো তাদের সবারই বসার ঘরে এসি আছে ! এমনও কয়েকজন আছেন যারা মিনি এসি নিয়েই ঘোরেন। তো সরকার কেন আপনাদের কথা শুনবে? সরকারতো জানেই আপনাকে তুষ্ট করার জন্যই এত কিছু।

I know this will not be taken well by some friends, many well-known friends are opposing the Rampal power plants with their Facebook statuses and blogging. But they have air conditioners at home (and they suffer frequent power cuts). I know some who travels with mini ACs. So why will the government listen to you? They know that the power plant is to please you only.

Shaugat Ali Sagar, a diaspora journalist based in Canada, requested that the government disclose the environmental and economic survey of the project:

রামপাল নিয়ে কোনো ধরনের গোয়ার্তুমি বা রাজনৈতিক বক্তব্য চাই না। সরকারের উচিত হবে প্রস্তাবিত প্রকল্প স্থাপনের আগে পরিবেশ এবং অর্থনৈতিক উপযোগিতার যে সমীক্ষা (যদি হয়ে থাকে) হয়েছে তার তথ্য জনসম্মুখে প্রকাশ ও প্রচার করা।

We don't want any arrogant or political remarks on the Rampal power plant. The government should disclose the environmental and economic survey of the project (if its done) publicly before starting the project.

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