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Pandemic halts progress of Sheikh Hasina Tantpalli project

Mega plan to revive weaving industry in jeopardy, as only 2.81% construction completed

Bangladesh Handloom Board (BHB)'s vision to revive the dwindling weaving industry with the Sheikh Hasina Tantpalli (Sheikh Hasina Handloom Village) in Madaripur and Shariatpur districts has reached a roadblock, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project was taken by the BHB to improve the livelihood of economically poor weavers in the country, as envisioned by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said Gazi Md Rezaul Karim, member  (planning & implementation) of the BHB, at an initial cost of Tk253.30 crore.

Later the project cost was revised at Tk307.45 crore as land acquisition expenses shot up, according to the project paper.

Sources said 12% of the first phase of the project has been completed, with disbursement of 2.81% of the project cost, according to the latest review of the board.

According to the handloom census of Bangladesh Handloom Board in 2017, the number of handlooms stood at 343,085 with 610,903 weavers.

The handloom census 2018 has been in progress. As the handloom sector is facing stiff competition to survive in the open market, the sector needs modernization, Md Rezaul Karim suggested.

According to a survey of BHB in 2017, a total of 129,815 handlooms remained closed. 

The handloom sector produces 68 crore metres of fabrics, which meet 40% of local apparel demands.

The BHB identified lack of capital, shortage of yarns and workers and stockpile of goods against the backdrop of poor marketing strategy, as key reasons behind a stagnating sector.

Under the project, high quality educational institutions, modern dormitories and hospitals will be constructed to ensure better livelihood of weavers. The project also aims to rehabilitate weavers living in inhuman conditions at Mirpur, said a top BHB official.

At a glance

The Benarasi saree, whose history dates back to the Mughal rule in the 16th century, has its origin in Benaras, a northern Indian city. In Bangladesh, Muslims who migrated from Benaras, started making Benarasi sarees in Mohammadpur and Mirpur in Dhaka in 1950.

The tradition of making these sarees passed on from one generation to the other.

This art was revived soon after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 when about 370 non-Bengali families from Benaras, presently Varanasi, came to Bangladesh.

Among them, about 200 families settled in the Mirpur area of Dhaka and started making Benarasi sarees.

Later, more people got involved with this handloom industry. As the tradition spread, the entire area came to be known as Mirpur Benarasi Palli, located on the north-western edge of the capital. The business flourished after liberation in 1971 as demand picked up.

In 2000, the number of weavers in producing Banarasi sarees stood at 12,000 and now the number has come down to 8,000, sources said.

In the past, the spinning thread for handloom machines was made in the charka (spinning wheel) by means of a spindle. Now that thread is produced abundantly in machines, the charkas have become extinct. 

The cotton mills have nearly dealt a final blow to the occupation of weaving. 

Weavers at present produce mainly the coarse and cheap items of day to day use like the bathing towels, men's undergarment for the upper portion of the body, men's long skirts for day to day use, and saris.

Project update

In the first phase of the project (July 2018 - June 2022), the district administrations acquired some 120 acres of land – 59.73 acres in the Jajira upazila in Shariatpur and 60 acres in the Shibchar upazila in Madaripur.

At present, land-filling is going on for land development which will be followed by infrastructure works in the second phase at Tk307.45 crore.

Padma bridge is likely to open in June 2022 that will also give an impetus to the completion of the project,'' said a top official.

Project Director Jahangir Ali Khan said that land acquisition had been completed. At present, land development and construction of boundary walls are going on.

He expects that the work is likely to be completed within the revised period in spite of the delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the end of current work, a consulting company will come up with a master plan, and the work on the second phase will start as soon as the plan is passed by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec).

Jahangir Ali further said under the project weavers will be given all kinds of facilities – from weaving cloth to selling those.

Besides, there will be residential buildings, weaving sheds, dormitories, rest houses, cyber cafes, and power substations for the weavers.

There are also plans to set up weaving haats (market) two days a week in the loom village for displaying and selling all kinds of raw materials including cotton. Weavers across the country will be organised with the help of the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation, giving priority to those who are in dire straits, he added.

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