Saturday, April 30, 2011

IOM to evacuate stranded migrants to Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

THE STRANDED migrants awaiting evacuation at Egyptian border will be flown into Bangladesh by International Organization for Migration (IOM) next week.

IOM in response to the urgent request of the Bangladesh, the Libya evacuation coordination body of IOM has decided to arrange more chartered flights to bring back Bangladeshis from Al Saloum at the Egyptian border,

IOM office Bangladesh in a press release on Thursday said, IOM will charter five additional flights. It is expected 930 migrant workers are planned for evacuation. Nevertheless, the return of the rest 300 Bangladeshis is also in the pipeline.

Flight details are yet to be confirmed, but it is expected to commence from next weekend, 30 April, says Asif Munier, spokesperson of IOM in Bangladesh.

Nearly 60,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers were employed before the crackdown of pro-democracy activists in Libya. Until now 29,859 Bangladeshi who fled troubled Libya were evacuated and safely returned home.

IOM confirmed that it will monitor and support return of more Bangladeshis who are trekking from Libya to neighboring Tunisia or Egypt.

Ms Rabab Fatima, regional representative of IOM Bangladesh said the fund of US $160 million was request for the second phase of evacuation from troubled Libya. However, only $68 million was available. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bangladesh to meet Libyan delegation, snub US request

SALEEM SAMAD

From the strife-torn North Africa nation, during a hectic whirlwind diplomatic tour, a high profile delegation carrying personal message of defiant Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi will arrive Bangladesh capital soon.

Despite reservation of United States, Bangladesh seems to have decided to ignore an appeal to postpone the appointment with the Libyan official delegation. US State Department have warned Bangladesh officials of the controversial delegation’s visit, because the Libya has been accused of widespread human rights abuse and for conducting military raids against pro-democracy Libyans.

A foreign ministry official said the US has sent a 'demarche' letter to Bangladesh requesting not to accept any Libyan delegation and break diplomatic ties with the North African country. The US does not recognize the current regime of Libya as the legitimate government, an official remarked.

Sources in the government, said the Libyan delegation will be visiting few like-minded countries, including the Bangladesh to clarify the position of the North African nation and seek support from the government.

Soon after pro-democracy civil strife in Libya, its ambassador to Bangladesh AH Elimam quit his official position, apparently as a reaction to the violence against civilians, joining a number of other officials to defect from the Muammer Gaddafi's government.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh ambassador to Libya ABM Nuruzzaman confirmed to online wire service bdnews24.com on Wednesday that, "A Libyan delegation will visit Bangladesh and some other countries to describe their position."

However, the official could not mention the date of the arrival of the delegation. But said it would be very soon.
Sketchy information is available regarding the mission from Libya. It was known that troubled Libya is sending mission to different countries to seek political support against the backdrop of increasing attacks by the US and its allies, the ambassador said.

"We're more interested in the security of Bangladeshis living in Libya," he said hinting that Bangladeshis still in Libya might face problems if the delegation is not allowed to come.

Bangladesh has another stake in Libya. It was Gaddafi who had given refuge to most of the self-confessed assassins of the Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, founder of Bangladesh. Since the founder’s daughter Shiekh Hasina led Awami League alliance swept into power, her government tried them in a competent court. Later the apex court upheld the death penalty. Those in languishing in prison were hanged. Other fugitives were listed as most wanted criminals by Interpol.

The officials will take an opportunity to seek extradition of fugitive assassins, believed to be hiding in Libya.

Sources said the Libyan delegation will not have audience with the prime minister, nor with foreign minister. It is likely that the foreign secretary will meet the delegation.

Soon after the crisis in Libya began in March, Bangladesh foreign minster had visited Egypt, while foreign secretary visited Tunisia. Both officials deliberately avoided contacts with the Libyan government, despite their mission were to expedite evacuation of thousands of migrant workers of Bangladesh with support of International Organization for Migration (IOM). An estimated 20,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers are still in beleaguered Libya. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Muhammad Yunus: banker to the people, bother to the state

STEPHANIE NOLEN

MUHAMMAD YUNUS works in his modest office in the Grameen Bank tower. The curtains are made of checked cotton produced by weavers his bank supports; so is the blue cotton kurta he wears. The walls are lined with books on economic theory, and he writes in longhand with a fountain pen. Beside him rest a BlackBerry and an iPhone, chiming out when messages arrive.

Weak sunlight leaks in through the smog cloaking the Bangladeshi capital, and the Nobel laureate has an air of serenity. There is no hint in his genial demeanour that he is in the midst of a messy legal battle to keep control of his life’s work.

High on the wall above Prof. Yunus’s chair hangs a portrait: a grainy, black-and-white picture of a serious, spectacled man. He is Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, known as the father of the nation, who led the fight for independence in the early 1970s. He is also the father of Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the woman who leads Bangladesh today – and whose government now seems hell bent on using every possible instrument at its disposal to discredit its most prominent citizen.

At 70, Prof. Yunus might have expected this to be a golden period, overseeing dozens of social enterprises that now bear the Grameen name. Instead he is mired in a bitter feud with the only Bangladeshi with a story to rival his own.

Asked about the cause of his current troubles, Prof. Yunus smiles wearily and ticks off all the “gossips,” and runs through the conspiracy theories. And then he shrugs and lays his broad palms flat on the desk. “I don’t have the slightest idea why this is happening,” he says. “I was just doing my work …”

Beyond the borders of Bangladesh the professor tends to be seen as a naive champion of the poor, persecuted by a jealous Prime Minister. But here in Dhaka, the story is as snarled and chaotic as the streets, alleys and canals below Prof. Yunus’s windows. It’s a story about what Bangladesh is today: a newly vibrant secular democracy with a booming economy – but also, it seems, a country that has not yet shed all the baggage of its messy political past.

