Development

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Jica takes back $25m from BTCL project

ADMIN : August 13, 2015 11:22 am : Development, News

A government probe committee found five top officials of Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd (BTCL) guilty of attempted corruption, inefficiency and failure to establish a nationwide telecom backbone network in the last ten years.

Meanwhile, Japan International Cooperation Agency took back the $25 million soft loan that it had sanctioned for the project.

The telecom division presented the probe report to the parliamentary standing committee on the telecom ministry on Wednesday.

The committee is satisfied with the report but not with the recommendations; so it has decided to revisit the report and make new recommendations, meeting attendees said.

It also formed a subcommittee headed by Kazi Firoz Rashid, a member of the standing committee, along with two other members to make the new recommendations.

“After evaluating the report at the meeting, we decided to find out the truth as it is our responsibility,” said Imran Ahmad, chairman of the committee.

This is not just a loan or failure to complete a project; the entire nation’s image is attached to it, said Ahmad. In June this year, Jica took back the loan it had allocated to establish the countrywide telecom backbone network in 2005. The nation’s first fibre-optic cable project was meant to build a transmission backbone to ensure uninterrupted internet connectivity across the country.

This is the first time that they have taken back a loan from Bangladesh, committee members said.

In a 200-page report, the probe committee found guilty Ashok Kumar Mandal, the project director; BTCL’s former managing directors Azizul Islam, Md Kalimullah and Mahfuz Uddin Ahmed; and Shahabuddin Ahmed, a director.

It also raised questions on the ability, honesty and efficiency of the BTCL officials.

However, the probe committee did not recommend any punishment for them.

“They violated the public procurement rules. That’s why the donor lost interest and decided to take back its money,” the report said.

“We will soon finalise our recommendations, which will be based on the findings of the probe committee,” said a meeting attendant, seeking anonymity.

Prior to taking back the loan, Jica wrote a letter to the senior secretary of Economic Relations Division to take a lesson from this incident and to avoid making such a mistake again in the future.

It was a very humiliating letter for the entire nation, according to the standing committee members.

It was after this letter that the Prime Minister’s Office directed the telecom division to run an investigation.

Although Jica allocated the loan in 2005, it became effective from July 2008, after the government fulfilled Jica’s condition of turning the-then Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board into BTCL.

The newly formed BTCL had appointed a consultant for the project but little progress was made since 2011.

Source: Daily Star

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Ministers, MPs lobbying for public service recruitment

ADMIN : August 8, 2015 5:08 pm : Development, News

“The candidate is an active worker of the ruling Awami League. He was a committed vice president of the party’s student wing Chhatra League from his school life.” “He is the son of an Awami family in my constituency. All of the members of the family are lifetime supports of the Awami League.” “All of them are sons of an Awami League family.” “The candidate is personally known to me.”

These remarks were made by ministers and MPs in recommendation letters written on their official letterhead, for recruitment of candidates in the police and the fire service.

Influential leaders of the ruling party have sent their recommendations through Demi Official (DO) letters to the home ministry. They are also making phone calls to lobby for the candidate of their choice.

Experts have expressed their disapproval at such recommendations made by ministers and MPs, terming this a crime.

Local government, rural development and cooperatives minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, signed one such DO letter. In his recommendation letter, he said, “The candidate is an active AL worker. His family members are workers of Jubo League, the youth front of the AL. The candidate is a follower of Bangabandhu and is personally known to me.”

The minister further said, “I am strongly recommending him for the job as the present government has pledged to ensure jobs for each family in the country.”

The minister, however, denied that he issued any such letter.

“Putting forth DO letter for recommending anyone for jobs is a crime and I have made no such recommendations. It might be a fake DO letter. The person who did it will be arrested,” the minister told Prothom Alo.

Textiles and jute minister Md. Emaj Uddin Pramanik alone issued DO letters for 24 candidates. He recommended these 24 candidates for the post of sub-inspector of police.

Despite repeated attempts, it was not possible to contact the minister for his comments on the issue. He did not respond to messages sent to his cell phone either.

Member of the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry of posts, telecommunications, science and technology Shawkat Hachanur Rahman wrote of a candidate in a recommendation letter, “He has served sincerely as the vice president of Ramna Union Chhatra League since his school life. He is the son of an Awami family in my constituency. All of the members of the family are lifetime supporters of the AL.”

“Therefore,” he added, “I am requesting for him to be recruited to the post of SI in the police.”

The state minister for post, telecommunication and ICT, Zunaid Ahmed Palak, has recommended four candidates from Natore to the posts of firemen in the fire service and civil defence.

In his recommendation, he said. “All of them sons of AL families.”

When contacted, the state minister denied that he ever made such recommendations. “Instructions have been given for issuing ‘character certificates’ only and I usually do so,” he said.

Shipping minister Shajahan Khan recommended a candidate from Madaripur to the post of fireman in the fire service.

When his attention was drawn to the recommendation, he said, “I just have made a recommendation for consideration.”

Earlier, health minister Mohammad Nasim issued a DO letter for final recruitments to the post of police sergeant.

Chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry of public administration HN Ashiqur Rahman, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the planning ministry Abul Kalam Azad, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the agriculture ministry Makbul Hossain, MP from a constituency in Bhola Nurunnabi Chowdhury, MP from Noakhali HM Ibrahim, MP from Chapainawabganj Abdul Adud, MP from Chittagong M Abdul Latif, another MP from Noakhali Mamunur Rashid and member of the parliamentary standing committee on the land ministry AKM Maidul Islam also sent names recommending candidates of their choice.

