Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 4 Issue 28 | January 7, 2005 |

   Cover Story
   News Notes
   A Roman Column
   Slice of Life
   Time Out
   Straight Talk
   In Retrospect
   Book Review
   Dhaka Diary
   New Flicks

   SWM Home


In Retrospect

Working in Chandpur

A Sub-divisional Officer's Account

M. Azizul Jalil

"Chandpur bharpur, jale o sthale, Matir manush ar sonar phole" this is what a predecessor of mine in Chandpur had written in praise of the subdivision. In early 1961, I was posted as Sub-divisional officer (SDO) Chandpur in the then Comilla District. This was a coveted posting and considered important because of Chandpur's relative development and being an important inland river port. It was educationally advanced, had a politically conscious public, and electricity, telephone and running water. The SDO's beautiful bungalow was right by the side of the Dakatia river, where a fine old government steam launch with crew stood by for tours. The Chandpur-Comilla road was being constructed at the time and I had to frequently go by jeep to the district head quarters, a journey of about one and half hours, through an uneven and dusty road. I had the same experience while in Tangail because the Dhaka-Tanagil road was also being completed at that time. We do have to pay the price for development of the road infrastructure! In olden days, however, eminent ICS SDO's used to be given a pony allowance, often used to tour on horseback, for which the SDO's bungalow had a stable. During my time, it was converted into a garage as I received a new jeep donated by the Australian Government after floods in an earlier period.

Chandpur was not far from the confluence of the Padma and Meghna rivers and touring in the SDO's small launch was sometimes quite an exciting and hazardous experience. One could see the distinct colour of each river at the confluence, one darker than the other. Also at that point it was not possible to see the river banks on either side, it looked like a sea. Tangail town as well as its river banks were prone to flooding and occasional tidal bores. Though not of the ferocity and height of tidal bores of the Chittagong coastal areas, the river waters would rise with a roar and endanger the city.

Tornadoes and storms with high winds were frequent. One morning while I was getting ready to go to my office, suddenly I saw the sky above the bathroom and drops of water falling on my head. The roof which was made of two layers of woven bamboo had been blown away to the middle of the river and we were left with no protection. I therefore, had to go with my wife to the 'court building' next door. Even that was not safe as water was rising and threatening to flood the building'. I then moved to the close-by two-storied sub-divisional hospital and conducted emergency relief work and administration from the veranda of the hospital's first floor.

As strong winds blew, reports of deaths and injury started coming in, particularly of sinking of launches and consequent loss of life and properties. I still remember the case of an old trader of betel nuts and chillies who lost his companions in a boat. He was carried unconscious to the hospital and soon died of injuries to his head. The hospital staff brought a bag to me which the man was carrying, and in the presence of one of the magistrates the bag was opened. It contained about thirty thousand takas in cash (a lot of money those days one could buy three nice new English cars) and some of the notes were flying out due to high winds as they were being counted. Since the man's identity was not known at the time, the notes were put in an official bag and sealed in my presence, signed by a magistrate and deposited in the treasury. Nobody had any ulterior motive and everyone including the civil and police staff were very helpful and forthcoming in assisting the victims of the cyclone. We opened a shelter for those who had lost their homes and boats at the local high school and I went out to tour nearby areas and sent health and other officers to go to the thana headquarters to provide assistance.

The Commissioner of the Chittagong Division. D.K.Power and the Food Secretary of the East Pakistan Government, Ghiasuddin Ahmed, arrived within four days to inspect our relief activities and damages to the Central Food Storage depots located in Chandpur. Power, who chose to stay in the Government launch overnight, stay pointedly advised me to pay rent for the days my family and I had to stay temporarily in the guest apartment of a private company in the town. That was expected of and done by an 'officer and a gentleman' those days! Despite the scarcity of Government funds and the usual delays in the Public Works Department activities, the SDO's bungalow was repaired within a month.

Chandpur had a famous high school in Matlab thana which I visited a couple of times and had the opportunity to meet with the Headmaster, Patwari. Students from the school were regularly placed on the merit list in the matriculation examination in united Bengal before 1947 and also in East Pakistan. I admired the dedication of the teaching staff and the discipline and perseverance of the students who were from rural areas. Across the SDO's bungalow on the banks of Dakatia river was the Puran Bazar which was a large trading centre for all sorts of agricultural produce. Chandpur abundantly produced fine quality jute and there were many buying houses, mostly British. The British left behind the Chandpur Club with a fine billiard table and a caretaker whom the SDO had to pay from a trust fund. Unfortunately, only the SDO had access and authority over the club and even though we would use it for occasional meetings, it could not be opened for general use.

During my time, the East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (EPIDC) in collaboration with W Rahman and Sons decided to establish a jute Mill in Puran Bazar area. With the help of the District's Land Acquisition Officer, I had to acquire a large plot of land for the Mill. This was accomplished and compensation (based on average market value of the last three years) was paid. The W Rahman Jute Mill was eventually established.

An annual football tournament in memory of a local East Pakistan Rifles' officer- Tofayel, who lost his life in an encounter with the Indian Border forces, used to be held in the Chandpur Aziz Ahmed Maidan. Aziz Ahmed ICS, who later became East Pakistan's first Chief Secretary and subsequently Pakistan's foreign Minister. He was known for his assistance to the Chief Minister of Bengal, A K Fazlul Huq in implementing the Debt Settlement Board activities which largely relieved Muslim peasantry form the crushing (often unfair) debt owed to mostly Hindu landlords and money lenders. Another of my predecessors in Chandpur was SK Dehlavi, ICS who later became an Ambassador and also Foreign Secretary of Pakistan. He had left behind a school in the interior in the name of his mother Lady Dehlavi and once wrote a letter to me in that connection. I was impressed by the fact that he maintained interest in his old sub-division even after such a long time. During my time, I sent invitation to the first Bangali Army Major General and Commander of the 14th Division in Dhaka, Khwaja Wasiuddin (son of Khwaja Shahabuddin of the Dhaka Nawab family and a minister in many Governments) to distribute the prizes of a sports tournament. To my delight he readily accepted and in fact sent an advance party to survey the area. The general arrived by an army launch and stayed for a day. The tournament drawing teams from many districts was a grand success.

Those were Basic Democracy days and the SDO was not only the chairman of all schools, colleges and public institutions, he was also ex-officio Chairman of the municipality. The council members were elected representatives and elected a vice-chairman form among them. The SDO, however, exercised supervision and control over the municipality as ex-officio chairman.

During my short tenure, I visited all the thanas, many of the tehsil offices, most of the schools and the Baburhat orphanage and the development projects. I raised donations and got a Basic Democracy Hall built on the top of the existing Ansar Office for holding civic functions. I understand that the Hall is still in use.

The author is a former civil servant and a retired member of the World Bank Staff.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2004