There has been uproar across the country about the price of pillows, bed sheets and other accessories to furnish the apartment of Rooppur nuclear power plant. The cost of a pillow has been shown to be Tk 5,957.
A farmer, on the other hand, set fire on his rice field because of the low price of paddy in Kalihati upazila of Tangail. He was upset as the price lowered to Tk 500 to 600 per maund. The cost for one pillow is equal to the price of 10 maunds of paddy.
The Prothom Alo report titled "Farmers torched ripe paddy because of low prices" published on 13 May, said that a worker has to be paid Tk 1,000 for harvesting paddy along with meals.
Let’s talk about the price of a pillow =. Prothom Alo published a report with the heading “Rooppur nuclear power plant: Innovative way of corruption”.
It says, a truck was rented for 30,000 taka to carry 30 bed sheets. Another truck carrying blankets cost another 30,000 taka.
It cost 931 taka to lift carry each of the bed sheets from downstairs to the apartment. The cost of taking one sheet to the apartment is higher than that a maund of rice.
The poor farmers of the country! They spent several months working on their land to make half of the money that could be earned by carrying a bed sheet from the ground floor to two-storey or three-storey building.
The Ministry of Housing and Public Works formed two committees to probe into the scam. An engineer has been withdrawn following the matter. We demand stern investigation and exemplary punishment for those who were involved in the scam.
Somebody told me few days ago, “You people only came to know about the price of the pillow and sheets from Facebook. But if they called them quantum sheets, radium pillows, lithium sofa, what would you do?”
Another said, “You never talk about the scams of the previous government.”
There is no doubt that Rooppur nuclear power project is very sensitive. Among the biggest concerns about this is its safety issue. Several accidents occurred at Chernobyl in Russia, in Fukushima, Japan, in Three Mile Island in America.
Therefore, it is important to ensure its safety. The nuclear power plants are gradually being reduced worldwide, though. The security concerns are always there. So, the Rooppur project has to be 500 per cent safe. There is no shortcut for this.
We can do two things in this regard. One is to start a movement to stop corruption in government projects. The other is to save the farmers.
Every time I speak of corruption, I refer to Akbar Ali Khan’s ‘Pararthaparotar Arthoniti’ that reveals corruption down thousands of years.
Manu said two thousand years ago, "Those who are deployed by the king to protect the people, grab the land of the people. It is the king’s responsibility to protect the people from them. The king should send those corrupted people to exile and confiscate all their property. "
Our government can take the advice of Manu and declare war against corruption and the corrupt.
Akbar Ali Khan referred to Nobel Laureate Gunnar Myrdal who said, corruption does four types of harms to society:
1. Corruption crushes the macro economy of a state. Revenue decreases.
2. The environment is destroyed. (We see it in our country. Faruk-Rupayan tower or Rana Plaza collapse are the results of corruption)
3. Corruption affects the poorer section of the society the most. The richer ones get away with whatever they do- bribery or scam. (We saw how our farmers are suffering due to lower rice price because of corruption and discrimination.)
4. Corruption discourages foreign investors.
The Daily Star reported on 19 June 2017, "According to the World Bank, the cost of the construction of the four-lane road was 6.6 million dollars per kilometre for the Rangpur-Hatikumrul highway, 7 million dollars for Dhaka-Sylhet highway, 11.9 million USD for the Dhaka-Mawa highway, 2.5 million dollars for Dhaka-Chittagong highway and 2.5 million for Dhaka-Mymensingh highway.”
It costs 1.1 to 1.3 million dollars in India and 13 million to 16 million dollars in China to build a four-lane road.
According to this estimates, the cost of upgrading the Dhaka-Mawa highway to four lanes is about 10 times higher than some of India's roads.
If it requires a whole truck to carry 30 sheets, there is no doubt about the high costs of constructing roads.
But the most surprising report published so far was making distribution plant despite having to gas reserves. The report, published on 17 April, 2019 in Prothom Alo, titled, “Tk 12 billion down the drain?”
The report said, “The government spent Tk 12 billion to supply gas to five districts of Khulna, Jashore and southwestern districts. The locals did not receive gas in 14 years. Now the gas supply project has been stopped.”
Ruling parties changed. Different governments allocated funds. They knew there was no gas. However, the project has to continue once it starts.
There is no accountability. Only our farmers and workers do not get wages.
Still, there is a good side of this. The fact that the farmers are not getting workers to cut their paddy is an indication of a vibrant economy. That means people have alternate jobs. As many as a million workers went abroad in a year.
About 2 million children are born every year in the country. It is obvious that there would be shortage of male workers, had one million of them gone abroad to work.
So what do we do? 1. Take special measures for farmers to get fair prices for agricultural products. 2. Automated farming, so fewer workers are needed. The automated tractors are already in use. There is no alternative to use automated machines for harvesting, threshing, and sowing of seeds.
We need to prevent corruption, and money laundering. A building will collapse if one uses bamboo instead of steel in constructions.
Most government buildings, schools, colleges and hostels will fall apart. The construction of roads must be of high standard so that these do not break down after two months. The design must be good. We shouldn't see once again that the flyover was an American design meant for cars driving on the right hand side of the road.
BSTI says the turmeric packets of a particular brand have ashes and chemical colours instead of the actual spice, according to a recent report.
The government has to combat these dreadful offences such as food adulteration, manuacturing adulterated medicines and toiletries.
The Roopur power plant scam is wake up call. Then again, who can wake up a person who is already awake?
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat