Monday, December 12, 2011

The Great Partition of Dhaka City—Crying Over Spilled Milk

The great divide of our historic Dhaka city in two parts is finally happening; the legislature has approved the ordinance for the division. Barring any miraculous court orders nullifying the legislation, for which the courts have been moved, soon there will be two cities although we do not know what these will be called.

People like us who had spent their childhood and youth in good old Dhaka will not know what new name our part of the old city will bear. Will they be simply called South and North, or will they be christened after some names? Do we care what the names will be? All we know that Dhaka that we knew and grew up with, the city that the world was familiar with, will no longer be the same with any other name. The milk does remain milk anymore when it is spilled; it lies on the floor in globules. I know any comments on this division are post facto, crying in the wilderness, or more proverbially crying over spilled milk. Nonetheless, I would like to cry. I would like to register my protest as an ex citizen of Dhaka, albeit from thousands of miles away.

We have been told that the division of Dhaka was mandated by poor services to the citizens. We have been further told that this was necessary to make city life better with improved sanitation, water supply, road conditions, transportation, and what have you. A divided Dhaka will make the average citizen’s life much superior with enhanced and faster services—the services that they do not have now. Let us pause for a second to reflect on the promises in these hypotheses.

Dhaka City Corporation has been in existence for over three decades now turning from a Municipality that was created hundred and fifty years ago. From a small urban center of a few square kilometers in 1900 with about a hundred thousand people, the city is nearly 1530 Sq. km in size now, and an estimated population of about 12 million live in this city. As one of the top 11 megacities, Dhaka is probably the fastest growing in the world. It is projected that by 2025 eight of the ten megacities will be in Asia with Dhaka ranked fourth following closely on the heels of Tokyo, Bombay and Delhi. There are few urban areas in the world that are growing faster.

How do you manage urban services for this burgeoning population without first tackling and planning to accommodate this growth? Is it by splitting the city in two halves, or by augmenting resources of the people who manage the services, and handing them the authority to do so?

The key challenges that Dhaka faces are not posed by incorporation of the city as a single entity. The other ten megacities of the world including those in our neighboring country (such as Kolkata and Mumbai) continue to remain a single corporation and they continue to provide urban services to their citizenry as one City Corporation. The challenges, however, that Dhaka faces unlike other cities come from other sources. These are, the city’s unfortunate location being virtually surrounded by rivers that limits expansion, its population density, and impossible traffic.

Bifurcation of the city will not alter the physical and manmade challenges that Dhaka faces now. Our population will continue to grow, and so will our traffic, and the divided city will have to cope with this growth and services will continue to suffer. No miracle can be expected in the delivery of services unless the purveyors of the services have the resources and authority to deliver.

While defending the decision to split Dhaka our Prime Minister reportedly made comments that such divisions “to improve urban services” had taken place in other major cities of the world such as London, Melbourne, Sidney, Manila, etc. To put things in the correct perspective we should point out that London City was not divided by any legislation. London has two parts; City of London, and Greater London. The City of London is a small area (2.9 km) within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern London grew, and it has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of the metropolis of London, though it remains a notable part of central London. Greater London is the top-level administrative subdivision covering London. Melbourne and Sidney to my knowledge do not have divided City Corporations; both cities are run by elected city corporations headed by Mayors (called Lord Mayors).

We should not be looking at these cities for comparison in any case; they are far above our league. We should look at the nearest cities that have problems comparable to our own—such as Kolkata and Mumbai, and see how the corporations in these cities provide services to their citizens. Dhaka citizens’ problems are not likely to be resolved by this Great Divide. We will probably render them twice in size. 

BY : Ziauddin Choudhury/ 

Tipai Dam : Resistance at any cost

Building of Tipaimukh dam will have to be resisted by any means as it will affect Bangladesh badly, BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said yesterday. 

He also blasted the foreign ministry for seeking an explanation from party Chairperson Khaleda Zia regarding her past role on the Tipaimukh issue.

“A director general of the foreign ministry has made an audacious statement. We would have replied even if the foreign minister had asked to explain. Khaleda Zia as prime minister wrote three letters to Indian premier for not building any dam at Tipaimukh,” he told a discussion meeting at the Jatiya Press Club.
The Tipaimukh dam will be like a time bomb for Bangladesh as at least three crore people will be affected by it, he mentioned quoting experts. 

Islamist outfit Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Bangladesh organised the meeting. 

Meanwhile, party Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi in a statement yesterday questioned how a department of the government could seek explanation from the leader of the opposition in parliament.
It is not only “unusual,” but also a conspiracy of the ruling party, he alleged.

He also claimed that no Awami League government so far has protested building of Tipaimukh dam in any meeting of Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission (JRC). But BNP protested it twice in JRC meetings.

A foreign ministry statement on Friday explained the government's stance on the Tipaimukh project. It said though Khaleda Zia is protesting the dam now, she kept mum when she was at the helm of several previous governments.

