Hundreds of people on Tuesday joined a long march to protest the construction of a Bangladesh-India joint venture coal-fired power plant near the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, organiser of the march, plans to protest at the site of the proposed project at Rampal in the country’s southwest.

The protestors boarded buses heading towards Rampal as the left-leaning National Committee said the project would destroy the delicate ecosystem of the mangrove forest shared jointly by Bangladesh and India.

“We urge the government to explore alternative means to generate energy without destroying the Sundarbans,” member secretary of the committee, Anu Mohammad, told a brief rally in front of the National Press Club as the march began.

The march will end with a rally at Digraj in Rampal on September 28.

Officials said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh are expected to lay the foundation stone of the 320-MW power plant next month.

Energy-starved Bangladesh’s state-run Power Development Board (PDB) in June last year inked a deal with India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) to set up the country’s biggest ever coal-based power plant at Rampal at a cost of $1.5 billion.

A joint-venture company will run the project while PDB and the NTPC will implement the project on a 50:50 equity basis.

The government said the modern technology to be used to run the plant would ensure the protection of the mangrove forest and a lot of money would be spent on environmental management.

Of the total project cost, 70 per cent will arranged through loans and the remaining 30 per cent will equally be shared by the PDB and NTPC.

Bangladesh now has only one coal-fired power plant with a generation capacity of 250 MW at Barapukuria in northwestern Dinajpur.