Bhola IPP and its Impact on Local Communities
After winning the general election in December 2008, the present Grand Alliance government (led by the Bangladesh Awami League) planned to boost electricity generation to promote rapid economic development. To ensure unquestioned construction of power plants the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) endorsed the Quick Enhancement of Electricity and Energy Supply (Special Provisions) Act, 2010 which has given immunity to all projects related with energy and power. This denies citizens the right to approach the courts for relief in case of injustice and destruction committed by power plants. The GOB also undertook a Policy guideline called Policy Guidelines for Enhancement of Private Participation in the Power Sector 2008. Under the policy, administrative control has been deregulated to attract private sector invest in the energy sector.
Later, the GOB also formulated a Power System Master Plan (PSMP) in 20103 and Power & Energy Sector Master Plan (PESMP) in 2016 under direct assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) with a goal of fulfilling 61% of total energy from fossil fuel including 35% from coal by 2041. By endorsing this Master Plan, the GOB violates its own pledge in the CVF Marrakech Communique which is committed to shift to renewables as fast as possible. It is also contrary with the country's Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) which pledges to reduce 5% of estimated emission voluntarily and additional 15% emission under assistance from developed countries by 2030.
After policy reformation on energy sector, a number of new bilateral investors like China, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Spain started implementing a number of energy projects besides the traditional and new multilateral financial institutes including World Bank, Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Till September 2018, AIIB has invested USD 285 million in three projects in the energy sector including Bhola Integrated Power Plant (Bhola IPP) Project.
Bhola is the only island district of Bangladesh under the administrative division of Barisal. Historically it has experienced shortage of electricity due to grid connection difficulties. After getting natural gas from Shahbazpur gas field, the GOB permitted Venture Energy Resources Limited, a local company to install 34.7 MW gas-based power plant. The second power plant, 225 MW gas-based Bhola Gas-based Power Plant (also called Bhola-I) in Kutba Union under Burhanuddin Upazila, had been constructed in 2015 and started generating power in the same year. Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) also planned to construct another 225 MW gas-based power plant along with 4 others, as per the public declaration of the commerce minister.
Simultaneously BPDB had signed another agreement in September 2012 with Indian company Lanco PowerInternational Private Limited to construct a gas-based power plant beside Bhola-I on Build, Operate and Own (BOO) basis10. Later, the agreement was cancelled and a new agreement was signed in July 2015 with Shapoorji Pallonji Infrastructure Capital Company Private Limited (SP Infra), a subsidiary of Mumbai-based Shapoorji-Pallonji Group (SP Group) to construct an Independent Power Plant (IPP) in the same area11&12. It was an unsolicited agreement as it was signed without any open bidding process. Initially SP Group planned to transfer a half-done power plant from Uttarakhand, India to Bhola, Bangladesh but later it changed the decision as BPDB raised several questions on the quality of existing power plant and process of transferring.
According to the agreement, the power plant project will be fully funded by SP Group15. After getting clearance from the GOB, the Group registered a new company named Nutan Bidyut Bangladesh Limited (NBBL) on 27 March 2016 to operate energy business in Bangladesh16. Later it is revealed in January 2018 that SP Group submitted a proposal to AIIB for private sector financing in implementation of Bhola IPP17. AIIB approved the project on 9 February 201818. Later, in June 2018, NBBL signed separate agreement with IsDB to finance another USD 60 million for the project19. The power plant will use pipelined natural gas from Shahbazpur Gas field owned by Sundarban Gas Company Ltd. (SGCL) as primary fuel and High Speed Diesel (HSD) from Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) as a backup fuel to generate 225 MW power20. But according to different reports, NBBL will use both of the fuels to generate 220 MW and 212 MW power respectively21. The NBBL signed an agreement with BPDB to sell generated electricity to Power Grid Company of Bangladesh (PGCB) for next 22 years against a price higher than the state owned companies22. The plant acquired 17.28 acres of land for the project in which 11.5 acres leased from BPDB and 5.78 acres has been purchased from local land owners. Other 5.5 acres of land is required for gas pipeline and acquired by SGCL23.
