Rampal Thermal Plant Will Destroy The Sundarbans: Prof Anu Muhammad
Nidheesh J Villatt |
November 18, 2016 7:38 pm Print
Reliance and Adani look to gain from the project which is funded by the
Indian taxpayer and is near the worldís largest mangrove forests which in
itself is endangered
Anu Muhammad, a professor of Economics at the Jahangirnagar University in
Bangladesh, is regarded as one of the seniormost radical public intellectuals in
his country. Professor Muhammad is also the member secretary of the National
Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports. He was in
India recently, seeking the support of people in India against a proposed power
project in the vicinity of the Sundarbans, the already endangered worldís
largest mangrove forests.
known as Rampal power project, a joint venture between India and Bangladesh, it
has created tremendous resentment in the affected areas. In a chat with Nidheesh
J. Villatt, Professor Muhammad says the project will destroy the
Sundarbans. He says Indian and Bangladeshi big business would make a huge profit
at the cost of the camaraderie between the people of two countries.
Nidheesh J. Villatt:
Why are the people of Bangladesh vehemently opposing the Rampal power project?
Prof. Anu Muhammad: The
Rampal power project, officially known as the Maitree Super Thermal Power
Project, is a joint venture between the NTPC of India and the BPDB of
Bangladesh. Itís proposed in the vicinity of the Sundarbans. As several studies
by international (including a UNESCO study) and local experts pointed out, this
project would permanently damage the Sundarbans, the worldís largest mangrove
forest as well as the only protection barrage of the southern part of
To be honest, Sunderbans is the last forest left out in Bangladesh. Authorities
would say there are forests in other regions of Bangladesh like the Chittagong
Hill Tracts. In reality forests in those regions exist only in paper. Massive
encroachment by corporates has vanished forests.
Around 3 to 4 million people in Bangladesh, traditional forest-dwellers and
fishworkers depend on the Sundarbans for their livelihood. The proposed coal
fired plant can ruin their livelihood. Add to this, 5 million people who live
in the vicinity of the Indian portion of the Sundarbans. Itís going to generate
a big crisis.
Coming back to the struggle in Bangladesh, itís growing into a massive movement.
One could say itís an unparalleled struggle in the contemporary history of
Bangladesh. Soon after the announcement about the Rampal project, there was a
flourishing of commercial activities in the surrounding area. There are
well-planned attempts to buy off land from the peasantry in these regions.
People of Bangladesh have great gratitude to India for playing an important role
in our liberation war in 1971. But some of the recent actions from Indian side
are alienating Bangladeshi people from India. For instance, construction of
Farakka dam, other upcoming dam projects, unfair trade agreements and loan terms
etc are creating resentment against India. The announcement of Rampal project
has accelerated this ill feeling. This is primarily because this project can
permanently damage the Sundarbans. This can also permanently damage
the Indo-Bangladesh friendship.
Can you tell us more about the political mobilisation thatís happening in
Bangladesh against the project?
from Bangladeshi big business and close collaborators of the ruling dispensation
led by Awami League, all sections of people are opposing the project. Physical
participation in the struggle is awesome. Cutting across age groups, people
actually participate in the movement. There are several student and youth
movements which were spontaneously formed to support the movement. People use
all forms communication strategies to register their protest including theatre
and poetry. Social media is also creatively used.
The National Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port Protection Committee is
coordinating the struggle. Different Communist parties and progressive social
movements are actively involved. Progressive writers and artists are in the
forefront of the struggle. Unprecedented support from masses has created
fissures even among the rank and file of the ruling Awami League. In several
cases, ordinary supporters of Awami Leauge are supporting us. This is in spite
of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina taking an authoritarian position within Awami
League. The prime minister is vehemently campaigning for the project and is in
not a mood to entertain dissent. But people are deserting her. There is a
growing resentment against Hasina even in armed forces and police. This October,
we had organised a march to Indian High Commission in Dhaka. We wanted to give a
representation to the Indian prime minister through High Commissioner. Police
prevented the march and unleashed brutal violence on peaceful protesters. In a
touching gesture, a policeman gave water to an injured protester at the spot.
The policeman said that several people like him in the police force are
emotionally with protesters.
Villatt: What is the
role played by mainstream opposition parties like BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami
and Jamaat are conspicuously silent. Both are keen to be in the good books of
the Indian establishment. But I donít deny that they might shrewdly try to
capitalise on the growing resentment. Since it is an Indian funded project, the
issue is politically sensitive. We are very clear that we want to maintain the
historically warm relation we have with the people of India. Progressive and
democratic individuals and social movements from India are also opposing it.
While governments of India and Bangladesh are trying to push it
undemocratically, people of two countries shall unite and struggle together to
protect the Sundarbans. Our movement is not an anti-India movement but anti-
corporate and anti-destructive movement.
Villatt: As you said
most expert studies hinted that this power plant would permanently damage the
Sundarbans. Then why is the Bangladesh government pushing for it?
Bangladesh government is dancing to the tune of Indian and Bangladesh big
business. Big corporates are keen to encroach on the fertile land of the
Sundarbans. Once the plant gets operationalised whole forest area would be
systematically privatised. Big business groups close to the Bangladeshi prime
minister are actively involved in suppressing peopleís protest also.
t is very important to understand the role and vested interests of Indian big
business in this project. Technically NTPC, an Indian public sector unit is
responsible for planning, building and operating the project. All matters
related to engineering, procurement and construction of the power plant would be
looked by BHEL, another Indian PSU. Exim Bank, a bank wholly owned by the
Government of India, is financing the project. To
be precise, public funds from India is going to be pumped here. But Indian big
business groups like Reliance and Adani have signed MoUs with the Bangladeshi
government to operate power and energy projects in the vicinity of the project
area. What does it mean? Indian public money would be used to fund a project
that would permanently damage the Sundarbans as well as camaraderie between
people of two countries. At the same time, Indian corporates like Reliance and
Adani would reap a huge profit. Itís anti-people in all senses.
are quite successfully leading the movement against the plant. How hostile has
the government been to you?
it comes to rhetoric, Bangladeshi government led by the Awami League is
completely against terrorism and fundamentalism. But Bangladeshi intelligence
agencies have unholy nexus with Islamic fundamentalist groups. Intelligence
agencies use these groups to eliminate political rivals. I too have got a death
threat from a self-claimed Islamist fundamentalist group on October
13. I was threatened with death if Iím continuing with the movement
against the power project. I have complained to the police. Even after two
months, the investigation is nowhere. Death threats or actual killings cannot
stop us fighting for justice.