News Bangladesh Economy & Development Thread

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Companies worldwide go beyond their home markets to achieve economies of scale, source raw materials cheaply, lower costs and capture new markets. Similarly, many Bangladeshi firms are expanding abroad to find larger markets for their products and services and power their next phase of growth. Their success will depend on how efficiently they run the overseas operations and the regulations Bangladesh puts in place to pave the way for the expansion and eliminate any scope for misuse.

Bangladesh's people have witnessed a huge surge in entrepreneurial spirit over the last couple of decades.

Beginning with investments in garments in the early 1980s and their subsequent success, entrepreneurs steadily pushed their boundaries to explore the international and domestic markets.

Today, local entrepreneurs have a strong presence in the global apparel market thanks to their courage and resilience, putting Bangladesh on the list of the top three garment exporters in the world.

On the domestic front, a number of sectors – steel, cement, pharmaceuticals, food and agro-processing – have staged a strong emergence over the last two to three decades. And the expansion drive by entrepreneurs continues.

Now, a growing number of entrepreneurs have set their sights on international markets to grow by joining the global value chain.

The Bangladesh Bank started allowing local firms to make investments abroad in 2014.

Till last year, it gave the nod to 10 firms to establish subsidiaries or open offices in various countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Ethiopia and Kenya, according to a central bank document.

It also gave approval for $52.2 million to be invested altogether.The firms subsequently doled out$40 million. And at the end of June this year, the central bank granted permission to six more firms to invest a total of $7.77 million in India, Ireland, the US, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia.

The companies are the NASSA Group of Industries, Pran-RFL Group, Bangladesh Steel Re-Rolling Mills (BSRM), Incepta Pharmaceuticals, Renata, andMBM Garments Ltd.

Of the first 10 firms, Akij Jute Mills poured the whole $20 million it had received permission for into its subsidiary, Akij Resources SDN BHD, in Malaysia.

Square Pharmaceuticals invested $10 million to establish a pharmaceuticals plant in an export processing zone in Kenya from the approved amount of $16 million. It is yet to begin production.

DBL, one of the leading apparel exporters, set up a garment factory in Ethiopia, investing $5.5 million. It started production on a limited scale but could not make a profit, the BB said in a document prepared in the middle of 2021.

Another major firm, MJL Bangladesh Ltd, invested over $5 million in its subsidiary MJL-AKT Petroleum Company Limited in Myanmar.

MJL-AKT repatriated $1.3 million by selling products as of June 2019, while another concern, MJL (S) Pte Ltd in Singapore incurred losses, Bangladesh Bank data showed.

Service Engine BPO, a business process outsourcing company, formed a subsidiary, AIIM International EZE, in the United Arab Emirates, investing $5,700. It was able to bring back nearly $16,000.

Beximco Limited was granted permission to invest in Sri Lanka, but it could not make any progress afterwards as the authorities in the island country changed the rule regarding allowing foreign investment in pharmaceuticals, said an official of the company.

BSRM invested $27,500 until last year to set up a steel mill in Kenya out of the authorised amount of $4.87 million.

Tapan Sengupta, deputy managing director of the largest steel manufacturer in Bangladesh, says they have recently invested $400,000 to purchase land to establish a factory.

"We are in the process of setting up the factory," he said. BSRM has opened an office in Hong Kong to make it easier to source raw materials and explore export opportunities.

The BB, in June this year, allowed BSRM to invest $500,000 from its export earnings retention quota to open a subsidiary in Hong Kong.

The quota specifies the amount of export earnings that can be retained by a business in foreign currency in an account.

"Our first priority is to invest locally. At the same time, we want to tap opportunities abroad," Sengupta added.

Ahsan Khan Chowdhury, chairman and chief executive officer of Pran-RFL Group, said a plant in neighbouring Indiawould enable his company to expand its market.

"We now export our products to a number of states in India. Now, we are in a position such that we need to set up factories in India to expand to South, North and West India."

"We see a very good prospect. If we can replicate what we have learned there, we can be one of the top food companies in India."

Chowdhury thinks Bangladesh's corporate sector should be given the opportunity to make overseas investments so that they can gain greater market access.

"The US has given tariff benefit to African nations. If a company wants to invest there to avail duty advantages and export to the US market, the authority should allow it."

This will benefit Bangladesh as local firms will be able to repatriate profits from investments made abroad.

Khokan Chandra Das, chief financial officer of Renata, says the company wants to set up a subsidiary to export pharmaceuticals and associated products to the European Union.

There is a rule that requires firms to establish a fully-owned subsidiary in Europe in order to export products to the bloc, he said last month.

Incepta Pharmaceuticals Ltd wants to open a subsidiary in the US to market drugs.

"The US is the biggest market for pharmaceuticals. Our competitors are doing good in that market since they have offices there. We need to have an office," said Incepta Pharmaceuticals Chairman and Managing Director Abul Muktadir.

"If we are allowed to use our foreign currency earnings in the export retention quota freely, we could do much bigger things."

Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said the interest in investing abroad was positive since the competitiveness of local firms had increased.

Over the past decades, particularly from 1980 onwards, liberalisation of policies encouraged private sector-led industrialisation, he said. And beginning with garments, industries expanded to other export and domestic market-oriented sectors.

"Now, we see a sense of confidence among entrepreneurs. They want to go abroad to try to expand the business."

"It can be said that our entrepreneurs have got a certain level of upgradation, and they are ready for global exposure," he added.

Moazzem, however, requests the government to ensure transparency in the whole process.

"As we are a country with a small foreign currency reserve base, the regulator should monitor whether investments are being made transparently and profits are being repatriated properly."

A separate policy is needed for overseas investments, he says, adding that time has come to evaluate the performance of firms that have already invested abroad.

Atiur Rahman, a former governor of the Bangladesh Bank who had overseen granting of a number of investment proposals while in office, said Bangladesh's entrepreneurs should continue learning by conducting experiments.

"We should keep the window open. But the authority should give permissions on a case-to-case basis. We can explore business prospects in countries where Bangladesh has already earned goodwill."


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The government is making a roadmap to facilitate the production of digital devices in the country to boost export earnings in the information and technology sector from the current $1 billion to $5 billion by 2025.

At the same time, the domestic market for ICT products and IT-enabled services is expected to reach $5 billion.

The government believes products such as mobile devices, computers, and laptops will play a major role in tapping in the prospective $10 billion IT market at home and abroad within next four years, which is why the new roadmap is aimed at capacity building of the local digital device manufacturing industry as well as promoting and branding domestically manufactured products in international markets, according to the ICT Division.


Proper implementation of this roadmap is expected to create at least one lakh jobs in the digital device manufacturing industry. The country will then be able to export laptops and mobile phones worth about $2 billion after meeting the domestic demand.

The new roadmap, drafted by the ICT Division, has recently been sent to various ministries and departments for their feedback.

The ICT Division expects that the implementation of the "Made in Bangladesh" action agenda will make Bangladesh a major hub of ICT and IoT (Internet of Things) device manufacturing. It will also support the agenda of universal access, the division hopes.

Officials at the division said increasing consumption of digital devices and consumer gadgets by the emerging middle and affluent classes has built the foundation for assisting the entry of Bangladesh into the international high-tech manufacturing industry.

The new roadmap recommends prioritising the use of locally produced ICT products in government procurement. To this end, initiatives will be taken to raise awareness among government officials involved in public purchases. It also suggests setting up hubs in Singapore, the UAE, England or any other country to facilitate the export of domestically produced ICT products.

In this new roadmap, emphasis is being laid on various issues including creation of skilled manpower, improvement of product quality, quality assurance, assessment of global demand, promotion of local products in foreign markets, protection of intellectual property, and increasing research.

Besides the ICT Division, various ministries, divisions, and other government entities – including the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the Ministry of Industries, the Ministry of Education, the Bangladesh Computer Council, the Bangladesh High-Tech Park Authority, the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (Beza), the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida), the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (Bepza), the Export Promotion Bureau, the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), the Bangladesh Industrial Technical Assistance Centre (BITAC), the National Skill Development Authority, and the University Grants Commission – will work together to implement the roadmap.

Various private institutions and organisations of entrepreneurs will also have important roles to play in making the roadmap a success.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), Bangladesh imported 3.4 crore phones worth $1.18 billion in 2017, and the laptop market was valued to be at $300 million in 2018.

The Bangladesh High-Tech Park Authority – established to utilise the opportunity of exploring the potential of the market with a series of incentives – declared exemption of income tax for park developers, investors, exemption of import duty, regulatory duty, and supplementary duty for producing ATM kiosks and CCTV cameras, exemption of duties on importing capital equipment and construction materials by the investors.

The new roadmap is aimed at accelerating the "Made in Bangladesh" initiative by utilising these facilities.

The availability of workforce at a competitive wage structure, an increasing domestic market demand, and a favourable policy structure are some of the factors that make Bangladesh an attractive market for digital device manufacturing, believes the ICT Division.

The success stories of manufacturing companies, such as Walton, Samsung, Oppo, and Data Soft make the division confident about further development of the domestic digital device manufacturing industry in the upcoming days.

The division, however, has also identified some constraints in the process of the roadmap implementation, and high capital expenditure in Bangladesh tops the list.

The other major limitations that the division has found include a lack of skilled manpower, poor industry ecosystem, quality assurance and international certification for locally manufactured products, a lack of regulations to prioritise local products in government purchases, a lack of awareness about locally manufactured products, and an absence of appropriate financial stimulus for the digital device manufacturers.

Key strategic factors

The new roadmap has been formulated focusing on four strategic issues – capacity building at the local level in the public and private sectors, awareness building and branding, research and development, and policy support.

The roadmap includes a set of short-term action plans to be implemented by 2023. It also incorporates some mid-term and long-term ones to be executed by 2028 and 2031, respectively.

In the short term, the authorities will estimate the demand for technology products after analysing the local as well as international markets, and formulate strategies for capacity building and marketing.

During this period, testing labs will be set up at the initiative of universities to ensure the quality of IT products. The Ministry of Commerce will take up initiatives to increase exports through bilateral and multilateral international agreements. A hub will be set up in Singapore, Dubai, England or any other country to export goods abroad.

With the help of the ICT Division, universities will create five lakh skilled workers for the ICT sector in the country by this time. The National Skill Development Authority will develop international standard training modules and syllabi.

In the next two years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will take measures to understand the attitude of other countries towards Bangladesh and formulate and implement an action plan to overcome the negative attitude, if any.

The ICT Division will develop a national portal with details of ICT products produced in the country. Apart from that, steps will be taken to increase awareness among officials involved in government procurement about domestic products.

The National Board of Revenue (NBR) will work to bring down various tariffs and taxes on the digital device manufacturing industry and its backward linkages to a reasonable level.

The Ministry of Finance will take steps to provide loans on easy terms to the manufacturers of ICT products, while the Ministry of Commerce will look after the issues relating to incentives for the export of these products.

What experts say

AKM Fahim Mashroor, former president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), told The Business Standard that the initiative to reduce imports by increasing production of ICT products and to increase exports is commendable. He, however, suggested prioritising value addition, saying, "Without a plan to increase value addition, such initiatives will not yield desired outcome," mentioning that most of the entrepreneurs in the IT products manufacturing sector currently import almost 100% of the materials from abroad and only assemble those in their factories.

"Since the assembled products are not taxed as finished products, the government is being deprived of revenue. On the other hand, the factories are being run by employing only a nominal number of people."

Citing an example, he said the Bangladesh factory of Chinese mobile phone brand Xiaomi had started operation a couple of days ago with only 250 employees. If all the materials were produced in the country, thousands of people could be employed, he added.

"Even though the country has attached importance to industrialisation, the issue of backward linkages has remained neglected. If raw materials cannot be produced in the country, value addition will not increase. There will be no employment."

