|Transshipment: Information Needed
The transit issue between Bangladesh and India has been a hotly debated topic in the country in recent years. The government has coined the phrase ‘Transshipment’ in describing the action of transporting goods through Bangladesh to different parts of India particularly Assam and Tripura. Furthermore, it has stated that transshipment will sustain economic growth and provide business and job opportunities all over the country. However, the opposition states that transshipment would be harmful to national sovereignty and they have called a number of hartals in protest of this issue. In view of the seriousness of this subject and the loss of revenue to the country caused by the series of hartals Democracywatch felt the main issues to be as follows:
• What do the ordinary people think of transshipment?
• Are they even aware of it?
With this backdrop, the Social Survey Unit of Democracywatch conducted an opinion poll in four divisional cities and four thanas of the country from 4 to 10 October 1999. A total of 1031 people were interviewed face-to-face.
Figures have been rounded off to the nearest one-per cent and the error was calculated to be 5 per cent.
The municipal areas of four divisions, namely — Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Sylhet plus four other thanas (now Upazilla) viz. Savar, Shitakunda, Fultala and Fenchugonj were chosen as our target areas. Nine wards from each municipal area and four unions from Savar, Shitakunda and Fultala were selected along with two unions from Fenchugonj by random sampling method. Two wards from each union were identified. On average, one from every five families was chosen and from each chosen family a person aged 18 or above was requested to give his or her opinion. In the case of denial by any respondent to be interviewed, another was chosen after 5 households.
In addition, some transport businesspersons, transport-laborers, labor-leaders, and other businessmen from four municipal areas were interviewed.
Before starting the main survey, the draft questionnaire was pre-tested in Dhaka City. The final questionnaire was then prepared by analyzing the pre-test result.
16 trained interviewers took the interviews, half of which were women.
C. Summary of Results
31 per cent of the respondents knew nothing of the discussion that had been going on in the country. 53 per cent stated that they knew a little of the debate. At large 84 per cent of the people know little or nothing about transshipment. Only 16 per cent of the interviewees stated that they knew about the transshipment issue. We believe this figure is even quite high, as many of the respondents would have claimed to know something about transshipment in order to avoid embarrassment.
Such high rate of ignorance i.e. 84 per cent is very sad, considering the fact that almost 70 per cent of the people interviewed were from urban areas and over 30 per cent were graduates. Considering the resources e.g. television, radio and newspapers, the government has at its disposal to propagate the issue, one would conclude that our results reflect a failure of the government in making the public aware of the transshipment issue.
The following set of figures includes only those respondents who claimed to have at least some knowledge of transshipment for the following questions (i.e. 53 per cent + 16 per cent = 69 per cent).
ore than half of this sample (51 per cent) thought that the issue of transshipment was important. However, this figure will be skewed as many of the interviewees who know a little of the issue would have assumed it to be important by the mere fact that a survey is being conducted on it. (See fig 2)
The comments of transport businessmen, labour-leaders and transport workers, i.e. those people whose livelihood will be affected by transshipment were as follows: Public interest issue 53 per cent, more or less 30 per cent, not at all 12 per cent, no comment 5 per cent
Interestingly there is little difference between these results and those of the general public in fig 2. This may be because of the lack of information available even in the transport industry.
We then asked those who knew something of transshipment whether they agreed with this statement: The state-controlled mass media are not playing any role in informing the public about transshipment. Or if it does, it is not neutral in its reporting. Almost half (47 per cent) agreed with this statement. If we consider the 31 per cent of the original sample that had never even heard of transshipment, the figure becomes highly significant with almost two-thirds of the country either never hearing of transshipment or believing that the government has failed it.
One-third of those who knew about transshipment said that reporting on average was unbiased and l7 per cent said that the state controlled media consistently played a neutral role. 3 per cent said that they don’t know.
At national level, opinion has been expressed that transshipment may be developed on a regional basis and not only on a bi-lateral basis with India i.e. transshipment ought to link India, Nepal, Pakistan and other neighboring countries. 85 per cent participants of the survey were in favor of this and only 8 per cent opposed it. 4 per cent support it more or less and 3 per cent refrained from expressing their opinion. This is a massive boost for the proponents of transshipment although it must be restated that the majority of the people in this sample admitted that they knew only a little about the subject.
By analysing the survey results we find that the majority of the common people are poorly informed about the transit and transshipment issue. The flow of genuine information to the masses is infrequent. It has been seen that those who are informed consider it to be an important matter. The majority has shown interest in having regional transshipment rather than simple bilateral transshipment with India. As a large portion of the population is not properly aware of transshipment issue, the authorities should provide the required information to the general public.
Primarily the opinions of educated urban people have been reflected in this survey so it does not represent the opinion of the entire population of the country. Nevertheless, this report is important because the opinions of urban middle class citizens are more significant in case of an issue like transshipment. We hope that the decision-makers will take the findings of this opinion poll into account.
Date of Publishing: 9 November 1999