Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Proposal to Alleviate Poverty in Bangladesh

This has been cross posted at Dristipat, a Bangladeshi human rights blog and forum. The full proposal can be downloaded here. Also see Progressive Bangladesh for two articles on the issue.
The challenge was to propose an idea which would have the greatest impact on poverty alleviation in Bangladesh. After nine months of living and working in the country as volunteers, my colleague Tim Sowula and I realised that the answer was all around us. There are many marginalised groups in Bangladesh; indigenous people, farmers afflicted by the Monga famines, HIV sufferers – but they compromise a tiny minority in a country of over 145 million. When the purpose of intervention is to reach as many people as possible at the lowest end of the social scale, the stand-out constituency is the rickshaw pullers. Rickshaw pullers are the essential cogs in Bangladesh’s machine. And they deserve better.

Therefore, through the nationalisation and rationalisation of non motorised urban transport, we propose to incorporate the two million rickshaw pullers in Bangladesh into the formal economy as public workers within a sustainable, pollution-free, low cost urban transport network. If the rickshaw industry were nationalised, passengers would not simply be paying someone to cycle them around, they would be contributing to Bangladesh’s biggest public service, a bigger transportation economy than Biman and the Railways combined. By formalising this enormous economy – 6% of Bangladesh’s GDP – we believe it would be possible to bring economic and social uplift to rickshaw pullers, bring better public transport to Bangladesh’s cities, and reach nearly 15% of the total population. Our proposal is sweeping in its scope but efficient in its implementation. It is a feasible and equitable way of bringing positive change to some of Bangladesh’s most marginalised communities

If an intervention wishes to make as large a social impact as possible then taking account the combination of the community size, and its economic and social contribution and position, targeting the conditions of rickshaw pullers has to be a priority. As bideshis, it seems to us that considering their importance to Bangladesh’s economic, social and cultural life and how hard they toil towards this, the scarcity of reward enjoyed by rickshaw pullers, their lack of rights and lowly status is astonishing. Our proposal would aim to raise their social status, increase their income and ensuring that this is secure, and rationalise the transport of Bangladesh so that it can be more efficient and effective, which is essential for any country’s wider development.
Crucially, the behaviour of users will have to change very little, and the economic cost to them of the change will be zero. Service users would simply find that what was once a private service is now a public one, and they would need to purchase tokens from local retailers, a viable and already tested system for other services. At the same time, every single person who uses a rickshaw in Bangladesh – almost the entire population will become a stakeholder; will directly contribute to the alleviation of poverty, disadvantage and inequity amongst the people of Bangladesh. The beauty of our proposal lies in its simplicity, and economic sustainability. After living and working here it is obvious that Bangladesh, despite the challenges it faces, has some of the hardest working, most patriotic and determined people in the world. It also has wealth, a fluid cash economy – but like most countries, too much cash ends up concentrated in tiny minority. We have tried, therefore, to devise a scheme that can harness that passion, commitment, and surplus capital with the minimum disruption to the cultural fabric of the nation. Nationwide approximately $4.1 million flows in to the rickshaw economy every day. $2.9m remains the property of the rickshaw pullers. The excess $1.2m is therefore money that, were the rickshaw sector nationalised, could flow back every day in to the Bangladeshi state - $529m per year. Given that the Bangladeshi national budget for 2007-2008 totalled $12.63 billion, with $3.83b allocated under the Annual Development Plan (ADP), our project would effectively introduce an increase of 14% to the ADP. And the cost of implementing our proposal? We estimate this to be around $160m, which set against guaranteed annual revenue of over $500m, is certainly justifiable.

This proposal’s five main objectives are designed to have as wide an impact as is possible without causing disruption to this vital transport network. It will bring economic security to the rickshaw puller with the creation of a regular income stream; it will facilitate the raising of rickshaw pullers’ social status by making them formal public workers with rights and responsibilities; it will generate substantial, sustainable capital for investment into upgrading rickshaw garage infrastructure, bringing health and other social benefits to rickshaw pullers; it will incorporate rickshaw pullers into society by making their garages centres of development activity and education; and it will improve the standard of public transport in Bangladesh’s urban centres.

Whilst an intervention of this scale would require careful management and meticulous organisation, we believe that it is far from utopian, or unrealistic given the challenges faced by the government of Bangladesh. On the contrary, an intervention on this scale could only be managed by an authority with the scope and power of the State, and the political incentives to the government for pursuing an eminently realisable goal are obvious. The legitimacy of any government, especially in a democratic system rests on how it manages the welfare of the people under its charge. We believe that our proposal clearly would make a huge positive contribution to the welfare of nearly 15% of Bangladeshis, specifically those who need it most, and the benefits of adopting our proposal outweigh any potential difficulties.

