Work on framing a new Power System Master Plan (PSMP) is unlikely to begin within the current year as no terms of reference (ToR) has been finalised with the funding agency.
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is funding the project, is yet to communicate with the implementing body about the ToR, official sources at the Power Cell said.
“We had a meeting with JICA in March last year just before the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, the communication between the two sides remained almost off and only very recently we contacted JICA on the issue,” said Abdur Rouf, a director of the Power Cell.
“But, no major development has been made yet in this regard”, he added.
He, however, said normally a PSMP is prepared every 5 years based on the revision of the previous one.
“The next PSMP is supposed to be framed in 2021 as the last one was prepared in 2016. But the b pandemic disrupted the whole process of communication that ultimately delayed the start of the PSMP work,” he said.
Official sources said there will be two substantial changes in the nature of the new PSMP during its framing.
One is that Bangladesh will have active participation in the process and will have the right to accommodate the Power Division’s view to make it an independent master plan without any bias to Japanese view, said another official of the Power Cell.
The second change, he said, will be a paradigm shift in the use of local coal and gas in primary fuel selection for power generation.
Normally, Japanese have bias on selection of coal for primary fuel sourcing, he said, adding that Bangladesh wants special emphasis on the use of imported gas.
The sources said though JICA will fund the project, Bangladesh does not want to remain fully dependent on the funding agency.
Rather, the government wants JICA to assist Bangladesh to share technical knowledge in this regard and train up local manpower for the task.
State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid also said that the use of coal will get a lesser priority in the coming PSMP as a study conducted by an American firm found that use of local coal will not be feasible and commercially viable for power generation in the country.
He said the global market of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is more stable than that of coal and the price of LNG is falling.
“That’s why we’ll lay emphasis on LNG import,” he told UNB.
Official sources said the Power Division already initiated a move to cancel 12 coal-based power plant projects having total proposed combined capacity of 7,461 megawatts (MW) of electricity.
Proposed Moheskhali 1,320MW coal-fired power plant, Ashuganj (Patuakhali) 1,320MW coal-based power plant and 1,200MW Uttarbanga super thermal plant in the public sector are likely to be dropped from the government’s plan.
In the existing PSMP 2016, about 60,000 MW of power generation was targeted by 2041 in which primary fuel mix was set as each 35 percent will be coming from coal and gas while the remaining 30 percent will be covered by liquid fuel, renewable, nuclear and other sources.
At present, the country's power generation capacity is about 21,395 MW, of which some about 50 percent of power (10,869 MW) is being generated from gas while less than 10 percent (1,768 MW) is from coal, about 30 percent of power is generated from imported liquid fuel.
Underscoring the importance of providing quality mobile network services to subscribers, the head of Bangladesh's telecom regulator has said that they will soon raise vigilance over the operations of telecom companies.
Currently, there are four telecom operators -- Grameenphone, Robi, Banglalink and Teletalk, according to Shyam Sunder Sikder, the chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication and Regulatory Commission (BTRC).
"But in the wake of the rising number of complaints, including call drops and slow internet services, against these operators, we have decided to increase watch over their networks. The move is aimed at ensuring quality services to subscribers," he told UNB.
The BTRC chairman said that the commission also plans to update the existing guidelines for the telecom operators.
"Besides, adequate spectrum is needed to ensure quality services to customers. We will encourage the operators to purchase the necessary spectrum for interrupted services. If needed, we will hold a meeting with the telecom firms," said Shyam Sunder.
Talking about the manpower crisis in the sector, the BTRC chairman said, “We are going through not only a human resources crisis but also some technical difficulties."
"The ISP licence holders are involved in sharing data. And it is our responsibility to ensure uninterrupted services to customers. We are working towards that,” he said.
When will 5G be available?
The government intends to roll out 5G by 2023, according to the BTRC boss. "Already we have launched 4G services. Now, we are preparing to allocate new spectrum for 5G mobile operators and soon a policy will be finalised," he said.
Unauthorised mobile phone handsets will be blocked with effect from July 1. "All makes of mobile phones will have to go through the mandatory registration process in Bangladesh," Shyam Sunder said.
“BTRC plans to launch the National Equipment Identification Register (NEIR) on July 1 this year. And no illegal handsets will be allowed to be used in the country’s telecom network after that date,” he said.
In December last year, BTRC signed an agreement with local company Synesis IT to identify and disconnect handsets that were brought to the country illegally.
From January 16 this year, mobile operators have started informing their subscribers about the need to use handsets with a genuine International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number only.
Mobile phones with fake IMEI numbers will be detected through the National Equipment Identity Register (NEIR) and disconnected from network, according to the regulator.
The number of mobile subscribers in Bangladesh touched 162.920 million in April 2020, according to BTRC data.
