Development plans, especially those related to economic zones, have to be environment-friendly and suitable for the particular areas they are undertaken for, said stakeholders at a webinar on Tuesday.
Supplies of civic amenities, infrastructure such as roads, electricity and water, along with factors like manpower and livability should be ensured in areas chosen for development, experts opined at the event, titled "How livable and investment-friendly is Sylhet?", organised by The Business Standard.
Against the backdrop of plans by the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (Beza) to establish 100 economic zones across the country by 2030, speakers at the webinar warned that there were many factors to be considered.
"All the 100 economic zones have to be made in all areas of Bangladesh – I don't think that's right. Why can't we do business in the place that offers it the biggest advantages?" said Zarina Hossain, an architect and city planner who is also a professor at Leading University.
Mentioning the potentials of tourism, she said given the region's hilly areas, tea estates, water bodies, and its particular history and heritage, Sylhet could benefit from tourism similar to Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Kawshik Saha, associate professor of architecture at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, said, "Sylhet is a critical ecological zone and most of it is low-lying. Floods frequently affect these areas. When we conduct development works, we have to consider the hydrological and flood system of the area to ensure that they are not affected.
"Before establishing an economic zone in any area, the environmental impact, community, and feasibility assessments have to be done. Unfortunately, the reality is that these assessments are not conducted properly," he added.
He also suggested that development plans be undertaken through a bottom-up approach.
Sharnalata Roy, president of the Sylhet Women Chamber of Commerce and Industries, pointed out a manpower shortage in Sylhet, especially of skilled labour. "Once an economic zone is set up, a large number of workers will come from other regions, and so ensuring their accommodation and other facilities is a challenge also."
Pointing to fish diversity in the Baikka Beel of Sreemangal, Abdul Karim Chowdhury Kim, general secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon, Sylhet, said, "Many large investors are now involved in fisheries. Due to growing fish farming in Baikka Beel and surrounding areas, the existence of local fish species are under threat.
"Livability is absent in Sylhet for both human beings and animals."
Taufiq Box Lipon, panel mayor of Sylhet City Corporation, said, "The economic zones which will be established in greater Sylhet will obviously create extra pressure on Sylhet city. We have to start thinking from now as to how we will cope with the situation."
Among others, Barrister Moinul Hosain and Tanvir Ruhel as well as GM Shiblee, chairman, Bangladesh Cha Sangsad, Sylhet Valley, also spoke at the webinar. Sharier Khan, executive editor of The Business Standard moderated the event.
The 100 economic zones are expected to create direct as well as indirect employment for 1 crore people and produce exports worth $40 billion annually.
Some of the economic zones are in the greater Sylhet division, including the Srihatta Economic Zone located on some 352 acres of land at Sherpur in Moulvibazar Sadar upazila.
Besides, Beza has acquired 500 acres in Chunarughat upazila of Habiganj and about 450 acres in Gowainghat upazila of Sylhet for the planned economic zones.
In addition, plans are afoot to set up another economic zone on 1,000 acres of land in Sunamganj's Chhatak upazila, along with a private economic zone known as "Chhatak Economic Zone".
The seminar was part of a series of discussions that The Business Standard has been organising on the occasion of its second anniversary.