Fahim Mashroor also suggested imposing a certain amount of value-addition obligation on local digital products manufacturers to qualify for various facilities, including tax exemption.

BASIS President Syed Almas Kabir said, "The software development and solution sector in the country reached a stable position. We have to strengthen the hardware industry in line with the software industry."

Mentioning that some dozen companies have started producing mobile phones in the country and very few producers are manufacturing laptops, he said, "It is a fact that local factories would assemble digital devices at the initial stage and it would take time to increase the value addition at a standard level after a significant level of skills and knowledge transfer."

He stressed having a clear vision and roadmap to increase value-addition and employment generation.

Lauding the initiative to develop the roadmap, Almas Kabir said, "The roadmap is very essential as the level of investment in high-tech parks is very low. There is a lack of coordination among several ministries and divisions concerning the digital device industry. The roadmap would boost investment and ensure cooperation."

 

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The work of pitch casting has started on the viaduct road of Padma Bridge, at Jajira point of Shariatpur.

Work began around 10:45am today, our Munshiganj correspondent reports.

On the first day, 50mm pitch casting was completed up to a length of 60 metres and a width of 10 metres. The casting has been completed on pillars N-34 and N-35 of the viaduct road, said Dewan Mohammad Abdul Kader, executive engineer of the Padma Bridge.

He said, "The length of Jajira viaduct is 1670.03 metre. The task of pitch casting will be completed gradually. After a few days, we can say how long it will take. The pitch casting on the viaduct on the Mawa point has not started yet."

"Pitch casting on the main bridge will begin in the first week of November," the official added.

 

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Highlights:
  • The plant is being built on the banks of the Karnaphuli river
  • BPDB will purchase electricity from the plant for 22 years
  • A unit of electricity will cost Tk2.95 – Tk5.44

Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) has signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) with United Chattogram Power Limited (UCPL) to set up a 590 MW combined cycle power plant at Anwara Upazila in Chattogram.

The agreement was signed on Thursday by Saiful Islam Azad, board secretary, BPDB, and Moinuddin Hasan Rashid, managing director, United Chattogram Power Limited.

According to the agreement, the plant will be built on some 12 acres of land on the banks of the Karnaphuli and will operate commercially from January 2026.

BPDB will purchase electricity from the plant for 22 years.

The power plant will generate electricity using natural gas and regasified liquefied natural gas or R-LNG. Per kilowatt of electricity generated from natural gas will cost Tk2.95, and per kilowatt of R-LNG-generated electricity will cost Tk5.44.

United Enterprises and Company Limited will own 60% of the plant and two Japanese firms will own the remaining 40%.

Md Habibur Rahman, secretary, Power Division, Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, was the chief guest at the signing ceremony. He expressed hope that the United Group will finish construction of the power plant within the stipulated time.

Engineer Md Belayet Hossain, chairman, BPDB, presided over the event. He said the United Group's 590 MW power plant will be the largest of the combined cycle power plants in the country.

Moinuddin Hasan Rashid, chairman of United Group and managing director of UCPL, also gave a speech during the event. He said the Anwara 590 MW power plant would play a big role in implementing the Prime Minister's promise to deliver electricity to every household in the country.

Other agreements signed with United Chattogram Power Limited on Thursday, include the Implementation Agreement (IA) with the Power Division and Power Grid Company of Bangladesh (PGCB), and the Gas Supply Agreement (GSA) with Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Company Limited.

 

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Computer services export from Bangladesh has crossed the $300-million mark as the coronavirus pandemic turbocharged the global demand for data processing, hosting and consultancy services.

Local IT companies and freelancers have bagged an increased number of orders from clients across the globe since the crisis struck as customers had to rely more on digital tools to adapt to work-from-home practices.

The industry fetched $303.76 million in fiscal 2020-21, up 10 per cent year-on-year, showed data from the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).

The higher earnings were driven by computer services such as data processing, hosting, consultancy, installation, and maintenance.

The receipts from the sales of IT-enabled services such as data processing and hosting increased around 27 per cent to $217 million.

Computer consultancy services raked in $24.07 million, up from $20.31 million a year ago. And it has continued to maintain the uptick.

In July, the earnings from computer services export grew three times to $78 million from $23 million a year ago.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, computer and IT services export plunged," said Syed Almas Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS).

"But when the economies around the world started to reopen after a few months, foreign companies began to outsource, and our freelancers were taking a huge number of orders."

Companies in Bangladesh have now started to get high-value tasks such as graphics, the internet of things and artificial intelligence, and the hourly rate for the works is higher.

"This can also be attributed to the increase of computer services export," said Kabir. The entrepreneur put the annual export earnings from computer services at more than $1 billion, which is far higher than the EPB figures.

"This is because the government figures don't include the earnings of freelancers properly, and many service providers bring export proceeds through non-banking channels."

For the growing export orders, many IT firms have hired new employees, and many youths have found jobs in the sector.

Computer software export suffered a blow as it dropped 30 per cent year-on-year to $47.44 million in 2020-21. The earnings stood at $73 million in 2019-20.

Kabir blamed the closure of offices in Europe owing to the lockdowns for the decline in software exports.

"Many work orders were cancelled and suspended. Payments were not cleared, so many local companies were hit," he said.

Thanks to the recovery in global demand for e-commerce platforms and fintech, some software exporters were flooded with orders in the second half of the last fiscal year.

More than 225 companies from Bangladesh export software to over 80 countries, according to Rashad Kabir, managing director of Dream71 Bangladesh Ltd.

The software developer won multiple international tenders, and its revenue also shot up during the pandemic.

"The actual export is much higher than the data we have got from the EPB. Apart from the software companies, there are about 6 lakh freelancers whose income has not been reflected in the official figure," said Rashad, also a director of the BASIS.

Ferdous Ahmad Shaon, managing director of Cefalo Bangladesh Ltd, a software exporter focused on the European market, said the first few months of the pandemic had posed a major challenge as many orders were axed since many clients had to temporarily shut business.

"But since the beginning of this year, we have been witnessing some positive growth that we never witnessed," he said.

Cefalo hired more than 50 people in the past six to seven months to cater to the increasing orders.

"Businesses around the world have realised that digitalisation is an important tool to take on the blow of the pandemic. Every entity has increased their investment for the development of IT-related things," said Shaon.

"So, we are enlarging our existing teams. We have acquired seven to eight new customers."

The biggest growth occurred in the financial technology domain, and Cefalo is developing related apps for the European market.

The company is currently working on online food ordering systems for Europe and has received an order to automate hotels.

Export receipts for installation, maintenance and repair of computers and peripheral equipment services plummeted around 50 per cent year-on-year to $5.85 million in FY21.

 

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The government has inked a loan agreement amounting $260 million with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to implement the ‘Construction of Kewatkhali Bridge at Mymensingh Project’.

Fatima Yasmin, secretary, Economic Relations Division, and DJ Pandian, vice-president of the Investment Operations Region 1, on Monday signed the loan agreement on behalf of Bangladesh and AIIB respectively, said a press release.

As per the press release, Bangladesh made rapid social and economic progress in recent decades. To expedite and get benefit of the progress, there is no alternative to the development of communication.

The existing Shambhuganj Bridge over the Brahmaputra River at Mymensingh is currently connecting the region with the capital Dhaka. Every day innumerable vehicles, including trucks carrying stone, coal and other imported materials from three major land ports located in Mymensingh division are using this bridge. Now its capacity is inadequate for timely communication.

Therefore, this project has been taken by the Road Transport and Highways Division for being implemented by the Department of Roads and Highways. The construction of the proposed bridge will reduce the additional traffic congestion on the existing bridge and facilitate road connectivity between several districts of Mymensingh division and the land ports, EPZs and economic zones of the region.

This will attract new investments and open the door to economic development. The Project will be implemented from July 2021 to June 2025.

Under the project-01 steel arch bridge of 320m length, 780m approach bridge, 551m road overpass and 240m railway overpass, 6.20km highway with 4 lanes including SMVT lanes and 1 toll plaza will be constructed.

The loan will be received in standard terms and conditions of AIIB. The repayment period of the loan is 33.5 years including 5 years grace period. Payable Front end is Fee 0.25 per cent and commitment fee is 0.25 per cent per annum for undisbursed amount.

 

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Bangladesh has recorded its highest ever single-month export earnings amounting to $4.72 billion in October, thanks to a strong rebound in demand for apparels in western countries ahead of festival season and supply disruptions from key competitors that faced fresh waves of pandemic.

The export receipts surpassed the $3.46 billion target set for the month, registering a whopping 60.37% year-on-year growth, according to provisional data of the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) released on Tuesday.

Apparel shipment grew by 53.27% to $3.56 billion year-on-year in October, raising the total export earnings to $15.74 billion in the first four months of this fiscal year.

The October earnings were 13.7% higher than the amount earned in September.

Leather, agriculture, fish, pharmaceuticals and plastic products also posted impressive growth year-on-year.

However, jute and jute goods lost out, posting over 8.03% negative growth in October.

Apparel exporters are hopeful of export growth in the next couple of months, but are concerned about lower unit prices compared to soaring costs of raw materials.

Md Shahidullah Azim, vice-president at Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said, "Our exports have witnessed a strong growth as many work orders are shifting to us from our competitor countries because of export disruptions in Vietnam and India owing to Covid-19 and political instability in Myanmar and increased production cost in China."

The BGMEA vice-president also said apparel shipment grew as a good amount of payment has come from deferred LC shipments, those were suspended owing to Covid-19.

"But it is not a matter of self-satisfaction as we have to work together for its continuation," he also said.

Dr Abdur Razzaque, chairman of the Research and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID) Society, told The Business Standard, "This record growth in October exports reflects the strong recovery of Western developed countries. The demand for goods in those markets have long been subdued by weakened economic activities."

After the withdrawal of lockdowns and other mobility restriction measures, people have started resuming their activities, including being physically present at workplaces as well as tourism related activities. Both have a positive impact on the demand for the types of goods that Bangladesh exports - apparels and other consumer goods such as leather and leather goods, he added.

"Since the demand for the items were long subdued, we will see stronger spending patterns by consumers. Also, foreign demand has been buoyed by large stimulus support in developed countries," said Dr Abdur Razzaque.

Inflationary pressures in those markets have also boosted prices of goods, he added.

However, the 60% growth over the past year does not make much sense as recovery at times was quite feeble, he noted.

"The effect of higher spending and generous stimulus are likely to unwind over the coming months and thus this boom could be short-lived. Also, not only Bangladesh, but other countries as well are benefiting from the global economic recovery. China, for instance, clocked a 30% export growth in September."

But, China's exports will soon come under tremendous pressure as the US is desperate about containing its bilateral trade deficit against China. This, therefore, presents an opportunity for Bangladesh to expand its exports as China's market share, especially in apparels, is bound to fall further, added Dr Razzaque, also research director of Policy Research Institute.

The July-October earnings were 22% higher than $12.84 billion earned in the same period last fiscal year and 13% higher than the set target.

The highest earnings, $2.04 billion, came from knitwear shipment, while woven items fetched $1.51 billion, both posting over 52% growth from a year-ago period.

The BGMEA vice-president said they will face challenges in coming days in maintaining shipment schedules as most apparel exporters have faced shortage of working capital as buyers are paying them after up to 180 days of sending goods.
On the other hand, raw materials prices have gone high, but their credit limits are not adjusted with it.

"If banks do not increase our credit limit we will not sustain in business in the coming days," said Azim.

Shovon Islam, managing director (MD) at Sparrow Group, said the US and European buyers have bought a huge quantity of goods from Bangladesh for next Christmas and the fall and winter seasons in the USA and autumn and winter seasons in the European Union as those countries' economies and stores reopened in keeping with improvement in the Covid-19 situation.

Bangladesh has become the most reliable sourcing hub for buyers as most of its competitor countries are not able to supply goods on time owing to the pandemic, he also said.

