Exim Bank of India - stop support for the Rampal Coal Power plant!

A small settlement in Bangladesh's Sundarbans, which extends into India to make the world's greatest mangrove forest - a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Area that is home for both people and countless wildlife species. Photo: Marufish via Flickr (CC BY-S
A small settlement in Bangladesh's Sundarbans, which extends into India to make the world's greatest mangrove forest - a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Area that is home for both people and countless wildlife species. Photo: Marufish via Flickr (CC BY-SA).
The Rampal coal power plant in Bangladesh, near the world's greatest mangrove forest, is a deeply misconceived project that must be abandoned, writes Johan Frijns in this Open Letter to the Exim Bank of India - which is planning to finance its construction. It would severely damage the precious local environment and wildlife, while adding to global climate change and sea level rise.
Sundarbans is home to some of the last Bengal tigers, the estuarine crocodile, the Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins, the Indian python, some 260 bird species and around 120 aquatic species. All would be at risk if the coal power plant becomes operational.

The Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, a natural fence protecting the coastal areas and shielding the people of Bangladesh from the devastation of cyclones, is now at risk of destruction.

The threat comes from a planned 1,320 MW coal plant in Bangladesh only 14 km away from the edge of the Sundarbans Reserve Forest.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site, a crucial source of livelihood for many and home to the royal Bengal tiger among other endangered species, is under threat from the Rampal project - with financing from the Export-Import Bank of India now a very real prospect.

If this coal plant is constructed it will pollute the whole ecosystem of the mangrove forest and have a severe detrimental impact on all those who inhabit the Sundarbans. It will also make a substantial contribution to climate change and rising sea levels, one of the threats to the Sundarbans forest, to the entire Bangladeshi nation, and to low-lying regions around the world.

The Ecologist is joining the call on Exim Bank India to abandon this uniquely damaging and misconceived project.

A severe and direct threat - locally and globally

Dear Mr. Yaduvendra Mathur, CEO of Exim Bank India,

We, the undersigned organisations from around the world, have learned that your institution intends to finance the construction of the 1,320 MW Rampal coal power plant in Bangladesh via the extension of a 'buyer's credit' of USD 1.6 billion to the Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Ltd.

We have received this news with great concern, as we consider the Rampal coal power plant a severe and direct threat, not only to the livelihoods of the local population and to the world renowned Sundarbans wetland adjacent to the project site, but also to the world's climate.

Exim Bank India is supposed to be an institution that takes its responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of its operations very seriously. After all, your 'Citizen's Charter' states that the bank "recognizes its obligations as a citizen of the world" and "considers citizens of India and the global community stakeholders of the bank", while the 'Export-Import Bank of India Act' reassures us that "the board [...] shall act on business principles with due regard to public interest."

Our organisations fail to see how Exim Bank India, a self-declared responsible 'citizen of the world' acting 'with due regard to public interest' could support a project as destructive as the Rampal coal power plant. As 'global community stakeholders of the bank' we would like to point out to your bank that this project:

Threatens the livelihoods of over two million of our fellow world citizens

Over two million people living in villages around the forest depend on the Sundarbans forest's resources to fulfill their basic needs, while others make use of products to earn a living.

The vast majority relies on aquatic resources such as shrimp cultivation or fisheries. Wood is collected for the construction of houses and boats but also for export. Acres of land acquired to build the coal plant were previously used for agriculture and farming activities.

With increased river erosion, noise pollution, health hazards and a decrease in the groundwater table as a result of the Rampal coal-fired power plant, there will inevitably be a loss of culture fisheries, social forestry and major destruction of agriculture.

Threatens to destroy the unique, extraordinary rich Sundarbans forest, a recognised UNESCO World Heritage site

Climate, topography, land use patterns, air and water (both surface and ground) quality, floral and faunal diversity, wetlands and tourism will be permanently affected by the proposed coal fired power plant.

The Rampal plant will pollute the air by releasing toxic gases which will impact people, animals, trees, plants and land. The plant will contaminate rivers by discharging used, warm water into the River Passur daily, for at least 25 years.

Additionally the rivers of the Sundarbans will be used as shipping routes to carry coal to the Rampal site. The four recent incidents involving sunken vessels which dumped oil, fertilizer and coal in the rivers stand as clear warnings of the accidents that will take place if the Rampal coal plant plans proceed.

Threatens to wipe out the Bengal tiger and other iconic species

Sundarbans is home to some of the last remaining iconic Bengal tigers, as well as the estuarine crocodile, the Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins, the Indian python, some 260 bird species and around 120 aquatic species.

If the coal power plant becomes operational, the toxic discharged water and polluted air, as well as the constant coal transport, will have a destructive effect on all life in the forest. It is not possible to protect high profile animals in the Sundarbans without a true balance between various ecosystems. Tigers will not be there without the deer, and deer will not be there without the keora tree.

If the Sundarbans degenerates we will be forever losing the animals which depend on it, with future generations no longer able to enjoy the splendid sight of these animals.

Threatens to add further havoc to an already deeply distressed global climate system

The Rampal power plant, once in operation, will emit 7.9 million tons of CO2 per year for the next 25 years, therefore adding a further major load to an atmosphere that is already saturated with greenhouse gases.

If the world is to have any chance to limit the global temperature rise below the critical 2 degrees Celsius threshold agreed upon by the countries of the world last year in Paris, let alone the 1.5 degrees threshold considered crucial to keep life on earth more or less as we know it, there must be an immediate end to the construction of all coal plants.

There is an urgent need for institutions such as Exim Bank India to put their full weight behind financing the energy transition which the world urgently needs to meet the challenge of rapid climate change, away from the burning of fossil fuels and towards the full realisation of the potential of renewables.

For all of these reasons we, as fellow world citizens, call upon you, a responsible financial institution acting in the public interest, to act for the common global good and refrain from financing the Rampal coal power plant.

As global stakeholders to your bank we thank you in advance for changing course.

Yours sincerely,

Johan Frijns, BankTrack Director, on behalf of supporting organisations.



Action: There is still a good chance to stop the Rampal project, especially if Exim Bank India hears a resounding appeal from the international community about the huge dangers the coal plant poses for the Sundarbans and climate change. Add your organisation's name to support the call!

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