Steel-body boats have radically changed the economic situation of the people of Ranidia – a quiet, green village on the south bank of the River Chetra, a tributary of the Titas.
Residents of the village are now earning around Tk4.5 crore per month just by renting boats. But, just three decades ago, the people of this remote village under Sarail upazila in Brahmanbaria spent their days in economic misery.
Steel-body boats have given Ranidia economic prosperity as well as social status. Most of the families in the village now have buildings.
About 10,000 people live in Ranidia. Agriculture was once the only source of livelihood for people of this village. Apart from this, some relatively well-to-do families used to trade products at Aruail Bazar. But, from the nineties, the days began to change for the people of Ranidia. Some of the villagers hired wooden boats to transport various goods including: stone, coal, rod-cement, and sand.
Gradually, the boat rental business became profitable and many more villagers started investing in boats. At one point, wooden boats were replaced with steel boats. Now following the economically self-sufficient Ranidia, residents of other nearby villages are also starting the boat rental business.
According to the local boat owners' association, building boats, the people of Ranidia first started transporting goods in 1991. The boats here transport goods by river routes at different parts of the country including Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet.
At first some families in the village started renting wooden boats, but now the locals are making steel-body boats. The cost of building this boat varies from Tk50 lakh to Tk1 crore.
Now the boats are built on both sides of the rivers Titas and Chetra, adjacent to Aruail market. It takes three months to build small boats and six months to build big ones.
Because of the high cost, several families build a boat together. However, some families invest in them alone.
At present, 400 boats are being chartered from different villages of Aruail union. There are 300 boats in Ranidia village. The income from each boat is at least one-and-a-half lakh taka per month. As such, the monthly income of Ranidia village from this business of renting boats is around Tk4.5 crore. Another 100-and-a-half crore taka is earned from 100 boats in other villages.
Not only has Ranidia's image changed with the boat rental business, but at least 2,500 unemployed youths from Ranidia and surrounding villages have been employed. Each boat employs six to seven young men.
Md Rubel, a boatmaker from Kakaria village in Aruail union, said he has been building steel-body boats for about 10 years. Now he is employed in his own village. He earns Tk15,000-Tk16,000 per month by making boats. He said other workers also earn such amounts.
Abu Taleb, a resident of Ranidia village and a boat owner, said, "I had a pharmacy business in Aruail Bazar. But my income was limited. Later I started investing in boats. Now I have two steel-body boats. I am earning a good income with the two boats. Financially, I am now self-sufficient."
Chayedur Rahman, another boat owner and former UP member of Ranidia village, said that 20-30 years ago, Ranidia was completely dependent on agriculture. The people of the village used to make a living by farming. But now everyone is financially prosperous through the boat renting business.
He said that the people of Ranidia village are highly respected by the people of other surrounding villages as they are economically prosperous.
Local social worker Mansoor Ali said, "The image I saw of Ranidia village 20 years ago is no more. The quality of life of the people of the area has improved a lot due to the steel-body boats. The big fish in the market is now bought by the people of Ranidia."
General Secretary of the local Steel-Body Boat Owners' Association Rehan Uddin said, "We have 400 boats. Of these, Ranidia has 300 boats. These boats are used to transport goods to different parts of the country. Millions of taka come from this boat rental business every month."
"Additionally, we have given jobs to many unemployed youths in boats. Owners, workers and artisans have become self-sufficient through this boat business," he continued.
Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, chairman of Aruail Union Parishad, said, "People of different professions live in Ranidia village. Most of these people were engaged in agriculture. Ranidia village is now economically prosperous through renting steel-body boats."