A couple of days earlier, Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handed over 53,340 houses to the landless and homeless families as a part of her government’s pledge to end homelessness in the country. Here it should be mentioned that on January 23, over 69,904 homeless and landless families also received houses from the prime minister under the first phase of the project on the occasion of the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It is scheduled that 100,000 more houses will be given by December to rehabilitate the country's homeless people. The distributed houses are tin-shed pucca houses on two decimals of land. It is reported that each family is given the assets worth Taka 2.6 lakh, as the value of two-decimal land is on an average Taka 50,000. The construction cost of every house is nearly Tk 2 lakh, while the cost of utility connection (electricity and gas) is around Tk 10,000. The government undertook the Ashrayan project under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office and a total of 373,562 houses have so far been given to homeless and landless families under the Ashrayan project. The Ashrayan project also supports the landless and homeless families through income generating activities like handicrafts, poultry, pisciculture, gardening, agriculture, cattle rearing, etc. This is just one of the many notable initiatives of the current government striving for improving the lives of the poor and the marginalised. However, the social safety net programs received a great leap forward (1998) during the first tenure of the Awami League Government after the restoration of democracy in the early 90s of the last century. Some of the important initiatives include old age allowance, widow and destitute women allowance; maternity allowance for poor mothers; lactating mother assistance program; allowance for the financially insolvent disabled citizens, stipend for the disabled students, a health program to provide free physiotherapy and other treatments to the disabled people, and support to non-government orphanages. There is provision for open market sale of food items for low income people; the Vulnerable Group Development Program, Vulnerable Group Feeding Program and Gratuitous Relief Program provide food assistance and employment generation opportunities. There is also ‘One House One Farm’ project for near landless households to develop family farms centering on fisheries, poultry, cattle rearing, nursery, kitchen and vegetable gardening. The Comprehensive Village Development Program helps the poor in the poverty stricken areas with self-employment.
Currently, the entire world including Bangladesh is reeling under the all- encompassing devastating Coronavirus led pandemic. The economic activities came to a standstill and peoples’ lives and livelihoods are under constant threat. The government of Bangladesh has undertaken a number of incentive packages to the tune of 1.30 lac crores of Taka to save the economy and the people. In the budget for the year 2021-22, the government has proposed to allocate Taka 1,07,614crore for the social safety net programs. The proposed amount is 17.83 percent of the total budget and 3.11 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Here it should be pointed out that for the first time, the budgetary allocation meant for the poor and vulnerable crossed Taka 1 lakh crore. It was Tk 95,574 crore in last year's revised budget. It is envisaged that the funds will be used to implement and expand the coverage of various social security programs. It was mentioned that from the next fiscal year, the 100 per cent coverage of the old age allowance holders will be extended to 150 upazilas. This will add more new beneficiaries with additional allocation. The beneficiaries in other categories will increase substantially in the coming years.Here it needs to be mentioned that Bangladesh was established with the sacrifices of millions of lives to establish an egalitarian society. Towards that end, the Constitution of the country framed just within a year of independence included the fundamentals of the state policy to translate the hopes and aspirations of the people of the country. The Part II of the Constitution that includes the Fundamental Principles of State policy states among others that ‘It shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people, with a view to securing to its citizens –(a) the provision of the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care; (d) the right to social security, that is to say, to public assistance in cases of undeserved want arising from unemployment, illness or disablement, or suffered by widows or orphans or in old age, or in other such cases’. In the light of the provisions of the Constitution, Bangabandgu’s government just after the liberation brought back and rehabilitated about 10 million refugees those went to India to save their lives from the atrocities of the Pakistani occupation forces. Several other measures were taken during those days to rehabilitate others suffered during the liberation war under some form of social safety net programs. The ever increasing coverage of the different safety net programs speaks of the desire and intention of the county and especially of the current government that we are relentlessly trying to establish a caring society with our meager or limited resources especially for the poor and marginalized citizens of the country. Here it needs to be pointed out that other initiatives are on to bring out people from the clutches of poverty. In this area Bangladesh has also registered impressive progress though now to some extent reversed due to the negative impacts of the pandemic in all walks of lives. However, with the picking up of the economic activities the country will be able to reduce poverty substantially in the coming years.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka