‘The Sundarbans Declaration 2016’ by the National Committee of Bangladesh

Translated By Tanmoy Karmokar

 

Following a three-day nationwide long march to the Sundarbans, held between 10th to 13th March, 2016 by demanding a capping of all breeds of devastative – mischeivious activities surrounding the Sundarbans, including the Rampal and Orion coal-based power projects, the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral resources, Port and Power in Bangladesh has declared the following ‘Sundarbans Declaration 2016’. The declaration is a demand for the enactment of 7-points programmes in order to resolve the country’s power crisis. The declaration was agreed by the protesters and marchers who joined the three-day long march to protest the coal based Rampal power plant. It was signed by the central leaders of National Committee and was read out at Kantakhali on 13th March, 2016.

banner Sundarbans 2016 2

We, the people on the march, have reached Katakhali, adjacent to the Sundarbans, on 13th March noon, by crossing 400 kilometers in 4 days after the long march has started on the 10th March. Starting on 10th March, 2016 at the Press Club in Dhaka, we have marched to Katakhali via Manikganj, Rajbari, Faridpur, Magura, Jhinaidaha, Kaliganj, Jessore, Nowapara, Fultola, Doulatpur, Khulna and Bagherhat. Hundreds of thousands of community folks have expressed their solidarity with us in the course of progression of this long march and during the time of preparation focusing the 7-point demands and to protect the Sundarbans. People of Bangladesh from all walks of life have participated here. Some of the many organisations are: leftist progressive democratic political parties, farmers-day labours-women-students-youth-science organisations, music groups, theater groups, film organisations, study circle groups, little magazine groups and many more. Along with the political activists and leaders, there are participants from academics, school and college teachers, students, scientists, engineers, professionals, artists, writers, journalists, filmmakers, farmers, workers, housewives, and community women and men. During the long march, several solidarity demonstrations and public meetings were also held in London, Amsterdam and Paris.

During our long march in Bangladesh, we had been faced with administrative threats and harassment by Police when our long march tried to enter the district of Jessore. They attempted to downfall the long march by rescinding approval of a pre-scheduled demonstration in the final phase. Not only revocation but also had they tried to obstruct the program by menacing when entering Jessore and during our stay inside the city. But the Sundarbans long march had entered the district of Jessore by passing all the stumbling blocks, and successfully completed its journey by organising protest-rallies and processions. From today’s meeting, we, once again, strongly protest the odious conspiracy of the government and administration.

This long march has been organized with a view to voicing the ‘7-point demands’ to mitigate energy crisis, including immediate annulment of the  Rampal and Orion power projects, and to avert destruction of the Sundarbans. While the government is leading the violent invasion of the profiteers on the Sundarbans by wreck, ravage and appropriation in the name of power generation and development, people at the same time by virtue of their sovereign rights are forming a domain of resistance. This long march is part of that long-term resistance.

The Sundarbans is not just some flora and faunas but a splendid mangrove forest that offers much more than one sees. It is the noble sum of myriad lives, a peerless ecosystem and natural safety net as an extraordinary resorvour of biodiversity and a renowned world heritage. This mangrove forest does not only provide the livelihood of millions of inhabitants but also saves the life and belongings of about 40 million people from natural catastrophes like Sidr and Aila. The vast coastline area alongside the country’s geographical border and outside the border is in effect allied with the existence of the Sundarbans.

The agreement signed between the National Thermal Power Corporation  of India and the Power Development Board of Bangladesh is totally unequal, one-sided and against the national interest of Bangladesh. Likewise the Orion Company of Bangladesh- it was given permission to set up coal-based power plant by turning a blind eye to all kinds of laws and rules. Apart from the irreplaceable destruction of mankind and nature, Bangladesh will suffer from huge financial loss if this project is executed. Earlier land acquisition by abnegating the codes of environmental assessment, persecution and eviction of local inhabitants, rejection of the High Court ruling and late formulation of a self-contradictory, flawed, incomplete, and preposterous environmental assessment – all emphasised that the local and international groups are frenzied to establish these power plants. However, independent studies on and investigations about the Sundanbans implied that our forest will face a catastrophe once the power plants are established and the entire Bangladesh will be susceptible.

Long-term research by the environmental and climate scientists show that the Rampal coal-based power plant will annually generate 52 thousand tons of toxic Sulfur dioxide, 30 thousand tons of Nitrogen dioxide, 0.75 million tons of fly ash and 2 hundred thousands of bottom ash. Further, water withdrawal from the River of Pashur at a rate of 9150 cubic meter per hour, subsequent colossal discharge of the polluted water into the river, and temperature of the discharged water and various toxic elements dissolved in the water will damage the natural water flow of the river, its ability to carry sediment and the life cycle of fishes, plants and other living beings. Indeed, what we see is that ultimately aquatic ecology of the Sundarbans will be destroyed by those coal based projects. Coal transportation through the Sundarbans, liquid and solid toxic wastes from the ships, oil spillage, flood lights will be devastative for normal life cycle and biodiversity of the Sundarbans. In addition, the pollution will take on its worst form if the 565 MW Orion plant and another 1320 MW unit in Rampal will be established.