Our proposal aims to not just improve the educational standard and the physical well-being of the rickshaw puller and their families and dependents, but also socially and psychologically empower the rickshaw puller. They would be freed from their dependency on their mechanical master, the rickshaw, currently their only source of survival and also what entrenches their social immobility. Instead they would be lifted to the level of full Bangladeshi citizens, enjoying rights and benefits, providing a service and carrying responsibilities, paying taxes, and aiding the collection of a vast previously untapped revenue for their nation and its people. By empowering the rickshaw puller and also providing them with material and educational assistance, you are providing them with the opportunity to not only take pride in their work and their status, but also to change it.
Tim Sowula and Tom Wipperman

1 comment:

Ali.mostaque said...

Dear friends I hope you enjoy reading this article and find it informative. It was emailed to a journalist in the UK.

The Prisoner of Dhaka


Well John as always you write well, and you have good intentions no doubt, BUT I think even though the case of Moudud Ahmed is very sad-----no due process for an ex law minister-----the irony!, you have to understand the background of the country, and the over all situation and history, to put it all in context, otherwise it looks like a case of another banana republic doing funny things to its once high and mighty-------and inadvertently reinforces racial stereotypes. This is not a justification of his poor treatment, and at a personal level I do not know him, or his life history, but an attempt and explaining the deeper wider issues which finds him in such a sorry state. As an investigative journalist you would normally be addressing such things anyway, as you have done with many other cases.

First Bangladesh is a British managed puppet state-----and most of the leading political actors from the BNP, Awami League head to London for their political approval or policy ideas, or to invest their loot taken from the poor people of Bangladesh.

A good deal of the state structure is also trained by the British, most notably the army, where each year the best cadets from the army are sent to train at Sandhurst. So the military elite is British orientated. The last time I checked the Bangladesh military was '125,000' strong.

Again, making the same point as before, lets not tut tut righteously, and say quietly to ourselves that this is another case of a Third World banana republic being brutal to its own---and shrug, because it does not explain a lot of background things. As with the above point we should ask who controls the local Third World actors who does these things? To what extent is the brutality in South America, Africa and Asia the random manifestation of local actors or the coordinated actions of Western corporations and government agencies?

As to Britain, what it has done in the UK, most notably in Northern Ireland and in other instances, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan is far worse than what the military regime in Bangladesh is doing, or has ever done. The Bangladesh military is disciplined, and the country does better under military rule.

I myself tried to practice as a Barrister in Bangladesh in 2002, in the Chambers of Tawfik Nawaz? Well known and clean Barrister. I experienced many many difficulties, as a result of which I had to leave the country eventually, after a very short time. Clearly somebody powerful didn't want me working in that country----the BNP was in power then, and the British were as active as ever.

The people of Bangladesh must eventually find their 'freedom' from the clutches of the British neo-imperialists, and the genocides exacted by that imperial power upon the poor wretched people of that country and region.

You have done great work for Bangladesh and her people a you have done for others around the world, and I honor you for that. You were great with Cambodia and East Timur, so lets hear about Bangladesh a little bit more. But permit me to educate you a little about the wider issues, which finds the country in such a state.

These are random factors which have effected adversely the attitude of the British state towards the people of Bangladesh. It is not meant to be a criticism of the British people, or even 99.999% of the population who have better things to preoccupy themselves with, but rather a criticism of the bureaucrats and elite around London who formulate policy which have adversely affected the fortunes of that country:

The 'Black hole of Calcutta' 1757 incident falsely used by the British to justify their conquest of India-----'The dreaded Bengaali' 'The evil conniving slippery Bengali......' 'The Bengaali Babbu know it all' mainly directed as Hindu Bengalis.

