In the five upazilas of Kurigram district, where residents are reeling from flooding, many families worry not only about being displaced from their homes, but also what's in store for their children as almost all the schools in the region have sustained permanent damage.
UNB has learnt that the buildings of as many as 13 schools in these five upazilas have been inundated with river bank erosion-induced flood water. While walls of many buildings have developed cracks, few have even collapsed.
The casualty -- some 2,500 students of these schools, who now stare at an uncertain future.
“It's a double whammy for us. Due to the Covid pandemic, all schools across the country had to be shut. Now, the only school in our area is under water. I don't know how my ward will continue his studies," says Islam Uddin, a parent.
Like many students in the five upazilas, Ariful Islam and Aduri Akter often take a stroll to Mekhlirchar Khandarkarpara Government Primary School before returning home, perhaps just to revive their old memories. "We are in a state of shock as our school building too has collapsed," say Ariful, a grade III student, and Aduri Akter, a grade-IV student.
According to the District Primary Education Office, a number of primary school buildings at Juan Satra, Naya Dara, Kharija Latshala and Char Bazra in Ulipur upazila, Uttar Char Khauria, Montola and Dighalkandi in Chilmari upazila have been gone under river water due to frequent floods between June and September.
Many parents say there is no primary school in their areas now. "The only school in our area has gone under water. What will happen to our children," say parents Bhola Mia and Ashraf Hossain.
Mohammad Abdus Sabur, headmaster of Mekhlirchar Khandarkarpara Government Primary School, says, “I have contacted the education office and a new school building will be built after getting funds."
When contacted, Mohammad Shahidul Islam, the district education officer, said, “The government has taken an initiative to ensure that the learning of the students are in no way affected. Already Tk 3 lakh each under education head in emergency projects has been allocated to six schools and the remaining will be given financial aid soon.”
The school buildings will be built in catchment areas after pooling in land from local residents, he said.
Although one year has elapsed since a tribunal delivered its verdict in Feni madrasa student Nusrat Jahan Rafi murder case, her family’s wait to see the execution of the verdict is yet to end.
During a visit to the residence of Nusrat, the UNB correspondent saw that police are providing security to her family members. The brutal killing of Nusrat is still haunting the parents and brother of Nusrat.
Nusrat’s brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, said, “We’ve got the verdict and we want its execution soon. This is unfortunate that no step has been taken yet to execute it!”
He also demanded immediate steps to execute the verdict after hearing the appeal petition of the four death-row convicts.
On October 29, 2019, the death reference of the tribunal reached the High Court, said plaintiff’s lawyer advocate M Shahjahan Saju.
The Chief Justice has formed a bench for hearing the appeal and the hearing will be held on priority basis as soon as the Covid-9 situation improves, he said.
The gruesome killing
Nusrat was set on fire on April 6, last year on the roof of a madrasa she attended by people loyal to principal Sirajuddowla whom she had accused of sexually harassing her.
She succumbed to her injuries four days later at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).
A case was filed with Sonagazi Police Station on April 8. Police pressed charges in court against 16 people.
The accused are madrasa principal SM Sirajuddowla, Awami League leader Ruhul Amin, Shahadat Hossain Shamim, Nur Uddin, Imran Hossain Mamun, Hafez Abdul Quader, Iftekhar Uddin Rana, Councillor Maksud Alam alias Moksud, Kamrunnahar Moni, Saifur Rahman Mohammad Zobair, Javed, Umme Sultana Popy, Mohiuddin Shakil, Mohammad Shamim, Abdur Rahim Sharif and Absar Uddin.
Twelve of the accused reportedly confessed to their involvement in the killing of Nusrat, a student of Sonagazi Islamia Madrasah.
A tribunal in Feni sentenced the 16 people to death for their roles in killing Nusrat on October 24, 2019.
The tribunal also fined the convicts Tk one lakh each.
On May 10, 2019, Moazzem Hossain, the then officer-in-charge of Sonagazi Model Police Station, was suspended in connection with the murder.
He was accused of unlawfully interrogating Nusrat and recording it on phone. A video of the interrogation went viral on social media, prompting a lawyer to file a case against him on April 15 under the Digital Security Act.
For a country that has the world's largest mangrove forest Sundarbans, the good old port of Chattogram, sandy beach Cox’s Bazar, the beautiful Teknaf peninsula and eye-catching Saint Martin Island, "sea tourism" can help beat Covid blues by generating billions of dollars. All that's needed is an integrated initiative to connect these popular destinations by marine terminals, say experts.
