By Benzamin Mendez

During the election campaign in December 2018, Sheikh Hasina, President of Bangladesh Awami League (BAL), one of the largest political parties in Bangladesh were violent criticizing failure of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for its failure in resolving the power crisis during its tenure from 2001 to 2006.

Sheikh Hasina –  made repeated pledges to the nation of totally elimination electricity crisis from the country should her party come to power. Much ahead of this campaign, she already had reached into a secret deal with the top brasses of the military-backed interim government of granting them bailout should her party come to power. The deal was negotiated by Hasina herself sitting in the makeshift prison and then during her stay in the United Kingdom. The then army chief Lieutenant General Moeen Uddin Ahmed, as part of the negotiation, paid seventy million American dollars to the offshore bank account of Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy and her younger sister Sheikh Hasina.

The result of December 2008 general election was already engineered and the military-backed interim government was already sure of a ‘landslide’ victory by Sheikh Hasina and her party. But the matter was kept absolutely secret from the people of Bangladesh.

After election, in her first statement and all the subsequent statements, Sheikh Hasina pointed to BNP’s ‘rampant corruption’ in the power sector and pledged of resolving the crisis by 2011. With the plan in mind, the newly elected government introduced establishment of ‘Quick Rental Power Plant’ (QRPP) and passed an indemnity bill in the parliament. This actually was the master plan of Sheikh Hasina is swindling off billions of dollars from the national exchequer.

Although Hasina had pledged of resolving the power crisis in three years – she has not been able to resolve the crisis – or never took any real initiatives in resolving such crisis. Instead, she had held the entire nation a hostage into the grips of business syndicate and India.

Dependence on India:

Bangladesh is now greatly dependent on India in getting the required supply of electricity. Earlier under an agreement 650 megawatt of electricity is now continuing to flow into Bangladesh – at an exorbitant price.

Now, Hasina wants to make the situation even worst. On September 10, 2018, Hasina announced that the government has planned to import 9000 MW electricity from neighboring countries by 2041 to maintain the country’s high economic growth. She said this while addressing a ceremony marking the inauguration of 500 MW additional power supply from India to Bangladesh through Behrampore-Bheramara interconnection. The Bangladesh PM, her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee jointly inaugurated the power supply via videoconferencing from Dhaka, New Delhi and Kolkata respectively.

Hasina said Bangladesh needed more energy to continue its high economic growth and the government was planning to import electricity from neighbours under the regional cooperation framework. Hoping that India would remain beside Bangladesh in its endeavour, she said Modi would take necessary steps regarding Mamata’s offer to supply additional 1,000 MW power to Bangladesh.

Terming the power sector a crucial element of bilateral cooperation, Hasina said Bangladesh was importing 660 MW power from India while steps were taken to import 3,000 MW more. Referring to her government’s ‘success in increasing the power generation capacity’, the premier said the capacity has grown to 20,000 MW from 3,200 MW over the past nine and a half years.

What is the reality?

In the name of price adjustment, electricity tariff was increased for more than 7 times in last 7 years. Profit mongering rental and quick rental power plants are still on the scene, which was supposed to be in the system for not more than 5 years when it was introduced in 2009. It is a profit making mechanism for business-politics evil nexus that they sell in the name of tackling power sector crisis. Even more disturbing is that their actions are protected under an indemnity act. It costs US$ 780 million mainly due to purchasing costly power from poorly maintained but excessively charged rental power plant during first 10 month of 2016-17 fiscal year. Subsidy is necessary to nurture and support a service sector such as power sector, but in Bangladesh, a sheer looting is going on especially in the last decade.

There is no dearth of government interest in spending as much as US$ 0.23 to purchase per unit electricity from private companies, but it is reluctant to invest even lump sum amount to renovate state owned gas fired power plant to increase its efficiency which can produce per unit electricity at lower than US$0.0 3.

The share of coal in power generation is still insignificant in Bangladesh, but its future target is horrendous. When rest of the world is in competition to declare their fossil-fuel divestment, coal phase out plans, Bangladesh is looking for the fastest ever coal plant expansion project in the history. According to PSMP– 2016, coal fleet capacity will reach up to 19 thousand MW in total by 2041 which is now only 500 MW. This plan defies the global trend. France, UK, Canada, and Germany have already declared its plan to phase out from coal by 2023, 2025, 2030 and 2050 respectively. China has cancelled 103 coal fired power plants of 120 thousand MW capacities all together which were at various stage of construction in 2017. Chinese government have allocated USD 275 billion budget to invest in 5 years to curb air pollution which is more than double of their defense expenditure. And, to maintain the growing electricity demand, they have decided to invest USD 361 by 2020 in renewable energy sector which in return will not only give electricity but also will create 13 million new jobs.

