Twenty years back, Swapan Mondol, a resident of Ranirhat area of Sherpur, Bagura, started working in his father's shop with a few grocery items. Today, the forty-three year old man has three employees to run his business. He has also managed to buy seven bighas of rice farm.
Swapan points to the paved road next to his shop built by the LGED that eventually changed his life and of many others. The road was part of a plan to build growth centres for boosting rural economies and it seems the plan is succeeding so far. And the government plans to add more such centres and upgrade some growth centres to townships.
My Village My City project changing rural areas
This change of pace for the market grew out of the government's project, My Village My City, under the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED).
Turning haats, rural weekly markets, to growth centres — which includes a shed with four stalls for female sellers, separate stalls for meat, fish, and vegetables, a slaughterhouse, a tube-well for clean water, electric pump and water tank, an office for the market management committee, concrete pavements inside the market, and separate toilets for men and women — is how the government hopes to bring dynamism to the rural economy and create jobs along the way.
700 hat-bazaars to become growth centres
Out of the newly listed 8,264 hat-bazaars, 700 are to be upgraded to growth centres based on their importance, some on a priority basis.
Besides, expansion and modernisation of the existing 1,689 growth centres has also been proposed in a survey report titled "Hat-Bazar Database, Selection and Development of New Growth Centers and Urban Centers Nationwide".
Some 236 existing growth centres will also be turned into townships (urban centres). Besides, further expansion of 448 growth centres has been proposed on a priority basis.
LGED officials said the government had promised to extend the benefits of the city to the villages.
My Village, My City Project Director Monzur Sadeque said these growth centres were selected in the 1990s.
Development of the centres and connecting those with quality roads has led to significant progress in the rural economy, he said, adding it was necessary to increase the number of such centres across the country to ensure continued development.
He also said it would not be an exaggeration to say that bazaars are the centres of rural transformation in Bangladesh.
In this process, small bazaars are transformed into big ones or become suitable for growth centres due to the increase in demand.
Large growth centres are transformed into smaller cities through the expansion of economic activity.
For example, it has been proposed to develop Badarkhali Bazar in Chakoria, which is close to the power pub in Maheshkhali.
Taltali Bazar in Barguna will also grow, fed by coal-based power, while other areas have been marked for their proximity to land ports and economic zones.
From growth centres to cities
According to LGED officials, many growth centres are turning into cities due to increased economic activity, although the urbanisation was haphazard.
Apart from this, the government is working on setting up several mega projects and economic zones across the country. Future townships will be developed in these areas. For this reason, it is necessary to plan development based on these potential growth centres from now on.
Officials said, apart from the city centres, the existing 448 growth centres will see investments of Tk3-5 crore each.
The new 700 centres proposed in the study were selected in two ways — one on economic efficiency and the other on equity.
Markets in areas that are lagging behind in terms of economic activity, or in sparsely populated or remote areas are excluded on the basis of volume of market transaction, revenue generated from leases, etc.
There are proposals to elevate some markets to growth centres on the basis of fairness. Although they have low transaction volume, many rural people depend on them. These markets will contribute to poverty alleviation and reduce regional disparities.
According to the survey report, 411 growth centres listed in the 1990s have lost economic importance, turned into small bazaars, or have been dissolved due to river erosion or other reasons.
Such growth centres include Badurtala Hat in Barisal, Koter Hat in Chandpur, Char Pauli Bazar in Tangail, and Alimuddin Hat in Bhola.
According to the study report, it is important to carry out the growth centre selection process at least once every ten years and review the efficiency of older growth centres.
If we want planned cities, market oriented planning should be given importance. In this case, conversion of housing and other land use in and around the hat-bazar needs to be covered in the plan, the report said.
More growth centres around economic zones planned
In the Eighth Fifth Annual Plan of the government, more and more growth centres have been set up around the economic zones to coordinate the development process and create more jobs.
The government's long-term plan also states that special types of growth centres will be established to strengthen the marketing of special products from those areas, such as mangoes, watermelons, vegetables, guavas etc.
Initiatives will be taken to provide e-commerce services, agent banking facilities, cold storage facilities and value chain systems for food processing and agricultural products in the growth centres.
Saima Haque Bidisha, research director of the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem), said growth centres have an important role in the rural economy.
However, those should be developed to provide employment opportunities in the villages.
In addition to increasing production in agro-centric economies, emphasis should be placed on agro-based industries. If this is done, employment and growth will increase through agriculture.
"If the local businessmen and youth society are connected with the big industrial establishments, employment opportunities will be created in the villages. Besides, farmers should be assured of fertiliser, seed, transportation, and warehouse facilities. That's when growth centres will become more valuable," she said.
Rural growth will lessen pressure on cities
According to the LGED study report, without higher yields in rural agriculture, it will not be possible to support the food security of this growing urban population and the agro-based forward-linkage industries.
"Ensuring the supply of agricultural products from the village economy is not only essential for the village but also for the existence of the city. As a result, villages and village productivity will become more important as urbanisation increases. In return, if the rural economy is strong and rural employment is assured, the cities will not be plagued by the influx of people moving from the villages to the cities in search of work.
"At the same time, we will have happy and prosperous villages. In this way, the realisation of the dream of 'My Village-My City' will be easy and fast. In this way we can move from rural-urban divide to sustainable rural-urban interaction and prosperity," the report said.
In 1979-80, the Planning Commission listed 972 growth centres through a survey for the first time in the country.
A total of 1400 growth centres were listed in the 1989 detailed survey.
At that time, apart from revenue, sales volume, the population of the area of influence, the size of the area, the number of unions in the police station, the number of growth centres and the distance between two growth centres were considered.
A further 700 growth centres were listed, with some new indices added to the earlier 1992 indices.
Officials of LGED said that only after the listing in the 80s, the government focused on the development of such centres.
At that time, apart from market infrastructure, importance was given to the construction of various types of roads to connect growth centres, which facilitated the marketing of rural agricultural products which, in turn, increased the interest of farmers in agricultural production.
Agricultural research also plays a major role in food production for this transformation of the agricultural sector.