Enhance support for shrimp farmers, jute mill workers
Various labour organisations and industry experts have urged the government to allocate special funds in the upcoming national budget to help distressed jute mill workers and shrimp farmers survive the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"More than 26,000 shift workers and temporary employees of nine state-run jute mills along with the Khulna-Jashore industrial belt have lived miserably ever since the factories were shut on July 1 last year for modernisation," said Professor Anwarul Kadir, executive director of Sundarban Academy.
Besides, they have yet to receive their dues after being laid off amid the current crisis, he added.
The Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) is unsure about if and when these workers might get their arrears as it would require a separate allocation.
The BJMC owes more than Tk 200 crore to displaced workers in the Khulna region alone for services completed between 2015 and 2020 due to the implementation of a new pay scale in January 2020 as per the Productivity and Wage Commission-2015.
Without new employment opportunities or cash assistance, the once vibrant jute industry cannot survive the Covid-19 fallout, according to the workers.
Similarly, around 40 private jute mills are in distress due to the ongoing pandemic, said Sayed Ali, chairman of the Bangladesh Jute Association.
Other than that, the coronavirus has also devastated the shrimp industry as farmers are being deprived of fair prices amid the current suspension of exports.
About 260,000 hectares of land in the coastal districts are used for shrimp cultivation with around 2.2 million people directly involved with the industry.
Making matters worse, more than one lakh shrimp farms in Satkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat districts were washed away by cyclone Amphan with the damage costing them roughly Tk 100 crore, said Aftabuzzaman, president of Bangladesh Shrimp Farm Association.
"So, they need cash assistance and bank loans immediately," he added.
The local shrimp industry is one of Bangladesh's main sources of foreign exchange but since production has declined year after year, the upcoming national budget should include intensive support for this industry.
As per data from the Department of Fisheries, around 2.4 lakh tonnes of shrimp was produced in the country in fiscal 2018-19 while it was nearly 2.5 lakh tonnes the year before.
"The Covid-19 fallout has forced trade and commerce in Khulna into a deep crisis so at this time, we have to focus on job creation and investment," said Kazi Aminul Haque, president of Khulna Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Since marginal, small and medium traders and farmers were the worst hit, they should be brought under a separate package to ensure adequate funding for their survival.
"But this region is always deprived. For example, Khulna's Batiaghata and Terokhada were declared economic zones but no construction work has started yet," he said.
Besides, construction of Rampal airport needs to be completed very soon and that too with government funding, Haque added.
Liakat Hossain Liton, president of the Bagerhat Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, over 5,000 small traders in the region need cash assistance to revive their business.
"A world class tourism industry could be built around the Sundarbans, which has to be maintained by a separate ministry or board," he added.
Nazrul Azam David, secretary of the Tour Operators' Association of Sundarbans, said about 63 river vessels have been stranded for months now due to the closure of all tourist spots across the country in order to combat Covid-19.
Considering the costal region's susceptibility to natural disasters, the allocation for development activities in these areas should be expanded, said Gouranga Nandy, a researcher and environmentalist.
With various other issues, such as waterlogging, over salinity and water shortages, often causing untold losses to people in the region, these areas need special attention in the budget, he said.
Locals previously demanded that the coastal region be declared a disaster prone area and a separate board be set up to handle its development activities.