Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dhaka tipped off by Delhi

Report some foreign media on plot to overthrow govt.


After the army announced foiling a “coup attempt” to overthrow the government, a number of foreign newspapers have reported that India played an important role in unearthing the plot.

The Daily Mail has reported that a “tip-off from India” helped Bangladesh Army pre-empt the conspirators.

“India has helped Bangladesh avert what could have been reminiscent of bloody military takeover in the wake of the country's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, 36 years ago,” the British newspaper wrote on Friday.

“Sources said a reported tip-off from India helped the army pre-empt the bid by middle-ranking serving officers with active support from retired army men. 

“It is believed that New Delhi alerted the Hasina government, which enabled the Bangladesh army to trace the plotters by tracking the cell phone call records.”

A report of Bangla daily Anandabazar Patrika said “Indian intelligence also played a role in foiling the military coup”.

Indian cantonments have been warned and intelligence has been instructed to closely monitor the situation so that “its ripples do not affect India”, the Indian newspaper reported on Friday.

It said that the Indian government believes “the objective of the failed military coup was New Delhi”.

“The military coup sought to thwart the friendship created between India and Bangladesh since the Hasina government came to power,” the news item said.

The daily said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has “decided to provide all forms of assistance in case of efforts to remove Sheikh Hasina from power through any undemocratic process”.

Intelligence reports from both countries pointed out that Hizb ut-Tahrir Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP has been working together in this regard, it read.

Intelligence officials have also indicated that some extreme fundamentalists were planted in the army during the BNP-led four-party alliance government for “special reasons”, Anandabazar Patrika said.

“Former Prime Minister's son Tarique Rahman's name has also emerged as the head of the entire incident.” 

India Today, a weekly news magazine, also reported about Tarique Rahman's possible link to the plot.

“Investigations point towards former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's exiled son Tareque [Tarique] Rahman's role in trying to trigger a mutiny within the army with an aim to remove its top brass and the government that wants better ties with India,” it reported yesterday.

The Indian magazine reported that the rebels circulated notes among fellow officials describing the Hasina government as “Indian agent” and claiming that “senior army officers are on India's payrolls and New Delhi wants to convert Bangladesh into a protectorate”.

English daily Times of India on Friday reported that “Indian agencies have had inputs about a possible coup in Bangladesh for the past few days”.

In another report yesterday, the Indian newspaper said the “failed military coup may have been more serious that what has emerged in public”.

It said at least some senior army officers, including a major general, were aware of the plot as they were regularly briefed.

Citing Indian officials, the newspaper said the attempt is a warning of the “fragility of Bangladesh's democracy” and “possible Islamisation that is creeping into the army ranks”.

Meanwhile, talking to, Smruti S Pattanaik, an Indian expert on Bangladesh, has said the Bangladeshi military is not interested in direct takeover of power.

“Its involvement in peacekeeping mission under UN is a major international constraint,” said Pattanaik, “However, it does not want civilian government's interference in its institutional affairs”.

She believes that Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina needs to “take strong disciplinary actions against the conspirators” to stop “Islamist infiltration of the army”. 

From India with love

It is said that an image is worth a thousand words. Last week, newspapers in Bangladesh printed a set of pictures taken from the Indian TV channels showing a Bangladeshi boy being beaten inside India, close to our border, by the Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) for allegedly not paying bribes to them for smuggling cows. The pictures were graphic and told a tale that was told by us many times in the past.

We are happy to know that the Indian authorities have taken cognisance of the event. The BSF commander of the unit which committed the offence was sent to the spot to investigate and report. We are keenly following the story to see the outcome of the investigation.

There is no doubt that India has become one of the profitable smuggling markets. Cows from as far as Mumbai reach West Bengal (Paschimbanga) to be pushed over to Bangladesh.

To many, smuggling seems to make so much sense. You sell, others buy. But there seems to be the small matter of laws in both the countries which are now pushing criminal activity to the border. The residents there happen to live in the gateway from where these animals are pushed into Bangladesh. Their homes therefore become a place for this criminal activity.