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told Prothom Alo that his ministry also received such DO letters.

The minister said, “Anyone can recommend their candidates, but we cannot go beyond the law.”

Earlier, social welfare minister Syed Mohsin Ali had forwarded a list of 55 candidates from Moulvibazar, recommending them for the posts of police constable and many from the list have got the jobs.

Before that, 37 workers of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling AL, were appointed to the post of deputy assistant director at the National Security Intelligence. Allegations have it that political considerations overpowered merit in recruiting them.

When contacted, former caretaker government adviser Akbar Ali Khan, also a former cabinet secretary, said a minister or a people’s representative can in no way make recommendations for public service jobs.

“It is a clear irregularity. No law stipulates forwarding such recommendations. Public servants should be recruited on the basis of merit,” he added.

On condition anonymity, two former inspectors general of police (IGPs) said making recommendations by the ministers and MPs for the public service is unfortunate.

They said any recruitment made outside of the rules is completely illegal and unethical and it would encourage corruption.

“The chain of command in the public service will break down if the recruitments are not made transparently on the basis of merit,” they said.

Source: Prothom Alo

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Opinion: Why increase power tariff?

ADMIN : August 7, 2015 7:25 am : Development, News

Arun Karmaker

The costs of electricity generation are falling in the country along with the fall in fuel price internationally. But, the prices of electricity at the clients‘ end are not being adjusted downwardly. On the contrary, Bangladesh energy regulatory commission (BERC) has continued to raise the power tariffs.

The power development board (PDB) receives electricity at a much lower price from the government-approved private power companies who use furnace oil themselves. However, the proposal of PDB to increase different rates of electricity price does not reflect that price. The proposal contains the government-fixed oil price and the BERC is processing the proposal to raise power tariffs on the basis of that oil price. Experts say there is no need to increase electricity prices at the moment.

Sources in the ministry of power, energy and mineral resources said the government so far gave approval to 11 rental and quick rental power companies to import furnace oil for their use. Six to seven of the companies have already started importing the fuel. Almost 730 megawatts of electricity is being generated presently, through their imported fuel.

The PDB is getting Tk 10 per unit of the electricity on an average from the rental and quick rental power projects.

The furnace oil costs around Tk 30 to 32 per litre for the companies to generate electricity.

On the other hand, the power plants using the government-provided furnace oil have to pay Tk 62 per litre. That is why the electricity costs around Tk 16-17 per unit for them. If the price of the furnace oil is balanced with the international market, then the average electricity production cost of the rental and quick rental power plants would come down to Tk 10 per unit, which is equal to the price of the coal-based power plants.

Meanwhile, special assistant to the chief adviser of the former caretaker government, for the ministry of power, energy and mineral resources, M Tamim said the average electricity production cost of some companies has come down to Tk 6 from Tk 6.5 because of the low fuel price. The fuel-based power plants are generating more than 2500 MW electricity. The average power production cost will come close to Tk 5 if all of them avail fuel at low price. As a result, power tariffs would not be increased.

On the other hand, electricity prices have come down a little as the government renewed the agreement with the rental and quick rental to buy electricity. So there is no valid reason to raise electricity prices at the moment.
The rental and quick rental power plants have to operate a bit longer as the coal-based power plants are delayed. The number of fuel-based power plants and their production also has to rise. If the fuel prices are not reduced, the power production costs will reach unbearable levels.

BERC sources said, they are working on the issue. The price will increase a little. According to the public hearing in last January-February, the price of gas will increase at least 20%, and the electricity price will increase 5 to 6%. But this will not be done very soon.

A meeting took place at the prime minister’s office about the increase in price. Certain complications regarding the price hike were discussed. It was said that the increase in the price was justified despite the fall in oil price. The government’s plan to subsidise liquefied petroleum (LP) gas along with increasing the gas prices was also discussed.

Prices of petroleum products are likely to fall further in the international market. One of the reasons is lifting the embargo on Iran by the US and its allies. Iran was unable to sell oil in the international market because of the embargo. The flow of oil in the international market will go up, in a plummeting of prices.

Iran has offered to take huge amounts of jute bags from Bangladesh if it agrees to buy oil from Iran.

Source: Prothom Alo

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Only 100 tigers left in Bangladesh’s famed Sundarbans forest

ADMIN : July 27, 2015 12:45 pm : Development, News

Only around 100 tigers remain in Bangladesh’s famed Sundarbans forest, far fewer of the endangered animals than previously thought, according to a census.

Some 440 tigers were recorded during the previous census in 2004 in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest and one of the last remaining habitats for the big cats.

But experts said better methodology was the reason for the huge drop in the numbers, saying hidden cameras used this time around, rather than pugmarks, gave a much more accurate figure.

“So plus or minus we have around 106 tigers in our parts of the Sundarbans. It’s a more accurate figure,” Dey told Agence France-Presse about the survey, which has not yet been publicly released.

About 74 tigers have previously been counted on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, which makes up nearly 40% of the forest straddling both countries over 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq m).

Bengal tigers live mainly in India, where nationwide there are 2,226, with smaller populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar.

Monirul Khan, a zoology professor at Bangladesh’s Jahangirnagar University and the nation’s foremost tiger expert, said the survey confirmed his worst fears.

“It seems the population has declined more than we had feared,” Khan said, saying his studies showed the figure was no more than 200.

The World Wildlife Fund says tigers worldwide are in serious danger of becoming extinct in the wild. Their numbers have fallen from 100,000 in 1900 to around 3,200 now.