Shovon hopes such apparel export growth will continue in November and December. Generally, spring and summer season shipments start from the end of December, but this year it will be in November as buyers are trying to receive those earlier because of the supply chain crisis.

He also said prices of goods shipments in October were not good as most orders were confirmed before the yarn price hike. But they got better prices for late orders that shifted from other countries.

The Sparrow Group MD said owing to a hike in raw material prices, the overhead cost increases 5%-7%, while the garment's cost of making has gone up 3%-4%.

"But we are now receiving positive notices from buyers over getting extra prices for those to be shipped in next January-February," he noted.

 

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Bangladesh's fast growing electronic appliances market has tripled to nearly $2.4 billion in a decade, helped by the growth of the economy that has created a stronger consumer class.

Experts forecast a stronger pace over this decade as demand is set to boost further amid more investments by homegrown and foreign brands for a gradual localisation of their production to benefit from the government policy of lesser taxes and duties to reduce unit prices.

The market for televisions, refrigerators, washing machines and other home appliances would quadruple to an annual size of $10 billion by 2030, estimates UCB Asset Management, a new generation investment industry firm.

Analysts at the firm expect the average annual growth rate in the ongoing decade will increase to 17%, from the previous decade's average of 14%.

The electronics industry of the country that began with assembling radio sets way before independence is now assembling almost everything the local consumers need, including the high-tech smartphones and laptops.

An increasing number of local plants are manufacturing items like refrigerators, televisions, air conditioners, washing machines and other home appliances, while their value addition and competition dramatically reduced unit prices to make those affordable to all.

Thanks to the government policies that incentivised local productions and ignited the market takeoff as soon as companies poured billions of taka to capitalise on the localisation opportunity and bring unit prices down for the vast local market of a rapidly growing middle and affluent class.

Countrywide electrification, rising income, changing demography and lifestyle, increasing affordability, and easier consumer financing in conjunction helped the market grow.

In a recent report, "Poised to Unlock the Next Wave: Bangladesh Consumer Durables Outlook in the Fresh Decade," UCB Asset Management analysts said both the demand drivers and supply facilitators will help the expected unprecedented growth in consumer durables sector.

The demand drivers

The analysts pointed out electrification success as a major driver that boosted the demand of consumer electronics and home appliances.

In 2010, less than 60% of the population was electricity users which grew to almost 100% already as the government prioritised countrywide electrification a decade ago and invested a lot to engage the private sector power producers.

An increase in purchasing power of people is apparent as the per-capita gross national income grew by 9% from the last fiscal year to $2,227 now, while the World Bank data show that the figure was $800 in 2010.

Citing Boston Consulting Group and Light castle partners projection, UCB Asset Management said the middle and affluent class of population would grow to 3.4 crore in 2025 and at the end of the decade the number would be at least 4.5 crore.

Projected geographic distribution of the largest consumer class for electronic products is also very encouraging as 63 towns are set to host at least one lakh middle-class and affluent people each.

UCB Asset Management estimates that the number of such towns to reach 90 by the end of this decade with the consumer base further widening in the already affluent neighborhoods.

On top of the increasing financial strength of people, socio-economic changes are emerging as strong boons for the electronics and appliances industry.

Female labour force participation has increased to 38.7% now from 30% a decade ago while the South Asian average is still 23.6%.

As the number of working women grows, so will the demand for home appliances that make their lives easier.

Female labour force participation was primarily in the apparel industry and they were from low-income households. In recent years, women's participation in jobs is significantly increasing from the middle and affluent class, boosting the demand further.

In line with rapid urbanisation and more women at work, the number of nuclear families are on the rise and such families tend to invest more in the products that make their lives easier, smarter.

Nowadays, an average Bangladeshi spends 2 hours and 48 minutes a day surfing social media online, mostly on Facebook, says the UCB report.

Who would buy electronics before them, if affordable?

The supply facilitation

Increasing supply from the local plants has made electronics and home appliances ever affordable and the industry is competing more to drag their costs and prices down.

Even in the early 2000s, only a very few companies like Singer Bangladesh used to assemble television sets and refrigerators here while many firms used to import electronics and home appliances to sell at higher prices.

Local entrepreneurs' vision and continuous efforts, like that in Walton Hi-Tech Industries, supported by the government policies from time to time, turned out to be a game changer.

Walton, beginning in 2008 with a fair capital of Tk10 crore, now has grown to be the second largest listed company in the country with its annual revenue of over Tk7,000 crore and profits surpassing Tk1,600 crore last fiscal year.

As the government is facilitating their ever increasing investments by offering tax and duty incentives against local manufacturing, dozens more brands opted in for the localisation to stay in the game.

To compete with Walton, Singer invested in its local refrigerator plant in the middle of the last decade, it is also manufacturing televisions and many other products here in Bangladesh.

LG's local partner Butterfly, Samsung's local partner Fair Technologies invested in local manufacturing of refrigerators, televisions, air conditioners and washing machines.

Also the local brands including Jamuna, Minister, Vision, and Orion have built their own manufacturing facilities to better compete in the electronics and appliance market.

Keeping in mind the faster growth potential in the market, other local market players like Rangs also are investing for their own factories.

Gradual technology acquisition amid the up-scaling of manufacturing for an expanding market and of course an increasing competition helped price reduction dramatically in the very price sensitive mass market.

With increasing efficiency, the manufacturing ecosystem also has introduced bulk supply businesses for some vital parts for the electronics and appliances industry, such as compressors for refrigerators and air conditioners.

Over the last one decade, the average cost of an LCD panel here has come down from Tk18,000 to Tk2,000, an air-conditioner compressor's cost halved to Tk15,000 on average, while refrigerator compressors cost Tk4,000 now – almost one-fourth of what it used to be a decade ago, UCB analysts said citing their interviews with industry people.

Against a continuous rise in monthly income for almost all the people and the increasing disposable income for the middle and affluent class, the dramatic drop in unit prices for even upgraded electronic appliances have dropped over the decade and the trend is set to continue to create more buyers.

An increasing access to financing the durables purchases is another facilitator of the industry. If one has a credit card, one can avail 12-24 months of no-interest monthly instalment facilities to buy their needed electronics and appliances.

Those who do not have credit cards can also purchase on a hire purchase basis with a nominal down payment and pay the monthly installments from the countrywide retail outlets, especially by Walton and Singer.

The thirst for further growth

Given the low penetration levels of consumer durables products, the Bangladesh growth tale is set for a major push, said Sudipta Rashad, an analyst at UCB Asset Management who authored the report.

Bangladesh is seeing major changes in its policies, especially those related to the regulatory and business environment. Companies are going to find it much easier to set up local assembly facilities, he added.

The government recently proposed some significant policy support to consumer durables industries for their good profit margin against cost-effective catering to the increasing market demand for their products.

Home and kitchen appliances makers will avail tax exemption until mid-2031 if their local value addition is at least 30%.

Washing machine and kitchen appliances production will be exempted from value added taxes, the advance income tax reduced to 3% from 4% to make raw material imports easier, while the government also suggested that the current concessionary duties on raw material imports for refrigerator and compressors would be maintained.

"Equitable distribution of benefits for future growth will be attained with rapid advancements in the field of electronics, which is in line with Vision 2041 of the government," said Sudipta Rashad.

The policy support would further encourage wonderful rise stories like that of Walton that has almost phased out imports of refrigerators through serving more than 70% of the local market alongside exporting to almost every corner of the world.

Walton's Managing Director Golam Murshed previously told The Business Standard that his company as the largest local market player was extending its footsteps into more product lines, innovating more in the existing products and aggressively looking to position in the global market.

The appliances industry is gradually including products like vacuum cleaners, kitchen appliances like grinders, blenders and many others that only can make daily life easier and companies are investing more there too.


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To expand its business, Deshbandhu Group has made new investments of around Tk800 crore during the pandemic even as the entire economy underwent a difficult time.

The Dhaka-based conglomerate invested Tk200 crore in Deshbandhu Food and Beverage, Tk230 crore in Deshbandhu Packaging, Tk250 crore in Southeast Sweaters and GM Apparels, and Tk120 crore in other entities of the group.

At present, Deshbandhu Group has everything, such as sugar mill, cement factory, fertiliser factory, shopping mall, shipping, textile mill, readymade garment factory, beverage, captive power plant, housing, logistics and media.

In March this year, the group also declared a plan of raising $250 million (more than Tk2,100 crore) from international investors through a Sukuk bond as the conglomerate looks to expand its business and repay its local debts.

Deshbandhu Polymer Limited, another entity of the group, plans to raise Tk500 crore by issuing a Sukuk bond for repaying loans and business expansion.

Currently, the group's annual turnover amounts to more than Tk2,800 crore; it employs around 15,000 people.

The new investments are expected to create around 5,000 fresh jobs, according to the conglomerate.

Brigadier General Md Zakir Hossain (retd), director of the group, said Deshbandhu had kept all factories running during the pandemic.

He said that with a daily production capacity of around 800 tonnes, Deshbandhu Sugar Mills is fulfilling around 30% of local demand.

But it has become more challenging due to an increase in raw sugar prices and freight charges, added Md Zakir Hossain.

He said that on the other hand, Deshbandhu Food and Beverage Ltd has become popular within a short time at home and abroad. Mineral water has especially been able to create a huge demand across the country.

Mohammad Maruf Hossain, general manager at Deshbandhu Food and Beverage, said Deshbandhu Food and Beverage Ltd has around 11% market share in the country's beverage industry. It will reach 25% after the installation of new machinery by 2022, he added.

"At present, we are producing 24,000 bottles of beverage per hour. An additional 45,000 bottles will be produced every hour after the completion of the new project," said Mohammad Maruf Hossain.

"We are exporting beverage products to different counties, such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Greece and the United Arab Emirates."

In 1989, Deshbandhu Group began its journey through importing and trading fertiliser. Since then, it has steadily been going forward for the last 32 years.

 

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The district administration is going to acquire 503 acres of land for Jashore Export Processing Zone (EPZ) at Prembagh union of Abhaynagar upazila in the district with a view to using the marshlands for creating employment through industrialisation.

The authorities in a letter, issued on 19 October and signed by Project Director Ashraful Kabir, asked the deputy commissioner of Jashore to take the required measures to acquire the land in the water bodies of the Chengutia.

"We have received the letter and the process of land acquisition in the beel and surrounding areas will start soon," Jashore Deputy Commissioner Tomijul Islam Khan told the media.

The EPZ project aims to industrialise the district, creating employment and improving the quality of life for local people.

It will create employment opportunities for at least one and a half lakh people and around five lakh people's lives will change for the better. New doors for trade and commerce are expected to open for local people.

Prembag Union Parishad Chairman Mofiz Uddin said waterlogging in Bhabdaha is known as "the sorrow of Jashore" as most people who own land there cannot use it. The EPZ will help revive the economy of this region.

Locals affected by the waterlogging and activists for proper drainage in the Bhabdah area, said at least five lakh people in 120 villages in the beel area have been victims of waterlogging for around 20 years.

Drainage has been blocked by siltation at the sluice gates and the water of about 27 beels in the south, including Dhaler beel, does not recede. The yards of many houses also remain underwater and as a result people in these areas have a very poor and suboptimal quality of life.

Local activists said authorities should consult people in the project area before implementing any big project, but this has not been done in this case.

Activist Iqbal Kabir said there is no denying the fact that the EPZ will help develop the economy of the district but there are many issues, such as land acquisition, compensation, and other important matters associated with the project. Authorities should hear public opinion on these issues.

According to the deputy commissioner, local government representatives and people have been informed about the project.

Project Director Ashraful Kabir said the EPZ would be similar to that in Chattogram and Dhaka and they are working on preparing the DPP for the project.