It might be relevant to understand the dynamics of cow smuggling. It is reported that 1.5 million cows worth $500 million are smuggled from India into Bangladesh each year. It is also estimated that a medium sized cow in Jharkand can be bought for $100. But when the cow enters Bangladesh its price can become as high as $350. The Indian authorities, in order to prevent smuggling, had taken an initiative to provide photo identification of all Indian cattle and their owners. But massive falsification of data by interested quarters there has put an effective end to this project.

We are told that illegal trade between India and Bangladesh bring in $2.7 billion annually to India. Compare that to the legal trade between the two countries, which ropes in $3.6 billion annually. So imagine the economics of our love with India.

For better understanding of animal smuggling, let us retrace the steps of a cow smuggled into Bangladesh. Traffickers bring the cow usually by truck to West Bengal (Paschimbanga) from as far as Haryana or Punjab. They have a strong network in border villages adjoining Bangladesh. The cows are held there in transit, before being pushed into Bangladesh.

Reports say that traffickers inject Diclofenal Sodium (a banned anti-inflammatory drug) to energise cows before they leap into Bangladesh and crash through physical obstacles including rivers and canals that demarcate the two countries. Once they reach this side of the border, the traffickers keep them in hiding till they are sent to markets and sold.

India and Bangladesh share an international border of 4095 kilometres with the final 6.5 kilometres recently demarcated. Five Indian states adjoin a total of 28 Bangladeshi districts at the border. According to Odhikar, a Bangladeshi human rights group, between 2000 and 2010, at least 924 Bangladeshis were killed by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) on account of alleged offenses. 

This force was set up in 1965 and now has 190,000 personnel. Bangla-desh's Border Guards are only 67,000 in number. Thus, the BSF is among the largest border forces in the world. Its major peacetime duties include preventing trans-border crimes, unauthorised entry and exit from India and prevention of smuggling and other illegal activities. With about 70% of the border between Bangladesh and India already fenced with barbed wire, the keys to the gates of the fence are necessarily with the Indian BSF. So anyone caught sneaking through these areas must have some links with them. 

BSF in the past has justified the torturing of suspects by noting that smugglers evade arrest. Sometimes, the BSF says, it has to fire on them out of self defense. But the evidence collected suggests that BSF has always used excessive force. Cattle rustling is not a capital offence according to Indian law. So why do they shoot the people in the back? This suggests that the victims were running to evade arrest.

It is quite clear that the BSF ignores procedural safeguards to prevent torture. Like our law, Indian law requires that everyone taken into custody must be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest. But this is more in breach than in practice. The Indian Penal Code forbids the causing of "hurt" or "grievous hurt" to any person while in the custody of a force. There are prescribed prison terms and fines for persons found guilty of torture. We rarely hear of any such punishment given to BSF personnel.

On the other hand, the BSF says that whenever they apprehend criminals at the border, they send them to the local police for prosecution. It is alleged that these criminals, get released against corrupt payments. Indeed, if this is so then this is a challenge for the Indian police. Criminals cannot be spared whatever nationality they belong to. But there is no reason for them to suffer inhuman and degrading treatment at the hands of BSF.

While we are looking into the corruption and excesses by Indian border forces, we must also start looking at alternative methods to buy beef from India. Some states in India have banned slaughter of cows for religious reasons. Other states prevent export of beef. But can we not welcome the legal import of cows for husbandry? Paschimbanga, we understand, allows the slaughter of cows. At least, the leftist government there did not ban it. So why can't we legally import frozen meat from Paschimbanga by opening letters of credit? We must find a mutually acceptable way out.

A wise man had once said: "Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable." Smuggling of cows and other items must end. Only a few gain while the two countries and people lose. An Indian proverb encapsulates the sentiment: "It is love that makes the impossible possible." And so from India we expect love and the impossible to happen. We hope India will consider selling us what we need. Let us negotiate this with India. 

Nuke Power Plant in Rooppur : Major hurdle crossed

Russia assures funding, technology to implement it by 2017.

Bangladesh has made a significant headway in the strive for setting up its first-ever nuclear power plant at Rooppur in Pabna with Russia assuring it of both financial and technological assistance.

