According to reports, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the Uttara EPZ in 2001 on 214 acres of land, aiming to ensure equitable development throughout the country.
Today, Uttara EPZ employs around 28,000 workers, who are being paid Taka 35 crore in monthly salary (70 per cent of the workforce here constitute of women) even as setting up of the industries, as expected, has stimulated the local economy in the northern districts of Nilphamari, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Panchagarh, Thakurgaon and Lalmonirhat while also upgrading the living standards of the people there.
Situated around 400 kilometres northwest of capital city Dhaka, Nilphamari is a district in northern Bangladesh and is part of the Rangpur division, which is bounded by Rangpur and Lalmonirhat in east, Rangpur and Dinajpur in south, Dinajpur and Panchagarh in west, and Cooch Behar of India in the north.
Away from the din of the capital and far-off from the so-called established industrial hubs of Dhaka and Chittagong, Nilphamari, one would expect, will be a non-descript place characterised by thatched houses and poverty. However, all it took was an export processing zone (EPZ) and some perseverance to make a remarkable turnaround. Thanks to the Uttara EPZ, Nilphamari today continues to emerge strongly as a hub of economic power, giving a boost to production and export strength of the country’s economy while also bringing about remarkable changes in the socio-economic scenario in this underdeveloped region besides empowering the women in the northern region.
If one would remember, it was in 2019 that Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi formally inaugurated the factory of Deshbandhu Textile Mills Limited — Deshbandhu Textile Mills had planned to invest US $ 53.77 million or Taka 435 crore to set up a garment factory at the Uttara EPZ in Nilphamari to produce 27.6 million pieces of denim and woven trousers a year and create 3,713 new jobs with almost 10,000 employments — as the Chief Guest, which brought the focus back on Nilphamari again.
This factory will contribute a lot in creating almost 10,000 employment opportunities in the northern region, underlined the Commerce Minister even as the then Executive Chairman of BEPZA, Major-General SM Salahuddin Islam, on his part underlined that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina established the Uttara EPZ in Nilphamari district to reduce unemployment and poverty.
The Bangladesh premier inaugurated the EPZ on 214 acres of land in 2001 during the 1996-2001 tenure of the Government, aiming to ensure equitable development throughout the country. Soon, foreign investors were attracted by the area’s cheap workforce and low land rent (only US $ 1.25 per square metre a year) compared to the country’s other EPZs, so much so that today, there are nine foreign investors including ones from China, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom alongside 15 local firms who have set up 24 factories in total investing around Taka 1,800 crore altogether, as per the EPZ officials.
While the total export earnings from the zone since its commissioning stands at Taka 11,662 crore, as the buyers are from European countries, North and South America, South Africa and Australia, according to BEPZA General Manager (Public Relations), Nazma Binte Alamgir, even as according to some reports, dialogues were ongoing between BEPZA and Japanese investors to create new area for investment.
Credit for the same undoubtedly goes to Sheikh Hasina and BEPZA – the contribution of which to the country’s economic growth has been immense. In order to stimulate rapid economic growth of the country, particularly through industrialisation, the Government has adopted an ‘Open Door Policy’ to attract foreign investment to Bangladesh while the BEPZA is the official organ of the Government to promote, attract and facilitate foreign investment in the EPZs.
Besides, BEPZA as the competent authority also performs inspection and supervision of the compliances of the enterprises related to social and environmental issues, safety and security at work place in order to maintain harmonious labour-management and industrial relations in EPZs even as the primary objective of an EPZ remains to provide special areas where potential investors would find a congenial investment climate free from cumbersome procedures.
Uttara EPZ, as is the case with other EPZs, is a beneficiary of the same.
Further, considering the fact that getting a job in the EPZ reportedly requires a secondary school certificate (SSC) or junior school certificate (JSC), education and literacy rate, especially among the girls, is also on the rise even as reports underline that establishment of BEPZA Public School & College — BEPZA established the school on 2017 by its own cost on 2.54 acres of land — in Uttara EPZ, formally inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 1st November 2018, has also given a boost to the education system in this area.
Once with no job avenues, people here, especially the women, are now productively engaged in host of factories that have been set up by globally-renowned brands of footwear and leather goods, garments accessories, alongside those producing furniture, cell phone parts, wigs, sunglasses, etc.
“A few years ago, I joined here and now I get Taka 13,000 to Taka 14,000 salary/month with overtime, “said a woman employee engaged in one of the factories there, adding, “I also managed to get my siblings (brother and sister) employed in two other factories,” which has reportedly catapulted the family’s total income to around Taka 30,000 to Taka 32,000, which is undoubtedly a decent amount by the existing standards.
It may be mentioned here that further keeping with the reported vision of becoming a developed country by 2041, Bangladesh Government is putting in relentless effort in infrastructure development and has planned to develop more than 100 economic zones to boost the country’s industrial and service sector growth, which in turn, is expected to bring about a significant improvement in lives of the people in the remote areas of the country, of which Nilphamari, is perhaps a living example.