The Rampal Power Station (Bengali: রামপাল বিদ্যুৎ কেন্দ্র) is a proposed 1320 megawatt coal-fired power station at Rampal Upazila of Bagerhat District in Khulna, Bangladesh. The proposed project, on an area of over 1834 acres of land, is situated 14 kilometers north of the world’s largest mangrove forest Sundarbans which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It will be the country’s largest power plant.
It is being set up by BIFPCL (Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company Limited) which is a 50:50 joint venture between India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh’s Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB). BIFCPL awarded an EPC contract to BHEL valued at over US$1.49 billion for setting up of Maitree Super Thermal Power Project (2X660MW). BHEL has started EPC activities and the first dispatch happened in January 2018.
In August 2010, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) and India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) where they designated to implement the project by 2016. On 29 January 2012, the Bangladesh Power Development Board signed an agreement with NTPC to build the plant. The joint venture company is known as Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPC). The BPDB and the NTPC agreed to implement the project on a 50:50 equity basis. The NTPC will set up and operate the plant. Bangladesh and India will equally share up to 30 percent of the capital of this project as equity. The remainder of the capital, which might be equivalent to US$1.5 billion, will be taken as bank loans with help from the NTPC. According to the sources in the Bangladesh Power Division, the joint venture company will enjoy a 15-year tax holiday.
This project violates the environmental impact assessment guidelines for coal-based thermal power plants. A 2016 Unesco report called the Environmental Impact Assessment questionable and called for shelving the project.
On 1 August 2013, the Department of Environment (DoE) of Bangladesh approved construction, but then changed its stance and set 50 preconditions for the project. But the location of the plant, 14 kilometers from the Sundarbans, violates one of the basic preconditions which says such projects must be outside a 25-kilometer radius from the outer periphery of an ecologically sensitive area.
Environmental activists contend that the proposed location of the Rampal Station would violate provisions of the Ramsar Convention. The Ramsar Convention, to which Bangladesh is a signatory, is an international environmental treaty for the conservation of wetlands. The Sundarbans are on Ramsar’s list of wetlands of international importance.
The plant will need to import 4.72 million tons of coal per year. This massive freight will need about 59 ships each having 80,000-ton capacity that would be taken to the port on the bank of the Poshur river. The 40 kilometres from the port to the plant cuts through the Sundarbans and it includes the river flow path. Environmentalists say these coal-carrying vehicles are not often covered as they scatter large amounts of fly ash, coal dust and sulphur, and other toxic chemicals are released throughout the life of the project. Carrying a large amount of coal through the shallow rivers also pose a threat as five vessels with a load of coal, oil, and potash sank in the nearby rivers from the time period of December 2014 to January 2017.
The plant would draw 219,600 cubic meters of water every day from the Poshur river, and discharge treated wastewater back into that river causing pollutants to be introduced into the water supply to the detriment of the mangroves, the marine animals living there, and nearby population.
The predictions made by environment and ecology experts are that the plant will release toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide, thereby putting the surrounding areas and, most importantly, Sundarban at grave risk.
According to a report published in New Age, in past few years, the Indian central and state authorities which deal with environmental concerns in India denied the proposal of NTPC to set up a similar coal-fired thermal power plant at Gajmara in Gadarwara of Madhya Pradesh over a number of points. NTPC failed to get the approval of the Indian Central Green Panel (Green Tribunal) in 2010 for the construction of that coal-fired thermal power plant because a vast portion of double-crop agricultural land reportedly comprised the site, a similar situation to Rampal.