The day is not far away when Bangladesh will be put on a par with any other country of the world in terms of socioeconomic development and other indicators. The Awami League government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is running the country with supersonic speed. Bangladesh is ahead of many other South Asian countries to have reduced poverty, achieved women literacy and empowerment, and controlled maternal and child mortality. Sheikh Hasina, the illustrious daughter of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is lauded globally for her apt leadership.
In a follow-up to the development, the government has initiated several mega projects. The under-construction Padma Bridge, metro-rail, elevated expressway, and Rooppur nuclear power plant are expected to take the country’s position to a new height.The pace of developments in all sectors has to be continued. Unfortunately, a vested quarter is trying to foil the process at a time when the country is trying hard to achieve SDGs and development goals.
It is evident that the quarter has planned to destroy the sector that produces cement – a crucial material used for construction of all physical infrastructures. A move to nip the country’s development strides in the bud by making the cement production and supply costlier is visible. The harmful effect on the cement sector will not only hamper development projects but also the GDP growth of the country. As a result, employment, per capita income and social safety will be affected. The proposed budget set a target to hike Tax-GDP ratio to 15 per cent by 2021, but it will be unlikely if development projects suffer a setback.
As part of the conspiracy, some local and international agents presumably contributed to a provision of the proposed budget that suggests imposition of 5 per cent advance tax (AT) on the import of raw materials for cement and 3 per cent source tax on distribution.
Cement manufacturers are currently paying 15 per cent VAT on the import of raw materials. They have now to bear the brunt of more 8 per cent tax (5 percent AT plus 3 percent source tax).
Locally produced cement is being used in the construction of roads, bridges, flyovers, power plants, buildings and other physical infrastructures across the country, but its production depends entirely on raw materials.
The local cement sector is already facing a tough situation due to increase in the price of raw materials in the international market.The cement entrepreneurs have to make 32 per cent profit to offset the extra cost, said a letter submitted to Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal by Bangladesh Cement Manufacturers Association (BCMA) recently. The organisation made an appeal to reconsider the tax hike. Any hike in cement production cost due to imposition of additional taxes will result in the hike of cement price and project implementation costs.
Cement manufacturers, realtors and construction experts are of the view that the conspirators have targeted such a key component, which is the mother of all development projects.
Any charge on the cement sector will not only affect the country’s development but also be contradictory to fundamental rights of the citizens enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh. Rights to life, shelter, health, movement and employment are guaranteed by the highest charter of the country.
The fundamental rights of the people of Bangladesh have been ensured in Part III (Article 26-44) of the Constitution. All past laws inconsistent with these rights are made void by the Constitution, and it directs the State not to make any law inconsistent with these rights.
Article 26 prohibits any law and decision which are inconsistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
“All existing laws inconsistent with the provisions of this Part shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, become void on the commencement of this Constitution,” Article 26 (1) says.
“The State shall not make any law inconsistent with any provisions of this Part, and any law so made shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void,” says Article 26 (2).
Protection of right to life and personal liberty are enshrined in Article 32. It says “No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty save in accordance with law.”
Freedom of movement is ensured by Article 36. “Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the public interest, every citizen shall have the right to move freely throughout Bangladesh, to reside and settle in any place therein and to leave and re-enter Bangladesh,” the article says.
Right to profession and business are guaranteed by Article 40. The article states “ Subject to any restrictions imposed by law, every citizen possessing such qualifications, if any, as may be prescribed by law in relation to his profession, occupation, trade or business shall have the right to enter upon any lawful profession or occupation, and to conduct any lawful trade or business.”
Article 42 (1) speaks about right to property. “Subject to any restrictions imposed by law, every citizen shall have the right to acquire, hold, transfer or otherwise dispose of property, and no property shall be compulsorily acquired, nationalised or requisitioned save by authority of law,” it says.
Right to protection of home has been enumerated in Article 43 of the Constitution. It says “Every citizen shall have the right, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, public order, public morality or public health (a) to be secured in his home against entry, search and seizure; and (b) to the privacy of his correspondence and other means of communication.”
Article 44 of the constitution has guaranteed the right of every citizen to move the High Court Division in accordance with clause (1) of Article 102 for the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution.
The jurisdiction of the High Court Division of the Supreme Court to enforce the fundamental rights is defined in Article 102 of Part VI of the Constitution.
If the budget is passed with the harmful provision, construction of roads, bridges, flyovers, foot over bridges, residential and commercial houses, flats, shopping malls, public and private offices will be costlier. The same will negate peoples’ fundamental rights.
The budget for FY 2019-20 is going to be passed on June 30. It is high time the government took a step to drop the detrimental provisions from the budget to save the development and peoples’ constitutional rights. Any charge on cement sector will price the country’s strides towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The writer is a columnist.