With a domestic market of Tk 500 billion, the country's light engineering industry and service sector has not received the patronage it deserves. Rhetoric on industrialisation of the country takes, more often than not, over pragmatic steps and solution. Speakers at a seminar held in Jashore on light engineering on Saturday last observe that of the total market, imported components is worth Tk 290 billion. More specifically, 68 per cent of the country's agricultural machines and equipment are now imported. This shows that the country produces only 32 per cent of its requirement. If the country depends so heavily on imported agricultural machines and tools, there is no doubt that the share of other such implements is even smaller. Actually, the country has to import such things as paper pins, clips (james) and staplers and educational aid such as geometric boxes and rulers mostly from China. These are widely used and small as they may be at the end of a financial year, the total expenditure on those items may be staggering.
Participants at the seminar grumbled that machines and tools used for agriculture are not difficult to fabricate and produce locally. But in the absence of government patronage, the dependence on imported mechanised tools could not be avoided. This complaint cannot be dismissed outright because under a comprehensive industrial plan, there is a need for detecting the country's thrust sector. In a heavily populated country like Bangladesh, it is wiser to go for developing the light engineering sector instead of putting emphasis on heavy industry. Such entrepreneurship could be developed under the wing of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The units could be set up in villages where electricity is available. Within the range of such industrialisation, both productivity and employment at the grass-roots level could be boosted and created.
True, China could spur its industrialisation under a centralised plan. Bangladesh has no such comprehensive plan for expediting its rural industrialisation. In such a situation, at least some private firms could seize the opportunity and produce necessary tools for agriculture and education. Such factories and industries do not demand huge investment. Small instruments and tools made in China are damn cheap. Maybe, such items produced locally would be at a little disadvantage because of the production-cost factor. But mass production brings down the cost and if the government grants tax holiday or otherwise patronise the units initially, they can have a firm footing under their feet.
Clearly, light engineering is an area that has unlimited potential if it is nurtured by proper policy guidelines. Bangladesh has been producing a large number of engineering graduates in the field of mechanical and chemical disciplines. They will undertake the charge of small plants and the polytechnic institutes will supply technicians in demand. Bangladesh cannot afford extensive industrialisation but the light engineering category will not take large space and is unlikely to pollute the environment too much provided that they adopt advanced and clean technology for disposal of waste. The country's demand for agricultural tools will grow with further automation of farming. So it is time, small plants for production of agricultural tools were set up along with those for churning out educational instruments.