The Grameen legend goes like this: in the early 1970s, when Mohammed Yunus was a mild-mannered professor of economics working far from the centre of things in Chittagong, he made a personal loan of $27 to 42 village families. He watched them use the tiny loan to make relatively dramatic changes in their lives, and began to experiment with providing credit to the poor. It was a revolutionary approach; the landless poor had long been considered “unbankable” with no way to obtain capital to start small businesses. Prof. Yunus’s model was formalized as a bank in 1983; today the Grameen Bank has 8.2 million borrowers, and lends $125-million a month.

Grameen lends mostly to women (who, research shows, are more likely than men to repay, and who channel what they earn into the health and education of their families) in small groups, where peer pressure encourages repayment. That model has been exported across the developing world. The work of Grameen is seen as instrumental in sowing the seeds of greater autonomy and prosperity in Bangladesh’s rural women. The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize citation said Prof. Yunus had “shown himself to be a leader who has managed to translate visions into practical action for the benefit of millions of people.”

But microfinance has come under critical scrutiny in recent years, while Grameen’s reliance on foreign donors raised particularly pointed questions at home. Meanwhile the bank – long the most powerful civil institution in the country – has had an increasingly uncomfortable relationship with government as the country moves out of decades of dictatorship.

These troubles burst into public view last fall, when a documentary on Norwegian television alleged Prof. Yunus had, in his role as managing director, improperly transferred funds loaned to the bank by the Norwegian national aid agency to Grameen Kalyan, a separate not-for-profit entity.


The bank says the financial transfer was only on paper and was made for tax purposes. An investigation by the Norwegian aid agency said it violated the terms of its agreement with the bank but found no misuse of funds, which were fully repaid, and the filmmakers stressed that there are no allegations that Prof. Yunus profited.

But the film received sensational coverage in Dhaka, especially from outlets whose owners are close to senior government figures. And it created an opening for those with a grudge against Grameen.

In rapid succession, the government ordered a review of the bank’s affairs; declared that Prof. Yunus was a “public servant” because the state owns a small share of the bank; and ruled that he was 10 years past the mandatory age of retirement (the finance minister who delivered that news is himself 77, while Sheikh Hasina is 63). The finance minister also appointed a new chair of the board, a former Grameen employee with an open dislike of Prof. Yunus, who quickly moved to dismiss him as managing director.

While Prof. Yunus will not discuss the specifics of the ongoing legal case, his lawyers point out that a year ago he wrote to the Minister of Finance asking to work with him on a succession plan at Grameen. Not only was there no response, lawyer Sara Hossein said, but the governor of the central bank and other senior government figures who sit on the bank board went on regularly dealing with Prof. Yunus on bank affairs.

Prof. Yunus challenged the dismissal in the country’s highest court. But he found little solace there; the rapidity, and surly language, of the court orders have many convinced Bangladesh’s quasi-independent judiciary has been ordered to side with government. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal in May.
The whole episode has been immensely damaging for Bangladesh, at a time when the country strives to swap an image of famine and misery for that of a growing economy and flowering pluralist society.

So what’s driving the attack? The first explanation starts with the complex character of the Prime Minister. Sheikh Hasina has been jailed for alleged bribery and organizing political violence; when she was in power in the 1990s Bangladesh earned Transparency International’s title of “most corrupt nation.”


But it’s too easy to dismiss her as a crooked despot. She was thrust into politics when her father and almost all the rest of her family were assassinated in the military coup in 1975; she and a sister escaped only because they were on a visit to Germany. She was repeatedly jailed during her 20-year campaign for a return to civilian rule. She has survived multiple assassination attempts and is loathed by the country’s powerful network of far-right Islamists for her commitment to secularism and equality. And today she heads a government that has some of the most progressive policies in the world around educating girls and improving the lives of the poor.

Nevertheless, she enjoys nothing like Prof. Yunus’s global stature.

A decade ago, Sheikh Hasina publicly praised Grameen, but her views later soured. In December she accused it of “sucking blood from the poor.” Prof. Yunus seems to have earned her ire with a fiery speech he made in 2007 accusing all the country’s politicians of corruption and pledging to start a party of his own. He soon backed away from that plan and today he says he wants nothing to do with politics. But many people here believe Sheikh Hasina’s mistrust and anger are unabated, and the allegations against Grameen gave her a convenient opportunity to take out a potential rival.


“Remember that in 2013 the country will again have elections – this is a way to send a message not just to Yunus but to anyone else who might be considering politics,” said Lamia Karim, a Bangladeshi native who teaches at the University of Oregon and has long studied Grameen.

A more subtle explanation is that the government wants control of Grameen. With 8.2 million borrowers, it provides a natural political constituency; with 22,000 staff members, it has a “store” of jobs that could be doled out in a country where delivering jobs is critical to getting elected. And slashing its interest rates (from the roughly 20 per cent rate that the bank says it needs to be viable, to perhaps 5 per cent) would cost the government nothing and win it wild popularity – at least until the bank failed.

Ironically, Prof. Yunus’s troubles may in fact reflect a new political maturity in Bangladesh. The Grameen enterprises include the country’s largest telecom firm and 45 other affiliates; taken together, they now form the biggest business in the country. Its reach is matched by that of BRAC, a non-governmental organization which has schools and clinics across the country and also has huge business interests, with which it funds its charities. Together BRAC, Grameen and a couple of smaller NGOs form a sort of parallel Bangladeshi state.


Elected in a free, fair election by a large margin, it appears many in Sheikh Hasina’s government feel it is time to cut the NGOs down to size. “Perhaps through the restructuring of Grameen Bank the government will step in and take back some of the powers that were outsourced to the NGO sector in the 80s,” Prof. Karim said. “The state is reasserting itself.”

But it’s hard to see how the dissolution of Grameen, which increasingly seems to be the government’s goal, would leave the poor any better off. The new, government-appointed chair of the bank, Muzammel Haq, is a former Grameen employee with a bitterness toward his celebrated former boss that he can barely disguise. He insists to a reporter that he should not speak on the record, then leaks venom and allegations about Prof. Yunus for more than three hours. “What are the true non-performing assets? I have to establish the financial health of the organization,” he said, then added smugly, “I will try that a dignified transition will take place and he [Prof. Yunus] will play a global role.”

