Jack Of All Trades
Careless decisions trigger highway chaos amid lockdown
Published : Wednesday, 4 August, 2021 at 12:00 AM Count : 579
The administration and trade bodies created a lot of problems for the hundreds and thousands of garment workers and the millions of the general people by giving whimsical decisions on resumption of production in factories from August 1 last, on the halfway of the 14-day- long strict lockdown that began on July 23, following weeks of mild restrictions imposed with the intention to stop the spike in pandemic infections.
After more than 24 hours of announcement on the reopening of export oriented factories mainly under the garment sector, Home Ministry said it had allowed movement of road and water transports from the Saturday night (late on July 31) to noon on Sunday, August 1. At the same time the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) assured that no garment worker stranded in their village homes being unable to join duties due to dearth of transports would lose his or her job.
Before these latest announcements tens and thousands of garment workers risked their lives with arduous journey back to their workplaces from villages where they had moved before the Eid-ul-Azha vacation and the start of the strict lockdown. They stayed back at their village homes as the factories were supposed to stay closed till August 5.
But the sudden announcement of factory reopening on Friday (late on July 30) compelled the workers to rush to industrial zones in and around Dhaka and Chittagong from their villages amid lockdown. As there was no regular public transport on the highways and the waterways, they had to move towards the capital on ferries, rickshaws, vans, trucks and on foot to reach their workplaces. They had to give 10 times higher fares to complete their journey. Many of them told journalists on different spots that they were rushing back to workplaces, lest they lose jobs for their absence.
Most of the workers undertook the ordeal from early Saturday and the huge rush of passenger-laden small transports and pedestrians overwhelmed the highways leading to Dhaka and Chittagong. The ferries that generally carry vehicles across the Padma River at different spots, were occupied by thousands of commuters who ignored the fear of pandemic infection. On the ferries many passengers did not even wear masks let alone they maintained social distancing, which was simply impossible onboard the overcrowded ferries.
A great chaos overtook the highways, mainly those leading to Dhaka and adjacent industrial belts. Men, women and children carrying bags and luggage were seen either riding on rickshaw vans and locally assembled autos or walking towards Dhaka. It looked like a great exodus of refugees from a war-hit country. The situation continued throughout day and night on Saturday.
However, on Saturday night when many garment workers reached their destinations with inhuman hardship, the Home Ministry made an announcement of allowing public buses and ferries to operate for nearly 12 hours from the nightfall till Sunday noon. The delayed and useless announcement was given to ease the suffering of the workers struggling to reach their workplaces. However, the sudden permission for transport movement, did not improve the situation immediately. Because, the Dhaka bound people who needed to use the transports already reached or about to reach their workplaces, using irregular transports at high costs. As it was late in the evening, when the permission for movement of transport was announced, transport operators and their helpers were not available, so no spectacular transport services could be given for the travellers.
Transport leaders said the people involved in withdrawal of restriction suddenly, do not have any experience about the transport sectors and their modus of operandi. However, public transports including ferries carried passengers throughout Sunday, without any restrictions though the movements of transports were supposed to end by noon. The whole thing ended in a mess and there was indiscipline on the roads and highways linking to the capital Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong throughout the day, only due to in appropriate decision of the government pressed by vested groups and leading trade bodies.
Many people now wonder how the government and the leaders of the trade bodies have failed to realize the repercussion of such whimsical decisions on factory reopening and subsequently the permission for movement of public transports. A State Minister talking to a foreign multimedia admitted on Sunday that government could not realize the impact of the sudden announcement of factory reopening among the workers and subsequent public mess on the highways.
Many were astonished to scale the callousness of a section of the administration and the trade bodies, who ignore the risks on rising Covid-19 infections in the country, where in the last 24 hours on Monday 246 more people died and 15,989 more contracted infections, taking the infected number of people to 1,280,317, over the last 17 months.
Amid rising death tolls and infections from the raging Covid-19 pandemic, export-oriented factories and industries have become operative from 6 am on Sunday, August 1 last, as the authorities succumbed to economic pressure from the powerful trade bodies led by the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI). The Cabinet Division issued a gazette notification on the decision on July 30, ignoring the rising number of deaths from raging pandemic.
Earlier on July 29 last, the apex trade body FBCCI at a meeting with Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam urged the government to allow the factories and the industries to go on production. It said the suspension of production would seriously affect the exports of the country. Leaders of BGMEA, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and Bangladesh Textiles Mills Association were present. The trade bodies are eager to achieve the export target of $51 billion in the fiscal year (FY) 2021-22. Of this, $43.5 billion has been targeted from merchandise export and $7.5 billion from export of services.
The country posted $38.75 billion in export in the previous FY 2020-21, up 15 per cent from the previous FY. However, the export missed the $41 billion target mainly because of destabilization of global market due to spread of coronavirus, according by Export Promotion Bureau data. The 14-day lockdown from July 23 was preceded by a week of mass movement of the people, allowed by the government on account of the Eid-ul-Azha Muslim feast of sacrifice, amid a clarion call from the health experts to contain the movement in order stop the spread of community impaction of the deadly virus. But the government owing to a sensitive issue like the Eid-ul-Azha did not heed to the call.
Health experts raised warning if the infections continue to rise, the capacities of the hospitals to accommodate the patients would tumble, inciting disorders. The government's decision to reopen garment factories and other export-related industries from August 1 will increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission, said the chairman of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19. There are some 4,500 garments factories in the country employing some 5 million workers mainly women. Bangladesh Nearly 50 per cent of the workers went to their village homes before the start of the vacation for Eid-ul-Azha, industry said. The rest 50 per cent did not need to go for long-distance travels to reach their village homes as they live in and around areas where their factories are situated.
Experts believe the trade bodies and the government should have had patience and maintain the strict lockdown till August 5, to break the spate of infection and allow the factories to reopen slowly and gradually under heath guidance.
The writer is Business Editor,
The Daily Observer