Tipaimukh: A plea for rational and scientific discussion : Gowher Rizvi

In the last few weeks a controversy has been raging about the impact of the proposed construction of the hydroelectric project in Tipaimukh on the environment, economy and security of Bangladesh. We cannot afford to take this lightly and we must do whatever it takes to ensure that our national interests are not compromised in any way. We have to make sure not only there is no diminution in the flow of waters in Surma and Kushiyara rivers but also there is no adverse environmental or ecological impact, no aggravation of the floods during the monsoon, and most important of all there is no diversion of water from Barak river. These are non-negotiable and lie at the core of our national security concerns.

As often happens, the knowledgeable experts have been pushed aside by those who are not so well-informed but have strong opinions and views. The discourse has deteriorated into demagogy, stridency, devoid of substance and playing to the gallery. Not surprisingly, the debate has generated much controversy and heat but very little light or illumination. Partisan politics and propaganda has replaced the pursuit of truth amongst many commentators.

Like everyone else in Bangladesh I am also deeply concerned and had spoken to many experts, environmental scientists, policy makers and politicians from all shades of opinion to understand the impact of the Tipaimukh project prior to traveling to Delhi. They helped us to understand the issues and raised concerns on which we were asked to seek clarifications and assurances. During our visit we met with the key decision makers in India, including the prime minister, and raised those concerns. Let me summarise the facts and information that we have been able to gather:

* Tipaimukh, located in the Indian state of Manipur, is a multipurpose project being conceived with twofold purpose: first, it is a hydropower generation scheme that will produce 1,500 megawatts electricity; and second, it is expected to contribute to the moderation of floods downstream;

* According to scientists and hydrologists in a run-of-the-river project like this water stored in the dam or the reservoir has to be discharged continuously to enable generation of electricity. During high flood season, the discharge can be regulated to mitigate flooding of the plains while continuing to generate power; During high flood season, the discharge can be regulated to mitigate flooding of the plains while continuing to generate power;

* The flow of water in the two tributaries of the River Barak in Bangladesh, Surma and Kushiyara, is unlikely to be affected as there will be no withdrawal or diversion of water in the project. A dam with a reservoir practically augments the flow of the river in the lean period and does the opposite in the rainy season; 

* It can have adverse impact on downstream users only if water is diverted elsewhere for irrigation or other uses. In the agreement signed by Manipur government and the National Power Corporation there is no provision for the construction of a barrage or any diversion of water from Barak River. Within India itself river water sharing is an acute problem and a source of conflict between different states. We believe that the Indian government understand and value their inter-state relations. Assam and Nagaland, like Bangladesh, are also lower riparians and Barak passes through these states before entering Bangladesh. Governments of these two states have not objected to the project and have actually welcomed it because they also will benefit from its flood mitigation, dry season augmentation and power generation components; 

* The signing of a Promoter's Agreement between the Government of Manipur, NHPC Ltd. and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd. On October 22, 2011 is an intent to set up a joint venture company. It is expected that the project will be completed in 87 months after the government approval has been received. The project will be funded through World Bank financing and so far, to the best of our knowledge, the funding has not been arranged or even discussed with the Bank;

* Bangladesh is ecologically vulnerable and a victim of global warming. The importance of biodiversity in a world where pressure is fast pushing out vulnerable communities and animals from their natural habitat cannot be overstated. The Indian environmental groups are deeply engaged in conducting research and informing policy. Our environmental groups should make common cause to ensure that environmental consequences of the project is fully understood and safeguarded;

* We were very mindful of the environmental consequences of the project on Bangladesh. We learnt that the project is located nearly 140 miles away from Bangladesh borders and it would appear that much of the environmental impact -- flooding, submerging of land, displacement of people, disruption of livelihood and destruction of wild animal habits, etc. -- will be largely confined to India and is unlikely to hurt Bangladesh because of the distance;

* The construction of a large dam in an area that is earthquake prone invariably poses a certain amount of risk for Sylhet area. However, it is unlikely that the Indian government will endanger the lives and livelihood of their own citizens in Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam without proper study and assessment. Looking at the map it also becomes clear (for the distance of the proposed project area from Bangladesh border) that our risks are much less. It will also be imperative on India to ensure that the structure is so designed that it can withstand seismologic shocks;

* Barak is an international river; and as the lower riparian the interests of Bangladesh has to be taken into account according to current international practices. 

* Under the instructions of the prime minister, Dr. Mashiur Rahman and I, together with our High Commissioner in Delhi, met with a number of Indian leaders including the prime minister and ministers for home, finance, power, rural development, and water resources; and the national security advisor. Our discussions were frank, candid and cordial and we were able to satisfy ourselves that our interests and security would not be jeopardised. In particular, the prime minister of India gave the following reassurances:

* He reiterated his previous assurances in Sharmel Sheik (2009), in Delhi (2010) and in Dhaka (2011) that India would not take any action in Tipaimukh that would hurt the interests of Bangladesh. The same message was repeated in response to the letter from the Leader of Opposition, Ms. Khaleda Zia. (In international diplomacy an assurance from the prime minister of a country is tantamount to a firm commitment of the nation and should not be underestimated);

* The PM offered to share with Bangladesh all the information relating to the Tipaimukh project including environmental impact, project design and so forth; and he would also welcome any other delegation or study team that Bangladesh may send in the future. Bangladesh civil society and scientists should take advantage of this offer to conduct an in-depth study so that we can reach our own independent conclusions;

* Tipaimukh project, as conceived, had provisions for flood control and to increase supply of water during the lean season;

* We were categorically assured that there would be no diversion of water from the river. India will not construct a barrage on the river to divert water for irrigation or any other such use;

* The Indian PM also reiterated his earlier invitation to Bangladesh to become an equity partner in the Tipaimukh project and take a share of the power that will be generated. This would guarantee us a place at the decision-making table and the ability to oversight the project at all stages.

