Back to 1969
Political upheavals until the imposition of martial law on March 25, 1969 rocked both wings of Pakistan, but more intensely the eastern wing. The promulgation of martial law initiated an interval, which was apparently tranquil but proved to be fragile within a brief period of two years. The intervening lull permitted us to carry on our day-to-day work in the administration of the greater Dhaka district.
Visiting the grass roots
OUR work as assistant commissions of the greater Dhaka district during 1969 included visits to the tahsils, units of revenue administration at the grass roots. During 1968 and 1969, two additional deputy commissioners in charge of revenue supervised our work. Abu Hena, CSP of the 1963 batch who later became the chief election commissioner of Bangladesh, and Mueen Afzal, CSP of the 1964 batch who later became the principal finance secretary of the post-1971 Pakistan, served as ADCs Dhaka. In addition to other responsibilities, I was made officer-in-charge of proceedings against lower level revenue employees such as tahsildars, additional tahsildars and seasonal assistant tahsildars.
It was interesting and also satisfying to find that in accordance with the principle of natural justice, no one, including lower level government officials, would be condemned unhurt. Thus, even in the case of a seasonal assistant tahsildar charges had to be framed, enquiry officer appointed and on the basis of the report of the officer, appropriate punishment had to be proposed. The proposal of punishment had to be officially communicated to the offending employee. Only after his second explanation, if any, he could be finally punished. Complicated as the procedure seemed to have been, it ensured justice for the persons concerned. Nevertheless, I felt somewhat stressed by this complex piece of work.
Trip to Raipura
DURING the rainy season of 1969, I had an opportunity to tour Raipura and adjacent areas to inspect the tahsil offices. The objective was to find out whether these primary level land revenue collectors, tahsildars were doing their job properly or not. I remember that I reached Raipura by train on a rain-swept afternoon.
I stayed at the wooden forest rest house adjacent to the railway station. The nights were dimly lit and lonesome. The two days I spent there were fairly busy. The inspection schedule was drawn up on my first night at Raipura in consultation with the revenue circle officer. He was an amiable, energetic person in his middle years. He asked me whether I could ride a bicycle. I replied that I loved cycling and described briefly my teenage cycle trip to Rangpur from Gaibandha and back. The RCO was happy and said, ‘In that case, there would be no problem for us to visit a large number of tahsil offices during the two days of your stay here.’
Fortunately, the days were mostly rainless though an occasional shower or spells of lazy drizzle marked the softly sun-lit daylight hours. The measured rain made the sandy, unmetalled road feel like asphalt-coated avenue. Our bicycles easily rode over the smooth track surrounded on both sides by green trees, bamboo clumps and stretches of paddy fields. Cycling along the scenic landscape was a thrilling pleasure and did not tire us easily. High spirits took us speedily to the Belabo Bazar, right on the bank of the mighty Meghna in spate.
While the journey was pleasant, the work of inspection of the tahsil was unmistakably prosaic. Nevertheless, with the help of the skilled and experienced RCO, the job was done satisfactorily within a short time. There was, however, a near-jolting experience as we saw a large number of villagers gathered in front of a near-decadent tahsil building made of red bricks. Thinking of the recent public upheavals against autocratic rule in the rural areas, we felt apprehensive of unpleasant happenings aimed at us, government officials. We took courage in our hands and steadfastly cycled to reach the assembled villagers. We were greatly relieved to find that the crowd had not come to demonstrate against us. They were there at the tahsil office to meet us and put forth their complaints that a local public representative had put them in trouble.
The wily leader forged the signatures of unaware farmers to draw and misappropriate government money given in agricultural loans. The simple rural folks were now under great pressure to pay back with interest the loans they had never taken. On the RCO’s suggestion, I, as the officer from the Dhaka district headquarters, tried to assure them that we would do all in our power to help them. I knew that despite our assurance, the poor farmers would be subject to prolonged harassment because of legal and administrative complications. Despite decades of multidimensional development, the helpless villagers continue to suffer deceit and fraud of a section of conscienceless public leaders at various levels. Political government and public administration, in many ways, still remain unable to effectively tackle the problems and the poor and simple villagers continue to suffer in silence.
To be continued.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder chairman of the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh and editor of the quarterly Asian Affairs, is a former teacher of political science at Dhaka University (1964-1967), former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (1967-1980) and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister of Bangladesh (1990).
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