Bangladesh worried about Indian oil search in Sunderbans

Monday, 23 September 2002, 07:00 Hrs
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KOLKATA: Bangladesh is concerned over an oil exploration drive by India in the Sunderbans, one of the world's largest mangrove forests spread over both countries.

Bangladesh is worried that exploration by India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) will disturb the fragile biodiversity of the unique forest which is the habitat of some 300 tigers and other fauna.

ONGC hopes to hit rich reserves of oil along the coastline of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal that shares land and riverine borders with Bangladesh.

Unesco declared the 9,000 sq km Sunderbans mangrove forest, 60 percent of which falls under Bangladesh and the rest in West Bengal, a World Natural Heritage Site in 1985.

Bangladesh Forest and Environment Minister Sahajahan Siraj asked his country's foreign ministry to find out details of the ONGC project, which he believes could have huge ramifications on the Bangladesh-owned stretch of the Sunderbans.

According to information here, Siraj has said such an extensive project as planned by ONGC is bound to have an adverse affect on the Sunderbans.

The Bangladesh forest ministry would decide its future course of action after receiving details of the ONGC project.

ONGC will begin onshore and offshore explorations in the Sunderbans by the Bay of Bengal by December-end. The agency has identified a 1,100 sq km area in the Sunderbans for exploration. It hopes to finish drilling in two years.

As part of onshore exploration, underground and underwater cables have to be laid and measured explosions have to be carried out. Bangladesh fears this could disturb the habitat of some 16 varieties of wildlife and seven species of fish found in the Sunderbans.

India and Bangladesh are to work together on a biodiversity project in the Sunderbans that would be funded by Unesco and the U.N. Foundation.

Source: IANS
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