A group of environmental and human rights defenders in Bangladesh has urged the national government to stop building the 1,320 megawatt coal-fired Rampal Power Plant in order to protect the Sundarbans mangrove forest and the people living in and around it. Members of the National Engagement Strategy (NES) Bangladesh, a country-specific land rights initiative led by ILC Asia members, organised a public hearing titled “Development, Eviction, Human Rights and Environmental Degradation” on November 30th, 2019 in the hopes to start a dialogue with government officials on the devastating impact of the power plant.
Bangladesh has witnessed a rapid growth of internal displacements due to development projects, which mostly affected indigenous peoples, religious minorities and slum dwellers. The country is also facing environmental crisis and land conflict. Civil society organisations and human rights defenders are vocal against this injustice by continuing to mobilise victims and authorities in search of a peaceful solution.
The discussion in Dhaka heard the testimonies of local communities whose livelihoods had been threatened by land-grabbing cases deriving from infrastructure projects in the country. Among them, were people living on and using the Sundarban forests who have been protecting the forest areas from climate crisis but yet faced another challenge posed by these projects. In another case, the indigenous Santal community of the Gaibandha district said they were forcibly displaced from their ancestral land by local authorities in the name of development back in 2016 and were yet to reclaim their land.
Participants discussed that 20,000 acres of land had been acquired for 26 large infrastructure projects in Cox’s Bazar - a town on the southeast coast of Bangladesh - most of which were deemed environmentally destructive. Millions of people were losing their land jobs and being evicted from their homes. No noteworthy initiatives have been taken today to compensate the affected families, the environment, the people's livelihoods and even crop production caused by these projects. There were even allegations of widespread irregularities and corruption in disbursing compensation.
As a follow-up action, the NES Bangladesh team led by ILC Asia member the Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), will organise another public discussion by March 2020 and invite district-level government officials in order to build links and trust between civil society and government for policy engagement.
Story was originally written by Shanjida Khan Ripa, NES Bangladesh Facilitator and edited by ILC Asia