At the 41st annual session of World Heritage Committee (WHC) which was held from July 2nd -12th 2017 at Krakow, Poland, the draft resolution was amended optimistically to give boost to the Rampal coal-based power plant. Bangladesh was supported by a total of 12 countries to persuade the World Heritage Committee (WHC) of UNESCO to withdraw its objection on Rampal power plant. Still there are stances against the construction from different activists and this move has been highly criticised by some media pointing that the claim of Bangladesh government is impertinent. Many think that the claims made by foreign ministry that the committee “endorsed” the construction of a coal-based power plant at Rampal near the Sundarbans is creating oxymoron when being compared to the draft resolution.
When briefing at a press conference to bring out the outcomes of the 41st session of WHC Prime Minister’s Energy Adviser Tawfiq-E-Elahi Chowdhury states that with this stand of UNESCO the long international debate over coal-based power plant was established. Focusing on the changes made on the earlier draft, it is clearly visible that WHC is giving a go on the Rampal power plant. The Advisor of the Prime Minister also added that because of the goodwill and competence of Bangladesh’s Government UNESCO revised their observation on their favour. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s international image as UN’s highest environmental accolade Champions of the Earth they put their judgment in our favour. Dhaka has already agreed to the request of carrying out Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) of its south-west region, which includes the Sundarbans before beginning the project.
It is already known that Indian Company Bharat Heavy Electricals will build the plant costing USD 1.7 million and Indian state owned company Coal India will supply four million tonnes of coal annually. While removing the earlier clause on holding the construction for the Rampal power point, the WHC was unbending on pointing out on the conservation of the Sundarbans in general and of the plants in particular.
In the amended draft resolution by the WHC the following clauses were taken out which indicates that it has no objection on the deleted provisions. Earlier the committee requested the State party to ensure that any large scale industrial and/or infrastructure development including the Rampal power plant will not be allowed to proceed before the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). In its latest draft the portion Rampal power plant was deleted and now no restriction on the construction on the plant remains.
The committee also removes the request to the State party on to ensure that no dredging activities are conducted before Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Removal of this clause from the draft resolution is a clear way forward to continue with the construction plan of the Rampal power plant.
The WHC also takes out its earlier stand on stating that there is insufficient evidence available to demonstrate that the dreadful environment impacts can be mitigated. From Bangladesh side it was successfully carried out that use of latest and most sophisticated technology would be used to minimal impact on the mangrove forest when UNESCO raised their concern. The WHC was successfully convinced about the sincerity from Bangladesh side and willingly removed the clause from the resolution.
The most important point to be mentioned over here is that UNESCO removed the clause they put earlier from the draft stating not to proceed further with the implementation on Rampal power plant in the current location. This leaves no point of doubting that the WHC is fine with its current location and believes in the plan made by the plant implementing authorities after assuring them that the WHC’s concerns will be replicated accordingly.
Finally the WHC was supposed to put the property on the list of World Heritage in Danger and after considering the latest developments removed the possibility to continue with earlier decision. The committee also urges the State party to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the property by December 2018.
With getting a positive vibe from the WHC the Bangladesh Government is planning to use ultra-supercritical technologies which will not harm the Sundarbans. The spokesperson from the government also assures that Bangladesh Government is highly concern with the Sundarbans status as a World Heritage site and will take all the measures for its overall conservation.
After successful argument and presentation from Bangladesh side on detailed technological aspects of the project showing its minimal impact on the Sundarbans, the WHC is convinced to let the power plant a go. Previously the critics were very much vocal with the restrictions imposed by WHC earlier. The recent one is also getting scrutinised and interpreted in a way where some people want to imply that the WHC didn’t give a green signal to the project. But the government is well motivated on the newly positive outcome from the WHC and proceeding accordingly with construction of the plant and making sure of maintaining the concerns of the WHC.
Asif Kabir, Dhaka