As it seems now all arrangements to assassin the Sundarbans are in full swing. The massive shelter of life by establishing Rampal and Orion power projects on the one hand, by ignoring all forms of protests from the people and rejecting expert opinions on the dire consequences, and on the other hand, various projects in the name of power plant are being undertaken for the interests of land-grabbers. The forest is getting damaged everyday by the aggression of the profiteers. Various commercial and illicit activities like shipyards, silos and cement factories are on the rise. While the country, especially the coastal areas, are facing climate change threats, many indiscreet projects along the coastal line, such as, Rampal and Madarbari are simply worsening the situation and posing new dangers to our climate and livelihood. A nuclear power plant in Rooppur is also under process of construction, posing grave threats to our environment and communities.

We want to declare firmly that sustainable solution to country’s power crisis can only be found in the implementation of the 7-point programmes of the National Committee. Sustainable development or solution to energy crisis cannot be found in destructive projects like Rampal, Rooppur or Moheshkhali power plants.

For the last one and a half decades, one of the leading issues that National Committee has been working on is how to ensure a sustainable system of constant power supply. We said:

  • If the primary fuel for energy production remains under national ownership,
  • if a ban on export of mineral resources can be legally adopted,
  • if the renewable and non-renewable fuel-based segments of power generation can be expanded,
  • if the growth of national capability can be prioritized in all these aspects, Bangladesh can very soon attain its level of self-dependency.
  • It is very much possible to deliver power in every household and a major change is agro-economy is also probable. But the power sector remains with crises and it has become increasingly expensive and aid-dependent for the government is engaged in nourishing the local and foreign plunderers instead of adopting the right path as per continuation of the previous governments. What the government has adopted in the name of energy-crisis mitigation is actually serving the local and international looters. Terrible burdens of aid along with newer threats of environmental dangers are being imposed upon people. This is why this public-march is strongly demanding the execution of the 7-point demands of the National Committee, including immediate annulment of PSC agreement, immediate cessation of handing of oil and gas resources of the Bay of Bengal over to the foreign companies without any tender process, and complete enactment of Phulbari agreement and legal ban on export of mineral resources.

We have been constantly illustrating examples that there are many choices for power generation, but there is no substitute to the Sundarbans. This mangrove forest along with the country is now bearing the bruises due to adoption of wrong governmental policies, corruptions and invasions slanted towards profits, over and over. We showed with evidence that the Rampal and Orion power plants will be the death blow. We will not let the Sundarbans, the part of our existence to be destroyed for the sake of span-less profit of some Indian Company. We will not let the local land grabbers go uninterrupted. We cannot allow our Bangladesh go in the hands of occupant pillagers – regardless of whether it is India, China, the USA or Russia. We cannot let our Bangladesh emerging from the freedom fight drag into some imperial ploy.

In order to save the Sundarbans, situated alongside both the borders of Bangladesh and India,  and to prevent our existence from being destroyed by a coal-based project, this is a timely call to join our hands with our Indian activists and community people. We are demanding the Indian government to repeal this project and also urging the people of India to join the fight. It is also a juncture when we need to interconnect the fight of the people across the world. Many have already expressed their solidarity with us, whom we would like to thank and congratulate as timely comrades.

We demand the Bangladesh government to immediately stop all kinds of vindictive activities against the Sundarbans. We also demand an immediate constitution and implementation of ‘The Sundarbans Policy’ to help the forest develop in a healthy and regenerative way. We are demanding from the long march that, Rampal, Orion and all other harmful projects around the vicinity of the Sundanbans must be turned around within 15th of May. If necessary, we urge the government to come to an open discussion or debate with us. And if the government fails to abandon this cataclysmic project within this time line, we with the rank and file of the country will be compelled to declare Dhaka going long march, sit-in, besiege, strike, blockade and other programs to trigger a larger movement.

We urge scientists, engineers, academics, writers, artists, day-workers, farmers, students, teachers and community women and men at all levels of the society to strengthen the national defense by collective and active participation. It is this Sundarbans that protected us from dangers in many ways. To protect these beautiful and kind forests is our national obligation. We all have to come forward with this obligation. We shall in no way let our noble and motherly icon Sundarbans be a victim to profits of the local and international extortionists.

 

Kantakhali. 13th March, 2016

#SAVEtheSUNDARBANS   #StopRAMPALPowerPlant  #NOCOALbasedPOWERPLANT

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