“A major portion of the Tk 1,200-1,500 crore estimated expenditure and all kinds of technological support for building the 1,000-megawatt power plant will be given by Russia ,” State Minister for Science and Technology Yeahfesh Osman told The Daily Star.

The main hurdle of finding a financier for the proposed plant is now over. Terms and conditions of Russia's providing the fund will be discussed at a meeting with a delegation from Moscow, scheduled for January 25, he said.

Last year, Dhaka and Moscow signed a draft agreement on technological support from Russia for building the power plant. This followed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2009. 

Responding to a question, the state minister said the power plant might also be set up on the basis of build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT). A final deal with Russia concerning the plant is expected to be signed within this year with the aim of commissioning it by 2017. 

“The prime minister has asked us to complete all preparatory work so that the deal can be struck during her visit to Russia between June and September,” he said.

Yeahfesh hoped construction of the plant would begin during the tenure of the present government.
All heavy equipment for the plant will be brought through waterways, he said. 

Meanwhile, in the last three years the government has made considerable progress in meeting the requirements specified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for building the long-cherished nuclear power plant to resolve the country's energy crisis.

A number of deals, framework agreements and MoUs have already been signed with Russia for peaceful use of nuclear power, technology transfer, creating human resources to run a nuclear power plant, supply of required fuel and taking spent fuel back.

IAEA has a set of general guidelines regarding a nuclear power plant. Recently, it gave Dhaka 20 specific suggestions concerning the financier and ownership of the proposed plant, its safety measures and legal framework.

“Safety is our first priority. Officials of Russian state atomic energy corporation and IAEA, who have visited Bangladesh and the Rooppur site, are highly impressed to see our infrastructures,” said Yeahfesh.

On safety measure, he said one more crucial deal -- nuclear radiation safety control-- will be signed in the next few months. Under the deal, Russia will fully cooperate with Bangladesh in radiation leakage control. The cabinet recently approved a draft of the deal.

“The planned nuclear plant will be built with modern technology, and there will be no chance of radiation leakage as in Japan's Fukoshima,” he said. The nuclear reactor will automatically be shut down in case of any leakage.

Bangladesh is going to make a law and form an independent regulatory body to carry out IAEA's suggestion of forming a legal structure for implementing a nuke project. The cabinet last month approved in principle a draft Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Act, which is now being vetted by the law ministry.

The state minister said the draft will be placed at the coming parliament session. And a five-member independent regulatory body comprising experts will be formed after it is enacted. 

This body will be the supreme authority regarding the nuclear plant, its operation and use.

Russia will train Bangladeshi engineers and other technical persons for creating necessary workforce to operate the plant. The trainees will work in Russian plants for two years before their assignment in Bangladesh.

Yeahfesh said the Russian and IAEA delegations were impressed to see that the research reactor of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) at Savar was operating successfully for 30 years. “You have already some people who can be useful for handling nuclear plant,” he quoted an official of the Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review mission of IAEA.

While visiting Bangladesh in November last year, the mission concluded that Dhaka met most of the pre-conditions. 

BAEC Director Dr Shawkat Akbar, who is also the project director of the proposed Rooppur plant, said implementation of the nuclear project greatly depends on finalising the financier, ownership of the plant and risk factor management. 

The IAEA wants clarity about all this, he said, adding all the issues must be resolved within this year for setting up the plant by 2017.

As suggested by IAEA, the government has to involve various stakeholders and conduct a nationwide campaign so that people are well aware of the project and its risk factor. 

A total of 292 acres of land was acquired -- 260 acres for the nuclear plant and 32 acres for offices and residences-- in Ishwardi upazila of Pabna after the then government decided in 1961 to set up the plant. 

Necessary equipment was also being brought but the ship carrying those did not come to Chittagong port. Instead, it went to Karachi and the project was shelved.

Youth shot dead by BSF men

Amid tension over the torture of a Bangladeshi man by Indian Border Security Force personnel, BSF shot a youth dead and injured two others early yesterday in Dhannokhola of Benapole in Jessore.

Police said the deceased, Rasheduzzaman, 22, was the son of Mosharraf Hossain of Matipukur in Sharsha upazila. Details of the injured victims could not be known immediately.

