The Posterchild of Destructive Coal Power in South Asia

posted by Virali Gokaldas

The Sundarbans mangrove forest is a UNESCO World Heritage site shared by Bangladesh and India. A joint venture between the two countries’ national electricity providers is putting this precious biodiverse ecosystem at risk for a coal-fired power plant just 14 kilometers away from the forest’s edge. 


The Rampal coal plant will be — and already is — a human rights disaster. Construction has displaced hundreds of families without due process and threatens the livelihoods of locals who depend on the Sundarbans for agriculture and fishing. In March 2016, hundreds marched from Dhaka to Rampal to protest the plant for the second time in three years — protests that the Bangladeshi government has ignored as it continues to insist the project has all the environmental clearance it needs. Ironically, on top of exacerbating climate change by burning coal, Rampal will also threaten Bangladesh’s first defense to the extreme storms that are becoming stronger and more frequent with climate change. Though the plant will lie on the Bangladeshi side of the forest, the project is Indian-backed: Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. will build the $1.8 billion plant with debt financing amounting to $1.6 billion from the Indian Export-Import bank.

The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), the Indian joint venture partner proposing the plant, operates 18 coal plants in India, making it the largest power utility in the country. The company has considerable expansion plans in India and in neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. With these expansion plans, NTPC ranks seventh highest in a list of over 600 companies developing new coal-fired power plants. The company has been involved in many scandals, including mercury poisoning, illegal wastewater discharging, inappropriate coal ash disposal, and corruption allegations in India and abroad. In fact, as of April 2016, NTPC was under investigation by the Indian government for over-invoicing coal imports. The underwriting of NTPC’s loans and bonds has been carried out by Indian, Western and Japanese banks including BNP Paribas, HSBC, KFW, Barclays, Citigroup , Deutsche Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui, and Mizuho.