The history of British rule in Bengal started off badly and only got worse. Bengal was the 'Pearl of India' in the eighteenth century, and only after 50 years of British rule, after they had plundered it, it became the poorest state in India. In 1769 in order to grow cash crops like Indigo and jute, local farmers were banned from growing rice, and as a result 10 million people died----Warren Hastings the serving governor of Bengal was taken to trial for that crime this but was eventually cleared, of course. Misrule continued in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. In 1943 just when it seemed the Japanese were about to Invade India from the East, the British surrounded the state of Bengal, passed laws prohibiting rice imports from surrounding states, sent agents to buy up the rice in Bengal, and finally ringed the state with police and paramilitaries to forcefully starve and kill 3-6 million people, and thus keep 'control' of the state------on the assumption that there 'might' be rebellion. You understand the callousness and paranoia of the Raj.
The British are color averse, speaking as one who has grown up in the UK. Most Bengalees are brown to dark brown people of Indo-Burmese stock---80%. Racism defined British rule in Bengal, and still does. It is no coincidence that the British empire entirely involved subjugating and exploiting people of color.
Britian is an Islamophobic country traditionally---Crusades etc. It becomes more Islamophobic with the Jews of London and their control of the media, and the creation of Israel.
Bengal was the first major Indian state to experience British rule. With it came Western ideas and knowledge. Put together this with Brahmanical education in high caste Hindus, and what you had was a major advancement of high caste Hindus taking advantage of Western education, and fusing it with their traditional Indian knowledge, from the eighteenth into the nineteenth century. Thus naturally this new breed of educated Bengalis become conscious of themselves and they spear headed the intellectual drive for independence. The political class for India's independence was dominated by Hindu Bengalis, and it irritated the British no end---------just another evidence of the 'dreaded Bengaali'. The Bengaali Hindu political class defeated early British efforts to divide the state of Bengal along religious lines--1905-----1912, using Satyagraha---peaceful resistence. After the British created the Muslim League in Dhaka, East Bengal in 1905. The British in a huff in 1913, took the capitol of the Raj from Calcutta to Delhi, as far away as possible from the 'dreaded Bengaali'.
1857 Indian Liberation war. Of the three armies of the Raj, which controlled India, it was the 139,000 strong Bengal Presidency army which rebelled and fought the British. There after Bengalis and especially Brahmins were banned from being recruited into the Raj army. The Liberation war created further animosity, as there were wide scale fighting and extreme brutality by both sides against armed forces and civilians alike-----Severe British brutality against locals and harsh police tactics, similar to those of the Ulster constabulary continued right up to independence in the states of Bihar, Orissa and BENGAL---three of the most impoverished states of India, and areas of continued rebellion even now by Naxals--it has become part of the culture, inherited from the British.
From 1919--1947, there was renewed armed struggles by armed groups of Bengali fighters against the British. In that time two British governors of Bengal were assassinated, along with many civil servants and police.
The great Indian political leader from Bengal Subhas Bhose who advocated Indian independence through armed struggle, with foreign assistance appeared on the Burmese border in 1944, with an army of 40,000. They were defeated by the allies, but the psychological effect on the British and Indians alike was tremendous, and one of the key factors the British judged it was time to leave India.
The British as part of their divide and rule policy created many frictions in Indian society. One of these was the creation of prejudice and friction between states in India. They deliberately propagated the image that Bengalis as sly, devious, feeble and weak and not be trusted (no noble characteristics and thus not be accorded any respect------Apu redux). This had adverse affects after independence when the Punjabi dominated government of Pakistan took over, where the majority of the people of the new nation of Pakistan were 'Dreaded Bengaaalis' 56%. And so this artificially created state by the British just couldn't gel, and whilst Bengalis couldn't become leader of overall Pakistan, they couldn't even become leaders of their own part of the country-----continuation of colonialism. When the Punjabis finally left East Pakistan in 1971, they left with a vengeance, not something one would characterize with true fellow countrymen and fellow Muslims. The British had educated the Raj army well. See the performance and behavior of the Pakistan army in Baluchistan and FATA.

Sections of the British elite can exhibit the feminine /Jewey character of holding historical grudges over a very long period of time, well past their sell by date.The East India Company was a Jewish run operation, and the Rothschild's and the Jews basically financed the British empire, and were its main beneficiary. Around 3,000 Jew/gentile families around London, exemplified by the cities wealth did well out of the British empire, whilst the rest of the British population did the grunt work, and superficial flag waving. This historical grudge is best exemplified by the hatred that is directed by London towards Russia, with the help of the Rothschilds tools in Washington. They with their American agents financed the Russian Communist revolution which claimed the lives of up to 40 million people in that region. But like a psychopath who hates their victims---------they are not done yet; they want more. Its irrational hatred because all the Russians are asking for is a little bit of dignity, fair treatment and to be recognized for what they are-------------------but no! no! damn it no!

There are no Bengalis living in the UK--------true to this historical grudge. The 300,000 'Bangladeshis' that are living in the UK are technically ASSAMESE. They over overwhelmingly come from the Syhlet district of Bangladesh which in 1947 was part of ASSAM, but was latched on to East Bengal------East Pakistan, because of its Muslim majority. The 'Bangladeshis' who live in the UK are at the bottom of British society living in some of the worst houses, enjoying living standards below that of all other ethnic communities including Africans. They subsist in the country by running their private economy consisting of restaurants. The unemployment rate is high; they live in inner city ghetto's and their education is poor. Drugs and prostitution has been introduced into the community by state institutions, since the early nineties, as way to help weaken the community.

