With the passage of time, the month of mourning, once again, has come to our life. For us, the history of the month of August is written in blood. Since the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with most of his family members on August 15, 1975, it has been the most sorrowful month for the nation. Moreover, by a strange stroke of fate or because of meticulous planning of the conspirators, something tragic happens in this month almost every year. For example, on August 21, 2004, a heinous attempt was made on the life of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In the same year on August 17, simultaneous bomb blast was carried out across the country. In this mournful month, let me begin this write-up by paying deep tribute to the greatest Bengali of all time and our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and his martyred family members.
On the occasion of the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation, the stage was all set to propel Bangladesh to a new height of prosperity. In this regard, the government had chalked out a year-long elaborate plan. But everything came to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. In order to contain spread of the virus, birth centenary celebrations of the Father of the Nation has been postponed, though some were held briefly and some others digitally, following the directives of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a country of 16 crore people, where man-made or natural disasters are regular phenomenon, the premier has been working painstakingly so that the country doesn’t plunge into a new crisis of viral disease.At this time of global pandemic, Bangladesh can boast of managing the crisis far better than many other developed countries thanks to Sheikh Hasina’s bold and practical steps and quick decision. The global chart of Covid-19 related infection and death rate gives testament to it. Whereas Covid-19 fatality rate is 15-20 per cent in Europe and America, it is just 1.7 per cent in Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina almost single handedly tackled the situation and achieved this remarkable feat in saving life and the economy.
From the onset of coronavirus infection in Bangladesh, the stewardship of the Prime Minister has been giving specific guidelines following a well-though-out strategy to save life and livelihood. To safeguard the future generation, all educational institutions have remained closed since March. However, the education ministry has been asked to take all necessary steps to provide lessons through online and TV.
The able daughter of Bangabandhu has rightly understood that in a densely populated country like Bangladesh where some people have to struggle for livelihood, enforcement of a strict lockdown may backfire. Therefore, her government opted for declaring a general holiday so that those who need to go out for survival can go out to meet their emergency needs.
With a firm determination to tackle the crisis, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina personally monitored relief distribution process on the sideline of carrying out her regular official duties. She took prompt steps to provide cash and food assistance to affected people irrespective of their party affiliation through public representatives, party leaders and activists and the administration. And she not only repeatedly warned her party men against any irregularities in relief distribution process, but also took no time in taking action against any malpractice. Moreover, with an apprehension that the pandemic might cause worldwide famine, she – as a pre-emptive measure – instructed all to not let an inch of arable land remain uncultivated. The rank and file of her party was asked to give all out assistance to farmers so that they can harvest their crops in time. As a result, farmers managed to take home their crops without any hitch before the arrival of flood, and the nation could enjoy a bumper agriculture production this year. Besides, Bangladesh has been able to secure the positions of 3rd largest rice and vegetable producer and 3rd largest fish producer of the world. The government also took a praiseworthy initiative of procuring rice directly from farmers so that they get a fair price of their produce. The PM is well-aware of the fact that agriculture and SMEs are the mainstays of our economy. One of her government’s previous projects ‘One House One Farm’ has helped us achieve self-sufficiency in food production.
In the wake of widespread coronavirus spread in the country, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared various fiscal stimulus packages of around Tk one lakh crore to tackle pandemic-induced emergency. Many criticised the government’s move of announcing the stimulus package in the early days of the outbreak. But the main reason behind outlining the packages at first was that it would help cross-section of people avoid depression during the pandemic. It generated much hope among the people. They believed that the Prime Minister is with them in their fight for survival and moving ahead. Now the people are availing themselves of the stimulus packages.Apart from this, a grant of Tk 122.2 crore has been given to 44,043 mosques in the country, about Tk 17 crore has been given to Qawmi madrasas on the occasion of holy Ramadan, Tk 6 crore has been given to about 46,000 village policemen (Dafadars and mahalladars) employed in 4,569 union parishads, Tk 46 crore has been earmarked for non-MPO teachers, special allocation has been made for ethnic and third gender people, and the poor working class people who suddenly lost jobs have been provided with food assistance.
Among other initiatives, the government has allocated four lakh tonnes of rice and one lakh tonne of wheat for low-income people and a total of 1.59 crore lakh families received free rice. So far, 56,000 tonnes of rice has been distributed under Tk 10-per-kg OMS scheme for the urban poor and Tk 251 crore has been allocated for this purpose. Besides, as many as 50 lakh families from across the country have received Tk 2,500 each before Eid through their mobile banking account.
She has a plan to bring five crore people of the country under food assistance programme so that none have to go unfed or half-fed due the prolonged pandemic. Already, 50 lakh families have been given ration card. Another 50 lakh families are in the process of receiving the card. Once this process is complete, one crore families will receive food assistance. Now, if each of these one crore families have five members on average, five crore people will be benefited from the food assistance programme. Members of Bangladesh Armed Forces along with officials from all tires of the administration are working closely and relentlessly to accomplish this gigantic task.
