Rural industrialisation gets less priority

8,450 industrial applications pending

Manjurul Ahsan

Rural industrialisation gets less priority in Bangladesh as the applications of over 8,000 entrepreneurs waiting for years to get power supply for setting up industries in the villages show.
Critics said that the government was oblivious of its   constitutional obligation to promote rural industrialisation for narrowing the urban-rural disparities.
Rural industrialisation would remain a pipe dream without uninterrupted power supply, said Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry vice-president Mahbubul Alam.
He urged the government to speedily extend power connections to the applicants waiting to set up industries in the rural areas.
Rural Electrification Board provided new power connections to entrepreneurs for setting up 3,500 industries in eight years since 2007.
Applications from 8,490 more entrepreneurs seeking power supply for setting up factories remained pending since 2007, says a report presented by REB chairman Moin Uddin at an REB conference Sunday.
To be able to provide the connections to the pending applicants, he said, REB would require additional power supply to the tune of 1,130MW.
Besides, he said, overloaded distribution infrastructure and other issues also stood on the way of providing the new industrial connections in the countryside.
Among other issues, he mentioned, were not holding the studies for determining the feasibility of an unknown number of industries while many of the applicants either lost the interest or did not deposit the fees.
There are also instances in which, he said, the applicants did not care to take the clearance from the Department of Environment.
The grounds provided by the REB chairman was discarded by energy adviser of Consumer Association of Bangladesh M Shamsul Alam saying that actual power generation was too inadequate to meet the demand for setting up industries in the rural areas.
He also described the government’s claims about increased generation as inflated and not credible.
On Monday, power division secretary Monwar Islam admitted that until 2015, the government followed a go slow policy in providing new power connections.
As the government lacks a coherent policy in the area, said Shamsul Alam, power connections were extended arbitrarily attaching no priority to industrial connection seekers.
Former caretaker government energy adviser M Tamim described rural power supply infrastructure as a major problem affecting reliable supply.
Tamim favoured providing connections to pending industrial applicants saying, more power supply for industrial use at higher tariffs would enable REB to easily minimise its losses on its power supplies to rural domestic consumers and for irrigation.
REB however took an easier route by requesting the government and the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission to allow it to raise the tariff for irrigation use and the families whose consumption is pretty low.
For its sheer viability REB urgently needs to increase tariffs, said the utility’s controller accounts and finance Khaleda Yasmin.
She said that REB sustains losses for its 70 per cent power supplies that cover the low income families as well as the irrigation pumps.
Article 16 of the Constitution of the Republic stipulates, ‘The State shall adopt effective measures to bring about a radical transformation in the rural areas through the promotion of an agricultural revolution, the provision of rural electrification, the development of cottage and other industries, and the improvement of education, communications and public health, in those areas, so as progressively remove the disparity in the standards of living between the urban and the rural areas.’
In the relatively backward northern districts 5,410 pending applications piled up since 2007 seeking power connections for setting up industries.
Another 2,311 pending applications seeking power connections for setting up factories in the countryside around the capital piled up since 2008 while since 2011, at least 769 entrepreneurs have been waiting to get the connections for setting up industries in the southern districts facing acute unemployment.
Moin said that efforts were on to sort out the overloading issue standing on the way of providing new connections.
He said that by June, REB plans to provide connections to all the pending applicants with environmental clearance.

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