Prof. Yunus has groomed no obvious successor, and many potential candidates have left the bank in recent years on acrimonious terms.

He says he cannot simply abandon the bank, though his 40-odd other social businesses demand his attention. “I have plenty to do – that’s not a problem. The problem is what happens to Grameen Bank. This bank will run perfectly if I step down, as long as they [the employees] feel it’s in good hands and I bless them. If I tell them I am happy and you work, they will work. They will not raise a single question. But they see now I am being pushed away and everybody gets tense.”

A three-week adjournment in the court case may give moderate elements in government time to broker some sort of settlement. But it will not be easy.

“Prof. Yunus is a modern-day King Lear, in his arrogance and hubris, his unwillingness to see the faults: since the 1990s the critique of Grameen has been ongoing …,” Prof. Karim said. “I think Prof. Yunus forgot that Nobel Prize or not – he has to live in Bangladesh and by the codes of Bangladesh society.”

First published in Globe and Mail, Canada, Apr. 15, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bangladesh: The Arab spring's chill winds - An unexpected downside

Photo: Trapped in Misrata, miserable in Dhaka

WHEN THE Arab spring was in its infancy something unusual happened in the world’s second-largest Muslim-majority democracy. Following violent protests, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, scrapped plans for a new airport near the capital, a pet project to be named after her father, Sheikh Mujib Rahman. A former Bangladeshi diplomat said he could remember no occasion on which an elected leader had reversed an important decision so quickly. He attributed the change of mind to what was happening in Egypt.

The diplomat was not referring to fears that there might be a Bengali version of the Arab spring, though the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has talked about an “Egypt-like uprising” in their country. Instead, the economic consequences of the Arab spring are what matter. Bangladesh depends on remittances from the Middle East more than any other large country. Two-thirds of its recorded remittances—$7.2 billion in the year ending June 30th 2010—came from countries in The Economist’s shoe-thrower’s index of regional flashpoints. The Middle East contributes slightly more to Pakistan’s total remittances but these account for only 6% of Pakistan’s GDP, whereas Bangladesh’s remittances are 12% of GDP.

The impact is certain to be bad, though how bad is unclear. Remittances are closely correlated with the number of migrant workers, lagged by about a year. On the eve of the global recession, about 6m Bangladeshis worked abroad. The figure is lower now. Saudi Arabia is by far the most important overseas labour market. It hired a mere 22,000 Bangladeshis in 2009-10, compared with 335,000 in the previous two years. Libya was Bangladesh’s fastest-growing market, albeit from a low base. Thus far, 34,000 Bangladeshi workers have returned from Libya and many others are trapped under fire in the docks of Misrata (they are now subjects of an international rescue mission).

Bangladesh’s earnings from remittances tend to be volatile anyway, because its workers are mostly unskilled and get laid off quickly when economies turn down. (In contrast, remittances from higher-skilled Pakistanis are still rising).

But the country is less badly affected than it might have been because its other main source of foreign exchange—textile exports—is doing well. This is partly because of rising labour costs elsewhere, and partly thanks to a rule change by the European Union. This allows clothes and other finished goods made in Bangladesh (and other least-developed countries) to come in duty-free as long as the value of their imported components does not exceed 70%. Previously, the EU granted duty-free access to manufactures with an import content of 30%. Bangladesh’s main competitors—China, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka—do not have “least developed” status, so the value of Bangladesh’s garment exports surged to $14 billion in the eight months to March 2011, up 40% at an annual rate.

This will offset but not reverse the decline in remittances. The currency, the taka, is falling. So are foreign-exchange reserves. The IMF reckons the current-account balance will deteriorate sharply, from a surplus of 3.75% of GDP in 2010-11 to a deficit of 0.75% in 2011-12. Unless something extraordinary happens—perhaps a resumption of large-scale hiring by the Saudis—remittances and the external position will get worse before they recover. [ENDS]

First published in The Economist magazine, London, Britain, April 20, 2011

India's border with Bangladesh: Almost all quiet on the eastern front


Poor Felani, trapped in distrist
 AT LAST, some good news from one of the world’s bloodiest international borders. Last month, the number of Bangladeshi nationals killed by India’s trigger-happy Border Security Forces (BSF) along the India-Bangladesh border dropped, like a stone. Down to zero.

This is a first. For years, not a week had gone by without news of yet another killing. The death toll between these two democracies dwarfs the number killed attempting to cross the inner-German border during the cold war. According to Human Rights Watch, India’s border force has killed almost 1,000 Bangladeshis over the past ten years.

The recent ceasefire is not total. On April 10th, the BSF shot dead a Bangladeshi cattle trader at Naogaon on the eastern border.

Still, the change is striking. In March, the head of the BSF announced that “non-lethal weapons” would be issued to Indian border guards in sensitive areas on an “experimental basis”. If successful, this practice would be implemented along their meandering 4,095km border, the world’s fifth-longest.

The change to India’s shoot-to-kill policy comes only months after the BSF shot dead a 15-year-old girl named Felani at an illegal crossing point between Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. Soon afterwards the walls adjacent to the office of Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, were plastered with a picture of Felani, calling for the killings to stop.

Shootings along the border have been one of many obstacles that have hobbled Sheikh Hasina’s attempt at a rapprochement with India. Bangladesh’s giant neighbour to the west, midwife to its birth forty years ago, nowadays tends to be regarded in the public mind as a wicked, overbearing stepmother.

The sort of normalisation of economic relations that would reflect the two countries’ shared history and geography is still far off (Bangladesh’s biggest trading partner is China; India is not even among its top-ten foreign investors). India regards China’s growing influence in South Asia as a major headache.

The leaders of both India and Bangladesh hope to make progress on a number of knotty issues when India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, visits Bangladesh later this year. The topics up for discussion ought to range from water rights along their common rivers to terrorism, trade and even to swapping parcels of territory.

Sheikh Hasina has already agreed in principle to allow India to use its ports and roads for transit. The biggest difficulty for her party, the Awami League, will be to explain its new policy of engaging India to voters, in a country with a strong anti-Indian sentiment. Khaleda Zia, the leader of the main opposition group, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, likes to remind the electorate that under her leadership “no foreign vehicles” would be allowed to cross Bangladesh’s territory. She declares that she will resist her rival’s “move to turn Bangladesh into a state of India”.

