It indeed appears strange that despite scarcity of land for industrial use, nearly 1,000 industrial plots of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) are lying idle despite high demand among local and foreign investors. A news story in this newspaper, quoting a recent study, says over 22 per cent of industrial plots allocated to entrepreneurs in BSCIC industrial estates across the country remain unused. According to the study conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), scarce use of plots is the result of several factors including weakness in enforcement of rules and regulations, problems with the selection process of entrepreneurs and infrastructural bottlenecks.
General impression about the situation is that in the absence of essential service facilities, the industrial plots that otherwise should have attracted potential users are awaiting major initiatives to put those services in place. While poor infrastructure including communication links - attributable to unwise and rash selection of sites-is a foremost disincentive for investors, insufficient gas and power connectivity has added to make the large number of industrial plots uneconomic. According to the aforementioned study, plot utilisation rate is the lowest in Barishal division (50 per cent) and highest in Rajshahi division (95 per cent). The study found that a large number of plots remained unused mainly due to faulty plot allotment process.
At present, the BSCIC has 74 industrial estates in 59 districts, of which at least 20 were reportedly established without any feasibility study.
Subsequently, the allotment policies were faulty, with many entrepreneurs refusing to set up factories in the allocated plots. One may sense populism in the idea of setting up industrial parks in almost all the districts disregarding their viability for industrial production. Land, of course, is a crucial requirement but the hard task to turn lands suitable for industrial use with uninterrupted availability of power and gas, road or rail links, waste management system, warehousing etc did not seem to figure with the right priority. Motivated in most cases by political considerations, the idea was obviously too naïve to justify that an industrial park, no matter whether it is equipped to meet the needs of the entrepreneurs, would attract investment and generate employment.
The situation of a majority of the BSCIC industrial parks tells a more or less similar story. Even parks set up in industrial belts, such as those in Tongi on the outskirts of Dhaka, and Chaudogram in Cumilla and those scattered in Khulna are languishing for want of required service facilities. Given the situation, it is clear that the issue demands urgent attention of the government. An expert committee to decide on a bail-out plan of the industrial estates and parks could be a starter in this regard. The problem with the BSCIC estates were flagged a number of times in the past, but no noticeable change has so far been in place. One feels that beside plans for revamping the estates, it is political will that would be most needed to work things out.