Officials have conceded that the pugmark tracking system used in 2004 was unreliable and cameras were installed in trees throughout the forest for the latest survey.

YV Jhala, professor at the Wildlife Institute of India, told AFP the new figure was the “reality”.

“The 440 figure was a myth and an imagination. Bangladesh parts of the Sundarbans with its prey size can support up to 200 tigers,” he said, also urging authorities to act to better protect the cats.

Source: Guardian

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Human trafficking in Our Times: Sold into slavery for a few thousand taka

ADMIN : July 7, 2015 10:20 am : Development, News

Abid Azad

Teknaf, which has the Bay of Bengal on its south and west, and Arakan state of Myanmar on the east beyond the beautiful Naf River, could have become a beautiful tourist zone in the country.

Instead it has now become a hub for human traffickers and human smugglers, and has gradually become a threatening place for tourists and local inhabitants.

“I cannot remember when I last walked on the beach. Except for the main Teknaf beach, we are scared to visit any place in Teknaf for fear of kidnapping,” said local inhabitant Mozammal Hoq while walking with this reporter from Teknaf beach to Khurer Mukh and Katabunia area.

“We are passing such risky places like Khurer Mukh, Katabunia, and Kachubunia. All these are among the major points for traffickers to start voyage towards Thailand-Malaysia. No one dares to walk here alone,” he added.

Both smugglers and traffickers have worked hard to expand their networks to get people to Malaysia in any way they can over the last few years.

Brokers term the Malaysia-bound people “buffaloes,” according to the victims.

To identify them, brokers use different types of identification marks on the bodies of those being trafficked, like buffaloes have during selling and purchase.

Some have alphabets or signs to identify the different brokers, while others have hand belts of different colours.

Raihan’s story

Md Raihan is an 18-year-old who was captured in Moheshkhali area of Cox’s Bazar when he wanted to go to Malaysia for employment in April last year.

Raihan was the only kidnapped boy who returned alive after he experienced the horror of life as a slave in both Thailand and Malaysia.

He revealed to the Dhaka Tribune how brokers play their roles.

After two days and a night, the boat he was in reached Shita Pahar from Moheshkhali and he was shifted to another cargo boat where around 300 people were kept forcefully at gunpoint, he said.

“When we reached Thailand all of us were divided into two big groups – those who could pay money and those who could not.

“Of the 300 persons, the women were sold separately. Different buyers bought them. Those buyers never buy any men but only women.

“Another group bought several people to send them for work on a rubber plantation in Thailand for about three-five years,” Raihan told the Dhaka Tribune.

“Another broker named Hazi bought 25 of us including me for Malaysian Ringgit 6,000 each. He later sold us to another Malaysian buyer.”

The brokers

Brokers maintain a strong network to operate their business from both inside and outside the country.

In Bangladesh, the first tier of brokers collect people who are interested to go to Malaysia.

These brokers influence people in any way they can, as their main target is collecting people by any means.

The first tier brokers have a good number of associates around the country who are also working to collect people.

According to the Cox’s Bazar police, so far they have found people from as many as 30 districts in the country who came to Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf area to go to Malaysia through sea route.

The BGB commanding officer in Teknaf told the Dhaka Tribune: “Mostly people come from Sirajganj, Narsingdi, Satkhira, Jessore, and Jhenaidah.”

The Malaysia-bound people are later sold for Tk5,000-20,000 to the second tier brokers.

The price of people varies according to the distance. People from Teknaf area are sold at Tk3,000-5,000, while the going rate is Tk10,000 for Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong area and as much as Tk20,000 for people from Dhaka or other districts.

The safe houses

Once they have brought them from the first tier brokers, the second tier brokers transport their unfortunate victims to safe houses where they are kept.

The safe houses are unremarkable from the outside and all are situated close to the sea. They are little more than shacks, mostly made of bamboo and polythene or tin sheets.

When they have collected a good number, the brokers then send them to a ship, anchored near Shita Pahar in Myanmar, first through small fishing boats, locally known as tangkhoano, that can carry 15-20 people, then on a bigger fishing boat, carrying 150-250 voyagers, and then taken to the anchored ship.

Shita Pahar is about 15-20km south-west from Shah Porir Dwip and 30-40km from Teknaf. The journey from Teknaf takes five-six hours.

Shita Pahar is not a port for ships but a safe zone for trafficking. Different kinds of ships including large boats remain anchored there.

This is safe for the traffickers, because if the Myanmar navy moves forward to catch them they enter into the Bangladesh sea territory and if the Bangladesh navy makes a move, they enter into the Myanmar sea territory.

The second tier brokers sell their purchased people to the third tier brokers on the ships for Tk25,000-30,000.

The voyage begins

The third tier brokers bring the Malaysia-bound people to Thailand initially.

People who can pay are helped to cross the Thailand-Malaysia border, and people who cannot pay are sold to another gang who purchase people to work as modern day slaves in plantations.

However, often even those who say they are willing to pay are forced into working as plantation slaves while the women are sold into prostitution.

It depends on the whim of the third tier brokers, said sources. If a man is handed over to a kidnapping gang, only God knows what will happen to him, they told the Dhaka Tribune.

If the third tier broker works only to bring people to Malaysia, he will send them to Malaysia after receiving payment, but if he is a slave businessman, then he will sell everyone of his purchased people.

The minute the people are brought to the Thailand jungle, the third tier brokers start all kinds of torture. They then make phone calls to their relatives to get the money.

The transaction is processed through mobile banking accounts or actual bank accounts between the victims’ families and the brokers.