Mrs Zia’s rhetoric sounds like a voice from the past. The Dhaka-based Bangladesh Enterprise Institute estimates that full economic integration with India could raise Bangladesh’s average rate of economic growth from 6% to 8%. Full integration is a long way off. But a less bloody border seems a fine place to start.

First published in The Economist weekly, London, Britain, April 18, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bangladesh probe found no wrongdoing of Nobel winner Muhammad Yunus

SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh said a government probe body did not discover any wrongdoings of the Grameen Bank, founded by Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith on Monday admitted that the interest rate of the Grameen Bank is lowest among the micro-credit lenders in the country. His comments was made came after the government appointed probe body, to look into activities of Grameen Bank submitted its report to the finance minister.

Controversy about the bank began in November 2010 when the Norwegian state television NRK ran a documentary titled 'Caught in Micro Debt', that accused Yunus, the bank's managing director, of transferring funds to Grameen Kalyan, a sister concern, from the bank, breaching the agreement made with the fund's donor, Norwegian aid agency Norad, writes wire service bdnews24.com.

The government constituted a committee on January 12 in the wake of controversy about the pioneering micro finance institution, which shared the Nobel Peace prize with its founder Muhammad Yunus in 2006.

The probe report was submitted when French president Nicholas Sarkozy special envoy is visiting capital Dhaka to understand the development about the dismissal of Grameen Bank's managing director Muhammad Yunus.

The French envoy Martin Hirsch told journalists on Monday that he finds it 'surprising' and 'difficult to understand the difficulties' between the government, the Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus.

The envoy admitted that his mission to Bangladesh was to explore any scope for mediation for an amicable settlement to the issue, dispelling notions of interference in state affairs. The primary objective was to bring the government and Prof. Yunus together in the upcoming G-20 meeting.

He handed over a letter of president Sarkozy to prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday, said bdnews24.com said. The content of the letter was not disclosed.

Meanwhile, the largest circulated independent daily Prothom Alo in a first page article on Monday published a news article which says that government has decided to launch a campaign against Prof. Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of microfinance globally.

In a meeting at the Prime Minister Office attended also by security and intelligence services chiefs it was decided to inform the public that the bank’s founder have violated laws, ignored official norms and charging exorbitant interest rates from the poverty-stricken village women.

The unknown sources told the daily that an official memo on March 13 has been circulated to the Special Branch of police and police headquarters to take necessary action. However, the newspaper did not mention what kind of action by the police has been initiated.

Political scientist and economist Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman on Monday said such attempts by the authority would be suicidal. The government should take steps to save the most talked about micro-lending institution Grameen Bank should, he suggested. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

India to up quota on duty free textiles from Bangladesh

SHRUTI SRIVASTAVA
TO CHECK rising trade deficit of neighboring Bangladesh, India today said it will increase the duty-free quota for exporting textiles by 25 per cent while removing duty on jute imports.

This, India said, is going to help Bangladesh in bridging the ballooning trade deficit to some extent.

“In our view, our engagement with Bangladesh and the growing economic partnership, will bring in rewards for both countries, ushering in generation of jobs and overall prosperity and inclusive growth… We have removed the countervailing duty on jute and increased quota on readymade garments import from Bangladesh to 10 million from eight million,” minister of commerce and industry Anand Sharma said after meeting Bangladesh commerce minister Muhammad Faruk Khan here.

The minister said that this will help Bangladesh increase its textile export to India.

Sharma said, “In addition to the investments in diverse sectors which have already come, $3.5 billion of investment is in the pipeline. We had discussed earlier about the Indian investment and value addition here through partnerships and joint ventures. It will help in enhancing trade and exports from Bangladesh to India. That will ensure both generation of employment and as well as enhancement of trade and exports out of Bangladesh to India,” Sharma added.

The investment is being made through private sector companies in sectors like telecom, pharma, chemical, food processing and labour intensive sector. Airtel has already committed $500 million over and above $350 million already invested in Bangladesh. At present, companies like Tata Nitol, Arvind textiles, Marico, Sun Pharma, and Asian Paints are working in Bangladesh to spread their reach.

However, Bangladesh commerce minister said, “25 per cent increase in textiles is peanuts. We are the second largest exporter of textiles in the world. I would be pitching for 61 duty free items. I am looking forward to it”.

Talking about the development of border infrastructure, Sharma said a lot of progress has been made on the front and the government is already working on a project of integrated check-post (ICP) system whereby the goods being imported in the country will be cleared at just one point — ICP. The project worth Rs 142 crore will be completed by November 2012. ICP of Petropol and Agartala will be ready by next year. A joint working group will meet regularly to fine tune all issue relating to the development of the border infrastructure.

Border haats, allowing makeshift bazaars at the common border, will also be inaugurated by June, Sharma said. At the bazaar haats, both Bangladeshi and Indian currencies will be used for trading in farm and homemade items, handicrafts, horticulture, fresh and dry fish, wooden and cane furniture, utensils, farming tools and home-made clothing such as lungi, and gamcha.

Bilateral trade between the two countries stands at $3.5 billion. There has been a six-fold increase in Bangladesh export.

As regard supplying wheat and rice, Sharma said, “We have responded positively to Bangladesh’s request of 300,000 tonnes of par boiled rice and 200,000 tonnes of wheat. We are ready and the shipments can commence if Bangladesh wants, as they decide which port to take it from, as early as next week.”

Another significant issue discussed during the meeting was upgradation of Bangladesh quality standard on a par with Bureau of Indian Standard. For this, a technical team from Bangladesh will visit India to finalise the modalities.

India has asked for a list of required items on which Bangladesh wants accreditation.

