Rage against Rampal reigns in both real and virtual spaceAhmed Shatil Alam and Apon Zahir
As the boat glides over the serene creeks and brooks, ripples wash along the wild, luscious growth half submerged in salty water. Trees and roots spring out from the swamps and reach for the sky, as if gasping for air. The harrowing tranquility of the biome is occasionally perturbed by queer forest murmurings and the random call of exotic birds. Sunlight oozes through the serpentine tree barks and pours onto the green waters, culminating in a breathtaking dance of light and shadow. All of a sudden, a mighty roar, cracking through the wilderness like cloud-less thunder, and all is quite once again.
The beauty of our ‘beautiful forest’ cannot in fact be described by words alone, for its primal majesty will leave any soul awe-struck, just like its iconic royal denizen. Not only is it beautiful in all senses, it is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity and productivity and nurtures a rich coastal ecosystem. But greed and shortsightedness have decided that losing the single largest mangrove forest in the world and our natural heritage is worth lighting a few bulbs!
Of course, electricity is a dire need for our nation, and one should never try to stem the tide of progress, but progress at what cost? The Sundarban safeguards us from cyclones, storms and other natural catastrophes. In recent natural disasters including cyclone Sidr and Aila, the forest has acted as a silent guardian, saving thousands of lives. Sundarban is also vital for all of us in battling climate change. Regardless, the government has decided that it will officially launch the 1,320 megawatt coal-fired power plant, a joint venture between Bangladesh Power Development Board and the National Thermal Power Company of India on October 22 in Rampal, 14km away from Sundarban. Similar power projects proposed by NTPC have been rejected in three states in India due to environmental concerns.
Our nation now faces a dilemma, akin to a grade-school pop quiz, a challenge of morality placed upon the table. And the people have answered. All across the country, demonstrations and protest movements rage against the power plant due to the risk of its harmful gas emissions, metallic discharges and water pollution that will cause catastrophic damage to the forest, its flora, fauna and ecosystem. Passionate activists of Bangladesh including the youth have already risen to the occasion, and currently spearhead the resistance. This is a chronicle of their struggles till date.
The voices of revolt echo in both the real and virtual worlds and youth organisations have begun orchestrating mass processions, rallies, concerts, signature campaigns, blogging and online petitions to stop the project immediately.
On the digital front, Marzia Izrat, a young, environmental activist based in Dhaka started a petition on 350.org calling for cross-border and international solidarity for the ongoing struggle against the coal plant. More than 1,500 people have signed it till date. The petition will be submitted to both BPDB here and NTPC of India. Another petition initiated by a young Indian named Indranil on avaaz.org has more than 14,000 signatures by people from across the world! The latter will be submitted to NTPC. Two other petition campaigns were started in change.org, an online petition platform, and GreenMagz.info, an online environmental magazine of Bangladesh.
A wave of environmental-nationalism is currently sweeping across social networks like Facebook, where people have picked an image of a lone Royal Bengal tiger as their cover photo. Needless to say, if the power plant is established, our national animal will encounter a tragic fate. Their numbers have drastically reduced over the past decade, within the next decade, they may very well have to bid goodbye to our land.
Moving on to the ‘In Real Life’ (IRL), many young people had joined the five day long march from Dhaka to Khulna, held very recently by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports. The national protest and awareness raising campaign saw the participation of several student organisations including Bangladesh Chhatra Union, Biplabi Chhatra Moitree and Bangladesh Chhatra Federation.
In retrospective, the month of September had been quite eventful for all the environmental activist folks. The month also highlighted the pervasive inclination shared by individuals to hold hands and stand in a line. Several human chain events were orchestrated by youth organisations all over the country, especially over the Rupsha Bridge in Khulna. Bangladesh Chhatra Federation, Smile Foundation, Friends Media, Rupayan Social Development Society and Ferocious FLASH collaborated for the programme, and gave it an awesome title-Youth Coalition for Climate Justice. Some more human chains followed in Magura, arranged by the Magura Biggan Andolon Moncho, a youth led organisation that strives to popularise science and environmentalism. Bangladesh Chhatra Union followed suit by organising a cultural programme protesting against the Rampal power plant in DU. There was music and there was drama, the recipe for revolution! There was also some good-old-fashioned ‘meechils’ in Barisal where the Samajtantrik Chhatra Front and Bijnan Mancha Andolan jointly stomped out their rage at the Rampal project with gusto.
Now, turning the clocks back a bit, July began with some more human chain action by youth volunteers of Smile Foundation. They visited Rampal to raise awareness among the local inhabitants regarding the effects of this power plant. ‘It was a very risky attempt by us’,claims Quazi Taif Sadat, founder of SF. ‘The local Awami League people tried to create problems, involved the police and other agencies to stop us from carrying out our non-violent activities. But due to the cooperation of a large number of local people, our volunteers carried out our action plan’. Meanwhile, members of the Nature Conservation Initiative, an environmental organisation consisting of teachers and students of JU decided to join in on the human chain excitement in at their campus. At least, 200 students and faculty members of different departments of JU joined the protest to show their solidarity against the project. Naorin Rima, president of NCI told the Youth that they plan to hold more demonstrations against Rampal in the coming days.
Returning to the present, Volunteer for Bangladesh (VBD) is currently planning on a mass awareness raising campaign in all the major cities through music and artworks, with the hope that the combined voices of our nation’s youth can make a difference to make incumbents understand. ‘Electricity is a very important resource for Bangladesh and its growing economy, but not at the cost of the world’s largest mangrove forest.’ Korvi Rakshand, president of VBD and founder of JAAGO, shared with the Youth. ‘But for the movement to succeed, there has to be awareness at a mass level, which is yet to be achieved’, he added.
All these individual activities are slowly amalgamating into a much larger picture, and several youth-led climate activist groups including the Bangladesh Youth Movement for Climate (BYMC), Activista- youth wing of Actionaid, 1 degree initiative, CHANGE, SERAC-Bangladesh, Bangladesh Youth Environment Initiative are working together day and night against this destructive project’s implementation.
‘Currently we are working with the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports and other environmentalists group to raise awareness among people on the consequences of Rampal power plant’ Sajid Iqbal, president of CHANGE tells Youth. ‘We are also trying to include international environmentalists groups including 350.org and Greenpeace. Many youth-led climate organisations in other countries are also keen in joining our movement against Rampal power plant as Sundarban has been recognised as a World’s Heritage Site by UNESCO’ he added.
The righteous passion of all these young people is indeed something to behold, but at the same time it is frustrating to see that many are still lagging behind, utterly oblivious to current events. Some of our ‘enlightened peers’ have even managed to confuse Rampal with the Bollywood star Arjun Rampal! But such public ignorance aside, it is actually rather unusual and humbling to note that in a nation as bent as ours, people can still be united (sort of) and reach a morally sound consensus to protect our motherland from the perils of greed.
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