Of the total subscribers, Grameenphone has 74.361 users. Robi Axita has 48.843 users, Banglalink Digital Communications 34.876 and Teletalk Bangladesh 4,840.
Besides, the total number of internet users stood at 101.18 million in April 2020.
Residents of a cluster of villages in Jashore have taken the initiative to drain the water of 27 beels, including Beel Khukshia of their own accord, as the Water Development Board (WDB, Paubo) has not been able to solve the waterlogging problem in the area for a long time.
People of 69 villages organised under the banner of Jolaboddhota Niroshon Bastobayon Committee (Waterlogging Elimination Implementation Committee). They started this irrigation program from January 15 using 129 irrigation pumps, all arranged with their own funds. If the water drainage program is successful, around 3.5 lakh people stand to benefit, with about 24,000 bighas of land to be freed up for paddy farming.
The water is being drained with 129 different-sized irrigation pumps in a row along the Hari river dam in Dahuri village of Sufalakati union at Keshabpur upazila.
Leaders of the Waterlogging Elimination Implementation Committee said the location of 27 beels, including Bill Khukshia, runs from Dumuria upazila in Khulna district to Keshabpur and Monirampur upazilas in Jessore. Pazia and Suflakati Unions of Keshabpur, and Durbadanga and Manoharpur Unions of Monirampur are among the four unions.
The people of all 69 villages have been suffering from waterlogging for a long time due to the negligence of WDB (Paubo).
Awami League leader and treasurer of the Committee Manjur Rahman said in the past, the water from these beels was drained through the Hari River. But as the river gradually got occupied, the drainage of the beel became blocked.
Since then farming has stopped in these beel areas. Then the fish farms of these areas were formed.
“Since this problem has not been solved for a long time, we have started draining this year. Each machine owner is being paid TK. 500 per day and the diesel is funded by the committee. A total of 24 people including Abdul Halim, Azizur Member, Fazlur Rahman, Pradeepta Biswas and Mashiur Rahman have been appointed for this work,” said Manjur.
For drainage TK. 1000 per bigha is being taken from the owners of land and ponds. All expenses are being met with this money. So far, about 13,000 bighas of land has been made cultivable which means over half the work on land is done.
Hopefully it will be possible to drain the water within the next one month. Convener of the committee and president of Keshabpur Upazila Awami League SM Ruhul Amin said their hand was forced in the matter of trying to solve the waterlogging problem on their own. Waiting for the government had only brought suffering for the residents of the 69 villages. Things had reached a point where they could not afford to suffer any more. There are 26 beels linked with this beel.
Crops in Keshabpur and Monirampur have not been harvested for a long time. Cows, goats, people were dying. I started this work thinking of them. After learning about the history of the area's agriculture, it became clear that a mistake had been made by discontinuing the practise of Tidal River Management in the region.
TRM had emerged as a technique in the same region of southwest Bangladesh in the late Eighties, after many tidal rivers in the region became filled up with sediment.This led to permanent waterlogging caused by riverbed sedimentation. in areas around Khulna, Jessore and Satkhira, which had detrimental consequences for agriculture.
In 1997, during the Khulna-Jessore Drainage Rehabilitation Project (KJDRP), the local population of Beel Bhaina created a tidal basin by cutting the embankment with the Hari river. This had two effects: firstly, a gradual rise in the level of the land in Beel Bhaina with sediment, coupled with an increased cross section of the Hari river.
Drainage of the entire KJDRP area improved after the cut. The strategy of creating temporary tidal basins was given the name “Tidal
River Management”. During the period TRM was introduced in Jashore, many lands were harvested. The river Hari regained its depth. But later it was discontinued over some other dispute.
Water Development Board Jessore Executive Engineer Tahidul Islam said a big project has been undertaken to reintroduce TRM in the beels. Various experiments are being carried out on its implementation. If it can be implemented, the villagers will at least have a way to ward off waterlogging in the beels.
A week from now, on March 8, Bangladesh will complete a year with the Coronavirus. One of the fears in the early days of the pandemic, announced by the WHO on March 11 of last year, was the potential for food shortages - if for example supply chains broke down or the virus attained sustained spread in a key sector like farms.
In keeping with its overall experience of the once-in-a-century pandemic, Bangladesh had some moments of anxiety but ultimately prevailed quite comfortably in the field of food security.
Though the prices of daily essentials and other products soared from time to time following panic buying and supply crunch in the country.
After identifying the first cases on March 8, Bangladesh went into lockdown from pretty much the middle of March, with schools closing from March 17. Other institutions soon followed, with the entire country in lockdown mode by Independence Day on March 26 The strictest phase of lockdown lasted till May 30, with pretty much everything closed and streets deserted. Besides, students of PSC, JSC, SSC and HSC level were promoted without final exams amid education institutions closing.
