Column
Economy bleeding to death

10 Mar 2015

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The economy of Bangladesh is now bleeding to death. The losses and blows being suffered daily as a result of the indefinite blockade enforced by BNP-led opposition since January 6 could soon spin out of control and turn to ashes whatever advances the country made over the last four decades to solve the basic problems of poverty,

 unemployment and development. The country is now destined to revert back to those primary stages, akin to what was witnessed in the war-ravaged Bangladesh of 1971. What is most regrettable and unfortunate is that this regrettable back sliding is taking place irrespective of the fact that a few months back all the indicators were showing that the stage had been set for rapid advances of Bangladesh economy.

 
Bangladesh was blessed with political stability for the last four years under the incumbent government. Although the economic growth in Bangladesh is not ideal and leaves a lot to be desired, whatever growth that occurred, helped very much the goals of poverty alleviation. Recently all major international studies conducted on Bangladesh economy showed that the country was on the verge of an economic take-off. 
 
But all the economic gains achieved now stand threatened by a violent push triggered by the BNP-led opposition alliance to unseat the government by any means. The economy is fast going downhill, being choked to death by BNP’s mindless acts of gangsterism.
 
The crisis triggered by indefinite country-wide blockade enforced by BNP and Jamaat is creating severe disturbances in public life. Possessing unbridled street power, fanatical religious commitments, arms and ammunition, the Jamaat has been launching sudden acts of violence and arson attacks, leading to a large number of deaths, destruction and damage to properties.
 
So devastating has been the impact of the blockade that has been in place since January 6 that even hospitals have expressed helplessness in providing life-saving drugs and oxygen to the patients citing disruption in regular supply chain. According to the widely read Bengali daily Prothom Alo, the death toll on the 48th day of the blockade crossed 100, while thousands have been injured lying in hospitals with excruciating pain.
 
The losses suffered have two sides. On the one hand, the same are a most heart rending accounts of death and maiming, and on the other, that of loss of properties and valuables. The deaths occurred mainly from petrol bombs and other crude explosive devices hurled on them. Those badly burnt and struggling for survival in hospitals are likely to finally succumb to their injuries.
 
All kinds of businesses including wholesalers and retailers remain squeezed from the current conditions of enforced immobility. The financial sector as a whole is gasping for breadth. The whole economy has reached a choking point.
 
Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI) has estimated that the blockade is costing the national exchequer a loss of between Tk 1500 crore to Tk 2000 crore daily.
 
Economically, a key sector like the Ready Made Garment (RMG) sector which is the nation’s highest foreign exchange earner is incurring a loss of Tk 843 crore daily. Transport sector is losing an estimated Tk 300 crore daily; agriculture Tk 288 crore daily; real estate Tk 250 crore daily and tourism Tk 200 crore daily.
 
It is well-known that the Jamaat has significant links with international terror outfits. BNP’s reliance on Jamaat to create and sustain an atmosphere of instability and uncertainty in the country has dangerous implications for Bangladesh as well as for South Asian neghbourhood and if this brand of Islamic militancy goes unchecked, it would pose a threat to all western democracies as well.
 
Experts are apprehensive that rising Islamist tendencies might attract militants from different parts of the world, including al Qaeda and ISIS, to come forward with their brand of extremism and militancy, to support the Jamaat and ensure destabilization in the rest of the region.
 
Economically, Bangladesh has progressed steadily under Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government since 2008-09. Foreign reserves, which in January 2007 stood at US $ 3.74 billion, went up to $ 5.8 billion in 2008, and according to official statistics provided by the Bank of Bangladesh, crossed US $ 12 billion mark in 2011.
 
Under the present ruling dispensation, the dependence on foreign aids and imports has been decreasing gradually. Bangladesh’s labour-intensive agriculture sector has achieved steady increase in food grain production despite frequent natural calamities and unfavourable weather conditions. This has been due to better flood control and irrigation, efficient use of fertilizers, better distribution and rural credit networks.
 
Bangladesh has overtaken India in garment exports, which in 2014 was pegged at US $ 3.12 billion every month. Bangladesh’s textile industry which includes knitwear and readymade garments along with specialized textile products is the nation’s number one export earner, accounting for US $ 21.5 billion in 2013 or 80% of Bangladesh’s total export of US $ 27 billion. Under the Awami League regime Bangladesh is ranked second globally in terms of textile products, just behind China. The industry employs nearly 3.5 million workers.
 
All these significant achievements of the past seven years are now in danger of being nullified, should the BNP-led blockade be allowed to succeed in destabilizing the government and facilitating a shift in the balance of power to fundamentalist elements in the country.
 
Any objective assessment will show that this ongoing movement is driven by BNP’s narrow political objective of forcing the government by any means to step down. This will enable BNP to fish in troubled waters and at the same time pave the way for its own return to power by hook or by crook. BNP’s narrow and selfish objective of capturing state power at any cost runs counter to the real worthwhile interests of the people in general.
 
BNP Chief Khaleda Zia is well aware that the blockade and hartals are ruining the country, its people and economy. If she continues to remain insensitive to pleadings from the countrymen and decides to preside over destruction of the country by persisting with her blockade, the state and the people legitimately will have the right to arrest her and take appropriate measures that would force her to give up her policies of destroying the country.



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