The development of Bangladesh has been hazarded for a long time from lack of construction materials. One of them is hard rock. The rocks have various uses. They are needed for breaking down into pebbles for use in road building and paving. They same are needed for laying in railway tracks between the sleepers. Hard rocks are specially needed to build and maintain strong embankments in a flood prone country like Bangladesh. But it was thought that the soft alluvial nature of Bangladesh meant that the possibility of finding hard rock in it was slim or none at all and that the country had no other option but to drain its precious resources year after year on importing the same paying higher and higher prices.
Thus, when a huge deposit of hard rock at Maddhyapara in Dinajpur was discovered in 1974, the perspectives of hard rock utilisation in Bangladesh went through a transformation. But long twenty years passed before anything was done to mine this hard rock for the country’s benefits. The Maddhypara hard rock project started with much fanfare in 1994 with the government remaining a partner and a foreign company doing all the technical work to prepare the site for mining. However, an earlier start of work on this project could have saved the country some 6 billion taka. After a long time the hard rock project went into production at the site from May last year. Nearly 1.5 million tones of hard rocks were mined since then and the same remains in huge heaps nearby. The rate of daily production in it is one thousand tonnes. But what causes worry is that the accumulated rocks at the site are not being utilised by their prospective buyers. Almost the entire volume of rocks remain unsold and in this situation the hard rock company is facing a very uncertain situation. With substantial regular sales signifying the start up of its full fledged commercial activities, the company could start counting recovery of its investments and profits. But with hardly any sales occurring, the company is even failing to pay salaries regularly to its workers and staff. It is now a looming possibility that its management may have to consider shutting it down fairly soon than carrying on with its grossly losing operations.
But this situation is as inexplicable as it is deeply vexing. The hard rock produced at Maddhypara is of superior quality. It is also relatively cheaper due to its local availability and lower carrying and production costs. The rocks and pebbles from Maddhypara after paying VAT costs US$ 15.90 and 17.90 respectively. The imported equivalent costs US$ 17.60 and 19.26 respectively. In these circumstances, there should be no hesitation on the part of local users to opt for using the locally available rocks on a large and regular scale. The users are also seen to be, at least for the time being, the government bodies such as Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), the Roads and Highways Department (R&D), Bangladesh Railway (BR) and other government bodies. But these bodies have not shown the slightest interest in buying the rocks from Maddhypara for the last seventeen months or so although a circular from the relevant ministry was issued to the government bodies to buy these rocks and to consider the directive as one meriting full compliance. But the government bodies have tended to ignore this directive. Recently, they were asked to show cause for their behaviour. To this they replied that private contractors do variou works under tender agreements with them. But the contractors prefer to use imported rocks and the government has not much to do about it. The ministry then issued orders to the government bodies using hard rock to include the provision in the tender documents that only locally available hard rocks can be used. But some months have passed after the issuing of this directive and yet nothing has changed in respect of the use of rocks from Maddhypara.
Reportedly, the contractors are not interested to change the status quo, because they can lay their hands on a great deal of unearned money by importing cheaper but poor quality rocks at throwaway prices and then billing the government bodies for much higher amounts. Allegedly, some officials in the various government bodies work hands in gloves with the contractors as they are assured of bribes on a regular basis for helping the process. But should it go on like this ? Can the national economic interests be so flagrantly sabotaged to fulfill the lust of a handful of persons ? The ACC recently even took former Prime Ministers to task for wrongfully aiding foreign energy companies with their bids to access and use our energy resources. Would not the same misplaced principles be applied also in the case of the Maddhypara project ? The ACC must not lose any time in investigating the state of affairs in relation to the Maddhypara project. Especially, it should immediately identify the persons in the government and outside who have been frustrating the timely take-off of the hard rock company and subject them immediately to the due processes of the law. The identified persons deserve to be given exemplary punishment.
If the Maddhypara hard rock project plays its part fully, it will mean achieving a major import substitution for the national economy. Millions and millions of dollars on a regular basis will be saved as rock imports will become absolutely unnecessary. The amount of import substitution on this score will only increase progressively every year as the economy expands and diversifies creating requirement of more rocks supplied from Maddhypara. The major import substitution effected by the sustainability of the hard rock project will come as a plus point for the country’s foreign currency reserve and its balance of payments. Based on the locally available rocks, all kinds of enterprises will flourish employing a large number of people.
Considering all of these factors, attention should be directed from the highest level of the government to the Maddhypara project. The crooks must be stamped out and this project must be secured to play its envisioned role for the national economy.