A mega plan to develop villages to have a range of civic amenities and growth centres around the country is on the drawing board.
The "My Village My Town" project will include road communication, telecommunication including Internet connectivity, health centres and sanitation and waste management among other targets, according to the work plan drafted by the Local Government Division (LGD) of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives.
An initial expenditure of Tk1.5 trillion has been estimated in the work plan to be implemented by this ministry alone.
As a first step towards executing this mega plan, the government has also decided to develop 15 villages as model villages on a pilot basis. Experience gathered from the pilot programme is expected to facilitate the expansion of modern civic amenities in other villages of the country.
Eight of the 15 model villages will be in eight divisions of the country.
The remaining seven will be in the haor, coastal, hilly, char, barind, and beel areas and one next to an economic zone. Since it is very difficult to implement development activities in these areas, the implementation of model villages there will make the implementation of the rural development master plan much easier.
Apart from economic activities, social and cultural aspects will also get importance in building the model villages.
According to the government's announcement, all facilities including village communication and market infrastructure, modern health services, quality education, safe drinking water, information technology facilities and high-speed Internet, improved sewerage and waste management, community space and recreation, banking, rural resources, power and energy supply, and modernisation and mechanisation of agriculture will be ensured in the model villages.
Various ministries and departments of the government have already proposed 116 projects to implement the government's plan to extend modern urban facilities to every village.
Besides, a number of new projects will be taken based on a survey being conducted by the local government ministry. The final estimation can be made once the surveys are complete.
The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) is conducting 36 feasibility studies at a total cost of Tk28 crore to expand the civic facilities to the villages. The surveys are expected to be completed by January next year.
As some 237 ongoing projects of different ministries and departments are compatible with the goal of "My Village My Town", the government has included those projects in this plan.
If urban facilities are expanded to rural areas and rural youth and agro-entrepreneurs are brought under training as promised by the ruling party in its election manifesto, productive employment opportunities will be created, the government expects.
Besides, the prospects of light industries are also expected to be brighter, as a result of which rural people will be less inclined towards migration to urban centres.
All relevant ministries and departments of the government will work to build the model villages. However, the LGED under the Local Government Division will take the lead in setting up the model villages.
LGED officials said the list of the model villages would be finalised by an inter-ministerial committee this month. The committee is headed by the Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives Minister Tajul Islam.
Soon after that, various agencies including the LGED, the Public Health Engineering Department, the Cooperatives Department and the Ministry of Agriculture will start the work for implementing the pilot project. Many of these organisations have already started preparatory work in this regard, they added.
When asked, Minister Tajul Islam said various ministries and departments are working to implement the "My Village My Town" project and that new projects are being taken up through surveys.
The inter-ministerial committee is discussing new projects and new ideas every two months, he mentioned, adding work is on to prepare a master plan for the implementation of the "My Village My Town" project.
He further said the authorities have instructed all the ministries and departments concerned to formulate a realistic action plan in the light of Awami League's election manifesto for the successful execution of the "My Village My Town" plan.
Local government officials said the country's population could reach 22 crore in 2041.
Agricultural land in the country is currently depleting at an annual rate of 0.5%-1% and a large part of this is being converted to residential use, they mentioned, adding if this trend continues, food security will be disrupted and rural biodiversity will be destroyed.
Plans will be made to build a compact township with multi-storey buildings to ensure all civic amenities in populated villages, they continued, this will significantly reduce the construction and maintenance cost of infrastructures including road communication and electricity. Villages will be easily flood-free, they further added.
"If there are schools and hospitals in such model villages, education and health services could be provided easily. Agricultural land will be protected and, in the long run, the country will remain liveable."
For this reason, plans have been taken to explore the feasibility of rural housing or compact housing, the officials said.
Besides, an action plan has been adopted to devise development plans for all upazilas by 2030.
Experts said the model village project of the government will help villagers to get city-like facilities and it will reduce pressure on the cities.
Saima Haque Bidisha, research director of the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (Sanem), stressed a holistic approach to take all civic amenities to the villages. "We have to go step by step through decentralisation.
"All the facilities available in cities including employment opportunities, health and education must be ensured at the district level first. After that, these facilities will have to be taken to the upazila level. And that's how we can get closer to establishing model villages."
Meanwhile, various government agencies are carrying out research work for the implementation of the "My Village My Town" programme. Various organisations including the LGED, the Department of Agricultural Extension, the Rural Electrification Board and the Rural Development Academy (RDA) Bogura are working in this regard.
15 model villages of LGED
Referring to the 36 feasibility studies being conducted by the LGED for the 15 pilot model villages, Abul Monzur Md Sadeque, director of the feasibility study project, said, "Experts are conducting the surveys on all types of villages in the country. They are trying to figure out what the model village would look like, for example, in the haor areas or in the char areas.