First published in The Sunday Express, India, April 24, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Muhammad Yunus knew seeking to enter politics in Bangladesh would receive ‘bruising response'

SALEEM SAMAD

Professor Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of microfinance seems to have been aware of the risks and consequences of a political ambition he made after the military takeover in 2007 in Bangladesh, an Indian newspaper wrote on Friday.
The Hindu newspaper quoting The Indian Cables accessed in Wikileaks, the whistleblower internet-based news hub said Nobel laureate Yunus told Henry Jardine, the U.S. Consul General in Kolkata, India that he was aware of the “potentially bruising response” it would provoke from the ‘two ladies' [Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister, and Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister] and other established political figures.”

Understanding that Yunus strong interest to join the political fray, Manoj Mohanka, president of the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce (CCC), raised few questions about the “messy world” of Bangladesh politics and the “likelihood of Yunus reputation being tarnished.” Yunus responded and said that “he understood the dangers,” but “felt that responsible people had to step into the political field to make a real change in Bangladesh, which was wracked by corruption and poor governance.”
When US diplomat raised questions about rising Islamic radicalism, Yunus explained that “Muslim fundamentalists are a fringe not accepted by the Bangladeshi mainstream.”

In March 2011, the Bangladesh Central Bank removed Prof. Yunus as the Managing Director of Grameen Bank he founded, holding that he was 70 years old, well past retirement age. His appeals against the order were rejected by the courts, including finally by the Supreme Court.

A cable ( 96421: unclassified) sent on February 13, 2007 from the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata documented in detail the conversation between Jardine and Yunus when the latter visited Kolkata to participate in certain programs. During a conversation over lunch, which was hosted by the CCC, Jardine enquired about Yunus political ambition.
Yunus bitterly criticized Awami League [the ruling political party led by Sheikh Hasina], a primary advocate of a socialist, secular nation, had signed an agreement with fundamentalist group Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish ”to “recognize fatwas (religious edits) issued by Imams and block the introduction of laws contrary to Sharia law.”

Yunus in response to Consul General explains that it was “a reflection of the Awami League’s moral bankruptcy and was based on pure political calculus to garner a few additional votes and another example of the need for a new political party.”

The founder of Grameen Bank was receptive to the idea of Bangladesh expanding economic relations with India. However, he was concerned “that often it became a divisive political issue, with Bangladeshi politicians stoking resentment against India for political gain.” He was also quick to point out that all was not well with the Indian government too, “particularly the significant non-tariff barriers that restricted Bangladeshi goods from reaching Indian markets.”

Grameen Bank founded in 1976 empowered nearly 10 million poverty stricken population, mostly women, who received modest banks loans. Prof Yunus and the Grameen Bank together were awarded the coveted Nobel Peace Price in 2006.
Describing his mind, he narrated to the U.S. diplomat, included the opening of the Chittagong port to regional trade with India, Burma, Bhutan and China, and “the possibility of financing a new ‘mega-port' project in Chittagong to meet the regional demand” through the Grameen Bank.

The cable concluded after documenting Yunus views, and said he was “a person of great moral stature and strong organizational skills” and that his candidacy “could offer a possible out from the present Hasina-Khaleda a zero-sum game that cripples Bangladesh's democratic process.” [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Supremacy of rivals in Bangladesh caused injuries to 140 political activists

SALEEM SAMAD
In an attempt to establish political supremacy have cost injuries to 140 people and at least one death in Bangladesh in past six days.

The clashes occurred among the rival activists of ruling Awami League party in at least five places, in south, and south-west Bangladesh.

Political clashes is common and often originates from political enmity over establishment of supremacy in the area, new committees of the party’s local branches and new leadership, said political scientist Dr Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University.

On Saturday (April 23), at least 22 people were injured in Awami League factional clash over the selection of a chairman candidate for the upcoming local government election in Gazaria town in south Bangladesh.

Police said the conflict between pro-government student organization and ruling Awami League over establishing supremacy in the area. The rivals fought with sticks and batons scores of injuries on both sides.

Rival pro-ruling party student organization Chattra League in Shariatpur clashed on April 20, to establish supremacy in the district town leaving nearly 30 activists wounded, reports wire service United News of Bangladesh.

Witnesses said they heard more than a dozen gun shots during the clash. However, the information could not be verified through independent sources.

At Benapole, a frontier town and gateway to eastern India, at least 10 people were injured on April 19 when two factions of ruling Awami League over clashed over a lost mobile phone.

As a sequel to the incident two groups armed with bamboo sticks, hockey sticks and home-made bombs swooped on each other, says UNB.

A ruling party activist was killed and 30 others were injured in a series of clashes between two factions of Awami League over submission of bidding for the lease of local markets in Shailkupa town, in the south west.

Police rushed to the spot and lobbed few tear gas shells to disperse the party supporter.

In another incident on April 17 at Kotalipara town, in south-west Bangladesh at least 50 people were injured in series of clashes between two rival groups over local government poll.

Among the injured on both sides, 20 were admitted to Kotalipara Health Complex with serious injuries. Police and eyewitnesses said supporters of two candidates were locked in battles with their supporters.

In several incidents, members of parliament (MPs) and central leaders of the ruling party puts their weights on rival groups, which encourages fierce violent clashes. In most incidents, police remain silent spectators and makes no attempts to defuse the tension. Also no arrests are made, though rival group files cases separately, which are later registered by the police as local problems, Dr Ahmed remarked. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Vitamin A enriched rice in five years to defeat deficiency

SALEEM SAMAD

AGRICULTURE SCIENTISTS in Bangladesh have plans to develop genetically-engineered Vitamin-A enriched rice variety in five years.

A genetically modified variety, the Golden Rice will go through greenhouse and field tests before advancing into production phase, like cultivation and harvest.

Unlike other poor countries, pregnant women and school children in Bangladesh suffer from preventable diseases which could be conquered by Vitamin-A supplements through most consumed food item.

Vitamin-A deficiency is a major cause of preventable blindness in children in Bangladesh. It also impairs growth, lowers resistance to infections and increases the risk of dying. In pregnant and postpartum women, Vitamin-A deficiency can have serious consequences for the health and survival of women and for the Vitamin-A status of their children.

