Friday, July 15, 2011

People Resist Move To Build Power Plant Near Sundarbans

Despite a High Court (HC) ban on building power project closer to the Sundarbans which is an ecologically vulnerable zone, the government is using police force against local villagers to take away their land to give it to an Indian power generation company.

The left front government in West Bengal lost power because of its attempt to take away farmers' land to give it to a big industry. Arial Beel in Munshiganj proved that nothing can be done if people rise in revolt against any land acquisition scheme.

And yet the government is opening a new front this time to take away farmers' land to give it to Indian big business at the cost of farmers' livelihood and right to live in their own homes.

Police and villagers are facing a growing confrontation over the project this time at Rampal upazila on Mongla-Kkulna highway where the government has planned to acquire a large swath of arable land to hand over to an Indian power generation company.

The company wants to set up a coal-based 1320 MW power plant there.   

The confrontation is only on the increase as hundreds of villagers armed with bamboo-sticks,
gathered on the highway Saturday last protesting the move to acquire 2,000 acres of land on which they grow crops twice a year to make a living.
Confrontation with villagers 
People were locked in an hour-long clash with police and at least 50 people were injured. The land belongs to people from five local villages and hundreds of people from those villages formed a human chain under the banner of Krishi Jomi Rakkha Sangram Committee (committee to save cultivable land) on the spot that day located under Bagerhat district.

The clash triggered violence all around when a contingent of riot police tried to snatch the banners charging batons on the protesting villagers standing on the road side. The agitated villagers equipped with bamboo-sticks, brickbats etc attacked the police resulting in clash and counter clash. The area turned into a battle ground snapping road communication for at least three hours. The villagers left the place when additional police force reached there. Deputy Commissioner of Bagerhat claimed the situation was however under control.
Human chain 
Meanwhile, different environmentalist groups, human rights activists and local groups have joined hand to protect the land acquisition move and save the area from the impact of dust that may spread from a coal-run power plant.

Centre for Human Rights Movement (CHRM), Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (BAPA), Sundarban Parjatan Club and Save the Sundarbans joined the human chain Saturday and demanded that the government should remove the venue to save the arable land.

Environmental scientist Professor D. M. Sadrul Amin, Chief Coordinator of Save the Sundarbans, Sheikh Faridul Islam, President of the organization and Freedom Fighter Abdul Malek Gazi, Joint Secretary BAPA, Shajahan Mridha Benu, Coordinator Krishi, Bon Sampad Rakkha Jatiya Committee, Engineer M Inamul Hoq, Secretary CHRM M Muzahidul Islam, Divisional Coordinator Advocate Azizul Hoq, Prinicipal Shaikh Siddique Ahmed, Secretary Krishi Jomi Rakkha Sangram Committee Moynul Hoq and Journalist Yaseen Babu have given the call to scrap the entire project from the region to save the Sundarbans from disaster.

They said the Sundarbans is within 12 km proximity of the project site. This is an ecologically sensitive zone and in the interest of saving the rain forest the local community vowed to continue to resist the project and go for any movement at national level.

The important thing is that the ministry of forest and environmental has a ban on taking any such activity in the region which may endanger the Sundarbans. But the project authority appeared not to have bothered to seek permission from the directorate of environment.

 Moreover, such project is not also congenial to smooth operation of Mongla Port which is only a few kilometres from the project site, because the coal dust that it may cause would be harmful to safe living. Sources say, Chittagong Port Authority has earlier opposed such a power plant at Anwara on the same ground.

But the question is the government itself is the violator of the ground rules.

But land acquisition has increasingly become a critical issue. The government only recently tested the bitter resistance at Arial Beel when the local people rose in an open revolt to save their land which the authorities had tried to acquire to build an airport.

The left front government in West Bengal had to leave power largely because of similar bloody revolt of farmers in Singur and Nandigram when it sought to take over land to build a Tata car factory in the first place and an industrial park on the later.

Moreover local people remained sceptical as to why the government is going to hand over thecountry's power sector to an Indian giant thereby making it dependent on it at a time when the balance of trade is tremendously negative and is only widening.

Bangladesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Aug 30 last year at New Delhi to set up the power plant by an Indian company. Meanwhile the government decided to acquire the land in question from the villagers of Sapmari, Daidarbesh Kati, Basurhulla and Katakhali of Rampal upazila. The villagers claimed it is their arable lands which give them food.

Moreover, they will be forced to migrate if the power project continues. Besides, impacting the world heritage of Sundarbans, coal dust will spread diseases and create other environmental hazards. The leaders of CHRM also pointed out that a High Court bench, comprising Justice AHM Shamsuddin and Justice Shaikh M Zakir Hussain, has already ordered a stay on the move to build the power project.

Rights activists wondered why the government is using police force against innocent
villagers despite the fact that the High Court has already put a ban on such project at such a sensitive location.