 

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RIYADH: Bangladesh is in talks with Saudi energy company ACWA Power to develop a large solar project which would supply Southeast Asian nations with one gigawatt of electricity as it shifts towards more clear energy sources, an official said.

The country is also engaging in early talks with ACWA Power, in which the Saudi sovereign wealth fund PIF holds a 44-percent stake, about a potential green hydrogen project, Salman Fazlur Rahman, adviser to the Prime Minister, told Arab News.

“We've been talking with ACWA power for solar. In fact, ACWA power people were there in Bangladesh recently and they met our ministry of energy and they are negotiating a large solar project, a one gigawatt solar project. So, that's under negotiation,” he added. “We hope to conclude it soon and they will be signing an agreement pretty soon.”

Bangladesh has an installed capacity of 2.4 gigawatt, Rahman added, and the country needs more energy to expand the economy and to attract investors.

The drive for the hydrogen comes as a result of the country’s plan to establish a terminal to import liquefied natural gas (LNG). The same terminal can import green ammonia, which can be converted into green hydrogen.

“We are developing, with the Japanese government, a deep-sea port in Bangladesh where we are going to put an onshore LNG terminal and LPG terminal. So we are now thinking that this is the right time, because this is in the planning stage that we should also have an onshore ammonia terminal,” Rahman said.

ACWA Power is one of three partners in Saudi Arabia’s first green hydrogen project along with NEOM and US-based Air Products. The venture plans to export its first green ammonia project in early 2026 and it is looking for long-term off takers of the fuel.

“We are talking to ACWA power on green hydrogen as well, but that's a longer-term project because at the moment, even that technology is not perfected yet and the cost is still pretty high,” Rahman said.

 

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Train service from Dhaka to Bhanga will be started in December next year, said Railway Minister Nurul Islam Sujan on Monday.

Visiting the project area along with the members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Railway Ministry on Monday, the minister said, "The Bridges Division has not yet handed over the railway section of the Padma Bridge. They will not be able to hand it over before March next year as work on the gas pipeline is being delayed."

As the construction of the Mawa-Bhanga portion is 71% completed, the railways' ministry wants to launch a train on this part, to cross the bridge by train, on the day of the opening of Padma Bridge for road transportation in June next year.

However, it would not be possible if the Bridge Authority cannot hand over the railway part of the Padma Bridge in time.

The minister said if crossing the bridge by train is not possible on the first day of opening the bridge, train service from Dhaka to Bhanga will be started in December next year.

"Once the rail portion of the bridge is handed over to us, it will take another six months to complete the rest of the work. In this case, it will not be possible to operate a train on the bridge in June," he added.

The minister said, "People will get no benefit if the train is operated from Bhanga to Mawa. On the other hand, if it is operated from Dhaka to Bhanga, the people can be provided with a meaningful service."

"Initially the work of the project was hampered due to various complications. With all the complications resolved, work is now going on in full swing," Sujan said, adding that the deadline for completion of the project is June 2024.

Under the ongoing Padma Bridge Rail Link Project, a 169km railway line will be constructed at a cost of Tk39,247 crore.

Intending to develop the internal rail connectivity, the government is constructing this Dhaka to Jashore railway via the Padma Bridge.

Exim Bank of China is financing Tk21,037 crore for the project while China Railway Group Limited is working on the biggest package of this project.


 

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An RMG sector giant is looking to turn Bangladesh into the next chip-making hub​

Industry insiders estimate that Bangladesh’s budding chip-design industry currently earns up to $5 million annually while neighbouring India is earning around $60 billion. TBS sits down with the country’s leading chip-design company to find out what’s holding Bangladesh back from being the next chip-design powerhouse​

Uday Hasan, a graduate from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) with a major in Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE), took up an unusual job four years back that his friends and family understood little of.

He designed very-large-scale integration (VLSI) chips for internationally renowned chipmakers.

"Every day, technology is advancing. The size of a mobile phone remains the same but its performance and speed keep getting better, thanks to advancements in VLSI chips," said Uday, now a senior design engineer, sitting at his desk at the Neural Semiconductor Limited office in Uttara.

VLSI chips are made of transistors. Even a one-centimetre chip is filled with billions of transistors. Engineers design such chips with the help of tools or software like Cadence, Synopsis, etc. These chips are mainly used in mobile phones, laptops, computers, washing machines, smartphones and even cars. Millions of products rely on computer chips.

Over the last few months, the media has been rife with stories about how different industries have been suffering from an acute shortage of computer chips largely as a result of the pandemic. The global semiconductor industry, estimated at $481 billion in 2018, is dominated by companies from the United States, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Netherlands. The pandemic-induced lockdowns and restrictions over the last year and a half drove down production in these countries, which has in turn triggered a supply shortage in vehicle, mobile phone and other electronic device industries.

Neural Semiconductor Limited, a Bangladesh-based company, ventured into designing VLSI chips in 2017 for global semiconductor manufacturing companies. The company is a sister concern of DBL Group, one of the largest RMG exporters in the country.

Neural Semiconductor Limited is now working on 20 projects for its clients. They do not design the whole chip, but some parts of it.

The company is now providing services like analogue-mixed signal design, digital verification, physical design and design for testability and process automation. Company officials said it takes between one and two years, at least, to design a semiconductor, with the help of 100 to 150 design engineers.

Because of non-disclosure agreements, Neural could not name the companies for which they work. However, they said they are working for companies that are among the world's top five chipmakers.

There are mainly three companies - the oldest Ulkasemi Limited, PrimeSilicon Limited and Neural Semiconductor Limited - who are leading the nascent VLSI design industry in the country.

Industry insiders estimate that Bangladesh is currently earning upto $5 million from the industry in a year while neighbouring India is earning around $60 billion annually.

"The main focus of DBL Group is to develop the sector"

DBL Group Managing director, MA Jabbar, said many students who graduate from Bangladesh go to developed countries like the US and work on designing VLSI chips. That is where DBL saw an opportunity.

However, Bangladesh needs to train its workforce properly to take advantage of it.

"There are many engineering universities in our country. But they make little to no contribution to the VLSI sector. The country's industry is yet to flourish even though our engineers are doing the same job abroad," said MA Jabbar. "Then I thought, why not try for ourselves?"

"I want some more entrepreneurs to come to the sector and help the industry grow. My main goal now is not profit," Jabbar explained.

Shakhawat Hossain, the Chief Operating Officer of Neural Semiconductor Limited, is very optimistic about the industry's future prospects in Bangladesh.

The positive side of the industry is that the market is still untapped. He said that annually Bangladesh earns $40 billion from its main export item, RMG, while India earns $60 billion dollars from VLSI design only, annually.

"The main focus of DBL Group is to develop the sector. We want to develop a backward linkage and an ecosystem in the country. VLSI designing is very knowledge-intensive. We will have to develop an intelligent workforce for it," Hossain explained.

"Around 50 lakh workers are involved in the RMG sector and earning $40 billion dollars. But if we can bring only one lakh engineers into the VLSI design sector, we will be able to earn around $40 billion," Hossain added.

He pointed out that chip giants like Intel had set up offices in India in the 1980s and now India has gone way ahead of Bangladesh.

"Now is the time to develop our human resources. If we have enough engineers, chip giants will show interest in opening an office in our country to access cheap labour," Hossain explained, adding that three of his former employees are now working with Intel Malaysia and Cadence in the US.

For every 20,000 engineering graduates, only 30 join VLSI industry

On average, 20,000 students come out of university studying Computer Engineering and Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) subjects in the country. But, only around 30 people come to the VLSI industry.

"We are now doing webinars and talking with the top-level public and private universities in the country to get students interested in this field," Hossain said. "We are also suggesting to universities they change their curriculum to integrate VLSI-related topics."

"If a large project comes to Bangladesh requiring 500 engineers, we will not be able to provide 500 engineers instantly," Hossain further added.

Even though people are gradually coming to this industry, the number is quite low. Four years back, the company had only 20 engineers but now the number of engineers in the company has increased to 80.

Cadence costs $400,000

Industry insiders said that the tools for designing VLSI chips are very expensive. The price of Cadence, which is being used for only training purposes, is $400,000.

"As far as I know, Cadence now is not used in Bangladesh for commercial purposes. The use of Cadence for commercial purposes is really expensive," said Ismail Hossain, the Program Manager at Neural Semiconductor Limited. For commercial use, Bangladeshi engineers use their client's licence.

As the software is too expensive, except for a few universities including BUET, the tools are not available in other universities.

"We want every university that has a Computer Engineering and Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) department to have access to Cadence tools," said Shakhawat. "Then we can get a trained workforce."

But there is good news too: people showing more and more interest in the sector. At the beginning of Neural Semiconductor Limited in 2017, the company had published a circular for the workforce and got around 100 applications.

"Recently we have published another circular on our website and it has gotten over 1,200 applications so far," Hossain added.



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Asphalt carpeting works on the roadway slabs of the long waited Padma Multipurpose Bridge have officially begun.

China Major Bridge Engineering Company (MBEC) started paving asphalt from the Jajira end of the bridge at around 9:40am on Wednesday.

Confirming the matter to The Business Standard, Dewan Md Abdul Quader, executive engineer of the main bridge project, said, "First we are going to pave 300 metres of the bridge. It will take us at least four months to complete the whole bridge.

"This will only be possible if we can work without any interruption."

"Carpeting started from Pillar No. 40 of the Padma Bridge. The initial asphalt layer is 2.5 inches thick. Another layer of 1.5 inch

"Besides, we will start installing the street lights of the bridge from next month," the engineer added.

Earlier on 13 July, authorities paved 60 metres of the bridge's roadway on a trial basis.

According to sources, the progress of physical works of the main structure of the Padma Bridge is 95%. The overall progress of the bridge construction now stands at 88.75%.

Padma Bridge is the biggest project in Bangladesh the construction work of the bridge began in December 2014.

On September 30, 2017, the first span was installed on the 37th and 38th pillars.

The last span was installed in last year's December.

A total of 2,917 road slabs and 2,959 railway slabs have been installed on the 6.15km-long bridge.

The roadway will be up to 22 metres long and 2 to 2.15 metres wide.

The final road slab was laid on 23 August.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the construction of the main bridge in December 2015.

As per the revised proposal, the project is expected to finish by June 2022.


 

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Bangladesh Railways (BR) is refurbishing 57 stations in both the east and west zones to improve passenger service and ensure a comfortable train journey.

The renovation work includes raising the height of the station platforms 2.3 feet so that passengers can more easily board trains without risk.

The modernisation of platforms with adequate waiting rooms and installing access control fences to reduce the number of passengers hitching free rides without tickets is also in process.

Some of the platforms have already been renovated on the Dhaka-Mymensingh and Jamalpur routes and the rest are in progress.

"We are working to complete the project by the end of this fiscal year," Md Shubaktogin, chief engineer for the East Zone of Bangladesh Railways, told The Business Standard.

"This project has been taken up to provide comfortable rail services to commuters as part of Bangabandhu's birth centenary programme."

The East Zone will renovate 28 of 57 stations.

East Zone officials said some station platforms are very low and commuters, especially the elderly, often find it difficult to get on board trains.

Once the height of the platforms is raised, passengers will no longer face trouble getting on trains.

On 21 October, six such refurbished stations were inaugurated on the Dhaka-Mymensingh and Jamalpur routes, and some other stations are scheduled to open at the end of this week.

As part of the renovation, the waiting rooms at the railway stations will be modernised, adding adequate washrooms, sitting arrangements, and other such facilities.

Apart from this, access control fences will be built at all stations to reduce the number of people getting on trains without paying ticket fares.

Under the project, around 850km of old railway tracks and 100 passenger coaches will be renovated in the east and west zones of the railway system.

At present, there are 228 stations in the East Zone and 255 in the West Zone.


