Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Shuffle may unfurl Padma bridge'

Both the finance minister and the World Bank's local representative are sanguine that the complications surrounding Padma bridge may soon be over, now that the 'circumstances have changed'.

A M A Muhith and Allen Goldstein spoke to after a closed-door meeting at Hotel Sonargaon on Wednesday, where they had both gone to attend an ADB event.

Veteran Awami League leader Obaidul Quader took office as the communications minister earlier in the day.

The Canadian government is investigating a Canadian firm for alleged unethical activities in getting the consultancy for Padma bridge project.

World Bank, who raised the allegations, has since suspended its $ 1.2 billion funding for the project.

"Now that the scenario has changed, we are hoping something positive must happen," Muhith said.

Goldstein met Quader in the afternoon and told reporters afterwards that he would be going to Washington to discuss the funding.

After his meeting with Muhith, Goldstein elaborated that he would be explaining Bangladesh's latest stance on Padma bridge to senior World Bank officials.

When asked whether there was some hope of the project being revitalised, he replied with a smile, "I have no updates right now, but we are hoping that something positive may come after I go to Washington."

After attending the ADB event, the two had a closed-door meeting for about 20 minutes.

The proposed 6.15-kilometre bridge was set to be the biggest infrastructure project of the country, together with 3.68km of land-based approach viaducts on both sides of the river. Once built, it will connect 19 southwestern districts with Dhaka.

Initially, the project was planned to be completed by 2014.

The government has already spent around Tk 1 billion over land acquisition, resettlement and compensation, setting up a service area, and preparing the design of the bridge.

Bangladesh also signed agreements to borrow $0.61 billion from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), $0.4 billion from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) and $0.13 billion from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to construct the 6.15-kilometre bridge.

Early in October, the World Bank, the coordinator of the four lending agencies, suspended funding the scheme following allegations of corruption in river dredging, appointment of consultants and selections of pre-qualified contractors in the project.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating a Canadian firm, SNC-Lavalin Inc, which had been short-listed for the bridge project's monitoring, for a possible instance of corruption. 

Ahmadinejad signs bill on UK into law

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has signed into law a bill approved by Majlis (parliament) to downgrade Iran's ties with Britain.

The bill ratified by Majlis on November 27 was approved by the Guardian Council (GC) one day later.

The bill obliges the country's Foreign Ministry to expel the UK ambassador within two weeks and reduce diplomatic ties with the British government to the level of chargé d'affaires.

The president is required to inform the country's executive bodies of the law within five days after being notified by Majlis Speaker.

The motion to downgrade ties with London was first presented to the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee in 2009, following Briton's interference in post-election unrest in Iran.

The bill was revived in response to Britain's hostile approach towards Iran and the sanctions imposed by London against the country's banking system and energy sector in coordination with the US and Canada.

Nellie Massacre

The Nellie massacre took place in Assam during a six-hour period in the morning of 18 February 1983. 

The massacre claimed the lives of 2,191 people (unofficial figures run at more than 5,000) from 14 villages Alisingha, Khulapathar, Basundhari, Bugduba Beel, Bugduba Habi, Borjola, Butuni, Indurmari, Mati Parbat, Muladhari, Mati Parbat no. 8, Silbheta, Borburi and Nellie—of Nagaon district. Most of the victims were Bangladeshi Muslims who had illegally immigrated to the region during the Bangladesh war. A group of media personnel passing by the region were witness to the massacre.

The massacre was one of many violent incidents during the infamous 1983 elections conducted in the midst of the Assam Agitation. The elections were declared against the wishes of the Assam Agitation leaders who did not want an election till the electoral rolls were cleansed of illegal immigrants. In the 1985 Assam Accord, which ended the agitation, that election was set aside and new elections were declared.

The government gave the survivors of Nellie compensation for each death of as little as 5,000 rupees, contrasted for instance with Rs. 7 lakhs that have been paid to survivors of the Sikh carnage of a year later in 1984. Six hundred and eighty eight criminal cases were filed in connection with Nellie organised massacre and of these 310 cases were charge-sheeted. The remaining 378 cases were closed due to the police claim of “lack of evidence”. But all the 310 charge-sheeted cases were dropped by the AGP government as a part of Assam Accord; therefore not a single person has even had to face trial for the gruesome massacre.

A Commission of Inquiry was instituted under Tribhubhan Prasad Tiwary, the report of which has not been made public. There is enough evidence to suggest that successive local governments, belonging to both the Congress and the AGP, have suppressed information about the massacre.