It is a truism that developmental efforts, both from the private and public sectors, are largely Dhaka and Chattogram (Chittagong) centric. Then again, the rest of the country is not treated equally in matters of development project selection and allocation of resources. Dhaka, the administrative headquarters, and its adjoining areas have been receiving for decades a major share of the development pie. Chittagonians always grumble that their city, despite being the country's most important business hub, is not getting its due. When the comparison is made with Dhaka, the allegation, to a large extent, appears to be justified. But it certainly gets far greater attention than any other town or city with the exception of Dhaka.
Policymakers are aware of the prevailing disparity in developmental resource allocation between regions and its negative impact on the socio-economic status of millions living in areas deprived of their due. Multilateral donor agencies and local research institutions also highlight in their study reports that the higher incidence of poverty is prevailing in the less developed southern and northern parts of the country. Late last week, experts at a seminar in Dhaka discussed the issue of disparity in development and pointed out the need for a change in the government's attitude and, most importantly, decentralisation of administration to ensure balanced development of different regions.
It is recognised widely that all powers are now concentrated in one particular place -- Dhaka. Moreover, the best and biggies of every sector, be it education or health, are located in Dhaka. But, such concentration of power and facilities has given rise to an endless migration of people from other areas to Dhaka. Most systems that were put in place without much care and planning are now on the verge of collapse under pressure from an ever-increasing population. The city, thus, has been adjudged as the second worst livable city on earth. The truth is Dhaka is bearing the brunt of a skewed development process that successive governments have been pursuing for decades.
What is needed most is an effective decentralisation of power which, in turn, would help ensure development of all the regions according to their needs. Such decentralisation of power is only possible by strengthening the local government (LG) institutions. The constitution also provides for such strengthening, but all the governments have chosen to turn a blind eye to the issue. The LG institutions have deliberately been kept weak and dependent on government doles. Besides, interference in day-to-day operations by a section of lawmakers has also undermined the effectiveness of the LG bodies.
Two major cities -- Dhaka and Chattogram -- contribute nearly 60 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). This is the result of lopsided development which is not a healthy sign. There has to be a dispersal of production as well as service facilities in all the regions of the country to ensure balanced growth, including job creation, income generation and quality of life. But the policymakers do not appear to be serious about decentralisation of administration and development. While speaking in public they tend to demonstrate all their willingness to develop all the regions without any discrimination. In reality, they do not mean business and merely play to the gallery.
Under the prevailing circumstances, it is high time people of the neglected regions raised their voice in support of the demand for decentralisation of decision-making power and equitable allocation of development resources to all the districts. They need to realise that building of a few kilometres of roads and some bridges, culverts, schools and colleges fulfils developmental needs only partially. For achieving overall economic wellbeing, the availability of employment opportunities at the local levels is the first and foremost need. The government has to meet that requirement.
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