 

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The public administration ministry has taken an initiative to build an integrated public office complex in port city Chattogram on a 110-acre char, which is equivalent to around 83 football fields, by the river Karnaphuli.
The complex, to be designed similar to Malaysia's administrative capital Putrajaya, is being called "Mini Secretariat for Chattogram" and will have as many as 44 government establishments such as offices of the divisional commissioner, deputy commissioner and rest house.

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The authorities say the complex will be constructed within the next three to four years at Bandar mouza in Chattogram's Chandgaon ward.

Chattogram Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Mominur Rahman said a top-level government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in the last week of November agreed to study the project design and finalise it.

The shift will help save "Parir Pahar"

The deputy commissioner said shifting public offices to the new complex from their current location at "Parir Pahar" – which literally means "Fair Hills" and the heart of Chattogram's administrative and judicial activities built by the British rulers – will help save the age-old hills and ease the daily pressure on the surrounding areas.


"Dotted with too many offices, Parir Pahar has become risky. It is now bearing establishments four times more than the tolerable limit," Mominur Rahman told The Business Standard.

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The prime minister has already approved shifting the risky and old offices from the hills and asked that no new ones be built. Subsequently, the public administration ministry started shifting the public establishments, including the offices of the divisional commissioner and deputy commissioner, from the hills.

Around two months ago, Chattogram district administration and Chattogram lawyers engaged in a face-off over the constructions of two establishments at Parir Pahar. Amid the stalemate, the district administration proposed announcing the 130-year-old court building as a heritage site.

The cultural affairs ministry also said it is considering announcing the site as an archaeological site.

All public services at the same place

The mini-secretariat is only seven kilometres away from Chattogram city zero point. Apart from the 44 offices, it will have a hospital for government staff, circuit house, training centre, convention centre, shopping mall, multi-storey car parking, school and college, nursing institute, transport pool, petrol pump, memorial, novo theatre and mosque.

"People will get all public services at the same place," Mamnoon Ahmed Anik, assistant commissioner (AC Land, Chandgaon Circle), told TBS.

"Land acquisition appears as a major challenge for government projects. But this project does not have that issue since khas land is already ready out there," Anik added.

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He said a development project proposal is currently being formulated for the integrated office complex.

Visiting the project site last Wednesday, this correspondent noted that the district administration has already identified 73 acres of land at the strip on the Karnaphuli foreshore. The site has the river flowing on one side while the Marine Drive has been taking shape through a flurry of construction activities on the other side.

The project site is blessed with scenic natural beauty.

Locals call the swathe "Char Hamid", which emerged from the river around 100 years ago. There had been paddy and vegetable cultivation on the land even five years ago.

The district administration now has 73 acres of land under its ownership and hopes ownership issues over the remaining land will be resolved soon.

Focus also on future

Md Towhidul Islam, senior assistant commissioner and executive magistrate of Chattogram district, said the project design has room for more than 44 government establishments so that new offices, if required, could be built there in the next 40 years.

"The number of new public departments is constantly increasing. The biggest advantage of this project is that the newly formed departments will not have to spend additionally on office construction," AC Land Anik told TBS.

Deputy Commissioner Mominur Rahman said the project site currently has two roads. But considering the future, five types of alternative communication systems, including a Marine Drive and a Link Road, will be constructed in order to be connected to the integrated office complex.

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Disaster prevention measures

A number of geological surveys of the char have been completed. The surveys suggest that the stretch of land is stable. However, the construction process will take up added measures to shield the complex from natural calamities, such as rising sea levels, cyclones and flooding.

At the same time, the natural environment will be kept intact, said Deputy Commissioner Mominur.

He said, "As the project area is on the river bank, there will be embankments so that the land can withstand natural disasters. There will be a planned drainage network to channel out rainwater."

Experts still sceptical

Urban engineer Subhash Chandra Barua expressed concern over the measures. He said, "Chattogram is a coastal area prone to natural disasters every year. The sea level is rising gradually. Against this backdrop, I do not think the government should implement such an important project on the river bank."

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Civil engineering expert Delwar Hossain Majumder said shifting public offices from Chattogram city certainly will ease the pressure on traffic. He described the initiative as promising.

"But if all the government offices are moved to a single place, traffic pressure on the hub might appear as a new problem," said the engineer.

He suggested moving interrelated offices only to the new complex to have the traffic pressure spread out on the city.


Highlights:
  • Transmission line needed for evacuating electricity from Rampal power plant is not ready yet
  • The Power Grid Company plans to transfer Rampal power plant's electricity to Khulna
  • One year will be needed to bring the electricity generated at Payra and Rampal to Dhaka
  • Coal for Rampal power plant's test run will be imported from Indonesia

When the coal-fired Payra 1,320MW Thermal Power Plant in Patuakhali cannot use half of its capacity due to lack of a transmission line, another coal-based power plant in Rampal, Bagerhat is going to start operation from next year.

The Rampal power plant, also known as Maitree Super Thermal Power Project, has two units, each with 660MW production capacity. They plan to start the test–run in January 2022 and start commercial operation in June that year.

The project authorities have already informed the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh (PGCB), the power evacuating entity, about their progress and the date of starting commercial operation.

However, sources at the Power Development Board said the PGCB could not assure the Rampal power plant authority about power evacuation and signaled a delay in the process for an indefinite period.

Kazi Absar Uddin Ahmed, managing director at Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Company Pvt Ltd (BIFPCL), told The Business Standard, "We have informed the PGCB of our progress, so that they can set up the transmission line. The PGCB said there will be a little delay in setting up the line across the Padma River."

Golam Kibria, managing director at PGCB, told TBS, "We already established the 24km Mongla-Khulna 230kv transmission line to evacuate electricity from the first unit of Rampal power plant. And for the second unit, our Gopalganj-Maowa transmission line will be prepared by the end of 2022."

"So, the power plant won't remain idle for the lack of transmission line," he said.

Although the PGCB claimed that their system is ready to evacuate the electricity from the 1st unit of the Rampal power plant to Khulna, sources at the Bangladesh Power Development Board said Khulna does not need 660MW electricity as a power plant already exists there.

After the test run, the power plant would have to wait for one year to start operation fully if the power evacuating transmission line across the Padma river is not ready, said officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

The BIFPCL authority said around 86% of the construction work of the first unit of the Rampal coal power plant has been completed and the total progress of the project including the second unit is around 70%.

"We wanted to start the test run on 16 December, the 50th victory day of the nation. But due to unusual rain, our work and preparation is going a little slower. So, if starting the test run on 16 December is not possible, it will be started from January next year," said BIFPCL Managing Director Kazi Absar Uddin Ahmed.

Apart from that, some materials and manpower from India are yet to reach the plant site, he added.

Coal to come from Indonesia for a test run

For the month-long test run, the BIFPCL is going to import three lakh tonnes of coal from Indonesia. However, they have not disclosed the coal price and the name of the supplier company yet. The next board meeting to finalise the issue is scheduled to be held this month.

Another tender is also under evaluation to import 72 lakh tonnes of coal for running the power plant for three years.

The BIFPCL is constructing the 1,320MW Rampal plant, a joint venture of India's NTPC Limited and the Bangladesh Power Development Board, at a cost of $2 billion.

Spread over 1,834 acres of land, the power plant is situated 14 kilometres north of the Bangladesh part of the Sundarbans, also a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) world heritage site.


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Bangladesh has shown a surprising performance in mango export by earning $0.66 million in the first three months of FY 2021-22, which is a massive rise from $40,000 in the 12 months of FY 2020-21.

During July-September of the last fiscal, Bangladesh exported mangoes worth only $10,000 to Singapore. However, in the same period this year, mango was exported to more than 14 countries in Asia and Europe.

Although Bangladesh globally ranks seventh in mango production, it was at the bottom in terms of export earnings from this delicious fruit. Many countries are earning huge amounts of foreign exchange from mango export by producing fewer mangoes than Bangladesh.

Bangladesh produces around 1.5 million tonnes of mangoes with a market value of Tk10,000 crore every year. But the amount of export is very little compared to production.

In 2020, Thailand exported mangoes worth $73.40 crore, which was the highest in the world. In the same year, India and Pakistan exported mangoes worth $13.70 crore and $10.10 crore respectively.

According to people concerned, one of the major problems in mango export from Bangladesh is the lack of exportable varieties. Most of the local varieties have a very short shelf life as they rot very fast. Lack of good agricultural practice and packaging of an international standard are also behind the low mango export.

There has been no branding as well of Bangladeshi mangoes in the international market, they say.

Exporters say that in the last season, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sent mangoes to her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan as gifts. This news in the international media has played a major role in creating new branding for Bangladeshi mangoes.

They note that export orders for Bangladeshi mangoes from different countries have been increasing since then.

Manjurul Islam, advisor of Bangladesh Fruits and Vegetable Exporters Association, told The Business Standard, "Only two tonnes of mangoes were exported from Bangladesh last year. This year we have exported 1,800 tonnes, which is a sign of great progress."

"Despite being delicious, Bangladeshi mangoes were not known in the international market. As a result, there were very little export orders. The Prime Minister's step toward making a gift of mangoes to her counterparts in India and Pakistan was a game changer here. It helps a branding of Bangladeshi mangoes. As a result, mango export has increased a lot this year," he added.

Manjurul Islam said the government has set a target of exporting one lakh tonnes of mangoes in the next three years.

Nazmul Haider Bhuiyan has exported mangoes to Italy, Switzerland and London. He has exported Himsagar and Amrapali varieties this year. The highest price he obtained is Tk400 per kg.

"There is a huge demand for Bangladeshi mangoes in European countries. But we could not export much due to problems related to airlines. Pakistan exports more than one lakh tonnes of mangoes. If the problem of airlines is solved, we will be able to export more mangoes than we do now," he said.

In 2020-21 FY, most of the mangoes were exported to Italy ($16,892) and the United Kingdom ($12,105). Besides, in that fiscal year, Bangladesh exported mangoes worth $5,615 to the Netherlands and worth $5,398 to Austria.

However, in the first three months of 2021-22 FY, mangoes worth $5,06,487 were exported to the United Kingdom and worth $71,874 to Kuwait.

Besides, Bangladesh has also exported mangoes to the UAE, Canada, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, India, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Nepal, Sweden and Singapore.

Meanwhile, along with an increase in mango export, the country has started to export lemons to Europe after seven years. These have contributed to the rise in fruit exports from the country.

In July-October 2021-22 FY, export earnings from fruits exceeded $3 million. During the same period in the previous fiscal, it was only $0.58 million.

"Every year we export 150-200 tonnes of jackfruits, but this year the amount is 3,700 tonnes," said Manjurul Islam.

Speaking about the huge potential for export of Jara lemons to Europe, he said that the demand for this lemon is increasing day by day and the prices are also good.

Abul Hossain, a lemon exporter, said, "I am exporting lemons to Finland, Germany and England. Its market is quite promising. Due to good export potential, its production is also increasing in the country."


Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan today told the Parliament that the proposal to increase manpower by recruiting 47,637 people in railways has been approved.

In reply to lawmakers' queries, the minister said that at present there are 1,460 employees working in the Ministry of Railways, against the sanctioned manpower of 2,516 in the commercial department.

The number of vacancies here is 1,056 (42%).

"Recently, an approval has been received for the new manpower structure of 47,637 people of the railways," the minister said in a scripted answer.

Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury presided over the question and answer session of parliament.

In reply to another question, the railways minister said that at present, the railway has 283 locomotives, of which 191 are meter gauge and 92 are broad gauge.

The total economic life span of 175 (61%) including 132 meter gauge engines and 43 broad gauge engines has passed.

Currently, work is underway to procure 100 meter gauge and 40 broad gauge new engines under various projects, the minister said.

Responding to a question, the railways minister claimed that the number of railway accidents is gradually decreasing, adding that a total of 145 train accidents took place in 2020.

On the other hand, as of September 2021, 106 accidents have taken place.