This is how the third tier brokers make back their investment. They charge anywhere from Tk1,80,000 per person, depending on how much they have had to lay out.

The traffickers torture their victims in order to expedite payment and many die from this torture or from illness or malnutrition during this time, waiting for the ransom payments to arrive.

Those who fail to pay are sold as slaves.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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Human trafficking in Our times: Why risk your life on the open seas?

ADMIN : July 7, 2015 10:17 am : Development, News

Abid Azad, Adil Sakhawat in Dhaka

Abdul Khaleque, an inhabitant of Enayetpur upazila of Sirajganj is now back in Bangladesh after failing to go to Malaysia, and is saddled with Tk4 lakh debt into the bargain.

Once a weaver who could earn only Tk5,000 a month, he now has to pay interest of Tk1,000 a week against his debt.

Khaleque said: “I took the loan from the money-lenders as I thought I could easily refund the money after earning a handsome amount in Malaysia. But as I failed to go to Malaysia now I wonder how can I refund the money or how I can bear the interest weekly.”

Not only Khaleque, most of the victims managed their payment by taking loan against high interest while some needed to sell their land, domestic animals, or other assets to fund the voyage.

“I am an illiterate person. Being illiterate what can I do here in my country? Working scope for the illiterate is zero. Once I went to a technical training centre in Tangail, which is a government organisation, but the instructor there told me that I have to complete at least class eight to take training there,” Khaleque replied when asked why he chose to go to abroad illegally instead of trying to do something in the country.

Sariful from the same upazila, who recently came back from Indonesia after attempting to go to Malaysia, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Weaving as a profession is popular here in Sirajganj. But the weavers get very low wage. Monthly we can earn only Tk5,000-6,000 which is very low. So young people like me choose to go abroad in illegal way to Malaysia to earn more.”

These people do not dare to do any business in the country by getting loan or selling their land. They believe if they can go to Malaysia and start working there they can recover their debt within a few years. But it will be impossible to recover the debt doing the same work or even business here in Bangladesh with the same amount of money.

Poverty, non-stop political crisis, and extortion by political muscle-men are their main enemies to do anything in the country, they added.

A human rights activist Nur Khan said: “We might be becoming a middle-income country, but still the required employment opportunities are not there.

“People are becoming desperate because of political crisis in the country. At the same time, it is harder to go abroad legally. Day by day, employment opportunities are decreasing overseas for Bangladeshi people while at the same time people do not find sufficient opportunities in the country,” he added.

In his assessment, this is what forces people to try their luck on the illegal voyage to Malaysia.

Supply and demand

According to a report by the UN High Commission for Refugees, from June 2013 to June 2014 more than 53,000 people have fled by sea from the Bangladesh-Myanmar border region, an increase of 60% from the previous year.

According to the Bureau of Manpower, Export, and Training (BMET), roughly 200,000 migrants have gone abroad legally in 2015 so far. The number was 425,000 in 2014.

After five years of closed doors, the Bangladesh government signed a deal with the Malaysian government on October 22, 2012 to send Bangladeshi migrants under G2G process. The registration database shows that over 1.4 million had registered their names as aspirants.

Since then, 3,853 aspirants went to Malaysia in 2013, 5,134 in 2014 and 1,047 in the current year under G2G process.

The database maintained by BMET also shows so far 1.45 million aspirants have already registered to go to another preferred destination, Saudi Arabia, which market has resumed after seven years.

But so far in the last five months only 9,726 aspirants have been able to go to KSA through government initiative.

Following the money

In 2013, remittances were $13.8 billion, which rose to $15bn in 2014. But up to May this year, remittances were $5bn compared to over $6bn at the same time last year.

BMET Director General Begum Shamsun Nahar told the Dhaka Tribune over phone: “I do not think the supply of our manpower is low. According to the countries’ demand, we meet their demand.”

However, a joint secretary from the expatriates welfare ministry, requesting anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Maximum aspirants I meet working here as an expatriates ministry official, come from lower income family background who depend on agriculture as their profession. Most of them feel they need to earn more money to live and decided to go abroad as their present profession does not provide required income. Then they start trying to go abroad at any cost. This is when they fall victim of brokers or traffickers.

“Due to their lower education level they think the illegal way is a perfectly fine way to become a migrant,” he added.

When asked what are the government’s initiatives to keep people from choosing the hazardous and illegal sea route to go Malaysia, the expatriates welfare minister responded: “You journalists act like you know better than a minister.”

He then refused to talk further with this correspondent.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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Human trafficking in Our Times: The deadly route to Malaysia

ADMIN : July 7, 2015 10:12 am : Development, News

Abid Azad

A certain Ruhul Amin, who came from Myanmar to Teknaf in the late 1980s, was the one who first discovered the route to bring people from Bangladesh to Malaysia through the Bay of Bengal by boat, say local inhabitants.

In 1995, the first voyage was made by a boat from the No 1 sluice gate under Jaliyapara of Teknaf.

The place was very close to my house and I heard the news from my family when I returned from Saudi Arabia, recalls Mozammal Hoque, a long-time local resident.

Initially, it was only Rohingyas who ventured to Malaysia by sea, but as the route became more popular, locals from Teknaf also started to go, and by 2011 people from all over the country started coming to Teknaf to make the journey to Malaysia.

It did not take long for the brokers to realize that they were sitting on a gold-mine, and that taking undocumented workers to Malaysia could be a good business, as it was cheap and it did not require any passport or visa.

The brokers only thought of making as much profit as possible. They did not even care when the sea was dangerous.They used to send people in Malaysia during the rainy season regardless of safety.