"These areas do not have any communication system except waterways. The survey report will try to find the ways to deliver all the civic amenities there," he said.
The reports will also include the ways to ensure quality education, modern medical services and employment in the model villages.
Monzur Sadeque said, "The 15 villages that will be developed as model villages have been initially identified. Once the survey is completed, it will be possible to start work on the pilot project in the next six months. After that, in stages, all the villages of the country will be developed as model villages."
Bangabandhu Model Village of the Department of Cooperatives
The Department of Cooperatives under Rural Development and Cooperatives Division has proposed to develop 10 villages as Bangabandhu Model Village as a pilot project. If the pilot project is successful, similar model villages will be set up in all the villages of the country.
The department has made the proposal to celebrate the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. A proposal of Tk49.93 crore has already been sent to the Planning Commission in this regard. The project is targeted for completion in 2024.
Initially, the project will provide 17 types of civic amenities including health, education, electricity and ICT etc.
According to the Department of Cooperatives, apart from cooperative farming, a fish and dairy farm will be set up in each village. For this, a cooperative society of 500 members will be formed in each village. The members of the cooperative will be trained. The government will also subsidise buying two tractors and transplanters and one harvester in each village. The members of the cooperative society will pay 30% of the agricultural machinery purchase and the remaining 70% will be paid from the project fund.
The department said two-cow models for hybrid cattle rearing will be introduced in each model village for which the project will provide a special loan facility. If the project is implemented, the agricultural production in the village would increase by 25%.
The pilot project proposed to build a community building in each village where there will be small-scale storage for local products.
The products produced by the members of the cooperative will be marketed with their own brand name. Each cooperative society will be linked with the e-commerce platform of the department of cooperatives.
According to the proposal, a fund of Tk2 crore will be set up for each cooperative society from where members would be able to take interest-free loans up to a maximum of Tk50,000. However, entrepreneurs in the agriculture processing and food processing sectors would get loans up to Tk2 lakh with a 3% service charge. Instalment repayment will start six months after taking the loan.
The pilot project has selected 10 villages – Patgati and Sriramkandi in Tungipara, Gopalganj; Charbhaga Miyarchar in Vedarganj, Shariatpur; Honabad in Gournadi, Barishal; Char Commissioner village of Muladi, Barishal; Charvatiani of Madarganj, Jamalpur; Pompao of Manoharganj, Cumilla; Dungria of Sunamganj; Parala of Manirampur, Jashore; and Ratia village of Mithapukur, Rangpur.
The project is expected to reduce poverty in the model villages by 7%.
Dr Md Harun-or-Rashid Biswas, registrar and director-general of the Department of Cooperatives said, "Poverty rate has increased in the villages due to the pandemic. So it will not be possible to reduce the poverty rate as per the target of the project. However, the project would be amended if needed."
He said that other government departments would also need to come forward for the implementation of the project.
Model villages in haor area by LGED
The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) wants to set up model villages under the "Haor Region Infrastructure and Livelihood Development" project. The project is developing two model villages – Chandergaon of Bismambar in Sunamganj and Hamidpalli of Mithamin in Kishoreganj.
The survey work in Chandergaon village has already been completed. People concerned said the project work will start soon in the selected villages.
Gopal Chandra Sarker, superintending engineer (Current Charge) and project director of the Haor Infrastructure and livelihood Improvement Project, said, "Road communication is a big problem in the haor areas. We need to construct roads in such a way that people can use them all through the year. Everything will be designed according to the concept paper."
"There will be various trainings to increase the employment and income of the rural people. Besides, there will be loan programmes for various sectors including dairy farms and poultry farms. No one in the model village will be unemployed," he added.
Meanwhile, there is a doubt about implementing the project in the Hamidpalli village because of the time limit of the project which is only one year, said project officials.
The fisheries village project under the Department of Fisheries has already progressed in the Dakshin Bishiura village of Netrokona Sadar, and Halisaar in Naria of Shariatpur.
The project started in February 2020 on the occasion of Mujib Year. As per the project, the Department of Fisheries has started scientific fish farming in 202 ponds in South Bishiura village. In the last year, the village has produced fish worth around Tk3 crore. The department has finished all the preparation for fish farming in the Halisaar village.
According to fisheries department officials, the main reason behind choosing the village of Halisaar in Naria is that the village is surrounded by the Padma River. It is a hilsa inhabited area. Most of the villagers are fishermen. There is also a big fish market here.
Officials said that from next December, this village will be an ideal fishing village for the fishermen of the country.