In another front, government is expecting to fortify 300,000 metric tons of edible oil sold in retail markets. The initiative will ensure to reach remote villages, where Vitamin-A capsules is difficult to distribute.

"This week we are applying for permission to import the beta carotene-rich BRRI Dhan-29 from the IRRI experiment field and make a greenhouse trial at BRRI prior to going for open field trial in Bangladesh," Dr Alamgir Hossain, principal plant breeder at Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) told independent English newspaper Daily Star.

Dr Hossain told The Daily Star on Saturday that once released commercially, consumption of only 150 gram of Golden Rice a day will supply half of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A for an adult. This is expected to revolutionize fighting Vitamin-A deficiency in the mostly rice-eating Asian countries where the poor have limited access to vitamin A sources other than rice.

Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on April 13 provided a grant of over $10 million to IRRI to develop and evaluate Golden Rice varieties for Bangladesh and the Philippines. It is expected that the Golden Rice variety of BRRI Dhan-29 will be ready for regulatory approval by 2015.

HKI Vice President and Regional Director for Asia-Pacific Nancy Haselow says, “The most vulnerable children and women in hard-to-reach areas are often missed by existing interventions that can improve Vitamin A status, including Vitamin A supplementation, food fortification, dietary diversification, and promotion of optimal breast-feeding.” [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rights bodies worried over abductions, extra-judicial killings

File photo: Elite anti crime unit of Bangladesh police
SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh rights groups are worried over scores of abductions by plainclothes security agents and extra-judicial killings.

Rights groups have documented the whereabouts of 22 people were alleged, picked up by anti-crime squads last year and are still unknown, according to a study by Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK).
The high court on July 19, 2010 directed the chief of police to investigate the case of missing Chowdhury Alam, a city councilor, who is one among those who have been abducted. He was abducted from the capital Dhaka.

The police chief has repeatedly denied of politician’s abduction and detaining him an in unknown place. However, police did not take any effort to find the person who is missing since June 19 last year. His family is worried about his safety and security of the family members too.

Sultana Kamal, a social justice activist and chairman of the rights group ASK, said on Monday, "Such allegations against law enforcers is worrying," she told English language The Independent.

Recently Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini, a leader of Islamic clerics at a press conference charged the government for abducting his youngest son Abul Hasanat who is missing since April 10. Police is yet to trace the person, not took effort to find him.

The Islamist in anger threatened the government to paralyze the country, if his son does not return home soon.

Two years ago the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion allegedly picked up expelled Jubo League, youth organization leader Liakat Hossain, who was listed as most wanted criminal, from Dhanmondi residential area. His family is yet to hear the fate of Hossain. The authorities have not heeded to repeated appeal of his wife.

Adilur Rahman Khan, General Secretary of rights watchdog Odhikar "If such a situation prevails, the scenario of human rights in the country could worsen." [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Monday, April 18, 2011

Four killed, scores hurt in ethnic clash in Bangladesh hills

Photo: Bangalee settlers torch scores of indigenous community homes
SALEEM SAMAD
THREE BANGLA-speaking settlers and an indigenous minority were killed and 50 others injured in a violent ethnic riot over land dispute in southeast Bangladesh on Sunday.

The worst riot in a year began in the afternoon and continued for three hours before riot police and paramilitary forces pacified the rivals.

According to official sources, the four deceased were mostly settlers from the land-hungry flood plains.

Some of the injured were admitted to a government health center in critical condition.

Local administration official also said that at least 20 homes of ethnic Buddhist communities were torched in reprisal for the killings.

Afterward, the civil administration imposed a ban on movement and assembly of more than three persons in the riot-torn area. Large contingents of law enforcement officers are patrolling the region to maintain peace.

A correspondent for the Daily Star, Cippru Marma, said by telephone the incident

took place as Bangalee settlers acted to take ownership of their ancestral lands by planting banana trees.

Dispute over land ownership is one of the major causes of conflict between Bangalees and the ethnic groups in the hill-forest area, a home to at least 15 indigenous communities.

The settlers allegedly occupied lands that belonged to the indigenous minorities during the two-decade-long insurgency from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s.

The insurgency came to an end in a 1997 treaty between the government and the ethnic groups. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Islamic zealots threatens to paralyze Bangladesh

Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini
SALEEM SAMAD

AN ISLAMIST leader threatened on Friday that he could paralyze the country in an hour if his missing son does not return home at the soonest.

Recently the Islamists shutdown throughout the country on April 4 demanded of the government to scrap the women’s policy which advocates gender equality and education policy, which the Muslim zealot described both as anti-Islamic. The government rejected their claim.

Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini, leader of Islamic clerics said in the morning that he had no doubt that prime minister have knowledge of the disappearance of his son, Abul Hasanat, who has been missing since Sunday last.

Amini, chairman of faction of the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) claimed that plainclothes security agents kidnapped his youngest son in the capital Dhaka. However, the law enforcement agencies have vehemently denied it. Police is yet to trace the whereabouts of Hasanat.

Missing person’s elder brother Abul Farah described to an English daily last week that five to six people with weapons and walkie-talkies dragged his brother in a sports utility vehicle having tinted windows, leaving two witnesses who are his friends.

The Islamist party also a major alliance partner of the mainstream opposition warned while addressing a meeting of Muslim bigots at the National Press Club.


Amidst thunderous claps he spoke loudly that “if my son is not set free, I have the power to make the country paralyze within an hour.”

"We will not retreat from the campaign to implement Islamic Sharia law in the country, even if his family is intimidated, like they did to my son."

The Islamist vowed that no anti-Islamic groups would be allowed politicking secularism and western democracy to take charge of the state power. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bangladesh to legalize political Islam, ignoring courts decision to restore secularism

SALEEM SAMAD

Despite electoral promises and an apex court’s ruling to restore secularism, the Bangladesh parliament is poised to pass an amendment to establish Islam as the state religion and legalize religious politics.

The Sunni Muslim majority nation of 158 million will relax stringent restrictions imposed in the constitution of 1972.

The constitutional amendment committee members said in “prevailing political reality” the parliamentary special committee on constitutional amendments on Monday decided to advocate for relaxing restrictions on political Islam so that Islamic parties can continue functioning without any restrictions.