Often the wooden boats were broken due to heavy storm and due to collision with rocks which killed hundreds of people over the years, according to locals.

It became a usual scenario in the country that each rainy season one or more such incidents would occur.

The pioneering brokers became legends in the locality, and locals still recall their names: Baitta Saleh and his sons, Kamal and Hossain, Tojor Mulluk, a Myanmar fisherman.  Hefja Majhi, a Rohingya, is another.

A local union parishad member recalls: “Hefja first used to go fishing in the sea, sometimes in more deep sea area. He then used a compass to identify his location. Around 7-8 years ago, when he also came to learn the route, he went to Malaysia in a fishing boat with 5-6 people with him. At that time, there was no such restriction in any of these countries like now.”

The brokers also started influencing Bangladeshi people to go to Malaysia and they got a good response as they targeted the poor who were keen to trade their suffering life for a better one.

Gradually, the brokers’ network grew, and turned into a syndicate.

They also started to manage a large ship from Chittagong port so they could transport many more people, paying the ship’s captain handsomely for his services, elderly boatmen in the Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf area recall.

The tempting of Teknaf

The locals heard of voyagers to Malaysia who were sending good money back to their families and had prospered, building houses and setting up businesses. The tales were a temptation.

Most of the people in Teknaf earlier earned from fishing or betel leaf, palm, and salt cultivation.

The Teknaf upazila agriculture officer Abdul Latif said: “Often the agriculture business is not good enough due to political unrest in the country, while irrigation is the remaining main problem for cultivation here.”

“Day by day the agricultural land has been decreasing rapidly due to lack of sufficient irrigation system while due to climate change and high temperature most of the lands are affected by severe salinity,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

During rainy season and hilly water flow, Aman rice has been cultivated in 11,000 hectares while it goes down to only 1,200 hectares during Boro season because of irrigation crisis, he added.

As the agriculture business has become less profitable, people lose their hope for a better business from it, thus drugs, manpower export, and human trafficking has become the big business in the area, according to many locals and government officials.

In this way, the number of Malaysia migrant seekers had been increasing while at the same time the demand of people has also increased the number of brokers in this area.

Human trafficking is big business in huge swathes of Teknaf and Cox’s Bazar. Some of the areas in which it is a mainstay of the local economy are: Mitha Panir Chhora, North Lomburi, South Lomburi, Khurer Mukh, Katabunia, Kochubunia, Hariakhali, and Shah Porir Dwip in Teknaf, and Reju Khal, Nazirar Tek, Uttaranunia Chhora BIWTA Ghat, Boro Chhora point, Majhir Haat, Moheshkhali, and Kutubdia in the Cox’s Bazar area.

At the same time, most of the families in these localities have their one or more members who are living in Malaysia now, while some have even gone on to Australia after reaching Malaysia.

This lucrative business has now spread all over the country, especially in North Bengal, due to economic hardship, so brokers have outposts far and wide to lure unsuspecting migrants.

According to an intelligence report, people from 30 districts in the country are coming here in order to go to Malaysia.

The deadly route

The brokers first collect the Malaysia-bound people and then they bring them by a small fishing boat to a nearby ship, which is kept waiting at a safe area in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of Shittwe area of Myanmar, known among the traffickers and migrants as Shita Pahar.

Elderly boatmen and fishermen in Teknaf area, told the Dhaka Tribune that ships are mostly anchored near Shita Pahar and the traffickers usually do not bring the ship inside the Bangladesh territory as the Bangladesh Navy and Coast Guard always remain alert here.

Many Malaysia-bound people also told the Dhaka Tribune that it require only 15 minutes to reach a big cargo boat, which can carry 200-300 people, by a small fishing boat, that carries 10-15 persons, from Katabunia and Kochubunia under Teknaf upazila as these places are situated near the sea. It is also a safe point to start without any hassle.

The people in the cargo boat are later brought to ships near Shita Pahar, which can carry 500-600 people.

However, sometimes ships are also anchored inside the Bangladesh sea area at a suitable and safe time.

When the ship gets 500 people, it starts its journey to reach Thai waters which are near the Thailand- Malaysia border through Myanmar sea area, which is quite safe.

Thailand is the drop-off point where another party of brokers and godfathers demand their payment and ransom. When they get their payment or ransom in Bangladesh, they send the migrants on to Malaysia.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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Tax on exports, private universities VAT lowered

ADMIN : June 30, 2015 8:56 am : Development, News

Realtors to get more than one year to pay duties, finance bill passed

Shakhawat Hossain

Lowering tax on exports, reducing the proposed VAT on tuition fees for private university students and slashing additional levy on internet users, the finance bill for the new fiscal year was passed in parliament on Monday. The finance bill also kept income of fish farms up to Tk 20,00,000 out of tax purview.

Tax on exports was reduced to 0.6 per cent from the proposed one per cent because of hectic lobbying by apparel exporters. The proposal for 10 per cent value added tax on tuition fees for the students studying in private universities, medical and engineering institutions was lowered to 7.5 per cent following de mand by the guardians. Finance minister AMA Muhith, who announced the budgetary proposals in the house on June 4, was also forced to backtrack on bringing all fish farms under tax net apparently in the face of political pressure.

Instead, income above Tk 20,00,000 by a fish farmer or a fish farm would be brought under income tax net in the new fiscal that would begin July 1, said Muhith while seeking approval of the amendments. Earlier, taking part in the budget discussion, prime minister Sheikh Hasina asked the finance minister to review tax on exports and the proposed tax rates on fish farmers. She, however, appreciated various other measures.

