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District - June 23, 2021

Banshkhali coal fired power plant uncertain

129 dignitaries, 74 groups ask China to stop funding

Ayub Ali from Ctg: About 129 influential rights activists and 74 organisations from 21 countries, including Bangladesh, have called upon the Chinese authorities to immediately withdraw and end provision of finance and technical support for the Banshkhali coal power plant in Chattogram.
They also urged all companies involved to withdraw from the project and show commitment towards a green Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by respecting human and environmental rights, not a blood and tear-spilled one. In this regard, they issued a letter addressing Wang Wentao, the commerce minister of China and the secretary of the CPC Leadership Group of the ministry.
Among the signatories, there are more than 50 personalities from Bangladesh, including Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (BAPA) President Advocate Sultana Kamal, Gonoshasthaya Kendra Trustee Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, Founder Member of Ain O Salish Kendra Dr Hameeda Hossain, Coordinator of Nijera Kori Khushi Kabir, Jahangirnagar University Prof Anu Muhammad, Chief Executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Executive Director of TIB Dr Iftekharuzzaman, Managing Director of Drik Shahidul Alam.
The other signatories are activists from the United States, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, India, Pakistan, Germany, Netherlands, Indonesia, Denmark, China, Nepal, Belgium, Zimbabwe, Canada, United Kingdom, South Africa, Sweden, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Australia. Banshkhali coal-fired power plant is a joint venture of S Alam Group of Bangladesh (70%), Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation III (20%) and HTG Development Group Co. Ltd. (10%) of China. 71% of the project cost (USD 1.76 bn) is financed by a consortium of Chinese Banks including the Bank of China as the lead arranger and the Export-Import Bank of China being the export credit agency.
Noting that the Chinese institutions are involved in the project and providing financial and technical support, they claimed that this involvement is contrary to President Xi Jinping’s stance.
At the second Belt and Road Forum in 2019, the Chinese president said “We need to pursue open, green and clean cooperation. …We may launch green infrastructure projects, make green investments and provide green financing to protect the Earth which we all call home”.
In Feb 2021, Economic and Commercial Counselor (ECCO) of China in Bangladesh sent a letter to the Bangladesh’s Ministry of Finance stating that “the Chinese side shall no longer consider projects with high pollution and high energy consumption, such as coal mining and coal-fired power stations”.
The 126 right activists described the under construction power plant as a blood-coloured BRI project.
Since the beginning of the project in 2016, 12 people have lost their lives, more than 100 got injured and harassment cases have been filed against over 6000 workers and villagers in three different incidents around this power plant, they noted.
Against such a backdrop, involvement of the Chinese financiers and technology companies with this project makes it a controversial BRI project, they claimed.
They further said that the project has been marred by lack of transparency, irregularities and rampant human rights violation since its inception. Lead sponsor S Alam group evicted thousands of local residents and they were not paid a single penny for their land. Those who refused to give up their land were harassed with fake lawsuits.
S Alam acquired several times more land than the actual 640 acres of project area using their muscle and mobsters. Poor villagers are the most sufferers after losing their last means of earnings because in the name of the power plant, their paddy land, fish farms, and salt fields have been grabbed, they added.
Health Risks
The prominent activists feared that the Banshkhali power plant will be extremely harmful to the public health in the area.
In favour of the remark, they cited estimation that the coal power project will emit 192,200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over its operating lifetime.
Besides, it is estimated that the proposed coal power projects in Chattogram including Banshkhali will risk the premature death of more than 30,000 people due to air pollution related to respiratory and heart diseases, among others.
Environmental risk
A recent independent analysis of the Banshkhali EIA shows that it contains errors and omissions which raises legal questions. There is absolutely no mention of the health impacts of air pollutant emissions in the EIA; the plant’s mercury emissions are completely omitted; and, the air quality modeling is flawed, Moreover, the project plans to apply very weak emissions standards, which would not be allowed even in China, and the flaws and omissions in the EIA help justify this.
The ongoing construction itself creates a permanent waterlogging over a large area of the adjoining villages.
Climate Crisis
China has ratified the Paris agreement, which requires efforts to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels.
The Paris climate target cannot be achieved unless coal-fired power generation is phased out worldwide by 2040, including the retirement of existing coal power plants. As a member of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), Bangladesh is also committed to achieve 100% renewables by 2050.
In such a situation, they demanded that the Chinese companies withdraw their involvement from the Banshkhali coal power project, investigate the issues related to human rights violation and erroneous Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), ensure adequate compensation and rehabilitation of the dead and injured workers and the affected villagers, and cancel all ongoing and future investments in fossil fuel including coal, oil and gas, without exceptions.

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