The power plant will be likely to increase total power generation of the country, but the question is who will sacrifice their lives and livelihoods for electricity? The common people who depend on the nature and natural resources to survive, or the big companies who make profit from different investments? The question takes us to the issues of climate change as Bhola is one of the most vulnerable climate hotspots in the world which has experienced several devastating cyclones and storm surges including the commonly known ‘great Bhola cyclone’ which in 1970 took at least 500,0000 lives from this small island.
Bhola is the only island district of Bangladesh under the administrative division of Barisal. In total, it covers an area of 3,737.21 km2 which is divided into seven Upazilas, five Municipalities, 62 Union and 461 villages. Burhanuddin situated at the middle part of the Bhola District in between Shahbazpur channel and Tentulia River. Cumulatively, this Upazila consist of 9 unions, 58 villages and a municipality. It lies at 22.5000°N; 90.7217°E with 284.67 sq. km land area67.
The territory of two Unions, Kutba and Sachra, will be used for Bhola IPP while areas in Deula, Kachia and Pakshia Unions will be used for laying of a gas pipeline from the Shahbazpur Gas field. Considering the influence of the project, demographic data of Kachia, Kutba and Sachra is given below.
The total population of the three unions is 75,399 of which 37,221 are male and 38,178 female. Rate of literacy is significantly low in the project area, only 47.9%69 while the national average of Bangladesh is 72.6%70. Most of the people in the area are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood (52.6%) in which 43.1% are marginal farmers and other 9.5% are labourers. Fishing is the second highest occupation (8.5%) followed by Paan farming (6.2%).
Accessibility & Civic Space
The representatives of project executing agencies did not allow the study team in March, August and even in September 2018 to enter in the project site. The security personnel even did not allow the team to take photo of project site. So, all the observations were seen from either just outside of the project site or from the other bank of Dehular Khal which is in the territory of Sachra Union.
Pressure of Vested Interest Groups
The affected communities were so scared of talking to the study team due to strong pressure from social and political powerful groups. Every single respondents gave their contact information but none of them were willing to disclose their identity in the monitoring report.
Lack of Information about proposed Bhola IPP is very much prominent in the locality which turned into a limitation. Most of the people said that they heard the name of NBBL and Bhola IPP for the first time from the study team. When the construction started they had assumed it was the second phase of the existing power plant (Bhola I). So, they were unable to express their comments on different project documents such as ESIA, Resettlement Framework (RF) or GRM.
There was a lack of critical information in the ESIA and other documents provided by NBBL. The ESIA report stated that 15 different consultation meetings had been organized in the communities, but there is no participant list of those consultations in the ESIA. There was also no information regarding- date of land acquisition, amount paid as compensation and resettlement, starting date of construction works and budget for construction works, available in any document in the public domain. It closed the window of cross examination and obstructed the study severely.
Absence of the Community
According to the Annex of the ESIA report NBBL had conducted a consultation meeting with the fishing community in Chhota Manika village on 6 January 201782 and documented 12 fishing households there. But the study team didn't find any fisherfolk in Chhota Manika. The locals disclosed that those fisherfolk had already changed their livelihood due to declined fish catch in Dehular Khal. The NBBL also claimed that they had conducted a discussion with BPDB's Chinese Village Labour Camp on 8th January 201783. But the study team didn't find any such community. According to the local people, there was a China Village where labours and Chinese workers were living during the construction of Bhola-I. But they left just after completion of that power plant
Public Consultation Denied
Meaningful consultation is obligatory for project executing agencies according to the ESF of AIIB84. In the ESIA report NBBL claims that it had conducted 15 consultation meetings with different stakeholders including 7 meetings with the local communities in Chhota Manika, Dakshin Kutba, Chinese Village Labour Camp, Gazipur Char and Shantipara villages along with 8 meetings with the project-related GOB offices85. The ESIA report also states that a Household (HH) survey had been organized among 207 HHs from 5th to 12th January 201786. NBBL also asserts that they have consulted respective stakeholders at various points of time since January 2016 as a part of the project development process, the land procurement process or to undertake the ESIA87. The ESIA also mentions that there were two rounds of formal stakeholder consultations of which the first round was conducted in April-May 2016 and the second round in January 201788. However during the survey conducted by the study team of BWGED, none of the 57 persons of those villages were able to either recall any such consultations or identify any person who had participated in those consultations.