Muhith offered corporate tax facility enjoyed by listed firms to nine newly established private banks and extended the time limit for realtors to pay duties and service charge to more than one year. He relaxed the mandatory provision of one year to pay the duties and service charges by realtors. He brought about changes in the minimum income tax slabs in metropolitan and other areas of the country after proposing Tk 4,000 throughout the country that had drawn criticism. The rate now stands at Tk 5,000 for Dhaka and Chittagong city corporation areas, Tk 4,000 for other city corporation areas and Tk 3,000 for areas outside the city corporations.

The proposal for submission of mandatory tax identification number of parents by students studying in English medium schools at union level was withdrawn. The provision would now only be applicable to district level schools. The existing five per cent duty on import of books was withdrawn. Import duty on drugs used in cancer treatment was slashed.

Muhith further hiked tax on low-priced cigarettes (between Tk 21 and Tk 42 a packet) and kept the proposed duty on higher priced cigarettes intact. The import duty on ‘completely knocked down’ motorcycle was raised to 60 per cent from 45 per cent. But the finance minister withdrew the mandatory provision in the original budget proposal for keeping painted motorbikes out of CKD status. Local assemblers who have painting facility will lose to importers of painted motorcycles, mainly from India.

Muhith said sugar importers would enjoy existing import duty after imposition of higher duty was ruled out.

He thanked critics who said the budget was implementable despite being ambitious.

‘I am encouraged and optimistic’, said Muhith, the only finance minister of the country who presented seven national budgets in a row since 2009-2010. He said the prime minister was very much correct in her view that the country would be baptised to a middle-income country by 2021. He also praised the prime minister for the desire to transform the country into a developed nation by 2041. Muhith said projected seven per cent growth of gross domestic product would be achievable this time to break the jinx of six per cent growth over the last one decade. He put emphasis on political stability to achieve 24 per cent investment by the private sector from exiting 16 per cent to the GDP.

The Appropriation Bill elaborating allocations to different ministries is expected to be passed in the house today.

Source: New Age

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70,000kg expired dates spread in Chittagong, repackaged and relabelled

ADMIN : June 18, 2015 4:40 am : Development, News

Tarek Mahmud, Chittagong

Around 70,000kg expired dates have already reached the kitchen markets in Chittagong city ahead of Ramadan, repackaged and carrying fake date of expiry, putting the health of thousands of people at risk.

The matter came to light yesterday when the Detective Branch of Chittagong Metropolitan Police conducted a raid at a cold storage in the city’s Chaitanyagoli area.

The detectives raided the cold storage, owned by Rownak Jahan who also owns East Asiatic Trading Corporation Limited, around 2pm following a tip-off. Led by Assistant Commissioner (North Zone) Mohammad Kamruzzaman, the team seized  6,000 cartons of out-of-date dates and 2,000 cartons of raisins that had been imported last year, as well as some stickers with fake expiration dates, in the three-hour raid.

Each carton of dates carries around 10kg of dates and each carton of raisins carries 10.5kg of raisins, the assistant commissioner said.

Following the drive, a mobile court led by Executive Magistrate and Assistant Commissioner Ashraful Alam of Chittagong district sealed off the cold storage.

He sentenced East Asiatic Trading Corporation Limited’s Manager advocate SK Dutta, 70, to a year of jail and charged him a Tk50,000 fine.

The court also sentenced three persons – Dolon Barua, 32, Mahbubur Rahman, 40, and Nazim Uddin, 29 – to six months in jail; the convicts are employees of a trader named Aziz, who owns 3,000 cartons of the expired dates.

Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, the cold storage Office Assistant AK Mollik said a trader named Nurul Kabir Chowdhury imported some 13,329 cartons of dates – 10kg in each carton – and stored them in the cold storage on July 22 last year.

Later, Nurul sold the dates to different traders, who started collecting their purchases in May this year. Aziz, however, sent his men to relabel the packages of his purchase, said DB Sub-Inspector Santosh Kumar Chakma.

By the time the detectives raided the cold storage, more than 70,000kg of expired dates had already been dispatched to different stores and markets by some ill-motivated traders, he said.

Executive Magistrate Ashraful said they found expired dates, raisins, almonds and other products imported by nine traders.

He said the drives would continue and the products found in cold storages would be examined further.

According to Chittagong District Administration, Chittagong City Corporation, Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution and other bodies, a total of 20 mobile courts are roaming around the port city to prevent trading and consumption of sub-standard food items during Ramadan.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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Celebrating Farakka Day: Pride of One Nation, Sorrow of Another

ADMIN : May 16, 2015 3:50 am : Development, News

The Historic “Farakka Long-March Day” will be observed on Saturday in the Bangladesh commemorating populist leader Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani’s huge long march towards Farakka Dam 39 years back, reports UNB.

Different socio-political organisations chalked out various programmes to mark the day.

On May 16 in 1976, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani led a massive long march from Rajshahi towards India’s Farakka barrage, demanding demolition of the barrage constructed by the Indian government to divert flow of Ganges water inside its territory. Thousands of people participated in the long march and staged demonstrations protesting the construction of the barrage.

