Closing down in just 8 years

The Bangladesh Jute Corporation was established on 1 July 1985 by merging Bangladesh Jute Marketing Corporation, Special Property Jute Cell, Jute Trading Corporation, APC Rally Bangladesh Limited and Bangladesh Jute Export Corporation with a view to ensuring fair prices of jute for farmers, keeping jute price stable and expanding the jute market in foreign countries.

But in just eight years, it was decided to close down BJC due to fall in demand in the global market, continuous loss and administrative compulsions. A cell comprising 244 officials and employees was formed on 11 October 1993 to maintain the corporation properties until sold and to run the operation of BJC’s closure. The cell now has just seven officials and employees as others either went on retirement or died or left their jobs. However, 54 people have been appointed temporarily to carry out the cell’s operation.

‘What can be done’

An employee of the BJC said, “We lease the land, collect the rent and look after the properties. We have no other jobs to do. ” People concerned also do not have any clear idea about what would happen in future. When asked, director (additional responsibility) of BJC Md Alamgir Hossain told Prothom Alo, “Browse the agency’s website, you will find everything there.” When he was told the website does not have the information, he replied, “Information will be provided.”

Textiles and jute secretary Abdur Rauf told Prothom Alo, “The government has appointed an additional secretary as BJC chairman. Even if I want to, I cannot close the corporation by tomorrow. I agree BCJ must follow the closure process. If we cannot do it in a year, we might do it in 2 years or 10 or 20 years. We have to think about the BJC’s future. We have to think what can be done.”

190 out of 295 acres of land grabbed

According to BJC sources, the corporation had about 686 acres of land when it was established. Following the announcement of its closure, about 391 acres of land have been sold so far. As sale of land has been put on a halt in 2012, BJC now owns 295 acres of land. Of this, BJC has leased 67 acres of land while 190 acres of land have been grabbed. Currently, 282 cases are pending at the court on the recovery of the grabbed land.

This correspondent visited the office of BJC chairman Shashanka Shekhor Bhowmick on 11 November and 2 December but could not meet him as he did not come to his office those days.

Shashanka Shakhor Bhowmick could not be reached for comment over phone.

BJC director Alamgir Hossain told Prothom Alo, “We lack manpower. Those who grab land are influential and they take advantage by filling cases. That is why we cannot recover the grabbed land.”

How money is being spent

BJC earns from leasing land. The agency spends money on a total of 48 heads including salary and allowance. In 2018-19 fiscal, BJC earned Tk 56.1 million (5.61 crore), spent Tk 37.2 million (3.72 crore) and made profit of Tk 18.9 million (1.89 crore). Profit dropped to Tk 6.8 million (68 lakh) in the next fiscal. The revenue of BJC has been estimated at Tk 55 million (5.50 crore), expenditure at Tk 43.5 million (4.35 crore) and profit at Tk 11.4 crore in 2020-21 fiscal.

Sources said, BJC spends Tk 3.6 million (36 lakh) for two officials (2 to 4 grades) annually. It includes Tk 1.9 million in salary and Tk 1.7 million (17 lakh) in allowance. Tk 24.4 million (2.44 crore) has been allocated for the salary and allowance of the BJC’s officials and employees including those two top officials.

Though they apparently have no activities other than the maintenance of property, there is an allocation for foreign training. Some Tk 100,000 was spent on foreign training in 2019-20 fiscal and the same amount has been allocated in 2020-21 fiscal.

Besides, Tk 43.5 million (4.35 crore) was allocated for various aspects including campaign and advertisement, training, clothes, laundry, gratuity, tiffin allowance, leave encashment, telephone and mobile allowance, transport convenience, transport convenience (local) and CNG/petrol/mobile, and transport rent in 2020-21 fiscal.

Has BJC property been sold?

Visiting the BJC’s regional office in Godnail of Narayanganj’s Siddhirganj on 18 November, no officials were seen there. Two security guards were supposed to be on duty but no one was there. Locals said a BJC official comes to the office for several days a month.

The name plaque on the main entrance reads it’s the property of BJC. The land area is 18.95 acres. However, privately-run Umeda SB Industries Limited operates a manufacturing facility there. Engineer Md Aslam Sheikh of Umeda SB Industries claimed to Prothom Alo that BJC has sold this entire property and handed it over . These companies have completed registration of a portion of this property. As they purchased the property, none of eight to 10 companies running manufacturing facility on it pay rent to the BJC anymore.

BJC chairmen did not reply to the email seeking comment on the matter.

Visiting the Kuli Relly area of Narayanganj city on the same day, staff quarters of the BJC were seen giving lease of shops.

Locals said there were two security guards and they were laid off several years ago. Workers then took control of the entire propriety.

State of other offices

Other than BJC’s head office in Dhaka and regional office in Godnail, the agency has regional offices in Rangpur, Mymensingh, Khulna and Chatttogram.

There is an office assistant and a security guard under a deputy general manager at the regional office in Mymensingh.

Sources said there is an official, two employees and four security guards at the regional office in Chattogram. BJC still owns property including land and warehouse there. These properties have been leased.

There is a regional office in Guptapara of Rangpur city. Its in-charge Nazrul Islam told Prothom Alo there are 14 districts of the northern region excluding Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj under the Rangpur regional office. This office owns 175 acres of land and majority of it has been occupied by others. There are 19 warehouses in various districts and BJC receives lease money from it, he added.

The Rangpur regional office also has two employees, two office assistants and two gatekeepers.

According to sources, no BJC officer joins the regional office in Railgate office of Khulna. However, there is a security guard.

Teachers, but no school

There is a primary school inside the BJC regional office in Godnail established in 1980. The primary school was found closed and covered in grass. The ground is used for drying clothes.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, an official of BJC said the school was closed on 31 December 2019 on the basis of an audit objection. However, there are still three permanent teachers and no decision has been taken on them as yet.

Locals said the school was established for the children of the BJC’s officials and employees. It was open before the coronavirus pandemic. This school, however, did not open again when educational institutions reopened across the country amid the pandemic. Two to three hundred students shifted to other schools.

The BJC chairman also did not reply to the email seeking comment on the matter.

‘Loss to both the government and the country’

Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told Prothom Alo when the government decided it would dissolve the corporation, at that time they should have decided the fate of its officials and employees as well as what to do with its properties. The properties of BJC are not being used for alternative purposes due to indecision. And it causes loss to both the government and the country.

It is right that transition takes a certain time. It can be a year or two but certainly not 28 years, he said adding the government should at least decide now how the BCJ can be used instead of leaving it abandoned.

On how the property of BJC can be used, Mustafizur Rahman said previously 23,000 people worked at Adamjee Jute Mills. Now 50,000 people work there after it was turned to an industrial park. Similarly, the government can set up various industrial parks on the BJC properties. Once industrial parks are set up, products will be manufactured, employment will be generated and the government will earn revenue, he added.

Ariful Haque from Rangpur, Jaglul Pasha from Mymensingh and Sujoy Chowdhury from Chattogram contributed to this report.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna

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