Too much noise about Rampal with no one to heed
The controversial Rampal power plant has generated a noisy political platform in Bangladesh with the ruling and opposition parties along with groups of nature and animal lovers have been pitted against one another in what is now the most talked about issue in the country.
The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is adamant to build the thermal power plant with money and materials (coal and others) coming almost entirely from India which itself refused to host the plant (for meeting power needs in both countries) because of environmental concerns.
The plant near the Sundarbans, the world's biggest mangrove forest, will likely to destroy the wildlife and plants, flora and fauna in the forest, which is also a UNESCO heritage site, say the opposition BNP and allied parties as well as hosts of environment protection, nature sensitive groups seeking to protect natural resources and ecological diversity in the area.
They have held a series of futile programmes including long march, rallies and demonstrations across the country to protest against the plant and obstruct construction of hundreds of other industrial project around it that together will 'simply kill' the Sundarbans, which is shared between Bangladesh and India and home to the famous Royal Bengal Tigers and hundreds of animal species, including spotted deer, monkeys and others.
The government and ruling Awami League not only dismissed such fears and concerns but vowed to go ahead with the proposed Rampal and other plants - pushing the rivals almost on a war footing. More protests are being planned for next weeks and months while the government has put the law enforcing agencies on high alert to prevent the protests - which analysts say are gradually taking turn to a political campaign.
Ruling party leaders say the BNP is trying to use the Rampal protest as a pretext to get closer to the people and return to a spotlight after it had been virtually 'ditched' by the people who strongly demand immediate end to power shortage in the country. Rampal would be a big response to their demand and largely solve the power crisis, Energy Ministry officials insist.
The battle line was specifically drawn after a damaging oil sleek from a sinking fuel tanker was caused in a river flowing by the Sundarbans early this year, killing a large number of mammals and plants - and also threatening lives of people living around the forest.
International experts, UN officials and others fighting to preserve the nature supported Bangladesh nature lobbyists who came up with strong arguments in favour of their campaign. They demanded a permanent ban on movement of vessels on the Sundarbans rivers as well as immediate cancellation of the Rampal project. The government, however, turned a deaf ear and also did not object to construction of a string of private industries and projects in nearby areas.
The Sundarbans provide a natural shield to Bangladesh against cyclones and tidal surge that frequent the country from the Bay of Bengal almost every year, killing hundreds or thousands of people and making many more homeless. The lobbyists say the scale of devastation and loss of lives and property would increase manifold if the forest cover is removed (or destroyed) under any excuse. They say Bangladesh can generate power to meet its requirement anywhere sparing the Sundarbans. But there is no response from the authorities yet, except for toughening their own stance.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the size and vigour of the protest would be determined by the response of the government to their call for shunning the Rampal project. But there is no hope or reason to believe that the government will step back on this - thus leaving the two parties to use the issue as a political weapon against each other.
Awami League leaders say BNP along with its allies is trying to mislead the people by false propaganda in their effort to shore up their popularity in recent years - lost for involvement in a series of violence including killing people by throwing petrol bombs on vehicles - and also for boycotting the 2014 parliamentary election.
As the debate spreads, the argument on both sides gets bitter, leading towards a physical confrontation between supporters of Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, the incumbent and ex-PM.
The 'Save Sundarbans' campaign is getting wider publicity in the social media in recent times, with one post showing a Royal Bengal tiger with its belongings knocking at the door of house and begging for shelter. 'We can't stay any longer in the Sundarbans, please give us refuge,' the caption of the post reads.
In another post, a father monkey is seen reading a piece of paper with his child asking what was written in there. The big ape replies '(It's) a notice to leave the Sundarbans.'
Where this campaign will ultimately lead to is still a matter of guess but one thing is almost clear that neither side will desist from pressing their respective points while the government will try to complete construction of the Rampal plant quickly.r
Anis Ahmed is Executive Editor,
The Daily Observer