According to the ESIA report, NBBL had organized a consultation meeting in Burhanuddin Upazila Complex on 6 March 2017 with the participation of GOB officials, teachers, LGI representatives and social elites89. The study team interviewed 5 from among the 37 persons who were said to have participated in this consultation meeting. Three of the respondents told the team that they participated in the meeting but their concerns were not reflected in the report. Two participants who are also elected female members of LGI denied outright participating in any such meeting in the Burhanuddin Upazila office.
FPIC Violated Seriously
According to the ESIA report, the Project received favourable support from local inhabitants and other stakeholders90. But members of the affected communities who participated in the survey conducted by the study team articulated that none of the representatives from SP Infra or NBBL took their consent about the project or disclosed the positive and negative impacts of the project.
Land Owners were pressurized to sell NBBL claimed that they verified and consulted with land owners regarding ownership, inheritance and mutation of records between May 2016 and January 2017. The company also claimed that 63 land owners had been identified who will be impacted due to land procurement for the power plant. 21 land sale agreements have also been executed with these land owners in January 2017 based on their signed consent to the rates per decimal91. But the land owners told the study team that they were paid around Bangladesh Taka (BDT) 20,000.00 by the middlemen of the power plant while they heard that the authority paid around BDT 80,000-100,000 for every decimal of land. In most of the cases the local farmers were pressurized by middlemen to sell their lands against the price fixed by them.
Most of the lands of the project site were historically owned by Hindu communities of Dakshin Chhota Manika village who are also the religious minority in the area. After 2 communal clashes in 1991 and 2001, they had to sell the land to survive. A large number of the Hindu community also migrated from the villages at that time. Among the land owners of the project site, 8 pieces of land (59.17 Decimal) were owned by 19 from the Hindu faith and 13 pieces of land (519.12 Decimal) were owned by 13 owners who were Muslim92. A Hindu land ownera told the study team that one night several people led by a well-known leader from the present ruling party came to their house past midnight in second week of December 2016 and asked them to handover all documents of their land. The leader threatened that it would be good if they give the documents, otherwise the situation will not favourable for them. The land owners followed the instruction because they feared for their lives. Later they got BDT 20,000.00 from that leader against per decimal of land.
Fake Land Owners
There is a list of 153 land owners in the Annexure of ESIA report. But some of the land owners said that their names are not available in the list when the study team disclosed the list before them. On the other hand, largest piece of land (142.18 Decimal) owned by "Asad and others" according to the Annexure. The study team couldn't find any such person in the area. The local people also failed to identify any person and claimed that that piece of land was not owned by any such person. It is clear that the identified local influential political leader took that land from local people and sold to NBBL at higher price.
Acquisition & Requisition Act Violated
The local communities claimed that they got only BDT 20,000.00 per decimal from middle men while others who gave land to Sundarban Gas Company Limited (SGCL) for pipeline got around BDT 100,000.00 for each decimal. People expressed that it would be better if give land lands to SGCL rather than this power project. The ESIA report also agreed that "land procurement process was on the basis of voluntary land transactions and willing buyer, willing seller negotiations"93. But according to the Acquisition and Requisition of Immovable Property Ordinance 1982, the land owners are entitled to get twice of market price if the land taken by any private company94. According the latest law of 2017, they are to get thrice95. In this case the law is totally bypassed and people were deprived from their rights.