Almost 90% work of Uttara-Kamalapur Metro Rail construction in the capital has been completed and various tests are now being carried out with seven sets of metro trains brought from Japan.

After completing the tests by September next year, the government wants to start operating metro rail from Uttara to Agargaon in December, the month of victory.

MAN Siddique, managing director at the Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL), the implementing agency of the metro rail, presented the progress before journalists at a function in Diabari, Uttara.

"Currently, the Covid situation is normal. It will be possible to operate the metro train in December next year if there are no new external challenges," he added.

Representatives from various Japanese contractors highlighted the details of the Metro MRT Line-6 project at the function organised at Diabari Depot Metro Rail Exhibition and Information Center.

Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki said a single metro rail line would not play a major role in reducing traffic congestion in the Dhaka metropolis.

In view of this, Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) is financing ART Line-1 and MRT Line-5 (North) projects, he added.

The Japanese envoy said that once the work of Metro Rail is completed, the appearance of the Dhaka metropolis will change.

Japanese technology will change the way people live in the city, he added.

Yuho Hayakawa, chief representative of Jica, said Bangladesh is now a model of steady economic growth.

"The country will play a good role in the global supply chain. The country needs better infrastructure and good public transportation. The metro rail is very important for Bangladesh to achieve the new stage of development," added the Jica official.

After a briefing, journalists visited the metro train at Uttara North Station.

Former national cricket team captain Habibul Bashar Sumon, former cricketers Abdur Razzak and Mehidy Hasan Miraz were also present on the occasion.

Then, the metro train left Diabari depot and travelled at 100km per hour to cross the Uttara North station.

The train stopped at the North station after returning at a speed of 25kmph via Pallabi station.

The representatives from DMTCL, the embassy of Japan, Jica and contractors boarded one of the bogies of the six-car train.

ABM Arifur Rahman, manager at (CP-08) of the MRT Line-6 Project, said the bogie could carry 370 passengers and has a seating arrangement for 48 of them. This means that most of the passengers have to travel standing.

At the event, Habibul Bashar Suman said traffic jam causes barriers to following the timing and termed the metro rail project as a fantastic work.

"The people in the city will be able to make their work plans, knowing that they will reach a place by the metro rail on time. The project will make the life of the city dwellers easy."

 

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Bangladesh on Friday successfully field-tested its first-ever locally manufactured full-fledged combine harvester, rekindling hopes to substantially reduce its import dependency for agricultural machineries.

The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and Janata Engineering jointly designed and manufactured the combine harvester, capable of reaping, threshing, gathering, winnowing and packing paddy right on the fields in quick time.

The combine cuts up to 70% of costs the farmers have to, otherwise, bear for accomplishing the same tasks manually.

The modern combine harvester, or simply combine, is a versatile machine designed to efficiently harvest a variety of grain crops. The name derives from its combining a number of separate harvesting operations — reaping, threshing, gathering, winnowing, packing — into a single process. Combine harvesters are one of the most economically important labour-saving inventions, significantly reducing the fraction of the population engaged in agriculture.

Under the government-provided farm mechanization subsidy program, Bangladeshi farmers bought 2,300 farm implements in the last financial year, and 1,762 of them were combine harvesters. But all of the combines were imported and costly, and farmers still had to bear a substantial cost to manage 50% matching fund upon getting the other half as government subsidy.

The government has a plan to help farmers procure as many as 50,000 farm machines by 2025 under the current farm mechanization subsidy program, but high costs of imported combines remain a big concern as farmers can ill-afford the matching fund.

Both BRRI and Janata Engineering now hope if they get necessary policy support and financial support from the government, Bangladesh can manufacture the combines at much cheaper prices, meet domestic demand and also export abroad.

They say the successful manufacturing of the one unit that was pressed into operation on a trial run on Friday is a clear demonstration of Bangladesh’s capacity to manufacture world-class combines.

Customized to suit Bangladesh’s fragmented tilling lands and muddy rural roads of the Haor region, the BRRI-Janata built combine is more efficient in terms of its maneuvering capacity, and comparable to any of the imported ones when it comes to its crop harvesting efficiency.

The next step

Md Ole Ullah founded Janata Engineering in Chuadanga back in 1992 and steered it through many odds over the last three decades, finally earning for his farm machinery manufacturing unit an ISO standard and Bangabandhu Agriculture Award last year.

Ullah told Dhaka Tribune on Saturday that Janata had been trying to develop a locally built combine since 2015 and had some success already by 2019 but thanks to BRRI supports and collaboration that since January this year together they worked hard to finally build a full-fledged combine harvester, which can reap and process paddy of each acre of paddy field in just one hour.

Janata Engineering Managing Director Md Ole Ullah has firm conviction that if the government diverts even a third of its over Tk3,000 crore farm mechanization subsidy to finance the farm implement manufacturers, they will be able to procure capital machineries, build modern manufacturing unit and start commercially producing the combines meeting not only the local demand but also export some surplus.

Ullah, also an executive body member of the farm implement manufacturers association, said he is also in favour of resource-pooling and manufacturing combines in collaborative manners by multiple manufacturers together.

BRRI Director General Dr Shahjahan Kabir was present, among others, to witness the field trial of the combine held on Friday at the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation’s (BADC) farm in Noornagar, Chuadanga.

Dr AKM Saiful Islam, who heads the "Strengthening Farm Machinery Research Activity for Mechanized Rice Cultivation Project" and serves as a principal scientific officer at BRRI, spearheaded the combine harvester manufacturing initiative.

He told Dhaka Tribune on Saturday: “We field-tested it on Friday and got a very good result. It’s efficient and has a comparative advantage over the imported ones when it comes to adapting to Bangladesh’s fragmented tilling plots.”

“The one we developed has a cutting width of 1.5 metre and can move freely in small land areas, the percentage of grain damage is hardly 1%, while unthreshed grain percentage is also less than 1%,” added Dr Saiful.

Both Ole Ullah and Saiful said in a rough estimate that once manufactured in bulk commercially, the combine will cost somewhere in between Tk16 lakh and Tk20 lakh.

Currently, some of the combines that are being imported from China and sold here cost in the range of Tk28 lakh to Tk30 lakh and farmers have to bear half the price even after government provided subsidy covers the remaining half.


Gone are the days when youths in Rajshahi had to scramble for jobs with hardly any employment opportunities in their own "city of education".

They had to flock to different industrial cities and towns – Dhaka, Narayanganj and Chattogram in particular – in search of jobs.

Rajshahi has now been growing as a hub of start-up founders and freelancers centring on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Hi-Tech Park, thanks to ceaseless efforts on the part of the Information and Communication Technology Division.

Monjurul Morshed, Khairul Alam, Mahfuzur Rahman are a few names – starting from scratch, they have come up through the ranks and now own businesses worth crores of taka. More than 2,000 freelancers have now been engaged in outsourcing jobs under them.

Local people have already started popularising Rajshahi as a "digital town".

Jashore is also following in its footsteps with the making of start-ups and freelancers in the town based on Sheikh Hasina Software Park.

Likewise, Sheikh Kamal IT Training and Incubation Centres in Natore and Magura are driving down unemployment by imparting freelancing training to educated youths.

With the development of such IT infrastructure across the country, the government is now on the road to materialising its "Digital Bangladesh" dream.

In 2016, Monjurul Morshed, chief executive officer of MD Infotech based in Rajshahi, a fast growing outsourcing firm, started outsourcing as a freelancer. The man, who initially worked in web design and digital marketing, is currently working on customer service, operations, accounts and product development for companies such as Amazon and Walmart.

He is also working on developing necessary software for robotics and automation. His company has currently employed over 600 freelancers and is earning Tk400-Tk500 crore a year.

Talking about his success, Monjurul said, "I have gone through a lot of hurdles in my life to reach this position today.

"Initially when I started in Chattogram and later shifted to Gaibandha, I did not get enough work orders for not having a permanent office and government recognition. After coming to Rajshahi Hi-Tech Park, my company has expanded with many big orders flowing in because of all necessary logistic support."

His IT firm is also enjoying a seven-year tax break, he noted.

Md Khairul Alam, chief executive officer at Fleet Bangladesh – another Rajshahi-based IT firm, said, "I quit my job at Nitol Niloy Group with a salary of Tk48,000 and ventured into freelancing to become an entrepreneur. I could easily open an office in Rajshahi Hi-Tech Park. At present, I spend Tk2.5 crore on staff salaries per month."

However, freelancers and IT entrepreneurs say they are still facing many problems, such as a slow Internet speed, disruption in work owing to power outages and also a slow pace in IT infrastructure development work.

Besides, there is a lack of skilled people in the country for advanced level work, such as software development, making of 3D animation, and gaming. The government must give priority to these issues, they think.

Work on the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Hi-tech Park project, which was supposed to be completed between 2016 and June 2021, has not finished yet. The project tenure has been extended to December 2022. Besides, its allocation has also escalated from Tk287 crore to Tk335 crore.

Monjurul said, "The number of orders our company has can employ 15,000 freelancers. We need more space to manage such a large team. But in the park in Rajshahi, I have only 1,500 square feet. So we will have to take office elsewhere. "

"As many of our freelancers work from marginal areas, we are finding it very difficult to maintain time in completing our work because we have to deal with slow Internet speed in these places," he added.

Freelancer Association of Bangladesh's Secretary and Rajshahi Tech's Chief Executive Officer Mahfuzur Rehman said, "We lack skilled people. Moreover, for outsourcing, we have to spend a lot of money abroad on marketing or creating game apps and promotions. Moreover, sending dollars abroad is quite difficult, which needs to be made easier."

State Minister for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Zunaid Ahmed Palak, "In order to build a digital Bangladesh, we have emphasised on providing high-speed Internet across the country at affordable prices. But we are still lagging behind in Internet speed."

The situation will improve if the ongoing projects are implemented, he also said.

He further said, "ICT education has been made compulsory in schools and colleges. We are now giving preliminary IT education and working to give more advanced level education."

The Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited is working to ensure high-speed Internet supply at affordable prices. Two submarine cable landing stations have been set up under this company and one more in the pipeline, the state minister said.

Besides, several private companies are providing Internet services. In 2007, the price of 1 megabits per second Internet was Tk78,000, which is now only Tk200.

According to the ICT Division, optical fibre cables have been installed to bring 3,800 union parishads out of 4,554 under broadband Internet.

Junaid Ahmed Palak said, "Our main goal is to install optical fibre to spread broadband internet across the country."

Meanwhile, Sheikh Hasina Software Park in Jashore started its journey in 2017. Some 56 IT entrepreneurs have invested in the park. Of them, 47 are conducting activities. The park has employed about 2,000 young people.

Two other large hi-tech parks are Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City in Gazipur and Bangabandhu Hi-Tech Park in Sylhet. Besides, there are nine software technology parks, 12 IT parks and 13 Sheikh Kamal IT Training and Incubation Centres across the country.

There are also a number of free online training programmes for freelancers, such as learning and earning development.

Zunaid Ahmed Palak, said, "We started from scratch. We want to build a hi-tech industry in the country in the style of Malaysia. We need time for this."

"Bangladesh's ICT export amounted to $1.3 billion in FY21, while it was only $26 million in 2008. We want to boost our ICT exports to $25 billion by 2041," he added.


 

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The government is planning to form a company for implementing its plan to build an underground railway network in the capital and adjacent areas.

An initiative has already been taken for enacting a law to determine the formation, works and other issues of the company, officials said.

"Formation of a company for the subway is at planning level," Abu Bakr Siddique, executive director of Bangladesh Bridge Authority (BBA), told The Daily Star yesterday.

BBA is currently carrying out a feasibility study for building the subway network, and it is expected to be completed by February next year.

The project's draft feasibility study, submitted in March, proposed an underground railway network, with 258 kilometres of tracks in Dhaka, with an aim to ease traffic movement,

There will be 11 subway routes in the city and its outskirts, and the 50-year plan will be implemented in three phases.

