Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sundarbans is the one of the world’s largest mangrove forests, situated in southern Bangladesh and partially in India. A developing country that, despite attempts at progress, is often stagnant in its improvement of education, quality of life and environmental sustainability. The Sundarbans is being threatened with plans to build a power plant in very close proximity, potentially polluting the rich forests and creating an urban eyesore in a sight which otherwise harnesses an innocently untainted beauty.
In March this year, UNESCO were sent to the site to assess any probable harm inflicted on the Sundarbans as a result of the Rampal Power Plant, which will be located 14 km from the Sundarbans. Still reeling from an oil spill in the Shela River in 2014, the mangrove forest is hanging by a thread in terms of the conservation of the biological balance asserted by the wealth of flora and fauna already occupying the site.
Consequently, the proposed project was seen to violate the guidelines for environmental impact from coal-based thermal power plants, as well as violating a pre-condition that any developments of this sort must be at least a 25 kilometre distance from ecologically sensitive sites.
The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) states that the power plant will produce 7.5 thousand tonnes of fly ash and 2 thousand tonnes of bottom ash per annum, 15% of which will be created as a result of burning coal; it contains sulphur, carbon dioxide, arsenic, mercury, lead, chromium, and cadmium. This can have disastrous effects on the habitats within and surrounding the Sundarbans, as any slight disruption to the ecology of the site can affect the health and livelihoods of the organisms living there. What is more, there will be subsequent jarring effects on agriculture and fishery, industries which rely on the Sundarbans.
Shayan Chowdhury Arnob, a Bangladeshi musician, has said regarding the issue:
The Rampal Power Plant might become the biggest Power Plant, but it would cost the world its largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans. Sundarbans has its life in numerous intertwined organic chains. When a chain is broken everything would fall apart, one after the other. Money has nothing to do with development or happiness; it’s about our attitude to life.
This perceivably shallow attempt at increasing the country’s GDP is mocked by many activists and academics alike as being consumption and money-driven and over-zealous. Can a country that is already struggling improve its prospects by endangering one of its most prized sites?