In PSMP-2016, 10 per cent of total power generation target has been set to achieve by 2041 from nuclear. To meet that goal Bangladesh needs to construct 7,200 MW capacity of nuclear power plant while Germany have already decided to demolish all of its nuclear power plant by 2022. Nuclear technology is not only unsafe for environment and risky to operate but also puts immense pressure on state exchequer for its costly power generation and radioactive waste disposal. Cost escalation is nothing new for nuclear power. The construction of 75 nuclear reactors was started in the US between 1966 and 1976. In each of these cases, the actual construction cost was found to be 300 percent higher on average than the estimated cost at the beginning (Ramana M V, 2009).

Similarly, the construction of the 1,600 MW Flamanville nuclear power plant has already required three times the predicted cost till date and is yet to be completed (Reuters, December 4, 2012). Bangladesh’s Rooppur nuclear power plant is no exception. Even before construction started, the project cost increased from USD 4 billion to USD 12.65 billion within just three years of the time frame (WNISR 2017). As the contract with Russia is not a fixed price contract, but a cost plus one, the vendor retains every right to present a revised budget at any point in future. In case of nuclear power, technology cannot guarantee the safety and it has been proved in Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Instead of revisiting its plan, the government has passed an indemnity bill to get legal shield for any ‘unintended’ tragic occurrences.

Instead of giving preference to Bangladesh’s own natural gas reserve exploration, PSMP-2016 prescribed for importing 4000 million cubic feet of expensive LNG per day by 2041. No wonder that such expensive energy mix will increase the gas and electricity usage cost in manifold. Along with the suggestion for the usage of coal, nuclear and LNG in the energy mix, PSMP-2016 suggested for gradual increase of the gas price by 19 to 29 percent per year. Similar, increase of the electricity price is suggested as well.

All around the globe renewable energy becomes a crisis solver but in Bangladesh this alternative itself in crisis. Non-hydro renewable energy based power generation capacity is only 1.5 per cent in Bangladesh whereas in neighboring India it is more than 15 per cent. Germany is producing 30 per cent of its total generated electricity from renewable now. It has set a goal to produce at least 55 per cent of its total electricity from renewable by 2035. Solar and wind power is producing at lower than Tk. 3.5 in India and Indian government is aiming to install 150,000 MW of solar, wind, biomass and small hydro all together within next 4 years. On the other hand, Bangladesh’s recently formulated PSMP-2016 surprisingly couldn’t find any reason to set more than 15 per cent renewable energy based generation target to achieve by 2041. Moreover, imported power has been presented as substitute of renewable energy. Therefore, if the targeted 9,000 MW of imported electricity is possible to achieve, as mentioned in PSMP-2016, then 15 per cent renewable energy based generation quota is going to be fulfilled without any solar or wind.

In various research a huge wind power potential have already been identified in Bangladesh. However, concern authorities are yet to come up with a detail wind map. The government is unaware and somewhat unwilling to adopt the efficient technology and innovative idea available for energy sector globally. It is still stuck with the land based off-grid solar model while other countries are doing mini-grid, micro-grid and floating solar, as well as building smart grid system. While in other countries solar energy is empowering people with cheap electricity, in Bangladesh it has already fallen into the trap of profiteering business. In between 2010 and 2015 per unit solar electricity cost have been decreased by 58 per cent and by 2025 this cost is projected to be decreased by another 59 percent (IRENA, 2017). However, in Bangladesh government is awarding solar projects to private companies at fixed price of US$ 0.14 for per unit electricity for next 20 years.

This is just a tip of the iceberg! Sheikh Hasina has been looting wealth of Bangladesh more notoriously than Ferdinend Marcos of the Philippines. She had renewed her second consecutive term with the active help of India in 2014 and now again she has begun the same game plan. For India it is essential to keep Sheikh Hasina in power as she has been the most faithful individual who has been compromising the national interest of Bangladesh for safeguarding Indian interest.

For such reason, India being the largest democracy in the world remains totally silent on the continuous violation of human rights and constitutional rights of the people of Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina can only be compared with Adolph Hitler as her brutalities and crimes against humanity had long crossed all past records of any fascist. Though Bangladesh is heading towards another general election in December this year, there is really no hope of even holding of a free and fair election.

Very unfortunately, once proven patriotic armed forces also have turned into abettors and active defenders of this dictator. It is well known, Sheikh Hasina has purchased the conscious of the top brasses of the military establishment in exchange of huge compensations and indirect bribes.

(Benzamin Mendez is a research-scholar and former university professor)

(Courtesy of Asian Tribune)