Dhaka and Chattogram, the prime areas of the country, are getting more development funds worsening regional inequality, experts say.
People in these two regions receive six times and about four times more development allocations respectively than Rangpur residents.
The sum of per capita allocations for Dhaka division in the Annual Development Programme (ADP) of the current fiscal year and the revised ADP of the last two years is Tk18,919 while that for Chattogram is Tk11,309.
The figure is Tk2,986 for Rangpur division over the same period.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, five of the 10 most poverty-ridden districts are in Rangpur division. The districts are Kurigram, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Gaibandha and Lalmonirhat.
Moreover, the sum of per capita allocations of these three years is Tk5,051 in Rajshahi, Tk5,694 in Sylhet, Tk5,787 in Mymensingh, Tk6,052 in Khulna and Tk7,042 in Barishal.
Powerful politicians and bureaucrats play significant roles in securing development projects and funds for their own areas. Other areas, as a result, remain neglected, says economists and experts.
Higher allocations have created more employment opportunities in Dhaka and Chattogram divisions and their adjacent areas than the others.
Though Chattogram got the second highest ADP allocation in the current fiscal year and the previous two years, Bandarban and Khagrachhari are among the 10 most poverty-stricken districts, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
The 7th Five-Year Plan emphasised eradicating poverty, generating employment and narrowing down economic disparity in its objectives, but development project and fund allocations do not reflect those goals.
Around 37 percent of all ADP projects of this fiscal year taken for infrastructure development, employment generation, poverty eradication and boosting local investment are in Dhaka. More than 50 percent of the total allocation for this fiscal year's projects are for Dhaka as well.
What the experts say
Planning Minister MA Mannan told The Business Standard the main objective of the government is to make all the urban facilities available to the rural people.
Dr Mustafa K Mujeri, former director general of the Bangladesh Institute of Developmental Studies, said influential politicians and powerful bureaucrats always try to play a role in bagging development projects for their own areas.
"As a result, the regions of such people have become more developed while other areas remain neglected," he said.
Mustafa said private entrepreneurs do not want to invest in the neglected areas due to the lack of infrastructures there and this hinders the overall development of those areas.
He said government monitoring is required to ensure equal development in all regions.
"Poverty rate in the northern region, Haor areas, coastal areas and the Chattogram Hill Tracts region is high due to unequal investments. The policymakers should be more careful in implementing the development fund allocation policy," added Mustafa.
Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office, said under-developed areas need big projects for industrialisation and modernisation of agriculture and such projects are politically lucrative as they need large investments.
"So, politicians focus on these projects. Where these projects will be implemented is discussed more," he said.
"Though there are public representatives from all areas in the national parliament, all of them do not have the same influence. There is a difference between a lawmaker who has come from the grassroots level and a lawmaker who is a businessman or a former bureaucrat. That is why some areas get more development projects," Dr Zahid explained to The Business Standard.
He said a proper living environment should be ensured before planning investments and industrialisation in rural areas.
"Such an environment requires quality healthcare service, schools, roads, power supply and a good sanitation system," he added.
Dr Shamsul Alam, member of the General Economic Division of the Planning Commission, observed that income inequality prevails during transition towards economic development in any country.
He said income inequality is accepted to some extent for ensuring some additional economic growth but disparity in public investments is not acceptable at all.
"Narrowing down the disparity in regional development in the upcoming 8th Five-year Plan will be given special importance. There will be initiatives for strengthening social safety net programmes, creating employment opportunities, ensuring primary and secondary education for all, arranging vocational education, developing good communication system, and ensuring uninterrupted power supply in the least developed areas," explained Shamsul.
He hopes the disparity will decline if these initiatives are implemented.