On the basis of the information gathered and assurances received from the highest authorities in India we should be able to delink the Tipaimukh project from emotive and political plain to scientific and rational level. We should accept the reassurances in good faith but also conduct our own scientific studies or to take up India's invitation to go for an in-depth survey to determine the "adverse impacts" on the flow of water of Surma and Kushiyara; we should check out the extent to which the project will modulate flooding and enhance the flow of water in the lean seasons; we should assess the probabilities of damage from earthquake or dam bursting; we should conduct a cost benefit analysis of equity partnership in the hydroelectric project; and above all engage India in a dialogue that will enable us to advance our best strategic and economic interest. 

To ground the debate in reality it would also behoove us to understand the location and distance of Tipaimukh (Churachandpur District in Manipur) and not confuse it with any other place in Kachar district of Assam. To do this we have to depoliticise the issue, get away from partisan rhetoric and emotional hyperbole, and put our national interest above factional and parochial interests. With the assurances that we have received from the government of India and the access to the information that we have got, we should get on with scientific and scholarly studies. We owe this to our country.

Deal inked with China for 1320MW plant

Bangladesh and China will jointly set up a 1320-MW coal-fired power plant in Chittagong, official sources said.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) in this regard was signed during a Bangladesh delegation’s visit to China which lasted December 2-10. 

Chairman of the state-owned Power Development Board (PDB) ASM Alamgir Kabir led the 6-member delegation comprising senior officials of the power ministry.

According to sources, PDB and Chinese state-owned Huadian Corporation will implement the project through a joint venture company. The Bank of China will finance the mega project.

Ministry officials said the MoU was signed following an approval by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. This will be the second government-to-government joint venture project, they added.

Earlier, a similar MoU was signed between the PDB and Indian state-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) to build a similar 1320MW power plant in Khulna near the Sundarbans.
But there has been little progress in the last two and half years since the signing.

Official sources said the Chinese government is very keen to implement the joint venture project and its embassy in Dhaka played a vital role in arranging the deal between the PDB and the Beijing-based Huadian Corporation.
The Huadian Corporation is one of the five largest state-owned power generation companies in China.
Out of total 960,000 MW power generated in China, the Huadian alone produces 80,000 MW, said an official who visited the company’s power plant in China’s Shandong province. 

The Huadian Corporation also has overseas projects in different countries, including Indonesia, Russia and Cambodia.

The officials, however, said though a MoU was signed between the two state-owned companies, still there are some unresolved issues, which would be addressed through further negotiations.

“Particularly, the Chinese side wants to execute the project by appointing an EPC contractor of their own choice. They want this in order to implement the project in a faster pace and also to secure their investment,” said an official.

“But we haven’t yet given our decision as it needs the go-ahead from the highest level,” the official added.

ICT decision on SQ Chy's petition Dec 19

International Crimes Tribunal will pass its order on December 19 regarding BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury’s petitions seeking some facilities for defending him during his trial for alleged crimes against humanity.

The three-judge tribunal headed by its Chairman Nizamul Huq fixed the date after concluding the hearing on the petitions on Monday. 

On November 30, Salauddin submitted six petitions seeking one year time for gathering necessary documents and witnesses to prove his innocence and demanding broadcast on the electronic media the trial proceedings against him and application of international laws relating to war crimes trial, the Evidence Act and Code of Criminal Procedure during his trial.

He also demanded that the tribunal should define the crimes against humanity in rules of procedure and allow him to engage foreign lawyers as consultants to defend him against the charges.

Meanwhile, the tribunal appointed Supreme Court lawyer M Badiuzzaman as state defence lawyer for Chowdhury. 

The appointment came in a suo moto move as the BNP leader has no lawyer to defend him.

EC Expresses Inability To Hold DCC Polls

The Election Commission (EC) said on Monday that it is not possible for it to conduct the election of the bifurcated Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) during its tenure.

Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda disclosed the EC's official position before journalists after a meeting.

The EC will send a letter to the Local Government and Rural Development (LGRD) ministry informing their decision Tuesday.

The EC held the two-hour meeting at its secretariat to make a decision on whether to hold the DCC election during its tenure which is going to expire in February.

Earlier on several occasions, two election commissioners said the elections to the bifurcated DCC by next February appear to be uncertain as the commission finds it difficult to complete preparations for the polls prior to the expiry of its tenure.