"Bangladesh has a huge potential in the sea tourism sector. Just we need an integrated initiative that will help the country generate robust economic growth," Dr Md Kawser Ahmed, Professor of the Oceanography department at Dhaka University, told UNB. "We can earn billions of dollars through sea tourism if the Sundarbans, Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Teknaf and Saint Martin Island could be connected."
While sea tourism has the potential to help Bangladesh get the 'developed country' status by 2041, at the same time, the government should take appropriate steps like fixing environmental taxes for tourists not only to generate revenue but also to protect the country’s valuable resources, according to Dr Md Kawser.
“We propose the government to fix Tk500 for a tourist landing on Saint Martin Island and a minimum of Tk1000 every night as environment tax. We hope tourists will pay this willingly. We also pay toll tax on Padma Bridge like the Jamuna Bridge," he said, also stressing on the need for introducing scuba diving at Saint Martin to attract tourists.
Bangladesh, the professor said, can be a prime destination for foreign tourists in South Asia. “Bangladesh can take an initiative in the future to connect Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and India by marine routes. So, government-to-government agreements are needed for making this a success,” he said.
But another expert, Research Director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Dr Khandoker Golam Moazzem said that tourism is needed in this country, but not at the cost of the environment. “We have to give priority to the environment at first. We can’t destroy our resources in the name of tourism. So, we have to conserve the corals too."
Dr Khandoker said the government has to embark on a long-term plan to run passenger vessels in the seas prioritising the nature first policy. “Then, domestic and regional tourists will visit the spots. And the tourism sector will play a significant role in Bangladesh's economy,” the economist said.
Shiblul Azam Koreshi, the owner of Abakash Parjatan on Saint Martin Island, said the island is not that attractive to tourists nowadays. “Around 2000 tourists visit the island daily during the peak season (December to February). Now few domestic tourists visit the island due to bad weather and Covid pandemic,” he said.
The vice president of Tour Operators Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) also said that sea tourism will bolster Bangladesh's economy. "The government is building a tourist zone in Sabrang of Teknaf. Now tourists can enjoy the Bay of Bengal utilising the world’s longest marine drive."
“The government should focus on the blue economy to tide over the economic crisis. As Bangladesh won in the maritime boundary case with Myanmar and India in the International Tribunal, there is no problem in the Bay of Bengal. Ocean economy, known as the blue economy, offers opportunities in fishery, mineral resources, shipping and energy as well,” he said.
Shiblul said there are now 150 Abakash and 70 restaurants on Saint Martin Island. “The government should also set up a 'waste treatment plant' here as soon as possible. Moreover, the solar capacity should be improved to light up the site,” he said.
Bangladesh has the right to fish and explore resources within 118,813 square kilometres of the Bay of Bengal. Sources said the ocean contributes around USD 6.0 billion annually to the Bangladesh economy. The gross value addition (GVA) of Bangladesh’s ocean economy was USD 6.2 billion in 2015.
The total contribution of the tourism and travel sector to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Bangladesh was Tk 840.2 billion or 4.3 percent of the country’s GDP in 2016, according to Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) data. And according to the World Travel and Tourism Council ((WTTC), the sector would grow by 7.1 percent each year raising the total contribution to Tk1,783 billion or 4.7 percent to the country's GDP by 2027.
The timely execution of a number power transmission projects taken for electricity evacuation from the upcoming 2,400 MW Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP) looks uncertain as the Indian financing agency is taking ‘unusual’ time to give a go-ahead for the bidding process.
According to sources at Power Grid Company of Bangladesh (PGCB), the state-owned power transmission body took the projects to facilitate power evacuation from the RNPP, the country’s maiden under-construction nuclear power project being implemented with financial support from the Indian Line of Credit (LoC).
Dhaka signed a $1.06-billion loan agreement with New Delhi in 2017 over financing of these projects with a target to implement those within 2022 as 1200 MW first unit of the Rooppur NPP will start commercial production from the first half of 2023.
The five transmission projects are: 464-km 400kV Transmission Lines including 13-km river crossing, 205-km 230kV Transmission Lines including 7-km river crossing, 400kV 5 Bay Extensions, 230kV 4 Bay Extensions and qualitative upgradation of Bangladesh power system for frequency control and frequency drop protection, protection system, emergency control system and other associated tasks.
