– Anu Mohammad*
The present government of Bangladesh puts heavy stress on development steps of all kinds taken so that the ‘development’ projects are speedily implemented. The government has no niggardliness or hesitation in respect of any amount of expenditure allotment, receiving loans at any condition or doing suppression-repression. By now Bangladesh has earned the record of highest expenditure in the world in many projects. Prices of almost all daily necessary goods including rice have increased. Education, medical treatment, admission, employment – everything is of money-game. The government itself enhances price of gas-electricity time and again, raises tax-customs. GDP is increasing. Majority people face save! save! state. Public security is at stake by violence. All the institutions are breaking down one by one; even the court is not safe.
In two terms the present government has already covered 10 years. In that consideration we have completed a ‘Development Decade’. The question of democracy, expression of opinion, accountability, transparency comes fore whenever anybody attempts to speak on the justification of different projects, costs allotment, corruption and results of so called development. It is said from the government side, we are on the highway of development and so now need ‘democracy of development’.
In practice it is not the first Development Decade of us. We have the experience of two more development decades in the past. The first one was of General Ayub’s Development Decade (1958-1968). The second one although did not cover a full decade, it can be termed as about a Decade of Development that was under the leadership of General Ershad (1982-1990). During the previous two ‘Development Decades’ we heard this sort of remarks also. For ensuring the process of development Ayub Khan introduced Basic Democracy suiting his autocratic rule. This has the feature of electing the president by the vote of General Ayub’s pocketed local public representatives. Avenue for corruption was created in favor of them. General Ershad tried utmost in this line that was initiated through holding of Upazila Election. But in the face of massive public resistance his plan did not materialize fully.
In these decades we notice an extensive initiative of constructing buildings and roads. We also see an inseparable process of making the properties of mass people an element of personal or company properties. During all the three regimes road communication only assumed importance, not the need of all, neither rail nor the waterways. The most effective, cheap and easy means of transport of Bangladesh could have been the waterways. The next could be the railway. But the loan givers’ urge was of vehicle selling and that has been fulfilled. Roads have increased, vehicles have increased, costs have risen, lands have shrinked, environmental pollution has enhanced and even jam has been increased. Many rivers and canals have become nearly dead due to all these factors.
During General Ayub regime in East Pakistan there was a big development project – Kaptai Hydro-Electric Power Station. For generating 250 Megawat electricity a dam was constructed; this dam caused submerging of Rangamati town. This left homeless more than one lakh people of different ethnic groups including Chakma and Marma tribes. This imprudent ‘development’ project initiated several problems like long drawn-out disorder in the Hill Tracts, violent relation between hill people and the rest Bangalee residents, killing of many people, militarization, increase of military expenses and all that; through this venture forests, hills got eliminated, restlessness became permanent. Generation of electricity never reached the target point. During General Ershad period a beginning was made through giving out oil-gas sector to the foreign companies by dividing it into 23 blocks. The only oil field of Bangladesh at Haripur was given out to an insignificant company namely Simiter. Non-transparency
in state purchasing, commission oriented contracts, bribing, corruption unprecedently increased. The use of religion started extensively in favor of the institutions and system suiting to the needs of autocracy.
In the present decade undertaking of different projects and their implementation commenced through the passing of ‘Indemnity Act’ of Energy and Electricity Ministry. This is a law for blocking the path to take shelter of law by the citizens of the country because they have no provision for taking lawful actions whatever misdeeds or damage may be done by the Ministry. By using this law as shield only, the government has undertaken different harmful costly projects in the name of solution of electricity problem; the work of non-accountable dangerous projects including Rampal and Ruppur Projects are advancing under its cover.
Irregularities and information disfigurement over the Sundarbans-destroying Rampal Project runs from the beginning. Efforts are made to inpose everything that includes inter alia capricious information-statistics, non-acceptance of scientific explanation-analysis, passing of EIA with errors and falsehood, making contracts by breaking rules, customs free facilities for the companies, creating terror in the area, creation of dominance of hired mastans-consultants-media-advertising firms.
From the beginning whenever we had gone to Rampal area to speak out, violent attack took place; sometimes the Police enforced 144 CrPC; sometimes they kept us cordoned, sometimes smashed the stage, sometimes made large-scale arrests; creation of threat and terror certainly existed. Their clear expression was:
‘Order from the top authority, please don’t tell anything about Rampal.’
: ‘On what law you are speaking about this?’