The provision of Article 38 of the Bangladesh constitution bans use of religion for political purposes. Instead, the article allows every citizen to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of morality or public order.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leader of the ruling Awami League, at Monday’s meeting said the ruling party would not curb the political rights of Islamist parties. The secularist activists expressed there frustration and women rights groups are disgusted after recently hearing prime minister's political vision to keep Islam as state religion in the constitution.

The Awami League government in 1972 banned religion-based organizations after Islamic parties collaborated with the marauding Pakistani army that killed 3 million people in nine months in 1971.

Hasina, also the leader of the House, made it clear to the committee that her government would keep “Bismillah’ir Rahman’ir Rahim” (Faith in Allah) in the preamble of the constitution and retain Islam as the state religion.
Two previous military rulers, Gens. Ziaur Rahman and H.M. Ershad deliberately doctored the constitution to keep the Islamists in good humor. In 1978, the provisions of article 38, prohibiting communal bodies, were dropped while in 1988 Islam became the state religion.

The dreaded Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, whose leaders are now facing war crime charges, became politically active following the 1978 order.

Earlier in July last year the apex court, in a landmark judgment banned political parties that propagate Islamic ideology, reverting to the original constitution of 38 years ago.

Moments after the judgment the rights groups seems to be excited by the court’s verdict and interpreted that it was a major blow to the Islamist parties which foresees Sharia law for apparently a secular Muslim population and also advocates Koran and Sunnah which will eclipse the state constitution.

"It seems that the government is reading a wrong message from the secularists and liberal Muslims," remarked Shahriar Kabir, a researcher on Muslim radicalism and extremism.

A secularist advocate, Shahriar Kabir, said the prime minister’s statement has confused the nation and it seriously contradicts the verdict of the superior court. It seems that the war criminals and their adversaries have nothing to fear. Their parties would continue to function and overtly work against the war crimes trial, he remarked. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Persecution of Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus

MAHFUZ R. CHOWDHURY

BANGLADESH, A South Asian nation of 160 million people, is once again being pushed towards turmoil by a vengeful and authoritarian leadership. The current administration, run by the Awami League party, is beginning to resemble, in terms of style, strategy and operation, the very first government that was established, also by the Awami League, after Bangladesh gained independence in 1971. Not only is the Awami League in power now as it was then, the leader who is in power now is the daughter of the leader who was in power then. The current administration’s policies are guided by the same ideology, and it applies the same iron fist tactics to suppress the opposition and the press. The only question remaining is whether the present government will end in violence, the way the first one did.
The Awami League played a pivotal role in the fight for the independence of Bangladesh. Following independence in 1971, the party’s supreme leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was entrusted with enormous power to govern the country. People were prepared to accept his word as the law of the land. But in spite of such popular mandate, his heavy-handed approach and orientation in ruling the country clearly failed to reflect the true wishes of the people, which, many believe, have eventually sealed his fate.

In 1975, he was assassinated along with many members of his immediate family. He was survived by his two daughters, and the eldest, Sheikh Hasina, later inherited the leadership of the Awami League, and is now the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The big irony is that it took Sheikh Mujib’s daughter more than 30 years to consolidate enough power to bring her father’s assassins to some kind of justice. And after having reached the pinnacle of her power, the daughter is now relentlessly following the same fatalistic policies of her father.
The father, Sheikh Mujib, after assuming state power, swiftly transformed Bangladesh into an authoritarian state by establishing one party rule. He sidelined his party stalwarts, who no doubt deserved respect, used his personal army to ruthlessly oppress his opponents, and closed a number of newspapers that were critical of his administration. He put his family’s interest before everyone else’s, including that of the nation. In fact, his administration was marked by so much brutality and atrocity that his brutal assassination failed to generate any spontaneous hostile reaction from the public towards the assassins. People felt a kind of relief that his authoritarian rule was somehow ended, though in such an atrocious way.

But the mayhem that followed the assassination of Sheikh Mujib ultimately put the military in power, which then perpetrated its authoritarian rule for the next 15 years. During this time, the country went through many changes. And one of those changes involved Sheikh Hasina’s ascension to party leadership in 1981, due to bickering among the party elders. She has since remained firmly entrenched in that position.
After the fall of the last of the military rulers, when Awami League grabbed state power in 1996 it was, to some extent, on shaky ground and consequently it behaved with some restraint. The election of 2008 clearly changed that situation after the party obtained an absolute majority in the parliament. This election strengthened Sheikh Hasina’s authority over both her party and the government. In an effort to further solidify her authority, she quickly removed the party stalwarts from the decision making process in the government. To retain her absolute authority over the country she also refused to grant or delegate any power to the local governments. And the parliament has been effectively turned into a rubber stamp for her sinister policies.

After assuming state power in 2009, her first order of businesses included legislation to secure police protection for her extended family members in perpetuity like royalty, rewriting the constitution and the history books, and re-naming key institutions in the country after her family members. Furthermore, she ordered a commission to appropriate precious farm land to build a new international airport—to be named after her father!—near the capital, even though the existing Dhaka international airport’s capacity utilization is only about 25 per cent.
Like her father, she gained authority through the democratic process, but having gained absolute power, she promptly abandoned the very democracy that brought her to power. Now, every important policy, together with all vital judicial decisions, must meet with her approval. She has used all kinds of tactics to suppress the opposition. Even newsmen do not seem to escape her wrath. She is not at all fazed by the fact that the opposition has boycotted the parliament for a long time to protest her atrocious policies.
Here are some notable examples of her acts: Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, an opposition party leader and an MP, has been kept in jail without due process for openly criticizing the government’s policies. Amnesty International finds the allegations of his torture in jail to be credible. Mahmudur Rahman, a prominent newspaper editor, dared to publish a report on her family’s involvement in siphoning a huge amount of state money during her first term as Prime Minister. He was jailed for over 9 months as punishment. Transparency International of Bangladesh, a subsidiary of German based organization, published a report that called the judiciary the most corrupt institution in the country. Its key executives were immediately subjected to a number of law suits followed by arrest warrants.
The most menacing and despicable act of her administration is the treatment of the country’s well respected and internationally recognized personality, Dr. Muhammad Yunus. He is the famous micro-credit pioneer and founder of the Grameen Bank, whose work earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. But his global fame was too much for Sheikh Hasina to bear, and so he became a victim of her jealous rage. In an effort to belittle and discredit him, she ordered an investigation into his work, offered a most slanderous remark about him, made him appear before a magistrate on a trumped-up charge, and finally directed Bangladesh Bank, the supervising authority of Grameen Bank, to strip his name from the organization that he had founded, without even waiting for the report of the investigation she had ordered.

