Energy was Bangabandhu’s priority sector
August 15th, 2020 at 12:38 am
Energy was Bangabandhu’s priority sector

by Serajul Islam Quadir

Today is a black day, a day of darkness, sadness and day of doom of a nation. We lost Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the source of hope and aspiration of a newly born nation, the founder and above all the Father of the nation.

He along with almost all the members of his family was brutally assassinated. With his martyrdom like many visionaries we could not achieve the ambition to become self reliant on the energy sector.

Bangabandhu could easily realize that without a self-reliant power and energy sector, it would not be possible to uplift the fate of this nation. He understood energy and power is the life line for industrial and economic development.

 Only six days before this heinous assassination he took a revolutionary decision to purchase all the resourceful gas fields from the foreign oil and gas companies.

 On 9 August 1975 gas fields were bought although the economy was in a shamble after a nine-month long bloody war with the Pakistan Army.

There was crisis everywhere including the food sector. Only 4.5 million pound sterling had to be paid to acquire the ownership of Bakhrabad, Titas, Rashidpur, Kailashtila and Habiganj gas fields.

Even after four decades of fulfilling the ever increasing demands, these gas fields, once purchased so cheaply, started to contribute a staggering 31.44 percent of the country’s total production today.

It was an unique instance for Bangladesh to purchase resourceful five gas fields with abandoned gas reserves in exchange for such a meager amount of money during those days.

Bangladesh remembers Bangabandhu
Architect of Bangladesh independence Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

“I became astonished and surprised as I dug in deep with his steps to run the country with a long vision. How was it possible in only three and a half year time … he took many steps …he enacted the maritime act in a very short time,” said  Nasrul Hamid, the state minister for power, energy and mineral resources.

“He not only focused on contemporary issues, rather he also focused on the other relevant issues,” Nasrul said earlier this at a virtual seminar jointly organized by Forum for Energy Reporters Bangladesh (FERB) in association with the Bangladesh Independent Power Producers Association (AIPP).

Bangabandhu worked 7 days a week. It was Saturday, August 9, 1975. Bangabandhu came to office. “Today I will sign one of the testimonials of freedom of Bangalees,” Bangabandhu said.
This exclusive quotation was shared in the seminar by M Farashuddin, the then Private Secretary of Bangabandhu.

Terming him as the pathfinder, the state minister said after the assassination of the Father of the nation the country was plunged into darkness. His measures are still a springboard and driving force for the nation.
“The security issue in the energy sector was always prioritized at his instructions. When I contemplate this futuristic decision of the architect of independence, I can understand how courageous it was 45 years ago because a war-torn country encountered all issues of the spectrum,” Nasrul mentioned.

Hamid informed that shortly after independence , Bangabandhu put the issue of harnessing Bangladesh’s own mineral resources on the top of the priority.

“To achieve that goal, he established Petrobangla, initiating the extraction, distillation, and marketing of mineral oil and natural gas.”
All initiatives came to halt after Bangabandhu was assassinated.

The present government under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina has been working tirelessly to achieve and fulfill the dream and vision of the Father of the nation particularly in the energy sector along with other sectors as well.

“Now we don’t lack of resources in achieving the goals set by our pathfinder Bangabandhu, but we have a dearth of skilled and expert manpower,” Nasrul said.

He mentioned that whenever his ministry ventured to initiate modern systems and technology a group of officials tend to avoid and disregard it.
We must adapt with modern technology otherwise we would be lacking in comparison with other developed worlds. So we should not and cannot ignore this issue that the minister raised.

The minister termed this lack of skilled manpower as a big challenge, so our proposal is that the government should undertake more encouraging measures to attract the talented and meritorious youth generation as they love to take challenges.

The scene of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib’s return from Pakistani jail on January 10, 1972 at Dhaka Airport– File

The government already has a plan to upgrade the skill with imparting training in foreign countries that have that ability.

The government has many successes and also has many challenges.
Arun Karmaker, the President of the forum has rightly pointed out this part of the government to look into seriously. Once we had to suffer several hours of load shedding during the regime of Bangladesh Nationalist Party while Begum Khaleda Zia was the Prime Minister.

Now there is hardly any load shedding of electricity, but there is still no room for self-complacent as we need to ensure uninterrupted power supply to the rural areas, the hub of economic development. Moreover we could not ensure the transmission of quality power. The transmission system needs to be upgraded quite extensively. We firmly believe that the government is honest and sincere on this issue.

Power minister said that it is the commitment and promise of the government to ensure availability of power supply to all the citizens of Bangladesh both for the city dwellers as well as the citizens of rural areas including far off remote areas.

The minister said that the government of Sheikh Hasina has a hard and hard trust that the electricity is one of the major cushion to achieve higher economic growth.

“Parsha is a village of remote area and after the availability of electricity of that underdeveloped village the pattern of life has been changed dramatically in terms of both quality and behavior,” he said adding that earlier people went to bed with the sunset.

“Now the women, particularly housewives, stay wake at least up to 9 pm to work like weaving of quilt and other household works or works that help their husband to add to family earnings to maintain a better life.”

In the seminar Murtoza Ahmed Farukh Chisti, a former managing director of BAPEX pointed out and raised a very important issue. He said that in the tenure of 10 years the position of the managing directors has been changed eight times.

“If this key and vital post frequently changes then how will the managing director accomplish a long term plan, rather all the time he has to remain panicked and frightened due to possible transfer? Instead of undertaking a long term plan in the interest of the country he will put all his efforts to satisfy his bosses so that he can keep his position undisturbed.”

We will draw attention to the policy makers and decision takers about this complaint that is true to stop such undesirable decisions. If anyone seems to be unqualified definitely he should be removed but accountability must be instituted.
Mollah M Amzad Hossain, the editor of the Energy and Power, a fortnightly journal dedicated for the sector and also a member of the executive committee of the FERB said in his key note paper in this seminar that if Bangladesh is unable to find out any new gas field and thus cannot extract gas to add deposit than the deposit of natural gas will be completely exhausted by the year of 2031.

In fact this is alarming information for the countrymen and we believe that the concerned machinery of the government keeping this crucial information into its active consideration will be useful.

Mr. Hossain pointed out another important aspect is the care required for such projects. He said that BAPEX discovered at least 1 tcf of natural gas in Southern Bhola Island. Now the government contemplates awarding this field to giant Russian oil and gas company PJSC Gazprom as a joint venture.

We rather ask the government to stop this decision and BAPEX should be allowed to explore alone. We should not allow a foreign country to share the fruits of our discovery. Hossain moreover said that rather we can allow Gazprom to explore gas in our hill tracts area, a vital and potential region of the country for discovering natural gas.

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Power transmission line

Gazprom is a resourceful energy company in terms of expertise, skilled manpower, equipment, financial ability and other relevant resources that are relevant to explore gas in hill tracts areas. This is a sector entangled with challenges and opportunities and now we need to adapt decision and policy with care so that we can reap fruits out of those opportunities and challenges. We must turn the challenges as opportunity one. It is inevitable to ensure production efficiency. We must reduce our system loss in the sector that is hovering between 10 and 12 and it must be somewhere at 2 or 3 percent.

The system loss is around two percent in Singapore. It is true that we will not be able to reach the level of Singapore, but we should aim with a determination that if Singapore can achieve it why not us. 

The writer is a former Bureau Chief of Reuters in Bangladesh