Saudi power company ACWA's proposal to generate solar power in the farms of state-owned sugar corporation has triggered opposition from interest groups who fear destruction of fertile agricultural land.
The Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation (BSFIC) has written a letter to the Saudi company requesting them to explain how they would construct the solar plants without disturbing the sugarcane farming.
In February last year, a letter of intent was signed by the corporation and Saudi ACWA Power for generating 180 megawatts of solar power.
The signing was held on the sidelines of the 13th session of the two-day Bangladesh-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission meeting.
Under the proposed project, the ACWA will use the farmlands of different state-owned sugar mills of the country.
The BSFIC has 15 sugar mills in different parts of the country having farm areas comprising around 40 thousand acres.
Talking to the FE, some sugarcane farmers and employees of sugar mills apprehended that if the Saudi company would be given the go-ahead, it would jeoperdise the livelihoods of thousands of sugarcane farmers, who mostly depend on the income of sugarcane farming.
And if the sugarcane farms are affected, the existence of the mills will be under threat, said Swapan Pal, a veteran union leader of the corporation.
Officials of the industries ministry said the ACWA is willing to expedite the project, but the government wants to know the details of their project proposal before approving the proposal.
Some noted that the letter of intent was signed under political compulsion without assessing the pros and cons of the project.
When contacted, former industries secretary Abdul Halim, who had signed the MoU, said that the Saudi company told the corporation it has technology through which solar power plant can be erected without disturbing the sugar cultivation.
During the signing of the MoU, the details of the project were not discussed.
"We were told that the cost and other nitty-gritty of the project would be discussed later as usual," he added.
When asked, BSFIC chairman Sanat Kumar Saha told the FE the corporation, in a recent letter to the ACWA, wanted to know the detailed plans of the project.
"We have requested them to explain how the sugarcane farming will remain uninterrupted if the solar plants are erected on the sugarcane farms" he added.
"We definitely do not want a project, which will damage sugarcane cultivation, which is our key concern," he said. He said that the decision to accept or reject the project will be taken by the ministry high-ups.
Headquartered in Saudi Arabia, ACWA Power invests, develops, co-owns and operates a portfolio of 32 plants on three continents, with the capacity to generate 22.8 GW of power.
According to company ACWA Power and its subsidiaries are operating projects in 11 different countries.