The sources said the 464-km 400kV transmission line project has been divided into four segments for their smooth implementation.
These are 102-km Rooppur-Bogra line, 144-km Rooppur-Gopalganj line, 147-km Rooppur-Dhaka line and 51-km Aminbazar-Kaliakoir line.
The 13-km river crossing works have also been divided into two segments — 6-km Padma River crossing line and 7-km Jamuna River crossing line.
Similarly, the 230-kV transmission line project was also divided into three packages— 60-km Rooppur-Baghabari line, 145-km Rooppur-Dhamrai line, and 7-km Jamuna River crossing line.
PGCB officials said although they have completed the bidding process for some packages of the projects, the bidding process of some other segments still remained stuck due to delay in having clearance from the Indian financing agency.
“Of these segments, the bidding for most critical river crossing works and bay extensions are suffering from Indian lengthy bureaucratic tangle in getting the necessary approval from the India Exim Bank,” a PGCB top official told UNB wishing anonymity.
He, however, said the timely start of operation of the Rooppur NPP project will depend on the timely implementation of the power transmission projects.
“If power transmission infrastructures and facilities are not ready, the Rooppur plant will not be able to start operation even after its timely completion of the nuclear power project,” the PGCB official added.
Contacted, PGCB managing director Golam Kibria admitted the delay in the projects’ bidding procedures, but said he is hopeful of quick clearance from the Indian financing agency.
To tighten the noose around tax evaders and expand the tax net, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) is pulling out all the stops.
UNB has learnt that the revenue collection authority has formed as many as 120 teams to bring in new eligible taxpayers under the tax net across the country. Members of these teams will visit houses and offices of organisations to identify eligible taxpayers and allocate them tax identification numbers (TIN).
According to sources, the Board has directed all its tax commissioners to bring all eligible persons and organisations under the tax net and also take initiatives to remove the phobias about tax payment. NBR has also asked the commissioners to activate the defunct TIN as filing income tax returns has been made mandatory for every TIN holder from this fiscal.
The Income Tax Wing of the NBR has already given necessary directives to the field offices in these regards. It has advised the field offices to reconstitute the existing tax survey teams and start surveys from this month.
NBR sources said that in every tax zone across the country, there will be four survey teams consisting of 10 members each. Apart from NBR officials, there will be representatives from the district administration, police, Ansar and two college or university students (at least one female) to assist the survey teams.
As part of the internal survey, the field-level officials have already collected potential taxpayers' information from city corporations, Rajuk and sub-registrar offices. This is ‘secondary data’, which refers to the information about the individuals that are already employed in any organisation.
The NBR also has started to collect information of the potential taxpayers at the upazila level through secondary data gathering, otherwise known as internal survey.
“For example, if we have a file of ‘X’ company and the firm has 450 employees on its payroll, we can ask for the names of all the staffers and their TIN numbers. Thus we can find out the eligible taxpayers’ names and put them under the tax net, this is called an internal survey,” a senior NBR official told UNB.
In this connection, he said, the NBR is collecting information about the trade licences issued from the city corporations and municipalities. Later, TIN will be issued in their names to bring them under tax net and collect revenue from them.
Moreover, NBR is collecting information about foreigners from the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), vehicles owners from BRTA, land buyers and sellers from the sub-registry offices, power distribution offices and service-oriented offices.
Information of property owners is also being taken from the National Housing Authority, the NBR official said. "All these efforts would help NBR identify the eligible taxpayers who are still staying out of the tax net. We hope that by this way, we will be able to bring the affluent section of the society under the tax net," he added.
Another senior official of the NBR said during door-to-door surveys, field officials have been asked to adhere to Covid-related safety protocols, including social distancing. "NBR would put emphasis on the internal survey, which has been stalled since March last week due to pandemic. The door-to-door survey was also postponed due to Covid," he said.
The total revenue collection for the proposed budget for 2020-21 fiscal is estimated to be Tk 378,000 crore where the NBR will contribute Tk 3,30,000 crore. The revenue from non-NBR sources was estimated at Tk 15,000 crore, while non-tax revenue at Tk. 33,000 crore.
Of the grand amount for the NBR, Tk 103,945 crore will come from income, profit and capital tax, while Tk 125,162 crore will be contributed by VAT. Supplementary tax will provide Tk 57,815 crore, while Tk 37,807 crore will come from import duty, Tk 55 crore from export duty, Tk 3,686 crore from excise duty and Tk 1,530 crore as other taxes.