1199Published on August 10, 2020
This is the 9th of August, a historical day in our journey as a nation, and yet a day that most of us are oblivious to. But the reason it carved its place in history is that something turned out on this day that changed the course of our national productivity and growth. On August 9, 1975, the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the nation, purchased five gas fields from multinational oil drilling company Shell Oil Company paying a very little. Only 4.5 million pound-sterling (17-18 crore Taka of that period) was paid to get Bakhrabad, Titas, Rashidpur, Kailashtila, and Habiganj gas fields state-owned. There is no other example of purchasing such a huge depo of gas so cheaply in world history. Even after four decades of fulfilling the ever-increasing demands, these gas fields, once purchased so cheaply, supply a staggering 31.44% of the country’s total production today.
What Bangabandhu envisioned over four decades ago is now a springboard for energy security, ensuring which, as foreseen by him, would be a stepping stone for the industrialization or development in our country. It implies that the security issue in the energy sector was something he pondered on back then. He also thought of weaning the country off import on grounds of energy as he always prioritized best harnessing own resources. The world will stand in awe of his move to purchase five gas fields with so enormous gas resources so cheaply as mankind neither observes such precedence nor witnesses such a deal even today.
When I contemplate this futuristic decision of the architect of independence, I can feel how courageous move it was forty-five years ago because the war-torn country encountered all issues of the spectrum. The father of the nation had to work unceasingly to rebuild the country.
There was a lack of almost everything in the country ravaged by the nine-month war in which the Pakistani occupation army had killed 3 million people and blew the entire country to smithereens. The reserve ran out of money and Bangabandhu had to start from scratch. To make it even worse, local and foreign conspiracies against Bangabandhu were in full swing. The mega powers that had been against our independence left no stone unturned to thwart our progress by initiating international food politics to tagging Bangladesh as a failed state and ‘a bottomless basket’.
But, none of these methods and tricks worked out against Bangabandhu could make him budge a point from his political vision to establish Bangladesh as a self-reliant country in the world and to this end ensuring the affordable and seamless supply of fuel was a stepping stone.
Shortly after independence, Bangabandhu put the issue of harnessing its own mineral resources on the top of the priority ladder. To that goal, he established Petrobangla, initiating the extraction, distillation, and marketing of mineral oil and natural gas.
While the role of Bangabandhu in getting the country free rolls off every tongue, what remains lesser known is his building the institutions, which he did with vision and care. Taking over the ministry of power and energy, I had to go through old files, policies, and regulations, and that endowed me with a closer look at how futuristic his plans were, which only a visionary could spell out. As we start working something out, we feel that that was envisioned by Bangabandhu long ago.
The time the father of the nation was endowed with to rebuild the country was only three years and a half. He did all that he could do in the meantime to build the very foundation that the country could rest on. How he could carry forward so much for a war-ravaged country is still a mystery to me.
He established the state-ownership over the country’s fuel and mineral resources to ensure energy security as stated by the constitution’s section no 143. Bangabandhu also passed several crucial acts in the short time of his premiership, among which were the Petroleum Act and Maritime Zones Act in 1974, testifying to the fact that Bangabandhu foresaw a sea of possibility in the sea.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, daughter of the father of the nation, is carrying forward his vision, as noticeable in the concept of blue economy chalked out by her. The enormous maritime boundary that we are endowed with holds enormous potential for oil and gas.
In addition to ensuring energy security, Bangabandhu also did the groundwork on electricity production and distribution in the independent country by establishing Bangladesh Power Development Board – PDB. He told it over and over again that electricity had to be distributed to rural areas in addition to the urban setting since it was a must for developing the rural infrastructure. Father of the Nation worked on that front as well.
But the darkest of hours settled on the fate of the nation once Bangabandhu was assassinated following a brief period of premiership.
His assassination was followed by the rise of the military dictatorship that tore down all our institutions as no one was accountable to people.
The dream of the father of the nation was shattered. A hush fell upon his chapter over a couple of decades. His daughter Sheikh Hasina had to struggle even to fly back to her motherland. But, the sun of courage and service rose once more with his daughter Sheikh Hasina taking over as the country’s premier and reinitiating the dream projects of Bangabandhu and working to rebuild Golden Bengal as dreamt of by her father.
Our goal under the leadership of the prime minister is to ensure safe and affordable fuel to the countrymen.
In the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, we made a promise to ensure bringing the country under electricity coverage and we are striving towards that goal. Currently, 97% of the countrymen are entitled to electricity facilities. By December of this year, everyone in the on-grid regions will have received electricity. The birth centenary of the father of the nation has been declared as the Service Year from our ministry.
Writer: The state minister, ministry of power, energy, and mineral resources