People all over the world were outraged by the way the Hasina administration treated Dr. Yunus, as evidenced by the international media’s coverage of the events. Condemnations of her appalling act poured in from all over the world. Concerned observers, including former and current government leaders, prominent legislators, economists, lawyers and academics, denounced the treatment of Dr. Yunus. But Sheikh Hasina remained unfazed. Now the obvious question is, if an internationally revered personality like Dr. Yunus is treated like this, one could only imagine how this administration treats other lesser people in Bangladesh.
As usual, the effect of authoritarian rule in Bangladesh is being reflected in an increase in corruption and serious crimes. There have also been critical economic repercussions in the country. The country has plentiful resources to achieve true economic growth, but corruption, looting and mismanagement of its resources have held it back all these years. Things will not change in Bangladesh unless the people actually rise up and take appropriate action. One might hope that the current wave of resistance to authoritarian rule in the Middle East will somehow catch up with the people of Bangladesh.

In fact, the main opposition party in Bangladesh is speaking out against Sheikh Hasina’s administration. However, it will be folly to expect that things will change if they come to power as their past record of administration is also pretty dismal.

Bangladesh can only prosper as a true democracy, and not with the kind of family dynastic rule it has been subjected to. Until the people, especially those who are blindly supporting the current system, come to realize this crucial fact and act to stop the current authoritarianism, no improvement could actually come in the way of Bangladesh. The country has suffered enough. Let’s hope it will not have to wait too long for a change. [ENDS]

Mahfuz R. Chowdhury is an author and teaches economics at Long Island University and SUNY Farmingdale, New York

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bangladesh bans mobile phone use by school teachers

Photo: Getty Images/Shakira sits with children at a Bangladesh primary school


SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH AUTHORITIES Imposed a ban on use of mobile phones use by school teachers in class rooms.

In one of the best practices, the disadvantaged children’s organized Child Parliament in a study in 2010 found that 75 percent of the school teachers speak on the phone, suspending lessons of their students. Similarly a year before it was one percent less.

Nurul Islam Nahid, education minister announced on Sunday at the 8th Child Parliament session held in the capital Dhaka.

Child Parliament organized by Save the Children Australia, Manusher Jonno Foundation and Plan International, is a platform where disadvantaged children discuss their rights and advocacy with policy makers and voice their agenda.

Nahid lamented that his earlier warning was ignored, but said he would issue a rule which would become an official guideline. He believes that the new rule would act as deterrent for the disobedient teachers.

He warned that the teachers would be punished for negligence of duties to impart lessons in schools. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Sunday, April 10, 2011

NASA to study vulnerability of largest mangrove forest in Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

IN THE wake of climate change, acclaimed space science agency the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) has decided to fund a study on the changes of the mangrove forests and its overall effect on the entire ecosystem.

NASA awarded $637,000 to a Bangladesh-born scientist Faiz Rahman, a professor of Indiana University in Bloomington to conduct a study on the vulnerability of the Sundarbans, recurrently lashed by cyclones and tidal surges.
Rahman, presently living in Indiana State discussed his plan while talking to private wire service banglanews.com and said the project is scheduled to begin from August 2011.

The Bangladeshi scientist has been designated as principal investigator of the project. Three other investigators are – Dr. Rinku Roy Chowdhury, an assistant professor of geography Department of Indiana University, and Dr. Boone Kauffman and Dr. Daniel Donato of the US Forest Service.

Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest which is shared by two countries – Bangladesh and partially India is the home of 2,000 magnificent Bengal Tigers.

Recently Bangladesh has decided to use radio collars to track and monitor the ferocious Bengal Tigers, said Dr Mohammad Anwarul Islam, chief executive of Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh.
The investigating team of Rahman will study the largest mangrove forests over the next three years to identify the reasons behind the ongoing changes occurring in the forests, its capacity for carbon absorption and other factors contributing to bringing the change in the forests—its flora and fauna.

The program was undertaken as part of the U.S. government’s Carbon Cycle Science Program, a partnership of several governmental agencies, including the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, the Dept. of Energy, the Dept. of Agriculture and U.S Natural Science Foundation and NASA and others.

Explaining the importance of the Sundarbans to Bangladesh, Rahman said, “Some 6000 people died in cyclone ‘Aila’ in 2007. Another cyclone named ‘Nargis’ hit Myanmar the following year, leaving more than 100,000 people dead, and the damages from the cyclone were immense.”
“The Sundarbans is the single-largest block of mangrove forests in the world, covering nearly 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 sq miles) of the Bay of Bengal delta. The mangrove trees play a significant role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, but the extent of the carbon sink,” said Rahman.

Regarding the planned study, Rahman categorically said that the research would not only focus on collecting information about forest density and carbon stocks but also investigate the damage done by human beings in the forests and, consequently, socioeconomic impacts on the life of Bangladeshi people.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh plans to launch its own communications satellite within a year, Post and Telecommunications Minister Raziuddin Ahmed Raju disclosed to journalists on Sunday. The cost of the program will be between $150 million and $200 million.

The satellite would serve commercial purposes including improving telecom services, helping to meet the booming demand for it. In addition television broadcasting and meteorological data including disaster warnings would be available from the satellite. The satellite would also help mapping natural resources, and to predict weather to help farmers, an expert said.

Bangladesh’s neighbors India and Pakistan launched their own satellites in 1980 and 1990 respectively. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com