Experts say, Bangladesh performed excellently in the pandemic situation in terms of maintaining food supplies, as well as the broader task of keeping the economy moving. Several factors played a role here such as---continuing harvesting, operating markets, okaying public services, government’s good initiatives and the epidemic not getting out of control here.
They suggested the government to reform public policies, upgrade data, and increase productivity in the agriculture sector to achieve the SDGs by 2030 conducting more research and using technology.
Talking to UNB, Distinguished Fellow of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya said the Covid-19 did not pervade rural Bangladesh, and that's one of the major factors to perform well in food supply. Covid-19 didn’t disrupt the supply chain, nor the production process in agriculture.
“Though the economic activity in cities stopped during the pandemic, it continued in rural areas of the country. As a result harvesting continued and agriculture markets operated properly. Besides, the supply of vegetables and other curries went well. Farmers got agriculture elements including seeds and fertilizers in time in that period,” he also added.
He said though labour shortage was seen in that time early on in the pandemic, later it was covered following migration mobilization in the country.
Asked whether Bangladesh is actually self-sufficient in food, Debapriya said there might be sufficient per capita availability of food in the country, but that does not mean that each household is food-secure. They each have to be able to purchase food to survive. The per capita stock of food can be misleading.
“The estimation [of rice] was not accurate. The government couldn’t catch the shortage of rice till it was too late, so the imported amount was a bit late. We need disaggregated data too,” he also added.
The noted economist said the country’s first and foremost matter is to increase productivity in the agriculture sector. “We make 20 percent GDP by 40 percent people. Our per capita production is very low. It’s very important to increase labour productivity. Hence, the important thing is to increase mechanisation of the post-harvest activity in the sector,” he added.
Dr Debapriya urged the government to build an Agriculture Price Commission (APC) to ensure fair prices for farmers and stabilize the market in Bangladesh. Besides, purchasing centres should be built at “union level” of the country.
“We need the institution for the sake of both agriculture and farmers improvement. Otherwise the position of farmers won’t improve here. The APC will fix the prices of all agriculture products. It will get rid of dependency on bureaucracy. Besides, policy efficiency and social accountability should be increased in the country,” he suggested.
Dr Debapriya suggested the government to reform public policies and increase productivity in agriculture to achieve SDG by 2030. So, research and the use of technology in agriculture should be enhanced.
Director General of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) Dr Md Shahjahan Kabir said Bangladesh was able to harvest 2.1 crore metric tonnes of Boro paddy in the last season alongside around 30 lakh tonnes Aman paddy.
“Around 29-30 lakh metric tonnes of rice will be surplus in June 2021 in the country. Boro and Aus paddy harvested bumper in this season and Aman rice varieties will come fully soon. So there won’t be a food crisis in the country. Our confidence level is very high here,” Dr Shahjahan said.
Dr Shahjahan said they brought out the figure considering 405 gramme per head daily eating of rice by human consumption of 16.7 million people. Boro and Aus harvested more than was estimated this year.
“The prices of rice increased in market due to monsoon traders. The rice went to different pockets of people. To tackle the situation, the government has to increase its stock. Then, the price of per kg rice will never jump over Tk50," Dr Shahjahan also said.
President of Bangladesh Auto Rice Mill Owners’ Association AKM Khorshed Alam Khan said they contributed vastly giving rice security in the country amid the COVID-19 while many developed countries suffered in food crisis. But they did not get financial support from the government.
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“The rice prices go up due to low harvesting and stock, and increasing costs including electricity, energy and labour wages. Besides, groups of companies are responsible for price hikes, not small and medium millers,” he also said.
AKM Khorshed said they bought rice from farmers at Tk 1050. “We think that the country will thrive if our farmers survive. Now a crisis of rice is seen in the market following wrong estimations of the Agriculture Ministry.
According to the Food Ministry, the government stock of food grains is 07.21 lakh metric tonnes, Of this, rice is 05.37 lakh MT tonnes and wheat is 1.84 lakh MT till January 13, 2021.
“The price of coarse rice increased 43.08 percent a kg, medium 15.22 percent and fine one went up 9.09 percent compared to previous year,” according to the data of state run Trading Corporation (TCB) on January 14.
However, rice production for the 2020-21 marketing year is expected to rise to 36.3 million tonnes in Bangladesh as further cultivation of hybrid and high yield variety plantings increase. The country is expected to import 200,000 tonnes of rice in the 2020-21 marketing year to ease food security tensions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Global Agricultural Information Network report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
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The Secretary to the Food Ministry Dr Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum told UNB they succeeded to tackle the crisis moment of the pandemic in 2020 through integrated initiatives.