Four routes, which will run for a total of 102 km, will be constructed in the first phase. In the second and third phases, lines running for a total of 85 km and 71 km will be constructed.

There will be a 29.35 km route called "O" from Jhilmil Project area in Keraniganj to Tongi. It will be the first to be implemented, at an approximate cost of USD 8 billion, officials said earlier.

Some experts, however, while talking at different platforms earlier questioned the feasibility of the mega project in an unplanned city like Dhaka.

Besides, the proposed subway routes will run parallel to metro rail lines in many areas, which is another problem, they said.

The government is developing a 128.74 km elevated and underground metro rail network, comprising six metro rail lines, in the city and adjacent areas, which is supposed to be completed by 2030.

Although the subway has long been in discussion, it was not included in the revised strategic transport plan for Dhaka, approved in 2015, reportedly because it is not feasible, they added.

However, project director Kazi Md Ferdous, at a programme in March, said they would build the subway to organise the city's traffic.

BBA had sent the proposal to Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority to incorporate the subway in the strategic plan, sources said.

The project's consultants said the metro network should be complemented by the subway system for better coverage and connectivity.

THE SUBWAY COMPANY

The issue of forming a state-owned company, like Dhaka Mass Transit Company Ltd (DMTCL), was discussed at the monthly coordination meeting of the Bridge Division last month.

DMTCL was formed in June 2013 to establish, operate and maintain the under-construction metro rail network.

At the meeting, officials informed the meeting that preparation of a master-plan for the subway is at the final stage, and a separate company is required for construction.

The meeting, presided over by Abu Bakr Siddique, also secretary of the division, decided to take initiative for enacting a law for forming the subway company.

Instructed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, BBA started the feasibility study in September 2018.

Although the study was supposed to be completed in October this year, officials later extended the deadline to February next year.


The government is set to undertake a nearly Tk 3,500-crore project to construct an 11-kilometre elevated road over haors in Kishoreganj to connect the northeastern backwater to the mainland.

The initiative is expected to add vigour to tourism in the country's northeastern region.

The project also aims to support agricultural production and marketing by facilitating an overall communication system in the haor areas by developing haor-condition tolerant infrastructure.

The project -- Development of Elevated Way and Infrastructure in Haor Area -- proposed by the local government division will be placed at the meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) today.

The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) is the implementing agency.

According to LGED sources, the Dharmapasha, Tahirpur, Biswambharpur and Jamalganj upazilas of Sunamganj district and Barhatta upazila of Netrokona district would come under an improved communication system through the development project.

In addition to the 10.8km elevated road, a 97.86km all-season upazila road and 20.27km union road will be developed under the project as well.

Besides, a 16.53km upazila submersible road, 22.86km union and village submersible road, 57 bridges and 118 culverts will be constructed.

The Bangladesh University of Technology and Engineering (Buet) carried out the feasibility study on the proposed elevated road.

Md Hadiuzzaman, professor of the department of civil engineering at the Buet, hoped that vehicular movement on the proposed elevated road would be possible by 2026.

Haor areas remain isolated as a vast amount of agricultural land gets submerged during the rainy season every year.

To make matters worse, people face communication issues even in the dry season due to the lack of roads, said Hadiuzzaman, a member of the team that conducted the feasibility study.

Once the project is implemented, the development of physical infrastructure in the haor areas will facilitate fast and easy transportation of goods, agricultural products and fishery resources throughout the year. As a result, rural economic activities will accelerate.

Moreover, at least six to seven two-storey towers will be built on either side of the elevated road to offer tourists a chance to enjoy the scenic beauty of vast haors.

Including the elevated road project, a total of 10 projects will be placed at the Ecnec meeting.

Among others, the China-funded Tk 5,883 crore digital connectivity project will seek approval. It is among 27 projects that will be implemented under financing from Beijing. China assured $20 billion in loans for the projects during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Dhaka in October 2016.

The project aims to equip every corner of the country with the latest ICT infrastructure, turning almost all government services digital and increasing the use of ICT at field levels.

Under the project, the government will establish 109,244 broadband and user connections, 10,000 digital labs, 57 specialised labs, a central cloud platform, IT infrastructure, and training facilities.

 

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The Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) on Tuesday cleared the first revision of Matarbari 2X600 MW Ultra Supercritical Coal-Fired Power Project, raising its cost by Tk15,870 crore.

The approval came from the weekly Ecnec meeting held virtually with Ecnec Chairperson and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair.

The prime minister joined the meeting from her official residence Ganabhaban, while others got connected from the NEC conference room.

“The meeting approved ten development projects involving an estimated cost of Tk29,344.27 crore (only additional costs of revised projects counted),” said Planning Minister MA Mannan while briefing reporters after the meeting.

Of the total cost, Tk11,003.30 crore will come from government funds while the rest of Tk18,932.04 crore from foreign sources as loans, he added.

The minister also said of the approved projects, seven are new while three are revised ones.

The cost of the Matarbari project now stands at Tk51,854.88 crore against the original amount of Tk35,984.46.

The project deadline has been extended till December 2026 from June 2023.

Regarding the project, State Minister for Planning Dr Shamsul Alam said the prime minister suggested forming a development authority in Matarbari for the overall management since various development operations are being carried out there centering the coal-fired power plant.

About the additional cost involvement of Tk15,870.42 crore in the Matarbari coal-fired power plant, Planning Commission Member Sharifa Khan said the additional cost would mainly ensure deep seaport facilities there.

Around 98% of the additional cost there would be utilized for ensuring deep seaport facilities, she added.


She also mentioned there is no problem of coordination regarding implementation of the project while the power plant is expected to go into operation in 2024.

According to the project factsheet provided by the Planning Commission, the reasons behind the project’s revision include the rise of costs for the channel, jetty, land development and power plant construction alongside an increment of costs against other civil works like Turbine, Boiler, Coal & Ash Handling and Trial Run.

Besides, the costs against consultancy firm, VAT and import duty, rehabilitation and compensation, rural electrification and township construction and expansion of works are among other reasons.

Among the new projects, Ecnec approved the “Establishing Digital Connectivity” project involving Tk5,883.74 crore, aiming to transform the government services into e-services to render these easily and quickly for the people across the country.

Another objective of the project is to intensify the use of ICT by the construction of ICT infrastructure.

The big project will be implemented to establish broadband internet connectivity across eight divisions, 64 districts, all upazilas and unions and even up to village-level throughout the country by June 2025.

Of the cost, Tk2,505.16 crore will come from government funds, while the remaining Tk3378.58 crore from the Chinese government as project assistance.

 

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The representatives of the government visited Armenia at the end of last month to discuss the opening of an Armath Engineering Laboratory in the capital in 2022.

The laboratory is expected to be launched in the spring of 2022 at the Dhaka Air Force School in cooperation with the DIP (Development Innovation Platform) Foundation, reported Public Radio of Armenia.

The joint delegation of Bangladeshi partners of the Union of Advanced Technology Enterprises (UATE) visited Armath Lab in Yerevan and in the regions during their official visit from 29 October to 4 November.

The Bangladeshi delegation consisted of 7 representatives of the Bangladeshi High Tech Park Authority (Ministry of Information Technology and Communication) and 3 representatives of the DIP (Development Innovation Platform) Foundation.

The delegation expressed confidence that the opening of an Armath Lab in Dhaka will greatly contribute to the professional orientation of the youth after they visited an Armath Airborne UAV lab in Dilijan, where they had an opportunity to meet the students of the Monte Melkonian Lyceum.

"The purpose of the visit of the representatives of the state and public sphere of the People's Republic of Bangladesh was to transfer the positive experience and the applicable result of the educational project created in Armenia and to reveal the features of implementation. The visits to schools and laboratories helped the decision-makers to get a general idea about the purpose and the implementation of the Armath project. The representatives of the Bangladeshi delegation pointed out that they will present Armath to their High Tech Park Authority, and will pursue the issue of implementing Armath in the Republic of Bangladesh," said Shamam Gevorgyan, director of UATE educational programs.

It was decided that the two Bangladeshi teachers would visit Armenia before the opening of the lab in Dhaka to undergo relevant training on the Armath methodology and gain working knowledge.

The prospect of opening Armath Labs in other parts of Bangladesh will be considered in the near future.

The UATE started the process of exporting the Armenian educational model years ago, registering practical success, opening Armath Engineering Laboratories first in India and now in Bangladesh. The latter's delegation visited Armenia in 2019, during the days of the annual DigiTech Expo when they and their counterparts from Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Morocco were hosted at the Armath Lab in Agarak. There they got acquainted with the peculiarities of the program, the successes registered and the projects of the students of the lab.

It's noteworthy that at the moment around 600 Armath Engineering Laboratories operate on the territory of Armenia (including Artsakh), Georgia and India, where around 15000 students get free engineering education.


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Nokia G-series handsets are now being made at Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City at Kaliakair of Gazipur.

HMD Global Bangladesh today announced the launch of the smartphones in Bangladesh market with the introduction of the G10 and the G20 models.

The launching event titled "Made in Bangladesh" took place at Sheraton Hotel in Banani of the capital.

Farhan Rashid, head of business, HMD Global Bangladesh, Raquibul Kabir, managing director, Union Group and Alvee Rana, Director, Union Group unveiled the phones.

Alvee Rana said, "Being a partner of a Global brand like Nokia is a big honour for us. We have set up the factory following the European standards set by HMD Global. The made is Bangladesh handsets will certainly help us to gain more market share in the smartphone market as well as providing consumers more affordable handsets."

Ravi Kunwar, General Manager Pan Asia, HMD Global said "The launch of the Bangladeshi assembled handsets along with the introduction of the factory is a milestone in our journey"

Both G10 and G20 have three-day battery life – the longest yet on a Nokia smartphone.

The Nokia G20 is supported by Android with three years of monthly security updates and two years of OS updates. It has face and side fingerprint unlocks, 6.5" teardrop display, 48MP camera, ample storage and OZO surround audio.

Nokia G10 has a triple rear camera and advanced imaging with AI-enhanced shooting modes.

Vibrant Software (BD) Ltd, a joint venture of UK-based Vibrant Software and Union Group of Bangladesh, has set up the first factory to manufacture the Nokia smartphones in Bangladesh.

The two-storied factory has been constructed in Block-5 of Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City at Kaliakair, Gazipur. It is equipped with advanced technology and multiple quality control systems, both automated and human-operated, to ensure the highest quality of finished products.

Initially, the factory will process 300 units of smartphones every day through six production lines of which four are for assembling and two for packaging. The plant is facilitated with all required infrastructure, including its own testing laboratory and employs around 200 workers.

The price for the locally produced Nokia smartphones will be 30% cheaper compared to the imported handsets. The G10 model will retail at Tk13,499 and the G20 will be sold at Tk14,999.

The local mobile handset manufacturing industry began its journey back in 2017 with Walton launching their production in Bangladesh.

Since then, a total of 10/12 manufacturers have begun manufacturing here, including big smartphone brands like Samsung, Symphony, Oppo, Realme, and Xiaomi. These brands are responsible for 85%of local smartphone production and 55% of local demand for both smartphones and feature phones.

According to the BTRC, the total number of phones manufactured and imported in the country in the fiscal year 2019-20 was 29.48 million units. Ten businesses produced 16.21 million units locally whereas 13.27 million were imported.


Locally-manufactured products are dominating country's television-market, holding 52 per cent of its total market share whereas, just a decade ago, Bangladesh was almost fully dependent on imported television to meet its demand.

Of the 52 per cent, Walton holds a lion’s share of 25-27 per cent while Singer (9 per cent) Minister (4 per cent), Vision (3 per cent), Jamuna (2 per cent), Nova (2 per cent) and other local manufacturers occupy the rest percentage, according to a survey, conducted by Marketing Watch Bangladesh (MWB), A Dhaka University based non-profit organisation.