The Farakka Barrage over the Ganges in the Indian state of West Bengal is roughly 16.5 kilometres (10.3 miles) from the Chapainawabganj border that has had a massive adverse impact on Bangladesh’s ecology since its implementation. National Awami Party (Nap) organised a discussion at the National Press Club on Friday. BNP also issued a statement on the occasion showing deep respect in memory of Maulana Bhasani

History of the Farakka Barrage (1961- present)

The town of Farakka is in India on the river Ganges, about 17km from where the Ganges crosses the western borders of Bangladesh to become the Padma. The 7, 229 ft barrage at Farakka is the source of an on-going dispute between India and Bangladesh. The tension over the barrage has a complex history which is embedded in a network of communications between firstly, India and Pakistan and then later, after the War of Independence in 1971, between India and Bangladesh. The barrage has both affected and been affected by the relations between these countries who share the Ganges; it has highlighted governmental policies and social issues as well as touching, in the last decade, on the concept of water-ownership. The dispute has still to be fully settled: the most recent agreement was signed in 1996 but it does not constitute a long-term commitment. The power of Farakka Barrage to incite passion continues in the minds and hearts of Indians and Bangladeshis.

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The Farakka Barrage. Photo: SANDRP Blog

A barrage is built on flat land for the purpose of diverting water; this is achieved by raising the level of the river so that part of the flow can be diverted into a feeder canal which leads to wherever the water is required. The Farakka Barrage was constructed with the aim of reviving the Port of Calcutta, which is situated on the banks of the Hooghly, also called the Bhagirathi, river. The Indian government believed that the Hooghly was deteriorating and the build-up of silt would lead to the decline of Calcutta Port. The diverted water was designed to produce an extra flow that would flush the siltation from the lower reaches of the river. When the Farakka Barrage Plan was announced in 1961, the government of Pakistan responded with concern about the possible effects on East Bengal. They predicted that the reduced quantity of water flowing into East Bengal would be insufficient for the people who live on the banks and the agriculture and ecology that were dependent on the flow of water from the Ganges.

In the early exchanges of Pakistan’s concerns and India’s assurances, both countries engaged expert technical advice on the barrage; Prof. Walter Hensen was invited by India to examine the problems of Calcutta Port and Prof. Arthur Ippen and Clarence Wicker were asked to investigate India’s project by the government of Pakistan. Both countries’ experts came to opposite and equally definitive conclusions using the same information. More importantly, Ippen and Wicker felt strongly that the barrage could in fact exacerbate the problem it was trying to solve.. Why the experts differed so much in their opinions is hard to judge, except that there is evidence of the possibility that the Indian experts had forgotten to account for the effect of increased salinity in the water. The myths tell of a malign intent on India’s part in the continued construction of the Farakka Barrage despite the protests of opposition but, was it really India’s plan to sabotage Pakistan? Poor relations between the two countries after the partition certainly seem to add to this myth – however, there is evidence that there were other factors pressurizing India to go ahead. In 1959, the concern for Calcutta Port was very real; business interests, such as the profitability of shipping, commercial and industrial ventures were perceived to be threatened by the shallowing of the Hooghly. It was these economic and political pressures which lead to the need for such a rapid solution to the problem and they can alsoaccount for why an inadequate technical rationale was used and the project approved so quickly. Since the barrage has been utilized, there have been reports which support Ippen and Wicker’s conclusions, saying the barrage is responsible for worsening the Hooghly. It is true that the barrage at Farakka has done nothing to save Calcutta Port (which has suffered from the general decline in the Indian shipping industry) but – for obvious reasons – Indian authorities are reluctant to admit its failure.

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Diversion of water to Farakka Feeder Canal from right bank Photo: SANDRP Blog

At the root of the conflict was the Pakistani feeling that the Indian government was insensitive to the difficulties that might be caused by large diversions from the Ganges. The basic problem was that during the dry season, the Ganges had an insufficient amount of water to be supplying both India and Pakistan – a fact which India refused to admit. Between 1961 and 1970, Pakistan approached India to hold talks; firstly, to pressurize them to give up the barrage and when that failed, to have the right to be involved in deciding how much water was to be diverted. By 1970, after continued failed talks, Pakistan resorted to threatening India with a plan to build its own barrage to account for the missing water that would be diverted by India. As Pakistan had hoped, India had no interest in a counter-barrage that might threaten the existence of the one that had just been completed (costing US $240 million), so Pakistan was assured it would be involved in discussions on the amount of the diversion. However these talks were never held because in 1971, the struggle for independence began. Many of the Pakistani negotiators believe that during the years 1960-1970, India purposefully held off holding negotiations with Pakistan in order that the barrage be finished.

With the creation of the new state of Bangladesh, relations between the two countries changed course. What Pakistan had failed to gain in 10 years, Bangladesh received from India within 2 months. The Awami League recognised the role played by India in the birth of Bangladesh and therefore, the goodwill between the countries was at an unprecedented high. In 1972, the two governments made the Indo-Bangladesh Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Peace; in this treaty, Bangladesh recognised India’s right to the Farakka Barrage and India recognised Bangladesh’s right as co-user of the Ganges.

An important organisation established in this year was the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) which was a panel of technical experts from both countries. However, despite the political goodwill, it soon emerged that there really was a conflict of interests and that opposition to the barrage was not a politically motivated fabrication of Pakistan to hinder India. The conflict lay in the simple fact that there was insufficient water in the Ganges for both countries during the driest season. Between the years of 1972 and 1975 very little was achieved in terms of negotiations for Bangladesh. In 1975, India began experimental operation of the barrage, even though important questions concerning usership were still to be answered.