Information Disclosure & Right to Know
Information Disclosure Neglected
According to ESF of AIIB, all project executing agencies are obliged to "...relevant information about environmental and social risks and impacts of the Project is made available in the Project area in a timely and accessible manner"96. But none of the 57 participants of KII and FGDs agreed that the executing agency or any of its representative disclosed even a brief on the project, let alone the Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP), Resettlement Plan, GRM or GAP. Both AIIB and NBBL website contained only an undated PSI, Final Report of ESIA and Annexures to the Final Report of ESIA when we last checked on 7 July 2018. Given this situation and after analysing the ESIA Report, BWGED sent a letter to the NBBL on 8 July 2018 and copied to AIIB to disclose ESMP, Resettlement Framework (RF), Stakeholder Engagement Plan (SEP), Gender Action Plan (GAP) and Labour and Influx Management Plan (LIMP)97. In response of the letter NBBL uploaded a translated Bengali version of PSIb , Summery of Environmental and Social Impacts (E&S Summary) and GRM on their website. Later it also uploaded Environmental Monitoring Program (EMP) on their website98. The local people, who have limited access to internet and the techniques of using it, have no way to get these documents. So, this disclosures are not in the project area and confirms neither in a timely nor in an accessible manner.
Wrong and Complicated Translation
The translated versions of E&S Summery, EMP and GRM are full of wrong translation and complicated sentences. The documents seem copied from a bigger document and none of those consist any issuing or responsible authority on the cover page. There are enormous examples of wrong translation. The heading of E&S Summery (dated 22 December 2017) is (in Bengali) mswÿßiæ‡c cÖK‡íi cwi‡ekMZ I mvgvwRK mvims‡ÿc99. Spelling of the very first word is wrong. Retranslated form of this headline will be "Summarized Summery of Environmental and Social of the Project" which doesn't mean anything. The undated EMP (Bengali version)100 started from a number 7.3 means there is something before it which is hid by the executing agency. It is named (in Bengali) Òcwi‡ekMZ ch©‡eÿbg~jK Kg©m~Px (wbg©vb I cwiPvjb ¯Íi)Ó. There are at least three spelling mistake and one misinterpretation in this headline. Similarly, the undated GRM document started from a number 7.5 which means there is something from number 1.0 which is hid101. The headline of this document is (in Bengali) ÒAwf‡hvM Z`viK c×wZ - GbweweGjwc/GmGgwc/5Ó. Retranslated form of this headline will be "Grievance Supervising Process - NBBLP/SMP/5". If we ignore the wrong translation, what is the meaning of NBBLP/SMP/5 in this document?
These translated documents are unreadable for even the activists who got higher education from academies let alone the affected communities who are simply literate. It is observed that most of the documents are either translated by using automated translating software or translated by unskilled translators or with bad intentions.
Communicative Options Denied
The ESIA agreed that literacy rate in project area is seriously low (48.2%) than average of Bangladesh (72.6%)102. In this case, the ESF of AIIB required proactive disclosure of the respective documents "...in a form and language(s) understandable to the Project-affected people..."103 from the client. The possible forms can be radio and television advertisement, cartoons, graphic posters and presentation, village level consultation with flip charts or any other form understandable to the affected communities. But none of the forms used to inform the community people about potential negative impacts of the project and possible actions supposed to be taken by NBBL to reduce negative impacts.
Translated ESMP Still Undisclosed
Voluntary disclosure of Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP), Environmental and Social Management Planning Framework (ESMPF), Resettlement Plan (RP), Resettlement Planning Framework (RPF) are mandatory according to the ESF of AIIB104. The ESIA report confirms that an ESMP along with other management plans have been developed before January 2018 when the final report of ESIA was prepared105. An ESMP document is also enclosed with the ESIA106. But even after 9 months, the translated ESMP is yet to be published and disseminated to the affected communities.
Read the entire report here.