A note from Producer and Director Elja Roy about “A Song for Sunderbans”
Sundarbans is the world's largest mangrove forest. It is shared by India and Bangladesh. In 1987, UNESCO declared it a world heritage site and in 1992 the islands were designated a site protected under the Ramsar Convention. The forest is not only the habitat of endangered species such as the Royal Bengal Tigers, Irrawaddy dolphins, and Ganges river dolphins but is also inhabited by nearly 4 million people whose livelihoods depend on the Sundarbans’ natural resources. With rising sea level, the region is losing its islands rapidly and salt water is encroaching to make drinking water scarcer. The transnational waterbodies are also under threat from oil extraction and transportation, which makes it susceptible to major spills. An oil tanker filled with around 250 metric tons of furnace oil sank into the Shela River in Sundarbans in December 2014.
To make the situation worse, Bangladesh’s government has proposed the country’s largest coal-burning power plant in the fringe of Sundarbans. Bangladesh Power Development Board and India’s state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) are jointly establishing the coal plant named Rampal Power Project. The plant’s massive demand for water, almost 10,000 cubic meters every hour, would reduce the water level of the nearby Passur River which is crucial for maintaining sweet and salt water balance in the region. Additionally, the coal plant’s carbon emissions will disrupt air and water quality of the regional ecosystem. Subsequently, the Bangladesh Department of Environment has permitted nearly 200 factories, including liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) plants, oil refineries, gas cylinder manufacturers, shipbuilding factories, sawmills, cigarette manufacturing plants, ice factories and an iron welding factory, in the critically endangered area (CED) around Sundarbans. The India-Bangladesh joint power venture has been widely challenged by activists, civil society groups, non-governmental organizations, journalists, and artists.
The Sundarbans movement in Bangladesh is producing a rich body of songs. "Dwellers of the Forest Arise" is one such creation. “There has been a surge of protest literature in recent years on Sundarbans in Bangladesh. These new songs, poems and dramas will define the contemporary movement for future historians.” – said Syed Farhad, an activist musician. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh is witnessing the most creative protests in past 7 years. There have been rallies with singers, composers, actors, sculptors, and painters in Dhaka for the Sundarbans. The Rampal Power Plant has spurred anger among the citizenry and ignited the minds of the artists all over Dhaka. “The number of people actively involved with the Sundarbans movement may not be large, but their diversity is unique” - said Rebeka Neela, an organizer of Samageet.