Human nature is random and over overwhelmingly irrational, contrary to the modern myth of the rational Western man----- a load of baloney. It was just bad luck that Mughal India was the richest nation on earth, and BENGAL its richest part. This reputation attracted the wrong crowd criminals from London aka 'The East India company'----------and since 1757 for Bengal it has been one unremitting bad experience. This is a cautionary tale to all the nations on earth about London, its Jews and the Rothschild's. All nations have a duty to themselves to find out which companies are their fronts, from the UK, Holland and the USA, and then avoid doing business with them. These people don't believe in live and let live, sharing wealth, and have been a source of major problems for Europe in the nineteenth century, and the world in the twentieth century. Since they have never been held to account, so they continue with business as usual--------because educated people in the know fear to question this fact. You see its not politically correct.
Paranoia, the very serious business of empire, power, military conquest has its own set of logic, separate from the normal rational world.
Humans are creatures of habit, and once a trend is set, humans don't like to change them that easily. British rule was bad from the beginning in Bengal, and it has continued since.

Because of these factors, the country has experienced many problems since 1947:

The very first governor of East Pakistan was a British Civil servant, because the political leadership of the country was marginalized, or not allowed entry from India, whilst the British consolidated their new artificially created country---Pakistan, the perennially failed state managed by the UK/USA.
Then West Pakistanis ran East Pakistan like a colony, with all its heads being non-Bengalis, right up to 1971. This is stuff you are well familiar with, so I won't go over this too much except to say that during British rule of the sub-continent, they encouraged differences between the various states. So the 'marshal race' Punjabis who were recruited into the Raj army were indoctrinated into hating/looking down on Bengalis.
Then there was the 1971 war, and all the devastation that came with that.
The 1971 December 13th massacre of the 270 Dhaka intellectuals of professors, journalists and artists seems on the surface like a bog standard ISI covert op. using Islamic fundamentalists nutjobs, but when you look at the issue in greater depth (Channel 4 did an excellent documentary on this event in 1997, and I encourage you to watch it) it looks like the orders came from the ISI masters in London. Most of the Islamic fundamentalists who did the dirty deed, including their leader went on to live in London, and ran a very large Mosque in the East End, until the channel 4 program exposed them. The leader of the group, Moinuddin Khan was invited to 10 Downing street and shook hands with the PM, John Major. I hope John you do a thorough investigative report of the links between the British state, with Islamic fundamentalists going back to the last century, and how local intelligence agencies use such people, in Third World societies. It ties in with Australia, especially under Howard.

From 1972-75 Bangladesh went through a very difficult period of destabilization, and an eventual coup, backed by the USA overtly, and the UK covertly. John I don't know how much you are into elite 'conspiracies', but if you are into the NWO thing, and that the Rothschilds of London are the main operators, and people like Brzezinski and Kissinger their tools, then you will understand the picture of why Shiekh Mujib ur Rahman was invited to the UK in 1975, and then upon his return when all the pieces for the coup were set, the army massacred his entire family including a child of a few years. That just about sums them up doesn't it? Without being too narrow, if you really are into explaining the problems of Third World societies then all you have to do is look at the 'The City' and the Rothschild's, whilst developing a strong conscience saying that 'I'm not anti-Semitic'----merely objective, looking at cause and effect.

Then General Zia ul Rahman.1975--81...............some stability and development. He himself was not corrupt but he did out of insecurity allow corrupt men into his cabinet----setting a bad example for future democratic governments. He armed and politicized the students unions---very very dangerous. He allowed British military trainers into the country after an absence of 30 years in 1977----unforgivable, on the advice of the Callaghan Labor government! He focused development of the nation on a Western model not suitable for Bangladesh from the 1950's, when instead he should have invested heavily into infrastructure; education; export and industry----in addition focus on institution building of the bureaucratic center---strong anti-corrupt efficient state institutions----the secret of Singapore's success, and not democracy. He squandered the huge amounts of help the Carter administration gave him---maybe we should not expect too much from a military man with minimal education. Relations deteriorated with India during his tenure. He was invited to the UK on a state visit, whilst in the UK the pieces for the coup was fixed by the UK, and he was killed upon his return in 1981 by the UK. Indira Gandhi partly got the blame!
General Ershad 1982-90. Not corrupt, built up the countries infrastructure, and some development took place. He was a womanizer, but not a major problem all things considered. Lost power in 1990, after a popular uprising.
Since then we have had the two women, in democracy constantly bickering about the past, with no real development.

Obviously Bangladeshis can't go through history blaming their national problems on the British significant as it has been, but sooner or later they have to take matters into their own hands. With a population of 150 million, rising to 350 million by 2050, sooner the better.


Mostaque A Ali.