Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fingers crossed for fertliser

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fertiliser distribution in the northern region is being delayed by at least two weeks as the government move to recruit retailers at grassroots level has been largely marred by alleged politicisation of the process and various irregularities.

Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) sources said the distribution could not be started on October 1 as scheduled earlier.

The last date for completing recruitment of 10,629 retailers under 1,600 fertiliser dealers appointed by Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) in 85 municipalities and 1096 unions in 16 northern districts expired on September 30.

The sources said distribution of fertiliser is unlikely to begin before the third week of this month. This would adversely affect production of Rabi crops in the coming season, farmers fear.

Braja Hari Das, DAE deputy director at Rajshahi, said the government adopted the new policy of distributing fertiliser at grassroots level by appointing retailers in every municipality and union.

Unusually large number of applicants against a limited number of retailers required is creating problems in many areas. In Rajshahi alone, 20,000 have applied while 774 retailers are to be recruited, he said.

The DAE official however declined to comment on allegations that the delay is being caused by politicisation of recruitment process and irregularities.

Sources said ruling Awami League (AL) men's interference in recruitment, difference of opinion among lawmakers, chairmen of upazila and union parishads over selection of retailers and protests by disgruntled fertiliser traders are delaying the whole process.

Of the 89 BCIC-appointed dealers in Rajshahi, each so far used to distribute fertiliser through two to three sales agents in each union. But this year the government took the initiative to recruit nine retailers in each union and municipality to ensure that farmers get easy access to fertiliser.

Union level committee, which is entrusted with the task of recruiting retailers, includes four members selected by the lawmaker concerned. And at places things get more complicated due to pressure from the ruling party men and alleged bribery.

Sources said the four 'politically selected' members are influencing the selection committee. Allegations of taking bribes ranging from Tk 20,000 to Tk 50,000 from each intending retailer have also been raised against them.

Some traders who have been in fertiliser business for long complained to Godagari upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) that all the nine recommended retailers in Mohonpur union of the upazila belong to AL.

Contacted, UNO Julia Moyeen said the allegation would be looked into at the upazila level meeting on the selection.

Enamul Haque, a fertiliser trader for 16 years in Tanore upazila, feared that he would not be recruited as retailer this year as many non-trader AL adherents recently procured trade licence following assurance that they would be selected as retailers.

Uzzal Hossain, Matikata union AL joint secretary, alleged that Masaul Islam, president of the union AL, had sought Tk 20,000 from him for his selection as a retailer. "But I managed it on political consideration," he said.

In Bagha upazila, two groups led by Nohu Sarker, upazila Sainik League president, and Babul Islam, upazila Jubo League president, clashed twice on October 3 over selection of retailers in Bajubagha union.

Golam Rabbani, Tanore upazila AL president, rejected the allegations that local AL leaders were collecting Tk 20,000 from every selected retailer for setting up AL office in each union.

"Now, fertiliser traders belonging to our party will be recruited as retailers since they were deprived during BNP-Jamaat rule," he explained.

Wahab Hossain, Tanore municipality Jubo League president, has been selected as a retailer. Eight others selected as retailers in the municipality are also AL men.

Six out of nine selected retailers in Mougachhi union of Mohonpur upazila have no experience in fertiliser trade, locals said.

One of them, Moslem Uddin Mollah, is a potato grower. And he collected a trade licence recently.

Asked about this, he said the local authorities and even the lawmaker recommended him. He is an activist of Jatiya Party, a component of the AL-led ruling coalition.

Contacted, local AL lawmaker Meraj Uddin Mollah however denied any political influence in selecting fertiliser retailers.

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