The state-owned Sylhet Textile Mills has been lying abandoned for 19 years thanks to the indecision of the government on reopening the factory or selling it to the private sector.
Machinery of the industrial unit worth several crores of taka has been damaged and there is an allegation that much of the equipment has been stolen.
Due to constant losses, the mill was shut down in 1991 during the tenure of the BNP government. After assuming power in 1996, the Awami League government re-launched the mill. When BNP regained power in 2001, the mill was closed again.
In 2018, Bangladesh Textile Mills Corporation (BTMC) last took initiative to reopen the mill. However, that initiative has stalled.
The process of selling it also came to a halt halfway although the Privatization Commission had taken initiative to hand over ownership of the mills to the private sector.
In 2003, the authorities of the Bangladesh Textile Mills Corporation sent the remaining 773 workers into retirement without paying their dues. The BTMC still owes workers about Tk7 crore from the welfare fund.
Sources said workers placed memorandums multiple times with local MPs and also the then-finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith demanding the re-launch of the textile mill when Awami League formed government in 2008. Later, Muhith and the then-labour minister Dilip Barua separately visited the mill.
In 2012, a cabinet meeting on economic issues decided to privatise the mill. As per this decision, the mill came under the control of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA).
Then in 2013, BIDA took initiative to sell the mill. Privatization Commission member Mohammad Golam Quddus, at a meeting held at the Sylhet Chamber on 7 December, 2013, announced the sale of the mill. At that time, the price of the land and mill's assets was estimated at Tk266 crore.
The Bangladesh Textile Mill Corporation (BTMC) sources said in a meeting on 21 August, 2014, the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Ministry of Textiles and Jute recommended steps be taken to bring back mills and all the property of the textile and jute sector under the ministry.
On the basis of this recommendation, the ministry took initiative to bring closed mills under its control and reopen them. However, they also failed to reopen the mill.
Later, on 19 November, 2018, an inter-ministerial meeting, presided over by Finance Minister AMA Muhith, decided to reopen 16 mills, including the Sylhet Textile Mill. But this initiative has also remained halted.
Sources said two tenders were also called for the sale of the mill during the last BNP-led government. But the first round tender was canceled due to errors in the paperwork. The second phase did not go ahead due to a poor bid amount.
Sylhet Textile Mills sources said the mill had been established in 1978 in a bid to expand the industry in the Sylhet region. Financed by France, the Asian Development Bank and the International Development Association – a wing of the World Bank – the construction of the mill was completed in the financial year 1980-81.
The mill went into production in June 1983 on a trial basis. In the next few years, the mill saw a profit, but the losses multiplied gradually due to mismanagement.
Sylhet Textile Mill Workers Union President Manik Mia and General Secretary Dewan Sharafat Ali said despite assurances that the textile mill would be reopened, after several visits by senior officials – including various ministers – this has not materialised.
Sylhet Textile Mill in-Charge AMD Alam Khan said the machinery of the mill has started to rust as the mill has been closed for a long time. Valuable machines are now out of service. Renovation of the equipment is not possible due to a lack of funds.
The higher authorities will decide whether the mill will be reopened or not, he added.