Comprehensive initiatives needed for northern part of country
Rangpur Division consists of a total of eight districts and the number of upazila is 58. The population of the division is over one and a half crore. But the truth is, this northern region is the most neglected in terms of development. The economic plight of the people of Rangpur Division--which has been largely dependent on agriculture since ancient times--has remained almost unchanged in the last five decades since the independence.
As greater Rangpur is rich in arable lands, this region is called the storehouse of agro-based crops. Mass people here are mainly agricultural work-oriented and the contribution of the peasants in growing crops is indeed praiseworthy. The abundance of various types of agro-products is a unique feature of this land and there is a great possibility of developing agro-based industries. Hence, to ensure a fair price for the produced crops for the farmers is a primal issue. In this regard, the communication system needs to be developed properly.
The existing Dhaka-Rangpur-Dinajpur National Highway through Sirajganj is very narrow as well as the width of the highway is noticeably low. We know, the pre-requisite for the economic development of any region is better transport system by road, rail, and river with the capital of the country. Therefore, the ongoing four-lane expansion project to upgrade and modernize the Dhaka-Rangpur Highway has to be accomplished without further delay.
This region is far behind comparing to other parts of the country in respect of industrial establishment. Industries have not been flourished owing to a lack of integrated planning. It is to refer that four of the ten most poverty-prone districts are in the Rangpur division. For the promotion of balanced economic development, the demand for prioritizing this region in the national development plan is long-standing and, in fact, time-befitting. The development planning concerned with the greater Rangpur is not reflected in the Annual Development Program (ADP). This northernmost division lags far behind the ADP regarding development allocation. Even, there is no fast-track project in the Rangpur division for infrastructure development.
Due to lack of infrastructural facilities, uncertainty of uninterrupted power supply and lack of gas supply through pipelines, stakeholders and business entrepreneurs do not feel encouraged to set up large and medium-scale industries here. Consequently, urea fertilizer factory, ceramic industry, pharmaceutical industry, readymade garment industry, automobiles assembling industry, etc have not been developed here. So, the undertaken project of gas supply in the greater Rangpur seeks prompt execution in a bid to expand the planned industrialization following its projected timeframe.
There are policies to incentivize industries, mills, and factories in the country. Considering the economic perspective and reality entrepreneurs and business initiators in this region will have to be brought under the inclusion of the state-provided subsidies. This is to be mentioned pertinently that the garment industry is a labour-intensive industry, and the available cheap labour of the Rangpur division is much favourable and can boost this industry in a promising manner. By the way, the establishment of the garment industry in this area will successfully augment employment opportunities and improve the standard of living of the poor people here.
Poverty might not reduce in the region or sector lagging in economic development as inter-divisional or inter-regional inequalities have not been trimmed down with the growth rate of the economy. I cannot but mention that the number of economic units in the Rangpur division is truly minimal and subsequently, the unemployment rate is very high. It is needless to say, unemployment and poverty are on opposite sides of the same coin. On the contrary, the higher the number of economic units the higher scope of economic activities.
Initiatives will have to be taken to boost up investment in this underdeveloped division. Economically deprived people of the Rangpur division should be included in the mainstream development of the country. On the prior ground, the establishment of industrial zones and industrial parks with adequate infrastructure facilities are highly sought for the robust economic development in the northern area.
Fortunately, nine special economic zones are supposed to be set up in the Rangpur division. If these special economic zones are established on time, then the intently hardworking youth of the region somehow could have engaged in entrepreneurial ventures, training and credit assistance. Thus, unemployment and prevailing impoverishment might considerably cut down and the generation would dream anew to survive having an improved living standard.
In the industrial policy of 2016, all the eight districts of the Rangpur division had been identified as underdeveloped districts in respect of the industrial establishment. Bangladesh's trade policy does not provide any incentives for the underprivileged area and no classified benefits have been provided for this region in any industrial policy. As a result, the manufacturers and investors in the region fail to compete with other business competitors--nationally as well as internationally.
The division enormously requires sustainable infrastructure, inclusive and sustainable expansion of industries and innovations. IT Park, ICT assistance, hi-tech park and incubation centre are necessary to be set up in this area. The establishment of an agricultural university centering on the Divisional Headquarters might cater to the pathway of agro-research opportunities in the region.
We, the inhabitants of the Rangpur Division, would like to express our demand to the authorities concerned to take situation-demanded initiatives to promote the fortune of the long-deprived northern community. And take necessary measures for this northern region to include in the mainstream development process in order to ensure a balanced development over the country.
The author is an academician