An illustrious civil servant and social worker | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 04, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:03 AM, March 04, 2021

In Memoriam

An illustrious civil servant and social worker

Md. Mahbubuzzaman was born on November 25, 1929 in Rajshahi town, a stone's throw from Rajshahi Loknath High School from where he and all his siblings passed their SSC exams. He joined Pakistan Civil Service in 1954 and became a CSP officer. During his illustrious career, he served as the Sub-Divisional Officer of Nilphamari, Deputy Commissioner of Rangpur, Registrar of Cooperatives Societies, Chairman of Tea Board, second Establishment Secretary of Bangladesh, Home Secretary, and then Cabinet Secretary, the highest rank of civil service during that time.

After a long career in public service, he retired on November 24, 1986. Then he was appointed as an Advisor to the President with the rank of a full minister. In 1987, he contested in the bi-election of Badalgachhi-Mohadevpur parliamentary seat of Naogaon after the incumbent MP, Md. Barkatullah, passed away. Mr. Zaman won the seat and became a Member of Parliament.

Thereafter, he was appointed as the Minister of Agriculture. Perhaps the principal reason for this appointment was that Mr. Zaman was an agriculture graduate himself and used to promote agriculture throughout his life. Upon obtaining his Bachelor's degree in agriculture from Tejgaon Agriculture College, he became the Superintendent of Dhaka Farms prior to becoming a CSP, living in a house on the grounds surrounding the compound which is now part of the National Parliament complex.

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While a bureaucrat, he liked to call himself a "Krishibid", and he was given the Krishibid award posthumously by the Prime Minister in 2009. During his early life, he often mused that the Barind area of Rajshahi could feed the entire nation if properly irrigated. As agriculture minister, he was instrumental in spearheading government initiatives for irrigation, through Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC), bringing thousands of acres of arid land of Barind area into agricultural production. Whereas earlier there was no crop output, the Barind land became the rice belt of the nation and started producing three crops a year. Consequently, an agricultural revolution took place in an area that not only contributes to the food sufficiency of the nation but also provides livelihood to thousands of farmers.

Mr. Zaman was a great organiser and an able administrator. He was optimistic, easy-going, and humble. He was also witty and a great storyteller. He could be light-hearted while being authoritative at the same time. He led a glorious life and dedicated himself towards voluntary social welfare efforts after his retirement. He was known for the many ways in which he helped people, many of whom would never come to know about it. It would be much later that they would know the role played by Mr. Zaman in either protecting or furthering their careers. He did so as he felt it was part of his job to help.

His involvement in politics was short-lived. Politics, it would seem, was not his forte. After leaving active service in 1990, another phase of his life started. He threw himself towards the cause of social service. He was Chairman of Aziz and Company, first Chairman of Social Marketing Company (SMC), and Chairman of Standard Credit & Cooperative Society. He was President of Bangladesh Scouts, a position he held from 1984 to 2000 (he was a scout during his childhood). The Upazila system that is currently in place, which was initiated in the early eighties by the then President, was given shape during Mr. Zaman's tenure as Cabinet Secretary. He played a major role in the execution of the government initiative of upgradation of all the Thanas of the country into Upazilas.

Mr. Zaman, along with his senior colleagues and friends, worked tirelessly to make a lasting contribution for retired government servants and the medical services field. He was actively involved in the development of "Obosor Bhaban" in Dhanmondi as a member of Retired Government Employees Welfare Association, establishment of a medical building for Bangladesh Medical College in Dhanmondi, and the hospital complex of Uttara Adhunik Hospital in Uttara as a founder member of Bangladesh Medical Studies and Research Institute. After the independence of the country in 1971, he was made Member-Secretary of the Committee for Re-organization of Civil Administration in Bangladesh by the President. It was based on the recommendation of this committee that the blueprint of the civil administration of Bangladesh was established.

Mr. Zaman was an avid walker and became ill while walking on the morning of January 11, 2008, near his house in Dhanmondi. He didn't take it seriously. After that fall, however, he was never normal. He became disoriented and suffered from encephalitis and later, a heart attack, from which he got well briefly and received treatment in the country. Further treatment was done abroad for his recovery but he did not make it back to his beloved wife. He left behind the love of his family, friends and well-wishers on March 3, 2008—just about a year before his eldest son, a bright army officer, was killed during the BDR carnage on February 25, 2009. Another son, a banker, and his loving wife live to this day.

He lies in eternal rest just a row away from his eldest son's resting place at the military graveyard in Banani, Dhaka.

There is a small place in Sapahar, Naogaon which was named after him, as "Zaman Nagar", upon his death. The library in the area was also named after him, just as was the girls' high school, as "Sapahar Zaman Nagar Girls High School". The people of Sapahar named them so in honour of the lasting contribution he had made to the area. Sapahar was turned into a Thana when he was Home Secretary and upgraded to an Upazila when he was Cabinet Secretary. Every year, the inhabitants of the area remember him on his death anniversary for his many contributions.

Above all, he profoundly loved his country which he amply demonstrated through his public service. During his last days, when asked what was his favourite song, he replied, with childlike innocence yet surprise, "Why, of course Dhana Dhanya Pushpe Bhara!" When asked if he had any regrets in life, he said, nonchalantly, "none".

It has been 13 years since he left us. On this occasion, we urge everyone to pray for his eternal peace.


Md. Ahsan-uz Zaman, younger son of Md. Mahbubuzzaman, is a banker.

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