Bangladesh police lob tear-gas shells on anti-Rampal protesters

A half-day shutdown against government plans to build an Indo-Bangla joint power plant project in Sundarbans was held.

Published: 26th January 2017 07:55 PM  |   Last Updated: 26th January 2017 08:18 PM   |  A+A-

Dhaka A Bangladeshi policeman fires tear gas shells to disperse protestors demanding cancellation of a plan for a massive coal-fired power plant near ecologically sensitive mangrove forests on the coast in Dhaka Bangladesh Thursday Jan. 26 2017. PTI


DHAKA: Bangladeshi police today lobbed tear-gas shells, fired rubber-bullets and used water-cannons to disperse protesters observing a half-day shutdown against government plans to build an Indo-Bangla joint power plant project in Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. Witnesses said hundreds of environmental activists from National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports rallied at central Dhaka's Shahbagh area to enforce the strike demanding the coal-fired Rampal power plant near the Sundarbans be relocated to "save the forest". "We were forced to use tear gas canisters and water cannons as they (protesters) brick batted our men," a police spokesman told reporters.

He said at least five activists of the pro-left civil society group were detained from the scene. Eyewitnesses said the riot police lobbed nearly 100 tear gas shells and used water-cannons to disperse protesters who threw brickbats or stones on security personnel. "Police used teargas and rubber bullets several times since morning," Iqbal Kabir, the coordinator of an alliance of the student bodies, was quoted as saying by the Main opposition party outside parliament Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) and several leftist organisations and environmental groups had extended their support to the protesters who staged street marches in other parts of Dhaka.

The strike, however, had little impact on public life in the capital as most schools and businesses were open and traffic movements were nearly normal. The 1320 MW coal-based power plant in Rampal is a joint India-Bangladesh project currently under commissioning. The proximity of the project to the world's largest mangrove forest prompted protests from several leftist organisations. Environmentalists say the proposed plant would be a significant threat to the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site. But the government maintains that it would not harm the Sundarbans, partly owned by India.

The strike came a week after green activist and former US vice president Al Gore urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to stop building the Rampal plant in a plenary session of the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. "My advice would be, don’t build that dirty coal plant," Gore told Hasina who was sitting next to him in the programme. Hasina, however, defended the project saying it was being built far away from the Sundarbans. "I would have been the first person to oppose the power plant had there been a slightest chance of damage of the Sundarbans," Hasina had said earlier.

The National Committee in October 2016 sent a letter to the Indian premier through the Indian High Commission in Dhaka seeking his intervention to scrap the project. Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company (Pvt.) Limited (BIFPCL), a joint venture enterprise, inked the deal with state-run Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), which was selected under an open international tender for constructing the "ultra-super critical thermal plant" at Rampal. India’s Exim Bank finances the USD 1.49 billion project, scheduled to launch generating power in 2019.


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