Rampant corruption and smuggling caused the famine of 1974

If one takes out any newspaper of 1972 one would be able to see nothing other than the news of murder, robbery, hijacking.

Every day murder, highjacking was taking place in the cities in broad daylight. There was a total reign of terror in the rural Bangladesh. The people were suffocated in their existence. When the people did not have clothes to cover themselves, there was a serious scandal concerning smuggling of cotton twines. When people were starving, lacs and lacs tons of food grains, that came as relief from the donor countries got smuggled out of the country. Since March people were dying out of hunger at various places. Bogra, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Tangial were almost on verge of famine. In different places people took out protest march against exorbitant price hike of staple food and the essential commodities. At this juncture even a spokesman of the Indian High Commission at Dhaka had to confess that smuggling had intensified. The statement was made on 23-2-1972. Corruption spread like wild fire at every nook and corner of the country and at every level. On 6 June 1972 the reporter of Dainik Bangla reported from Sylhet a paradise for the cross border smuggling that the culprits who had been caught by the law enforcing agencies and border security force were being released due to pressure of the political high ups in Dahka.

Similarly an anarchic situation was created in the commercial sector due to the permit system introduced by the government. Person who is getting permit for the yarn does not have the looms. Person who is getting the permit for the kerosin is not a genuine trader. The permit and the licenses were issued not to the genuine traders but to the party touts and supporters. And as a result the people had to suffer. Because of the changing of hands of all licenses and permits the prices of the commodities increased many folds. The women folk could not come out from their houses in daytime because of the fact that they did not have enough clothing to cover themselves. Mother and the daughter had to share one saree. Such news had also been published in the newspapers. To save the crisis the government imported ‘Sunduri’ sarees through TCB (Trading Corporation of Bangladesh) from India. Once the lot reached Bangladesh it was found so short in size that it could hardly cover upto the knees. It could not even` be used for making curtains. When the matter was taken up with the Indian High Commission, they said, "The government agency had made the shipment after carrying out due inspection". The neither government nor TCB had any answer.

In the month of August the country was engulfed in flood. The country received large amount of relief materials. Stories of the unprecedented loot and plunder of the relief materials that took place had been well documented in the newspapers of that time. The government and the ruling party heartlessly looted food, medicine, building materials clothings etc.. On the otherhand hundreds of people were dying every day in hunger. People were desperate to save their lives.

Pages of the newspapers were full of sad tales and pathetic photos of death, hunger and impoverishment. Hundreds and thousands of people became homeless and destitute. There were no food, shelter and clothing for millions who were converging to the cities and towns. At that very situation some of the corrupt leaders were busy in making their fortunes by misappropriating and smuggling millions of dollars worth of relief goods. Ittefaq on 3rd Aug 1974 published a photo that showed hungry people and dogs competing with each other for food from the roadside dustbin. Dainik Bangla gave the news at places people were eating contents ejected from their own vomiting. There were innumerable allegations against Bangladesh Red Cross published in the newspapers. Particularly about the Red Cross chief Gazi Golam Mustafa, popularly known in Bangladesh as ‘Kambal Chor’. Because of his unprecedented corruption, nepotism and misappropriation of the relief goods he became the most hated house hold name in Bangladeshin those days.

To meet the pressure of the inflow of destitute people 135 relief camps were opened in Dhaka City alone. On 12th Aug 1974 the refugees in one of the campat Jatrabari complained that they had not been supplied with any food for three days. On 16th Aug. Mr. Elvin one of the official of the ICRC when visited one of the relief camp at Ademjeenagar, the refugees complained about the chairman of the relief committee for corruption and nepotism. Once Mr. Elivn left the chairman pounced on those who made the complaints along with his goonda Bahini to teach them a lesson. Two people were seriously injured and hospitalized. Because of the distribution of rotten food epidemic such as cholera and diarrhea broke out in most of the camps. People died like sheeps and cattles. Human lives were treated with contempt. The pages of the newspapers of those days are full of hairraising accounts of the famine of 1974. It was not the flood but the man made famine that took away lives of millions. Once healthy farmers turned into beggars in thousands. Many failed to get any alms and finally turned into corpses. Anjuman-e-Mofidul Islam a Muslim charitable organization picked up 30 to 40 unclaimed corpses daily from the streets of Dhaka alone. These news with photographs were flashed in the news papers. In Dhaka city itself 3 to 4 person, were dying out of starvation every hour. At one point such news and photos were not allowed to be published any more in the newspapers. From August till December news kept on coming from out laying areas that people were dying in hundreds every day. On 10th Sept 1974 the daily Ittefaq and other newspapers published photos along with news items showing a young woman trying to cover her self with a fishing net, desperate mother with her child in her arms fighting with the stray dogs for food, the house wives selling themselves just far a morsel of rice. Everyday stories and specific cases of relief misappropriation were being published but no action was ever taken against any one. Lands were sold at throwaway prices. The marginal and small farmers became landless over night. They turned into beggars. On 22 Sept 1974 about 200 unfed, half-clad men and women took out a procession on the streets of Dhaka demanding food and clothings. The death cries of millions could not move the heartless Awami Leaguers. Shamelessly they celebrated Shiekh Mujibur Rahman’s 55th birthday with a cake weighing 55 pounds at Gono Bhaban. Shiekh Mujib cut himself the cake himself. On 23 Sept 1974 government announced to open 4300 Langar Khanas in the country. The stories of those langar khanas were also very pathetic and scandalous. On 24 Sept 1974 in a statement Awami League MP from Naogaon said, "The people of the district were virtually with out any food for last 3 to 4 days. Price of rice was 7 taka / sher". On 6th Oct 1974 Ittefaq published news, "Government imports wine and cigarette worth 21 lacs of taka every month." The same day the food Minister in a statement said, "How many people have died out of starvation till this date is not known to the government. The news that are being published are exaggerations. Some smuggling had taken place". On 8th Oct. Prof. Abul Fazal (later member of the advisory council of President Ziaur Rahman) and 84 teachers of the Chittagong University gave an statement:-

