More Than 100 Activists Urge China to Halt Bangladesh Coal Power Project

A letter sent to Beijing reminds China's government it has pledged to end support to highly polluting projects.
2021.06.22
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More Than 100 Activists Urge China to Halt Bangladesh Coal Power Project Smoke and flames are seen from discarded goods set on fire by workers protesting at a power plant in Banshkhali sub-district, southeastern Bangladesh, April 17, 2021.
BenarNews

More than 100 activists from 21 countries sent a letter to China’s government on Tuesday calling for it to end financing of a coal-fired power plant in Bangladesh, saying Beijing had notified Dhaka in February that it would no longer support highly polluting projects.

In 2016, Bangladesh approved the majority-Chinese funded Banshkhali S. Alam project, which has been controversial from the start, with allegations of undue force by police against protesters, and wage and labor issues.

“In February 2021, the Economic and Commercial Counselor of China in Bangladesh sent a letter to the Bangladesh Ministry of Finance stating that ‘the Chinese side shall no longer consider projects with high pollution and high energy consumption, such as coal mining and coal-fired power stations,’” the activists wrote in the letter signed by Hasan Mehedi, member secretary of the Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED).

The activists’ letter noted that China’s President Xi Jinping had called to “pursue open, green and clean cooperation” in a speech at the second Belt and Road Forum in 2019.

It also noted the project’s controversial history.

“Since the beginning of the project in 2016, 12 people have lost their lives, more than 100 got injured and harassment cases have been filed against over 6,000 workers and villagers in three different incidents around this power plant,” the letter said.

“Local people consider the project a curse for themselves as not only lives were lost but at least 10,000 people have been affected by the losses of homesteads and farmland because of this project.”

Mehedi confirmed that the letter signed by 129 activists from 74 organizations had been emailed to Wang Wentao, the Chinese commerce minister. A copy is to be sent to the Chinese Embassy in Dhaka.

“We will fax a copy of the letter on Wednesday,” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

The letter called for the withdrawal of all Chinese investment and involvement in the Banshkhali plant. It also demanded an investigation into alleged human rights violations there and reportedly false information contained in an Environmental Impact Assessment of the project.

“Without exceptions, cancel all ongoing and future investments in fossil fuel including coal, oil and gas,” it said.

The Banshkhali S. Alam project is scheduled to begin producing 1,320 MW of power in 2023. China financed 70 percent of the U.S. $2.49 billion cost of the project, according to information on S. Alam Group’s website.

The plant, also called SS Power I, is being built by Shandong Electric Power Construction Corp. (SEPCOIII), a subsidiary of PowerChina, a Chinese central government enterprise, according to three environmental groups.

Ebadat Hossain Bhuiyan, the SS Power I chief financial officer, said he was not aware of the letter, but challenged its contents.

“If the letter mentioned that the power plant will pollute the environment or it is breaching human rights, then it is totally false,” he told BenarNews.

“And we do not know why they are making false statements against us.”

The Chinese Embassy in Dhaka did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment on the letter.

Mohammad Hossain, director general of the power cell, a division of the Ministry of Power and Energy and Mineral Resources, also said he was not aware of the letter, but compared it to a similar effort five years ago.

“Sending a letter to a foreign country requesting suspension of funding in a local development project is frustrating,” he told BenarNews.

“Previously, we saw such a move during the Rampal Power Plant project – that time some individuals and so-called green groups sent a letter to UNESCO.”

In 2016, several NGOs sent a petition to the U.N. agency’s World Heritage Committee about the plan to construct Rampal and Orion coal-powered plants within 14 km (8.6 miles) of the Sundarbans, the largest existing mangrove forest in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Environmental report challenged

The letter about the Banshkhali project said the coal plant would be “extremely harmful” to the health of people living in the area.

It cited a report published last week by three green groups, which said that a Bangladesh-government cleared environmental report on the project downplays information about its effect on air quality.

BWGED, joined by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air and co-signer Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association, said the report’s modeling was flawed, leading to a prediction of pollution levels many times lower than what would be established through appropriate modeling.

Sharif Jamil, general secretary of the environmental organization Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said China should switch funding from the Banshkhali coal plant to a renewable power project.

“China should consider the letter an effort to save the earth as we are amid a planetary emergency,” Jamil, whose organization is a signatory to the letter sent to the Chinese commerce minister, told BenarNews on Tuesday.

The letter urged China to demonstrate it is committed to environmental issues.

“We hope you will reconsider your decision of financial and technical support for the Banshkhali power project and show your commitment toward a green [One Belt, One Road] Initiative by respecting human and environmental rights, not a blood and tear-spilled one,” the letter said.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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