Just 20 years back, land-starved Bangladesh was blessed with a considerable volume of land reclaimed from the Bay of Bengal at the Mirsarai point of Chattogram.
And local people say the vast char land was used as a sanctuary for the cattle population including buffaloes.
Assessing the potential and economic viability, the government moved with an idea to go for planned industrialisation in the area.
The infrastructural initiative was named Mirsarai Integrated Industrial City, a cluster of 25 economic zones.
The mega zone is being built on mostly reclaimed 30,000 acres of land, encompassing Chattogram and Feni districts, to create 2.0 million manufacturing jobs.
The potentially biggest economic zone is expected to produce exportable goods worth $5.0 billion a year.
It will be readied in phases and the project involving Tk 23.47 billion will house industries like garments and garments accessories, integrated textiles, motorbike assembling, automobile assembling, automobile parts manufacturing, LPG plant, power plant, shipbuilding, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, light engineering, leather products and footwear.
The industrial site has become a hot cake for both local and overseas investors, thanks to its strategic and geographical advantages.
Besides fiscal benefits, the major advantage of the mega zone is its close proximity to the sea, the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, the railway and the Chittagong port.
At the same time, less complexities over the land acquisition and the assurance of utility providers to supply energy and power have generated interest in this zone among the industrialists. Only 10 per cent of land is privately-owned in the zone.
On a visit to the under-construction site by the FE correspondents, workers were found busy building a multi-storied administrative building.
The state-run Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) is constructing a dam with the help of Bangladesh Navy and the China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd.
Though the 10-kilometer-long approach road connecting the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway to the site has almost been completed, the construction of 47 culverts is still underway.
The embankment on around 4-kilometres out of 20 kilometres was made while land development work was going on nearly 2,000 acres of land, which is less than 10 per cent of the total projected landscape.
The state-run Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (REB) was found finishing 33kv transmission line to the zone.
Talking to the FE, BEZA's deputy project manager Nazrul Islam said that the authorities have started developing the land with one dredger since the middle of March last and one-third of the area (2000 acres) was readied.
At the same time, approach road from Boro Takia Bazar to RC Chattar (intersection) from where the zone area started was also completed at a cost of Tk 12 billion, he said.
Asked about the interest of investors and the utility service providers, he said they have made available 500 acres to the Bashundhara Group, some 250 acres to the Ananta Group, and 22 acres to Asian Paints.
PHP and BSRM groups -- two local conglomerates -- also applied for the plots there.
The BEZA, which plans to rename the zone Bangabandhu Industrial City, has earmarked spaces for setting up gas and power stations. Separate spaces would also be kept reserved for the BEPZA, Indian and Chinese investors.
Referring to the token money from the Indian investors, officials said that the lands have been earmarked under the G2G basis, the BEZA being enabled by a provision that was made by amending its law in 2015.
Land Acquisition Officer (LAO) of Deputy Commissioner (DC)'s office at Chattogram Vidousi Chakma said that only 10 per cent (3000 acres) of the land at the Mirsarai zone is privately-owned.
"We finished the acquisition process covering an area of 1,000 acres until April 07 under the old land acquisition ordinance in 1982. The acquisition of the remaining part is underway," he said.
As per the BEZA rules, the zones should be prepared with all the required utilities -- gas, power and water supplies.
And the gas supply, which is virtually stopped in the case of industries in many locations, to the zone is almost ensured.
Managing Director of Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Company Ltd Ali Mohd Al-Mamun told the FE that the state agency has taken a new project named Construction of gas pipeline project for Mirsarai Economic Zone.
Under the project, the company finished the installation of 11 kilometre-long pipeline with 1,000 PSI pressure capacity with the help of GTCL. The tender process was completed to start the construction of a sub-station there with a supply requirement of 200 million mmcf.
"I am confident of supplying gas to the zone by December next. There will be no problem from our side," he added.
He also said the gas pressure would be better in the zone, adding: "If there is any severe gas supply problem in future, we are prepared for the LNG connections in Mirsarai."
Aameir Alihussain, managing director of the country's biggest steel manufacturer BSRM, said his company had applied for 150 acres of land, considering the site's potential for business.
"It is an ideal place for investment because it's a cluster of various industries where businesses will get various facilities in both fiscal and non-fiscal terms," Mr Alihussain said.
He said clustering industrialisation is more secured than the scattered one.
Meanwhile, one business group has withdrawn its token money from the site because of the delay in developing the land.
"Our MD does not favour it as it is a lease only for 50 years," said an official of the KSRM, one of the largest rod manufacturers in the country.
Talking to the FE, field officers of the BEZA, China Harbour, Bangladesh Navy and Water Development Board expressed their hope about finishing their respective work within the stipulated time.
But people familiar with such developments elsewhere said the BEZA's land development would take much time for lack of required expertise and logistics.
Bangladesh remains less-advanced than the world average in terms of land development, said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, a Dhaka-based think-tank.
He said filling up of land by one dredger for a larger area would take years to be completed.
BEZA executive chairman Paban Chowdhury told the FE that his agency would hire another dredger with 30-inch diameter.
"I do hope that land developing activities will be expedited then,"
"I dream about industrialisation in Mirsarai later this year," said Mr Chowdhury.
He noted that if 40,000 acres of land are arranged in less than four years of his tenure, then the zoning will also happen. "Certainly, you will see it," he added.
© 2017 - All Rights with The Financial Express