Tragedy sowed by Operation Dal-Bhat
"> Bangladesh Rifles members selling essentials to the public at reasonable rates under the much-debated “Operation Dal-Bhat” programme in 2008. Photo: File
The glorious history of 218-year-old Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) was damaged by its involvement in a programme like “Operation Dal-Bhat” that left a serious impact on the goodwill, professionalism and honesty of the force.
Judge Md Akhtaruzzaman of the Court of Third Additional Metropolitan Sessions' Judge yesterday made this observation while delivering the verdict in the 2009 carnage case.
He also observed that involving the BDR in controlling price hike of essentials was not fruitful due to absence of specific mechanism to that end.
“Besides, it seems to me that the then BDR did not have that much capacity of supply and management of goods to meet the demands of huge number of low income people,” he observed.
“So, it is not justified to involve any disciplined force like army or paramilitary force,” said the judge referring to BDR that was established in 1795.
The judge echoed what many officers felt about engaging the border guards in operation Dal-Bhat saying it had destroyed the moral fabric of the disciplined force and led to the 2009 mutiny.
The Dal-Bhat operation was introduced in 2007 when food prices soared too high. Under this operation, the force sold essentials to the public at reasonable rates and kept the profit.
By late 2008, most border guards started to believe that their bosses had deprived them of their right share of the profit. This resentment was blended with their age-old discontent about being led by army officers on deputation.
A handful of hardcore mutineers had cashed in on this pent-up resentment of the members of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), now renamed Border Guard Bangladesh, to stage the mutiny.
Their discontent over the programme was clearly evident during the then BDR DG's speech at the Darbar [annual assembly] on February 25, 2009.
The DG briefed the BDR jawans on Operation Dal-Bhat saying it had benefited people immensely and the share of the profit had been given away to everyone with an amount being deposited to bank for the welfare of the force, according to the carnage case charge-sheet.
He then asked, “Are you all happy with the Dal-Bhat programme?”
He however did not get any response from any of the 2,483 jawans present.
Different investigations into the bloodbath and mutiny have revealed that the mentality of not accepting authority of the army had long been dormant among the border guards. They had long been demanding appointment of their own officers through the Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS), rise in border allowances and 100 percent ration facility, sending BDR members to the UN missions and change in their salary structure like that of the army.
Besides, they had discontent over punishment meted out to BDR jawans, lack of transparency in running BDR shops, luxurious lifestyle of high officials, and corruption in running schools.
Officials who investigated the gruesome killings had earlier said the BDR rank and file had those grievances simmering for years. Their resentment over “Operation Dal-Bhat” made matters even worse, and it all boiled over into an orgy of killing on February 25-26.
Following the bloody mutiny that killed 74 people including 57 senior and mid-ranking army officers, the authorities realised that it might have been a wrong step to engage the border troops in business activities.
“I personally believe that it is not right to engage a disciplined force into a commercial operation like Operation Dal-Bhat,” BGB Director General Maj General Aziz Ahmed told The Daily Star.
He said the border force would be on guard on the border and if necessary would be deployed in aide of the civil administration, they should not be engaged in commercial activities.
Earlier in February 2010, the then director general of the force Maj Gen Md Mainul Islam also reckoned that a disciplined force should not be involved in commercial ventures. The BDR was given the commercial duty to contain price hike of essentials during the caretaker government rule in 2007.
After around one and a half years of the operation, the BDR wrapped up the programme in September 2008. Under the operation on an average 1 lakh city dwellers were served each day. Around 1.3 lakh tonnes of rice, 2,000 tonnes of pulses and 3,500 tonnes of edible oil worth about Tk 400 crore were sold at the outlets across the country since the operation was launched.