In a major punitive action against river pollution, the Department of Environment (DoE) has ordered the suspension of operation of state-owned Hathazari 100MW Peaking Power Plant for discharging untreated toxic liquid waste into a waterbody connected to the Halda River.
The environment protection agency also slapped a fine of Tk20 lakh on the power plant on Wednesday, a hefty fine for the second time since its inauguration back in 2012.
It asked the authorities of the plant not to resume operation until they set up and activate an Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) and an Oil-Water Separator. The DoE also asked it to dispose of the sludge without causing any harm to the environment.
DoE Chittagong Office Director Azadur Rahman Mollick imposed the fine at a hearing at its office on Wednesday, with power plant manager, Shafi Uddin Ahmed.
Earlier on July 8, the DoE summoned the power plant authorities to explain why legal action should not be taken against them for polluting the environment.
Confirming the action for Dhaka Tribune, Muktadir Hasan, assistant director of DoE (Chittagong region), said the action was taken under Section-7 of the Environment Conservation Act (1995).
A recent visit to the power plant premises prompted the DoE authorities to take a hard line as evidence of dumping untreated liquid waste was found at that time, Muktadir said.
“If the power plant authorities do not agree with us (regarding the action), they can appeal to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, within seven working days,” he said.
BPDB seems reluctant
A highly placed official at the BPDB headquarters in Dhaka, seeking anonymity, said imposing a fine is not the final step in settling the issue.
When asked whether the plant has suspended its power generation, he answered negatively, adding: “If one or two plants are closed, that will not hamper electricity supply. It will not put that much pressure on power generation.”
“Our power generation often witnesses a surplus,” he concluded.
BPDB Director (generation) Sayeed Ahmed said they are yet to decide exactly when to file a petition challenging the DoE action.
The newly set up ETP is expected to start operations from September next, he added.
The 2012 fine
The oil-powered plant went into production in 2012 without installing an ETP or obtaining an Environment Clearance Certificate (ECC). And for doing so, it was fined Tk10 lakh for polluting the environment the same year.
But its authorities were later excused on condition they set up an ETP. The plant had its ETP design approved last year by the BPDB.
On a spot visit late last week, the DoE team found that the errant power plant was dumping untreated liquid waste into a water body using a bypass drain without passing the waste through an ETP.
They also found the Oil-Water Separator dysfunctional. Moreover, the sludge was not disposed of properly, and was washing down with rainwater into the Halda, the country’s largest natural breeding ground for carp.
Contacted, noted Halda researcher, Prof Dr Manzoorul Kibria of Chittagong University, said: “The environment-damaging practice of the power plant is nothing new. We have been saying for a long time now that the power plant releases untreated waste into nature, threatening the aquatic environment of the Halda River.
“This time our allegation has been proved as the plant was caught red handed. Such harmful activity by a state-owned enterprise is unacceptable.”
According to BPDB, sixty-six of the country’s 133 power plants are oil-fired.
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