"Such a apathy in national life to fight the natural calamity, such negligence, such indifference, has never been experienced in the past. Void of self-confidence a nation can become a deadmass of solid, present day Bangladesh is a burning example of that. That very spirit of national unity, strength of that tolerance, urge for sacrifice had all been washed away by indecisiveness, wrong decision, administrative inactions and the wave of un interrupted corruption by the handful of people in the helms of the affairs. At such crucial juncture we appeal to the government leaders please allow us a chance to regain our self confidence".

On 8th Oct. 1974 Mr. Mannan of Sramik league said, "After collecting all the information regarding the present salt crisis it has been ascertained that the traders buy the salt from the producer at Tk 2 per mond. The government pays tk 15 and tk 55 for unrefined and refined salt to the traders and the stockiest. The stockiest have opined that if the government raises the price of unrefined salt to tk par 40 mond then there will be no scarcity of salt in the market. Some of our own MPs are also behind such manipulations as it is alleged". On 13th Oct 1974 the news papers said that on average about 84 unclaimed dead bodies are being collected from the streets of Dhaka everyday. On 27th Oct 1974 news papers said that over hundred people were dying in hunger everyday at Jamalpur. The government accepted that some death had occurred due to malnutrition. On 25 Oct 1974 news were published in the newspapers stating trucks load of rice are being smuggled out from the country. The price of rice at Dinajpur was tk 8 par sheer. Seven members of a finally at Manikganj committed suicide due to unbearable hunger. At that time Mr. Qamurzzaman, the then President of the Awami League had said, "The existing laws are unable to stop the smuggling. And no criticisms from within will be tolerated". His statement was a bit strange. As just a few days before on his submission the Parliament passed the law to award capital punishment to the Smugglers. However, since his statement the inner conflicts within Awami League were appearing on the surface. On 26 Oct 1974 Mr. Tajuddin Ahmed lost his Ministership on order of the Prime Minister. About his exit Mr. Tajuddin told the press, "For greater interests of the nation I do not wish to raise any controversy". According to the knowledgable circle of Dhaka and the local and foreign journalists Sheikh Mujibur Rahman could not view positively the image of Mr. Tajuddin that had developed during the liberation war when he was in captivity in Pakistan. More over Sheikh’s immediate family particularly Begum Mujib could not stand Mr. Tajuddin Ahmed as she thought during the liberation war Tajuddin Ahmed had always down played Sheikh Mujibur Rahman being the Prime Minister of the exiled government. He was held responsible for the destruction of the national economy by Sheikh Mujib. He was also removed from the central committee of BKSAL. On 29 Oct 1974 total ban on strike was announced by the government. On the same day one of the MP of the ruling Awami League was arrested for hoarding and smuggling. On 30th Oct 1974 Dr. Shamsuddin Ahmed, a MP of the ruling party was arrested on charge of hoarding of salt.

On 1st November 1974 a meeting was organized by Protection of Fundamental Rights and Legal Aid Committee at Baitul Mukkarram. A call was given to the people from all professional sectors such as teachers, lawyers, doctors, writers, journalists, artists, cultural workers, film actors, actresses and the students to organize a nation wide movement to fight against the present crisis and the famine. Since independence no such large gathering of the professional groups had ever convened. The meeting was presided by Mr. Sikandar Abu Zafar which lasted over two hours. The speakers were Advocate Mirza Golam Hafeez, Dr. Ahmed Sharif, Mr. Zainal Abedin, Barrister Maudud Ahmed, Enayetullah Khan, Kamrun Nahar Laili, Nizamuddin Ahmed, Mohiuddin Alamgir, Muhammed Zakaria, Baddaruddin Umar. In the meeting regarding the prevailing famine and fundamental rights 17 point resolution was passed. After the meeting a procession was taken out which ended at the Shaheed Minar.

The resolution reads inter alia:--

"On 1st Nov. 1974 in the resolution that was adopted unanimously it had been agreed that the intensity of the present famine has surpassed the famine of 1943. And either flood or any other natural calamity did not cause this famine. It was the result of the anti people activities of the ruling coteries and their associates. This is a state of famine. The committee demands that the government declare it as such. The committee also demands that the government should publish a white paper on relief operation and take immediate measures to stop smuggling. The committee also criticizes the government for not forming an all-party relief committee and demands that government should change its position and immediately form an all-party relief committee. The opposition political parties are requested to take necessary initiatives in this regard. Committee urges the government to expand the rationing areas and immediate state relief operation. Demands to increase number of Langar Khanas and to stop all kinds of misappropriation and oppression in those Langar Khanas. The commettee also demands to replace the incumbent RedCross chairman with a judge of the supreme court and protests against political persecution, unlawful arrest, harassment and demands immediate release of all political detainees and political prisoners who are kept in the prison without any specific charge".

While giving an account of the corruption and mis appropriation of the relief materials during the famine of 1974, Begum Khaleda Zia, the then Prime Minister had said on the floor of the Parliament on 13th August 1992.

"The saga of misappropriation of the relief materials went to such an extent that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the then Head of the State even had to lament, where is my piece of kambal?" ( (Published in Bichita 21 Aug 1992)

At that time Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the Awami League was also present in the House as the leader of the opposition. She just could not refute the statement and had to swallow the bitter pills.