The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has advised the Bangladesh government to implement massive infrastructure development plans in economically underdeveloped north-eastern districts in order to make them new economic corridors.
The ADB says that while industrially rich Narayanganj and Gazipur districts are topping the chart of districts having the maximum numbers of rich people, this is not a reflection of the GDP for these districts. The north-eastern part of the country in general, is lagging behind other regions in terms of per capita income.
The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of the country crossed $1516 in 2017, but the per capita GDP of the residents of these two districts, along with those of Narsingdi, Kishoreganj, Mymensingh, Netrokona, Brahmanbaria, Habiganj and Sylhet districts, is $1409.
Despite being rich in resources and having various privileges, including access to natural gas connections, the districts in the north-eastern region are falling behind owing to a lack of infrastructure, especially in communication, education and social network, observed the ADB.
The ADB and the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) jointly organised the seminar at a city hotel yesterday. Speakers at the seminar urged the government to start a number of projects for the development of roads, rail, river and air routes in the nine districts named above.
The seminar was told that the ADB has set separate development priorities by dividing different regions of the country into four corridors.
ADB Country Director for its Bangladesh Resident Mission, Dr Manmohan Parkash, said that the dynamic people of Bangladesh are eager to do something. "The setting up of economic corridors will help create employment opportunities for local people and develop the tourism industry," he observed.
In order to bring about a transformation in the economy, a transformation has to be made in the infrastructure sector, Parkash said. He added that the country needs to make massive investments in the power, gas, transportation and other sectors.
The ADB, in its primary report, said that the districts bordering India in the north-eastern corridor of Bangladesh are also important for strategic reasons.
Apart from trade with India, there is a huge scope for increasing trade with Nepal and Bhutan using the land routes of these districts.
The report claimed that an imbalanced development has taken place in this area as the focus of development was on Dhaka only. The report also pointed out that the educational infrastructure in the region is very poor, and there are weaknesses in the communication infrastructure, especially in rail, road and river routes.
The railway network in the region is based on meter gauge tracks, which is used mainly for human transportation. A lot of improvement needs to be made in the area if freight transportation is to be increased by railways.
Since the region has an abundance of haor areas (low lying wet areas), the road communication system is also weak there. In the given situation, the ADB has recommended building a road from Mymensingh to Sylhet via Gazipur and Narsingdi.
The ADB also wants improvement of roads connecting Mymensingh to the Nakugaon Land Port, Sylhet to the Tamabil Land Port, the Biswa Road leading to the Akhaura Land Port, the Shayestaganj to Habiganj road, the Mymensingh to Kishoreganj road, and the Bhulta to Narayanganj road. If these roads are developed, trade with India's Seven Sister State, the 7 states in India's northeastern region, will improve substantially.
The report said that there is only one international airport in the proposed economic corridor. The report also stressed the need to increase the capacity of Sylhet MAG Osmany Airport along with that of Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka to boost trade.
Meanwhile, the ADB has already carried out a survey in the south-western region and has found that the annual production of the region may rise to $40 billion to $45 billion by 2050 through coordinated development under the present management. However, the volume can reach $148 billion if the development activities are carried out after implementing the economic corridor system.
Alongside increasing about Tk8,65,000 crore in the annual income of the region, employment opportunities for an additional 2.5 crore people can be generated there, the ADB said.
The ADB also announced at the seminar that the amount of increase that can be made in the annual production of the region by implementing the north-eastern corridor will be presented in the final report of the ADB study, which will be published in March next year.
Planning Minister MA Mannan, while speaking as the chief guest at the seminar, said the problems and their possible solutions, which the ADB's primary study has highlighted, are very important.
However, the problems have to be resolved through work at the field-level, the minister said.
He also expressed the hope that the ADB will come forward with investment proposals to implement the projects that the organisation has recommended.
The prime minister's private industries and investment adviser, Salman F Rahman, who attended the seminar as a special guest, said that the overall economic situation of the country will improve substantially once the government completes the work on 100 special economic zones that are being set up to overcome the scarcity of private investment.
There are huge prospects of investment in the tourism sector in the north-eastern region, he added.
Salman F Rahman also said that the government will wait for the recommendations which the ADB will put forward in its final report, and that it will also take measures to implement those recommendations gradually in consideration of their viability and priority.
The executive chairman of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority, Monwar Hossain, in his welcome address, said Bangladesh aims to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030 and reach the status of a high-income country by 2041. To reach the target, the per capita income has to be raised to $12,500, he added.
He noted that the target cannot be reached without carrying out the development projects in a planned manner.