Speakers from both Bangladesh and India demanded at a virtual seminar on Friday afternoon that fly ash stop being transported through the waterways of the Sundarbans.
They raised their concerns because trade in fly ash is growing in volume with each passing year, and the threat to the ecology and biodiversity of the Sundarbans is continuing to increase, read a press release.
The webinar titled "Toxic Fly Ash Trade in a World Heritage Site" was jointly organised by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) and Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network (CLEAN) from Bangladesh, as well as Growthwatch, Indian Social Action Forum (Insaf) and the Healthy Energy Initiative from India.
Fly ash is toxic and hazardous industrial waste that arises from burning coal in thermal power plants and other industries. It is an important raw material for the cement industry.
Mentioning the threat of fly ash on the biodiversity of the Sundarbans, Supreme Court lawyer and chief executive of Bela, Syeda Rizwana Hasan urged for the standardisation of all vessels that carry fly ash.
Between March and May, at least five barges transporting fly ash capsised along the route while crossing the Indian part of the Sundarbans. All the sunken vessels with less than 800-tonne capacity were Bangladeshi.
"All the incidents of sinking vessels should be thoroughly investigated. The government agencies never look into the real causes, arguing that nothing has happened or all the fly ash was washed away," said Rizwana.
During the first half of the 2019-20 fiscal year, 2,268,261 tonnes of fly ash were shipped through the Sundarbans under the Indo-Bangla Protocol route.
Ritwick Dutta, an environmental lawyer from India, urged for a transboundary environmental assessment to be done jointly by both countries.
"The government agencies should look into how far fly ash has gone and how it is affecting the environment," said Ritwick.
He also said Indian coal generates a higher percentage of fly ash (32-34%) than Indonesian or Australian coal (8-10%).
Hasan Mehedi from CLEAN, Shweta Narayan from the Healthy Energy Initiative and Pradip Chatterjee from Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum were among the speakers.
Vidya Dinker from Growthwatch moderated the seminar.