“Directed by the Prime Minister, all concerned ministries took a number of necessary initiatives to tackle the crisis moment. So we were able to continue food supply properly. Every day, we sat in meetings with different ministries including Agriculture, Finance, Food, Disaster Management and Relief, and Social Welfare Ministry for the sake of people,” she added.
Dr Nazmanara said the country’s crop production was good due to hard work by farmers. “So we thank our farmers. We survive till now due to good production of crops and integrated initiatives by the government. The government also assisted poor people in various ways including distributing emergency foods and cash,” she also added.
She said around 1,50,000 metric tonnes of rice were provided among 50 lakh families in six months last year. There are many projects that are disbursed at the end of fiscal year. But these were distributed based on emergency then.
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“However, we have already allowed 8.71 lakh tonnes of rice for import to control the recent soaring price. We will import rice more until the market is under control. We would like to ensure farmers' and consumers' rights through fair price. So we won’t limit the import figure now,” the secretary also told UNB.
Two recently-relinquished offshore gas blocks remain unexploited as the government has to spend about $1.7 billion to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) to meet domestic demands.
According to official sources in state-owned Petrobangla, data from seismic surveys in the two blocks – shallow water block SS-11 and the deep water block DS-12 – show huge potentials of hydrocarbon resources.
Australian company Santos relinquished SS-11 in December 2019 while South Korean company Posco gave up block DS-12 in December 2020, they said.
“Acquired data from these two blocks show a huge hydrocarbon prospects, but they remain unexploited due to lack of proper initiative,” a senior official of Petrobangla said requesting anonymity as “things are very sensitive”.
Officials said initially, DS-12 was awarded to Posco-Daewoo Corporation, a joint venture of Korean Posco and Daewoo, in December 2016 under production sharing contract (PSC) through the Speedy Supply of Power and Energy (Special Provisions) Act 2010 that does not need to follow bidding process.
Under the PSC, the contractor is obliged to meet all expenses alone in hydrocarbon exploration. But if any oil or gas is found, the contractor will get a substantial share of the resources while the remaining part will go to the government’s ownership.
As per the deal, Petrobangla will buy the contractor’s gas at a certain price defined in PSC.
Following the PSC’s terms and condition, Posco-Daewoo JV was carrying out exploration works. But at one stage, Posco acquired Daewoo’s stake and became the absolute stakeholder of the block.
But in the meantime, Posco, originally a steel maker, changed its mind and decided to wind up hydrocarbon business.
However, before closing the Bangladesh operation, it was trying to sell it out to any other oil company, but failed to do so, said the Petrobangla officials.
They noted that until closing its business, Posco conducted 2D seismic survey in 3,580 line kilometres in 302 square kilometer area against its mandated area of 1,800 line kilometres until it left the block.
Petrobangla officials said substantial fall in prices of oil and gas in the global market was another reason that prompted Posco to leave the gas block business.
Under the PSC, Posco was entitled to get natural gas price at around US$6.5 per mm Btu (million British thermal unit) with a 2 percent annual price escalation from the date of first gas production.
But it was not happy with such price calculating its current and future investment to implement a production plan, said a top official of Petrobangla.
He also said block DS-12 has a very good potential for production as about half a dozen spots were detected by the Korean company. DS-12 is located in a depth of 1,000 to 2,000 metres, with an area of 3,560 sq km.
On the other hand, Petrobangla officials said Santos abandoned SS-11 in December 2020 because of a change in its strategic business plan.
The global headquarters of Santos decided to move it entire business to Europe and adjoining area which ultimately prompted it to relinquish the gas block to Petrobangla as it was calculating the venture as commercially non-profitable.
Before leaving Bangladesh, Santos conducted 2D seismic survey to 3,220 line kilometres, against its commitment for 2,100 line kilometres.
“Data acquired from the survey also show good potentials in SS-11,” said the Petrobangla official.
Petrobangla data show the country daily needs 2,890.5 million cubic feet (mmcf) of natural gas of which 400.5 mmcf is supplied from imported LNG.
Officials said the country has to spend about $1.7 billion to annually import 4 million metric tons of LNG, which is expected to rise in coming days with increased gas consumption.
Energy experts say they believe the government should take an immediate move to re-engage foreign companies to explore and exploit potentials in the two relinquished offshore gas blocks.
“It’ll be a better option to explore gas in offshore areas by foreign companies without government fund than continuing import of LNG,” said former Petrobangla chairman Muktadir Ali.
He said gas from the offshore blocks would save Bangladesh’s hard-earned foreign currency spent on LNG import.
Echoing the view, BUET Professor Dr Ijaz Ahmed said the government should find an easy way out to explore its untapped potentials along with the import of LNG to meet the domestic demand.
“But unfortunately, due importance is not being given to gas exploration,” he observed.