: ‘Order from the top’
In a bus journey from Dhaka to Rampal the Police started careless attack from Manikganj, not allowed to alight from the bus, not permitted to take food, not allowed to hold meeting. Many meetings in Bagerhat and Khulna faced obstruction by the police. The police occupied the place well beforehand. In many more places of the country the people who are loud for protecting the country and the Sundarbans fell victim to the onslaught and harassment by the police. It is difficult to count how many times the people in procession and gathering in Dhaka were obstructed by the police, fell victim to the tear-gas, attack and persecution of the police. Even the innocent bicycle procession of the young people was attacked by the police and the hooligans of the government.
No words of anybody would be listened to. Experts from home and abroad have shown so many times by explanation-analysis over the last seven years. We spoke to the Ministry and Parliamentary Committee. Innumerable meetings and assemblage including few long march took place. People from all levels including mother-baby stood for the cause of the Sundarbans; recitation of poetry, singing the songs, documentary films were presented. Open letters were sent to the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and India explaining the problems in writing. Different organizations including Indian experts have protested against this project; UNESCO has categorically asked to cancel or remove the Rampal Porject. Without paying heed to anything the program of elimination of the Sundarbans is running.
The government promised to abide by their decision while attending the UNESCO conference. But in many stages of the world and at the cost of the people of the country no resemblance of the government’s promises is noticed with its actions. Few days back reverse contention was propagated coming back from UNESCO meeting; afterwards when the full presentation of UNESCO was published on 30 July last, from then on started to refuge the same by virtue of power. Out of the 11 resolutions of UNESCO final report it was said in the resolution no 7, ‘The government of Bangladesh is being requested to take successive steps also for complete implementation of other recommendations of UNESCO. Reactive Monitoring Mission advanced on Rampal Project in 2016’. In these recommendations it was said that the Sundarbans have an outstanding universal value. To protect the same the Rampal Project should be cancelled or transferred elsewhere. The people of Bangladesh had this demand prior to one by UNESCO. Had the government put importance to the public opinion and interest of the country it would have not to be stigmatized for lobbing in favor of a harmful project for the country and the humanity at large.
Moreover in the resolution no. 4 request was made to the government not to build any large-scale industry or infrastructure in that region before the completion of a Strategic-Environmental Impact Assessment (SEA) in the Sundarbans and South-West area. The government claims: No, Rampal does not fall in this large-scale industrial structure. In an interview given to the Daily Protham Alo on 9 October the Chief of Asia and the Pacific Unit of UNESCO World Heritage Centre cleared that ‘The World Heritage Committee also requested the Bangladesh state side that until the completion of SEA they would ensure the issue of not continuing the work of any large type of industry and /or infra-structural
development project including Rampal Electricity Project’.
The government claims that for the purpose of electricity generation this project has been taken up. But this is not true. For electricity generation there is more less costly, environ-friendly safe ways. We have shown this path clearly in the alternative outline to the mega plan of the government. We can certainly say if the people are allowed to express their opinion and even if the government party people are given fearlessness, 99 percent people of the country would demand abandonment of this kind of projects including the Sundarbans and protecting the country from the Rampal Project.
Then who are in favor of it? For whom the government shows such a strength? The number of influential beneficiary persons of the project is not very small. On the strength of this project a sufficiently good number of government-closed persons/groups have hanged nameplates within 10 Kilometers of the Sundarbans by forcible occupation of land-forests. Although the High Court has declared it as the breach of Bangladesh Environment Law, the government has no imitative in this respect. These forcible occupants have placed guards against the Sundarbans Movement by hiring the local terrorists. Of course, the government administration is with them. In India the coal-fueled electricity is in a great depression; surplus coal faces bad days. In this project in Bangladesh arrangement is being made for big business of NTPC; the heavy electric company of India has got a big work; the government has exempted their taxes-customs payable for different works; the share market price of them has risen; EXIM Bank is getting a big loan business; surplus coal is getting a market. During the Annual Meeting of World Bank – IMF it is noticed from the reports of a research organization that IFC, an institution of World Bank is indirectly involved in this project. Moreover Fisher Company of Germany is working here as a Consultant. With all these ones there are domestic tails, sub-contractors, commission-eaters who do not hesitate to let the country go to hell at the cost of a small amount of money.
All of them need strength of power. The government is gifting them the same. To make accept abandoned surplus technology/raw materials in going to enhance their supremacy a transparent path does not do, it is to be done by compulsion.
Ignoring everything many things can be done by force. Truth can be mixed with falsehood; one can claim a truth to be an untruth and untruth to be a truth; by compulsion and force it can be made now allowed by a few people. But that does not make a truth an untruth and untruth a truth. And a forcible fastening of the mouth of the people does not lead to an elimination of that opinion.E
* Economist and Professor, Jahangirnagar University
** Translated into English by ‘The Economy’ Analyst.