Between 1975 and 1976, India was continuing to withdraw almost the maximum amount of water allowed by the project. During 1975, the Bangladesh government was preoccupied with it’s own internal politics and was busy dealing with the instability of coups and counter-coup attempts. By early 1976, Bangladesh had publicly protested that India was in breach of the agreement and that their continued withdrawals were seriously harming Bangladesh. After an organised and peaceful march of up to 500, 000 Bangladeshis in protest against the barrage – which stopped 6 miles short of the Indian border – the government took the case to the United Nations. Although the Bangladeshi diplomats succeeded in negotiating through the preparatory procedures of the General Assembley without being defeated or diverted, the final result was disappointing. It seems that although the United Nations was sympathetic enough to allow such a small and powerless nation through the intial procedures, it was not prepared to give positive support to the Bangladesh case, particularly against a nation as strong as India. However, an agreement about regulating the amount was reached through United Nation intermediaries working to negotiate between the two countries. During the late seventies and early eighties, each nation accused the other of using the conflict to further their own political gains; Bangladesh felt that India was attempting to destabilise it through continued support of anti-government guerilla attacks and India felt that Bangladesh was using the conflict to gain credence with the international community. In 1977, the Janeta Party ousted Mrs Gandhi and the new Indian government sought to repair relations with its neighbour.

An important issue which had been addressed but remains unresolved was the problem of augmentation – or increase – of the Ganges flow. Both countries agreed that the flow needed to be augmented but disagreed vehemently about the procedures to be taken. Bangladesh proposed that the dry season flow of the Ganges be augmented by construction of storage reservoirs on rivers in the Himalayas, whereas India wanted to build a canal to transfer surplus water into the Ganges from the Brahmaputra (a river that entered Bangladesh from north-east India). India’s idea was more practical but it also brought into the dispute the question of the Brahmaputra, which India also seemed to be laying claims to. This question of augmentation was to remain unsettled with India seeking a bilateral agreement and Bangladesh wanting to involve Nepal and China in any long-term development of the Ganges. However, in 1984, with the amount of Indian barrages on rivers increasing, Bangladesh realised an agreement was required to protect its interests in the Brahmaputra; they took the new approach of negotiating a permanent sharing agreement for all major rivers, crossing from India to Bangladesh. The move towards creating an international river development was realised in 1996, when the Indian government signed a thirty year treaty with Bangladesh, guaranteeing both countries a specific amount of water during the crucial dry months.

What have been the effects of Farakka Barrage on Bangladesh? The period between 1975 and 1976, when India was withdrawing the maximum amount of water from the Ganges, is the time of most concern. Several studies have been carried out, attempting to determine the agricultural, economical and ecological effect on Bangladesh at that time and the repercussions since. The water levels were at the lowest they have ever been during the dry season of 1976, causing the suction pumps, hand pumps and hand operated tubewells to be incapable of operating in such shallow water. Also, an increase in salinity was discovered, most likely the result of sea water travelling upland because the fresh water downland flow had decreased. For instance, in the town of Khulna which is situated on the Rhupsa-Pussur and is particularly sensitive to changes in the Ganges flow, the saline intrusion was considered to be the most dramatic. Khulna is a major area of industry in Bangladesh and it appears that the salinity changes have caused industrial losses to a value of almost 120 million Taka (US $8 million). This is only an estimate but, if we consider the possible occurences when industries are faced with unexpected levels of salt in their water, such as production delays, mechanical failure, increased corrosion, then such losses are indeed plausible.

The effect on agriculture in Bangladesh is a source of dispute – Bangladeshis believe the Farakka Barrage is responsible for reduced rice and other crop yields but India rejects this claim. The Sundarbans have also shown signs of deterioration through increased salinity, chlorinity and insufficient nutrients in the water. There are mixed conclusions as to the ecological effects of the Farakka Barrage but there is a strong presumption that the barrage has caused declining fish catches, for example in the hilsa species. People living in the area claim that the increased salinity is threatening their crops, industry and animal drinking water. It is unlikely that Bangladesh will receive compensation for the losses they claim since in so many areas, it has been impossible to prove that Farakka is solely responsible. Nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that the people of South Bengal have suffered greatly as a consequence of the Farakka Barrage.

The present concern is for the rights of the people of Bangladesh and the long term effects of the Farakka Barrage. The long term implications of the construction of barrages and dams are still being disputed, politically and socially. For the future, what is needed is a more ecologically-based focus which deals with the issue at a grass-roots level. The propensity to turn to man-made constructions as an answer to the problems caused by natural processes is troublesome; it often results in environmental catastrophes and human rights crises – floods and famine).

The Indo-Bangladesh Treaty runs for a period of thirty years and is to be reviewed every five years. The governing principles of the 1996 Treaty are to make “optimum utilisation” of the waters of the region and to bring “a fair and just solution to the Farakka waters problem” according to the principles of “equity and fair play”. Whether this will be achieved remains to be seen but what one can be certain of is that unless the people who are going to be affected are involved in the discussions, then a successful outcome is unlikely.

Field Work Bangladesh article compiled by Najma Pover

References

  • Begum, Khurshida, Tension Over The Farakka Barrage (1987) Dhaka: The University Press Ltd
  • Crow, B., Lindquist, A. and Wilson D., Sharing the Ganges: The Politics and Technology of River Development, – Dhaka: The University Press Ltd
  • Howes, M., Whose Water? (1985), Dhaka: ABCO Press
  • Islam, M. R., Ganges Water Dispute: Its International Legal Aspects, (1987), Dhaka: The University Press Ltd

Read More:

  1. Lessons from Farakka as we plan more barrages on Ganga – SANDRP Blog
  2. World Rivers Day and Ganga: A look at Farakka Barrage and other such calamities – SANDRP Blog

News Sources: UNB/ObserverBD and Field Work Bangladesh

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