In order to tackle the pandemic-induced health emergencies, the government of Sheikh Hasina has allocated Tk 10,000 crore as lump sum for health sector. In addition, special activities worth Tk 5,500 crore are being implemented under the health services department, and 2,000 doctors and 6,000 nurses have been recruited in quickest possible time to deal with the deadly virus. Besides, an additional 2,000 posts for doctors and 3,000 posts for medical technologists, cardiographers and lab attendants have been created in government hospitals. All the doctors, nurses and health workers are being kept in hotels. And the cost of their accommodation, food and transport are being met from government exchequer. Two projects worth of Tk 2,500 crore have quickly been approved with the purpose of procuring medical equipment, test kits and safety gears and for expansion of corona treatment facility.
Beginning with one lab, the country has now 82 authorised labs to detect coronavirus. Establishing specialised labs in such a short time is no mean feat, and it has been made possible by the PM. Quality personal protective equipment (PPE) has been provided to all the doctors, nurses and other staff responsible for directly treating corona patients while a high-powered national committee, consisted of public health experts, has been formed to combat coronavirus.
Tk 750 crore has been allocated for health and life insurance for all those working to tackle the Covid-19. Doctors, nurses, health workers, field officers, members of law enforcement agencies, armed forces, BGB, and other government employees, who are risking their lives to fight the coronavirus pandemic will be covered under this scheme. If any of the above mentioned is affected while on duty, they will get health insurance worth Tk 5 lakh to Tk 10 lakh as per their designation, and the rate will increase by 5 times in case of death, the premier said. All these initiatives have dramatically increased the capacity of our healthcare system. It is evident in the fact that Bangladesh not only managed to overcome the initial shortcomings in treating corona patients, but also improvised healthcare facilities to such an extent that now ICU and general beds lie vacant in hospitals. The shortage of oxygen cylinders and medical equipment has also been taken care of. So now our corona treatment facility stands on firm footing.
To keep growth momentum of export earning and foreign reserve steady, BGMEA at one point opened garment factories following health guidelines. At a certain point, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave consent to opening garment factories to salvage the RMG industry. Otherwise, orders from apparel buyers would go to other countries. Even experts now agree that it was indeed a right decision to open up factories without which it would not be possible for the export sector to stage a comeback so fast.
The PM has also directed relevant authorities to take necessary actions for rehabilitation of expatriate workers who returned after losing their jobs abroad. Under the scheme, they are being trained, given soft loan and special incentives so that they can become self-reliant.
However, the irony is, in a time when the country managed to keep the pandemic under control, super-cyclone Amphan and then a prolonged devastating flood hit the country. Difficult as it may sound, the country was thrown into a triple challenge of saving people from pandemic, cyclone and flood. But thanks to the premier’s strong and steady hand at the helm, Bangladesh is recovering from these three-pronged disasters.
Early in June, the government took a far-sighted decision of going for gradual reopening by ending a two-month long general holiday. As a result, the economy is getting back on track quickly. Various countries in the world are facing 2nd wave of corona infection even after enforcing a hard lockdown. These countries might have to enforce hard lockdown once again. But Bangladesh seems to have escaped the 2nd wave thanks to our soft-approach and the PM’s calculative steps in maintaining a delicate balance between life and livelihood. We hope the country will fully recover from corona crisis within December under the firm and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. She is being praised across the world for her far-sightedness and pinpoint leadership skills which acted as an engine for Bangladesh’s economic growth. Many foreign leaders hope to emulate her achievements.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is also playing an active role in helping international community. She held a series of video conference with world leaders and head of states of neighbouring countries where she repeatedly called for working together to tackle this global crisis. Moreover, she has committed to contribute 1.5 million US dollars to the SAARC Covid-19 Emergency Fund and 50,000 US dollars to an initiative of European Commission. Considering her overall immense role during this time of global crisis, prestigious US magazine Forbes has highly praised Sheikh Hasina in its April 22 issue.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also wrote an article in The Guardian on June 3 elaborating how Bangladesh successfully tackled super-cyclone Amphan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Titled ‘Fighting cyclones and coronavirus: How we evacuated millions during a pandemic’, the article in the British daily says, “Bangladesh has battled the twin perils of a super-cyclone and Covid-19. We can offer lessons for others facing similar dangers.”
Besides, various international media houses have heaped praise on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her extraordinary leadership in dealing with the pandemic which occupies the present-day world. Strategies adopted by the PM to safeguard the densely populated Bangladesh are being analysed in the world media. Needless to mention that many are considering Bangladesh as a role model.
Last but not least, in a time when developed countries in the world have isolated themselves and sent bank foreign workers in fear of coronavirus infection, Bangladesh continued to host as many as one million Rohingyas. In a word, throughout this coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been working tirelessly to safeguard life and livelihood of people both at home and in the global arena. Therefore, if Nobel Peace Prize is awarded for contributing to global peace, economic progress and poverty alleviation, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should be considered as the foremost contender for this top award.
The writer is Vice-chancellor, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Digital University, Bangladesh