The findings of the research were unveiled Wednesday at a press briefing held at the conference room of Dhaka University Marketing department.

The research team was consisted of Marketing department chairman and also co-founder of the MWB professor Mizanur Rahman and another MWB co-founder associate professor Md Nazmul Hossain.
The study said the size of Bangladesh television in 2020 reached US dollar 636 million and is expected to grow to US dollar 687 million in 2021.

Home-made products will be able to occupy 70-80 per cent of total market share very soon, if the grey market can be brought under control through taking proper action and formulating rules and regulations as it has been reaming as a concerning issue for whole industry, said the study.

The grey market products-holding estimated market share of 20 per cent- consist of counterfeit (sticker-based) Chinese products and brands coming through unauthorised channels by false declaration which make the active players in the industry very much uncomfortable and a bit scared.

The study said local brands are now getting popularity in the country's television market as a result of increased investment of some home-grown companies, especially the giant Walton.

Currently, Walton TV is the market leader in the industry, holding more than 25-26 per cent market share while the market is highly fragmented, competitive, and saturated as a wide range of international brands have also penetrated the market and made the market intensely competitive along with some counterfeit (sticker-based) Chinese brands.

Among all the international and local players, Samsung is highly likely to emerge as a potential competitor in the upcoming years because of its special focus on R and D and competitive advantage of TV production in the domestic plant.

Among the local brands, the Vision is likely to do well in the upcoming days due its strong distribution networks, although its current market share is not up to the mark, said Prof Mizanur Rahman.
"Once used to prefer foreign brands but he situation has changed as local television companies have been getting popular for the last 20 years for many reasons including bringing down the prices of the local brand television devices," he added.

The researchers came to the result after conducting direct interviews of 2439 television users from eight divisions while 2273 citizen reactions from the websites of five Television company and 496 feedback from a closed group 'Electronics Product Review Bangladesh' were taken for sentiment analysis.

The television industry in Bangladesh has seen a rapid growth since the last two decade and the tendency of purchasing television has increased at a large scale in both rural areas and urban cities, for affordable price.

 

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The government is formulating a mega plan to construct eight expressways connecting the country's seaports and a few land ports to develop strong connectivity with neighbouring countries.

The Roads and Highways Department, which is preparing the plan, says five expressways would be constructed to connect the southern and northern regions of the country while three others will connect the eastern and western regions.

The total length of the proposed four-lane expressways to be constructed on new routes instead of the existing ones will be 2,352 kilometres, officials say, adding only long-distance passenger and freight vehicles will be allowed to use the expressways paying tolls.

Dhaka has been left out of the proposed expressways.

The construction cost of the Dhaka-Mawa-Bhanga Expressway, the only expressway so far built in Bangladesh, was Tk200 crore per kilometre. From this count, the total cost of constructing the proposed 2,352 kilometres of expressways will be Tk4,70,400 crore at the current market price. The cost is likely to increase manifold in the future as prices of construction materials and land will most likely increase.

As a result, financing the construction of this huge network of expressways is likely to be a major challenge, feel people concerned.

Even though some experts are doubtful whether all the proposed expressways will bring about economic benefits to the country, those involved in formulating the master plan say these throughways will be the mainstay of Bangladesh's economy in the future.

Mentioning that many countries and regions in the world, including Dubai, are now reaping the benefit of well-planned-out road infrastructure projects implemented earlier, they say the foundation of Bangladesh's economic backbone – the proposed expressways – needs to be laid now taking lessons from other parts of the world.

As the expressways would allow long-distance vehicles to reach their destinations bypassing Dhaka's traffic congestion, it would reduce traffic pressure on the capital as well, they further observe.

The first expressway to connect the northern and southern regions would be constructed from Sylhet's Tamabil land port to Cox's Bazar's Gundum. It will also connect Chattogram and Matarbari seaports.

Another expressway from Mymensingh's Gobrakura land port will be divided in two parts in Kotalipara, Gopalganj – one will go to Mongla port and another to Payra port. The construction of the second Padma Bridge has been proposed at Manikganj-Rajbari point for this expressway.

The expressway from Bhomra land port in Satkhira will split into two parts at Jaldhaka in Nilphamari – one towards Panchagarh's Banglabandha land port and the other towards Burimari land port in Lalmonirhat.

Meanwhile, in the East and West, an expressway has been proposed from Benapole land port to Cumilla's Laksam that will be connected to the Tamabil-Gundum expressway including a bridge over the River Meghna at Chandpur-Shariatpur point. Another expressway is supposed to connect the Tamabil-Gundum expressway in Brahmanbaria with Chapainawabganj's Sona Masjid land port. One more expressway has been proposed from Tamabil to Joypurhat including a bridge over the River Brahmaputra.

Officials at the Roads and Highways Department said regional connectivity is common in Europe and a few other regions while Asia is still far behind in this regard.

Nevertheless, some Asian countries including those in South Asia have, of late, emphasised building roads and highways eyeing future regional connectivity. Bangladesh also is planning the expressways to keep pace with other Asian countries, they said.

The officials also noted that the government has several other plans for regional connectivity, including Asian Highway Connectivity, South Asian Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (Sasec) Road Connectivity, and Saarc Connectivity etc.

The new expressways have been proposed considering that using the existing road network of the country for regional connectivity would increase the pressure on the roads and discard economic benefits, they continued.

Officials of the Roads and Highways Department said, a strong connectivity not only strengthens the intra and inter regional trade but also generates higher income and prosperity. Increased connectivity between South and South-east Asia can play an important role in achieving efficiency and enhanced productivity. Transport connectivity along with trade facilitation measures may spur regional trade and commerce by reducing cost of transportation and logistics.

"The routes for the proposed expressways have been selected through survey, although the government is yet to make a final decision in this regard. The list of expressways can be even shorter," Md Zakir Hossain, additional secretary (planning wing) at the Road Transport and Highways Division, told The Business Standard.

He said, "The government wants to elevate Bangladesh to the status of developed countries in 2041. The expressway is being planned keeping that in mind. The construction of some of the expressways is expected to be completed before 2041."

Md Shamsul Hoque, a communication expert and a professor at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), said, "This is the right time to construct expressways in Bangladesh. If we do not construct expressways now, it would not be possible in the future as Bangladesh's population is huge compared to its land area. So, land should be acquired now."

Some of the neighbouring countries have already built expressways, he mentioned, adding, "There are 11 expressways in Pakistan, 22 in India and 37 in Malaysia. But we have not made any progress in this regard. Our only expressway is the Dhaka-Mawa one."

The government has adopted the strategy to build expressways connecting the northern and southern regions, and eastern and western regions to establish a strong communication system among all parts of the country, said Shamsul Hoque who has worked closely with the government in formulating the expressway master plan.

In India, the master plan for the construction of expressways in the north-south, east-west and peripheral areas was passed 25 years ago, which has been implemented in phases later, the noted communication expert told TBS.

"In Bangladesh, the conditions of national highways have remained like that of local roads as there are markets and other establishments adjacent to the highways and slow-moving vehicles ply them. This is why an outline of expressway construction is required now. Even if these expressways do not yield much economic benefit right away, the benefits will be huge in the future."

The expressway plan

The Tamabil-Gundum expressway would be the longest among the proposed expressways with a length of 545 kilometres. It will run from Tamabil to Cox's Bazar via Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Brahmanbaria, Cumilla and Chattogram.

The expressway would be linked with the two countries at the border – India and Myanmar. The Gundum border with Myanmar is expected to create opportunities for greater trade with Asean or Southeast Asian countries.

The expressway would also increase interest among other neighbouring countries to use the Chattogram and Matarbari ports.

The Gobrakura-Payra port expressway would run through Mymensingh, Sherpur, Tangail, Manikganj, Faridpur, Gopalganj, Barishal, Patuakhari, and Baraguna with a length of 375km including the proposed second Padma Bridge in Rajbari-Manikganj point.

Meanwhile, the bridges division is surveying the possibilities of constructing a bridge at Chandpur-Shariatpur point on the expressway. The survey is expected to be completed next year.

The authorities have proposed to connect Gobrakura-Payra port expressway with Mongla port. For this, another 75km expressway from Kotalipara in Gopalganj to Mongla port will be constructed.

The expressway would connect various districts including Rajbari, Faridpur, Madaripur, Gopalganj, Barishal and Patuakhali and Barguna with Mymensingh, Tangail, and Manikganj.

The length of Burimari-Bhomra expressway will be 432km from Lalmonirhat's Burimari land port at Patgram border to Bhomra land port in Satkhira.

It would also connect the northernmost land port of Banglabandha. To this end, another 85km expressway from Banglabandha to Jaldhaka in Nilphamari has been proposed.

According to people concerned, Burimari and Banglabandha land ports are playing an important role in Bangladesh's trade with India, Bhutan and Nepal. The expressway would increase the volume of trade with these countries by connecting these two ports.

With a length of 294km and a bridge over the River Meghna the Benapole-Laksam expressway would reduce the distance of Chattogram with the districts in Khulna division by more than 200 kilometres.

It would be connected with the Gobrakura-Payra port expressway at Faridpur, and with the Burimari-Bhomra expressway in Jashore.

The length of the Sonamashjid-Brahmanbaria expressway would be 310km. It will also be connected with the Tamabil-Gundum expressway. The expressway will reduce the distance of Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions with Chattogram and Sylhet divisions.

The Joypurhat to Tamabil expressway would be connected to Gobrakura-Payra port and Burimari-Bhomra expressways in Mymensingh and Joypurhat respectively with a length of 226km.

The plan is being prepared under the Technical Assistance for the Sub-Regional Road Transport Project Preparatory project.

Arguments over economic viability

There are doubts whether all of the proposed eight expressways will yield economic benefits.

Even though everyone concerned is quite sure the 545km Tamabil-Gundum Expressway will be economically viable for Bangladesh because of its location to use port facilities and trade and commerce facilities, whether the 432km Burimari-Bhomra Expressway will bring any economic benefits remains questionable.

Asked about the economic benefits of the proposed expressways for Bangladesh, Dr Shamsul Haque of Buet said in building expressways, countries around the world attach more importance to strategic reasons than the cost-benefit issue. "Had the cost-benefit analysis been taken into consideration, many expressways in Australia would not have been built. This is because no car can be seen on some expressways in the country even in 30 minutes."

Developed countries build expressways taking into account the integrity of the State, its economic development, regional connectivity, and the future development of the region concerned, he noted, adding not all expressways become popular in any country.

He further said the Burimari-Bhomra Expressway would facilitate easy communication between the north-western part and the south-western part of the country. "This will also facilitate road communication among different states of neighbouring India. The expressway will ease building connectivity of Nepal and Bhutan with other countries in the region."

Because of their geographical locations, such expressways are likely to benefit Bangladesh in the future, he continued.

At the beginning, the metro rail projects in Dubai yielded little benefits compared to their costs, Shamsul Hoque said, adding, "As the population of the city was only 55 lakh, there was not much hope of getting benefits immediately. But now Dubai has seven times more tourists than its population. They are now reaping the benefits of the well-planned metro projects."

Mohammad Yunus, senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said Bangladesh needs to construct these expressways in its own interest of strengthening communication between different parts of the country.

Not all expressways will bring about the same economic benefits if regional connectivity is taken into account, he observed, adding, "But in overall consideration, the country is likely to benefit from all the expressways in the long run. Even though some expressways aimed at establishing regional connectivity will not be economically feasible for the country, they might help to improve trade as well as diplomatic relations.

"Hence, the potential economic benefits should not be the only consideration in the case of the proposed expressways. The other factors should also be taken into account."

He, however, suggested building the expressways on existing roads considering the construction costs and a scarcity of land in some areas.

 
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