JUNE 30 was a sad day for workers, employees, officials and residents of Adamjee Nagar as the curtains were drawn on Asia`s biggest jute mills on the day 15 years ago. The move left 24,916 people without a job.
Although an export processing zone was set up four years later on a portion of land that housed Adamjee Jute Mills generating 53,118 jobs, the locals still mourn the closure.
Set up in 1950, the mills were a symbol of pride on the bank of the Shitalakhya.
Production began in 1951 with 1,700 hesian and 1,000 sacking looms. On an average, 288 tonnes of jute sacks were manufactured every day, raking in about Tk 60 crore every year.
At first, about 100 tonnes of jute goods were manufactured. Later, the output increased to 250 tonnes.
Things started to change a few years after Bangladesh gained independence with several quarters getting involved in clashes, resulting in deaths.
Financially, the mills also started counting losses. Finally, in 2002 the government decided to wind up its operations and paid all dues to workers.
On March 6, 2006, the then prime minister Khaleda Zia inaugurated Adamjee Export Processing Zone.
So far, $411.43 million has been invested in the EPZ, according to Nazma Binte Alamgir, general manager for public relations at Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority.
Presently, 50 industrial units on the 245.12-acre EPZ are in operation. Of those, 27 are owned by foreign entities, 10 by locals and 13 are joint ventures.
The factories manufacture garments, zipper, cartons, hangers, labels, tags, shoes, sweaters, textiles, socks, jewellery and other items for export.
Products worth $2,716.41 million have been exported till date. In 2015-16 alone, goods worth $562.91 million were exported by the enterprises of Adamjee EPZ.
Nazma said new factories are being set up in the zone, creating more jobs. “We hope the EPZ will create jobs for one lakh people,” she said, adding that the surrounding neighbourhoods were also developing.
The BEPZA official said the Adamjee-2 jute mill is being demolished to create space for new factories. “Already, some plots have been allocated to set up factories.”
Nazma said after the closure of the mills, all of the workers who were physically capable of working were provided jobs. Children of the some of the workers were also working.”
She said educational qualification is not required for jobs such as that of machine operators or cleaners.
But some former jute mills workers expressed frustration as they did not manage to get jobs at the EPZ.
One of them is Rostom Majhi, who worked at the mills for 27 years.
“Companies inside the EPZ do not give jobs without educational qualifications. I have been trying to get a job inside the factories at the EPZ but failed to get one. Even the EPZ has not given jobs to my children.”
The father of seven has since then been working as a day-labourer. He has to rely on incomes of two of his elder sons, who work at garment factories, to run the family.
“We are somehow making a living. With the closure of the Adamjee Jute Mills, everything has been shattered.”
Another former worker, Abul Kalam, also did not get a job in the EPZ. He worked at the mills for 35 years.
The closure was a bolt from the blue, he said. “Two of my sons and one daughter were still at school. I could not make up my mind on what to do. So, I started working as a day labourer.”
He set up a tea stall with the money he got as compensation from the jute mills. “Now I am providing for the family and paying for the education of the children with the income from the tea stall.”
Reminiscing his days in the mills, Md Liakat Sardar said most of the workers came from districts such as Faridpur, Barisal, Noakhali and Tangail as the working age population in Narayanganj was not large enough to meet the needs.
“The workers used to live in rented houses. They did not have to pay bills for utilities. They just had to pay the house rent. So, all of the workers lived with their families. There were schools, bazars, shops, playing grounds and ponds inside the mills` compound. All are just memories today.”
“One month ago I heard that mill-2 has been sold too. Then there will be no trace of Adamjee Jute Mills. People will get to know only a name.”