Conze wary of Rampal effect

German ambassador in Dhaka Albrecht Conze’s concerns about the Bangladesh-India joint Rampal power plant are not directed at a coal-fired project but the environmental risk it poses to the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.

Published : 29 April 2014, 04:33 PM
Updated : 29 April 2014, 04:35 PM

The ambassador said on Tuesday he wanted to draw everybody’s attention to the UNESCO’s granting of the ‘world heritage site’ status to the Sundarbans, a prestigious rating it could revoke in the face of man-made alterations, just as it had once happened with a German city.

He said his remark bore no insinuation but a plain reminder that the world heritage status conferred by the UNESCO was not necessarily permanent.

The question arose as a German company is to be hired as the project’s Chief Consultant by the Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company despite the ambassador’s worries.

Officials say Fichtner, also known as ‘Owners Engineers’ would prepare the plant design, appoint contractors, oversee equipment purchase, and supervise the construction work.

The ambassador had expressed “concern” over the construction of the 1320MW coal-fired plant while on a visit to Khulna last month, saying “it is not too late to look for other sites”.

He had said that he was “not convinced” that the positive effects of getting electricity from the plant would “outweigh the project’s environmental risks”.

File Photo

The power plant is proposed to be set up on 1,834 acres near the Mongla seaport.

Conze had said it was possible to make coal-based energy generation less harmful for the environment "by using the latest technology and high quality filtering systems”.

“As market leaders in environment friendly technologies, German companies are always ready to propose to Bangladesh the latest technology of coal-based power generation,” he had said.

On Tuesday, he said what he was suggesting or throwing into the debate was “is this really the last word on the location; could there not be a place found 20 or 30 kilometres away from the borders of the Sundarbans”.

He said he had not talked to the German consultant yet but had merely read newspaper reports.

He would try to find out the company’s plans, he said, and hoped they would address some the concerns “I and many others in your country have”.

But he said the appointment of a German company as the Chief Consultant “may even be encouraging”.

“Maybe, they will point out the risks and insist on really top-grade technology to offer the maximum protection to the environment from the plant’s emissions.”.

This could resolve the dilemma, he said.

The former opposition BNP Chief Khalea Zia had also demanded the shelving of the project, appealing to environmentalists to launch a movement.

A section of environmental scientists and activists had protested, warning the government of the plant’s disastrous impact on the nearby Sundarbans.

But the German ambassador was the only diplomat to speak against the choice of the project site.

He, on Tuesday, said he had the chance to see “probably the most-extraordinary” natural treasure called the Sundarbans during his visit with all the criticisms he had read about the project still fresh in his mind.

He said he had discussed the issue with scientists at the Khulna University who had studied in Germany.

He said Germany, in a way, claimed to be the “cradle of environmentalism”.

The Green Party, now a global phenomenon, was born in that country.

He was not a member of any party, he said, but, like most Germans, felt deeply about the environment.

He said he found it a “little adventurous or even hazardous to plan something just a few kilometre from the borders (of the Sundarbans) with regard to the status”.

“I just wanted to draw everybody’s attention. What you do is entirely your affair,” he said.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher