The Sundarbans mangrove forest is shared between Bangladesh and India — and is the largest mangrove forest system in the world. It lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. It is an extremely biodiverse and unique ecosystem — criss-crossed by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests. Many threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile, the Indian python, and Irrawaddy dolphin and other IUCN red list species make their home in this habitat — and it is also the domain of the famous Royal Bengal Tiger.
The Sundarbans serves as a source of livelihood for millions of people in the region, acts as a powerful ‘lungs’ for the region filtering the air, and is a critical barrier against rising seas and devastating cyclones for low-lying Bangladesh and its 160 million citizens.
However, in recent times, the Sundarbans have come under assault from multiple fronts. In addition to the grave effects of climate change — through salinity intrusion, erosion, and damage from cyclones like Aila — a series of large-scale projects in the area are adding insult to injury and threatening the flora and fauna and the broader ecosystem.
Most notably, work on the 1350MW Rampal coal-fired power plant is moving forward despite strong and mounting opposition from experts and activists around the country and the globe. On July 12, a contract was signed between BIFPCL and BHEL, and now BHEL is negotiating the finance for the project with the Indian ExIm bank. All of this is happening despite no proper Environmental Impact Assessment for the project that has been shown to be internationally credible.
In addition, the 565MW Orion coal plant, large grain silos, and other large-scale construction near the forest are threatening to convert the Sundarbans into an industrial zone — threatening livelihoods of the local people and the very existence of flora and fauna.