Bangladesh’s Blue Economy Cell falters; no progress in 4 yrs

Four years have elapsed since the Blue Economy Cell (BEC) was formed under the Energy and Mineral Resources Division (EMRD) to explore and exploit potentials in Bangladesh’s maritime areas, but the body has hardly been able to make any ‘breakthrough’ so far.

Official sources said the BEC is neither equipped with required manpower nor it was given any financial support to do any vital work.

As a result, they said, the BEC’s activities are now confined to just holding meetings.

After the settlement of maritime disputes with both India and Myanmar, the government set up BEC in June 2016 and it was formally launched as a new body in January 2017, they said.

As per its main target, the BEC was supposed to coordinate the initiatives of different ministries to explore and exploit the untapped resources in the country’s maritime areas, said a BEC official wishing to remain anonymous.

He said the government approved 25 posts for temporary administrative set-up with an additional secretary as its head.

“So far, only 13 posts have been filled with people from different ministries on deputation,” said Zakir Hossain, the head of the BEC.

“No fund is allocated through the national budget for us to take any project,” said another top official of the BEC.

They said lack of manpower is the organisation’s main problem. “More importantly, other entities hardly listen to its any request since it is a small cell under the EMRD,” he said.

In this situation, the EMRD, under the Ministry of Power, Energy, and Mineral Resources, made the proposal last year to the PMO to take it as its own body, the official sources added.

But the PMO has turned down the proposal and instructed the EMRD to continue with the BEC under the current nature, said Dr Md Sher Ali, a joint secretary at the EMRD.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary standing committee on the Ministry of Power, Energy, and Mineral Resources has recommended turning the BEC into an authority giving more administrative power to it, a suggestion reportedly turned down by the ministry.

According to the sources, there are huge potentials in Bangladesh’s maritime areas and the government has identified 26 sectors related to the blue economy, most of which remained untapped for lack of proper initiatives.

They said the 26 sectors were identified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in two national-level workshops in 2014 and 2017.

The sectors are: Shipping, coastal shipping, seaports, passenger ferry services, inland waterway transports, shipbuilding, ship-recycling industries, fisheries, aquaculture, coastal aquaculture and mariculture, marine acquaintance products, marine biotechnology, oil and gas, sea salt production, ocean renewable energy, tidal energy, blue energy (osmosis) and biomass, aggregate mining (sand, gravel etc) and marine mineral mining.

The sectors also include coastal tourism, recreational water sports, yachting, and marines, cruise tourism, coastal protection/artificial islands/greening coastal belts, human resource development, marine surveillance and marine special planning.

Bangladesh won 19,467 square kilometres of the disputed 25,602 sq km area along the Indian border in the Bay of Bengal, following the settlement of a maritime dispute with the neighbouring country on July 8, 2014.

Earlier, the country won a claim to 200 nautical miles of exclusive economic zone and territorial rights in the Bay of Bengal following the settlement of another dispute with Myanmar on December 18, 2013.

The officials said those two settlements have opened the doors of huge blue economy potentials, but no effective initiative has been taken to exploit that.

Meanwhile, the government formed a 25-member high-powered committee, headed by the principal secretary, to prepare a comprehensive plan on the blue economy.

But, in the last four years, there has been no headway in this regard because of inactivity of the committee, said a top official at the Blue Economy Cell, seeking anonymity.

He said the government has prepared a 100-year Delta Plan to exploit the potentials of the blue economy where BEC could play a vital role in implementing the plan.