Power generation made the local people sufferer in Bangladesh

After an 11-hour-long cruise at night from the capital city Dhaka, the passenger ferry usually lands at Bangladesh’s lone island district Bhola in the early morning. From the ferry terminal it takes one more hour on bus to reach Borhanuddin sub-district lying on the single highway of the island- Bhola Sadar – Char Fashion.

Then another 20-minutetravel by motorized van takes you to the energy hub of the district– locatedat DakshinKutba and ChhotaManika villages,near the TentuliaRiver in the coast.

There you’ll see only massive structures once you cross the entrance of the power plant area, because three power plants are situated inside the same boundary.

First your eyes will stick to the 225MW gas-run Bhola-1 power plant; in the left there is a 90MW gas-run plant operated by Aggreko, and on the right you will find workers busy building the infrastructure of a new 220-225MW combined-cycle power plant, under the authority of NutanBidyut Bangladesh Limited (NBBL).

Apparently, the local people are happy with the development activities as some of them have got job here as laborers. But the overall situation is not so simple.

The people who owned the land of the proposed220MW plant are claiming that they were forced to handover their land to the plant authorities against inadequate compensation, and later were gradually evicted from their ancestral land.

They also claiming that the power plant authorities had not consulted with them beforeplanning or initiating the construction. Due to lack of preservation plans, the local people have lost their farm land as well as other means of livelihood.

Authorities of the independent power plant (IPP) owned by NutanBidyut Bangladesh Limited (NBBL)haveacquired 17.28 acres of land for the project. Of them, 11.5 acres were leased from Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) and 5.78 acres from the local landowners.

The project site of this 220MW plant – to be run by both natural gas and diesel – covered agricultural and low-lying land.

 [Image by: Abu Siddique]

“My family has lost around 80 decimals of land, for which the market price is around BDT800,000. However, we have received only BDT150,000,” said 23-year-old Mohammad Shahin, who now runs a tea stall in front of the construction site.

According to the Department of Agriculture Extension’s local office, the people of the project site were dependent on agriculture to meet their living means. Producing rice, wheat, betel-leaf, potato, vegetables and livestock husbandry were the major means of their livelihood.

“We’ve lost everything: our arable lands as well as other sources of income. Now we are selling tea to survive,” said Shahin, with his younger brother Hridoy sitting beside him.

Had he given a choice, he would not have sold it, Shahin said, adding that his family was fully dependent on the crops.

However, the power plant authorities claimed that they had verified land ownership and consulted with the landowners, inheritance and mutation of recordsbetween May 2016 and January 2017, as per theEnvironmental and Social Impact Assessment report.

The company also claimed that they had bought the lands from the local people in market price upon their consents.

Most of the people now living near the project area did not want to talk to media apparently out of reprisal. They don’t want to disclose the names of people behind the plunder of money meant for compensation.

Land pattern of the location

The project area is an active delta and all the lands are categorized as estuarine floodplains of the River Meghna. Thehighest point of this area has recorded at 3m from mean sea level, as per the SEIA report.

The Northern part is a bit higher in elevation than the southern part because of the erosion and sedimentation of this active delta.Loam soil with 56% silt, 23% sand and 21% clay makes this landvery fertile for cropping.

It also claimed that major part of the project area is medium height land (65.5%) which is less than 3 meter higher than the mean sea level. Of the rest, 20.1% is low land and a small portion is high land (14.4%).

The low lands are actually char land on theriver or canal (creeks) banks or river islets, and are usually treated aswetlands. The villages of DakshinKutba and ChhotaManika aresituated in this low land coverage area.

Eyewitness Abdul Huq, lab assistant of existing Bhola 225 MW Power Plant who is living in that area for that three years told that the project site had been a low-lying area and was filled up recently.

Regarding this, Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 2010 (Amendment)states that the land-pattern of any “wetland” could not be changed by landfilling or other means, unless there is a national interest arises.

NBBL, a sister concern of SP Infra India and finance

Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) signed an agreement in September 2012 with Indian company Lanco Power International Private Limited to construct a gas-based powerplant in Bhola on Build, Operate and Own (BOO) basis.

Later, the agreement was cancelled and the BPDB signed a new agreement in July 2015 with ShapoorjiPallonji Infrastructure Capital Company Private Limited (SP Infra), a subsidiary of Mumbai-based Shapoorji-Pallonji Group (SP Group) to construct an Independent Power Plant (IPP) in the same area.

After getting clearance from the Government of Bangladesh, the group registered a new company named NutanBidyut Bangladesh Limited (NBBL) on 27March 2016 to operate energybusiness in Bangladesh.

SP Group submitted a proposal to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) for private sector financing in implementation of the Bhola 220MW IPP in January 2018. The AIIB approved the project on 9 February 2018 with USD60 million. Later, in June 2018, NBBL signed separate agreement with Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to finance another USD 60 million for the project.

The NBBL signed an agreement with the BPDB to sell electricity to the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh (PGCB) for next 22 years.

However, according to the NBBL website, the plant will be capable of producing 220MW electricity, while the cover page of the ESIA report says the plant’s production capacity is 225MW power.

Bangladesh, an energy thirst country

The energy thirst country wants to see itself as a middle-income country by 2021, which requires development as well as energy sufficiency.

According to the Power Division, Bangladesh, the country’s daily average power generation is around 14,500MW, which is much less than the actual demand.

The per capita power production in Bangladesh is 380KW hour, and as per the government claims, 76% population has been brought under the coverage of national grid.

To meet the generation target, the government has planned to establish at least six large-scale coal-based power plants. The much-criticized 1320 MW Rampal Power Plant near the world’s single largest mangrove forest Sundarbans is one of them.

The rest are 1320MW Moheshkhalipower plant with the partnership of Malaysia, 1320MW Bangladesh-Korea joint venture power plant and the Bangladesh-Singapore joint venture Matarbari power plant. Most of them are supposed to produce electricity by 2021.

In addition, different initiatives have been taken both by the government and the private sector to produce another 500MW from renewable energy sources including solar and wind. But the implementation process seems slow.