Meanwhile, Dhaka yesterday lodged protest with New Delhi over the death of Rashed expressing its deep concern and disappointment, according to a foreign ministry statement. 

Subedar Atiar Rahman, in-charge of Dhannokhola camp of BGB 22 Battalion, said the BSF members in India's Sutia camp in 24 Parganas district of Paschimbanga opened fire on a group of cattle traders while they were returning to Bangladesh around 5:00am.

The BSF fired three bullets, one of which hit Rashed, killing him on the spot, he said.

On information, Benapole port police rushed to the spot, recovered the body and sent it to Jessore General Hospital morgue for an autopsy, said Hasan Hafezur Rahman, officer-in-charge of the station. 

Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Director General Maj Gen Anwar Hossain, however, told The Daily Star last night that they are investigating the incident to ascertain whether the victim was killed in BSF firing “as primary investigation raises some suspicion”.

He added that the bullet-hit body was found around 60 yards inside Bangladesh. 

The BGB border outpost has already protested the killing after holding a flag meeting with the BSF outpost concerned, he said. 

The killing happened days after the release of a video clip that showed some BSF men were brutally torturing a Bangladeshi citizen in Murshidabad district of Paschimbanga on January 9 as he allegedly refused to pay them a bribe.

The BSF authorities on January 18 suspended eight jawans and ordered fully-fledged investigation into the matter.

India on December 20 last year regretted the killing of four Bangladeshi nationals by BSF members on December 16 and 17, saying that it has taken various steps, including strict control on opening fire, introduction of non-lethal weapons, round-the-clock intensive patrolling. 

According to rights group Ain O Salish Kendra, 39 Bangladeshis were killed by the BSF in 2011, while Odhikar puts the number at 31. 

The foreign ministry statement issued yesterday says such killings are taking place despite assurances at the highest level of the Indian government of exercising maximum restraint by the BSF. 

The reaction of Bangladesh comes in continuation of earlier communications expressing deep concern and dismay of the government of Bangladesh at the recurrence of such incidents of deaths at the hands of BSF members.

The Indian authorities concerned have been urged to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident and to take action against those responsible, the statement added.

Don’t blow it up, India says on BSF torture

With a video footage showing Indian border guards brutally torturing a Bangladeshi still a major topic of talks across the country, India on Saturday said the media should not “blow it out of proportions”.

“Such incidents often take place at the border. There is no need to blow them out of proportions,” Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters in Kolkata, reports our New Delhi correspondent.

He said governments of India and Bangladesh would resolve the issue through discussions.

A video footage of December 9 aired by several Indian TV channels over the past few days showed some men in BSF fatigue brutally torturing a Bangladeshi national after stripping and tying him to a stick near the Murshidabad border.

The BSF has already suspended eight of its personnel in connection with the incident and has ordered a full-fledged probe into it. 

The foreign ministry of Bangladesh has already protested the “violent action” by the Indian BSF and wanted India to thoroughly probe the incident.

No graft in Padma bridge contractor appointment: ACC

The Anti-Corruption Commission did not find any corruption in appointing contractors for the Padma Bridge Project, ACC officials have said. 

Inquiry into alleged corruption to appoint contractors in the Padma Bridge Project has already been completed, ACC sources said. 

ACC Deputy Director Mir Joynul Abedin Shiblee, who was appointed investigation officer to probe the allegation, has already completed the inquiry. 

Shiblee has scrutinised information given by the World Bank and a Canadian company and talked to former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain during the probe. 

But the ACC official did not find any element of corruption in appointing contractor in the Padma Bridge Project during the inquiry, the sources said. 

The inquiry report will be placed before the ACC next week for approval of inclusion of the report in the commission proceeding urging to null and void the allegation, as no corruption was found, the sources also said. 

On the other hand, ACC Assistant Director Mirza Zahidul Islam is now conducting inquiry into the alleged corruption in appointing advisers for construction of the Padma bridge is going on. 

In September last year, the commission decided to conduct the inquiry into alleged corruption in appointing contractor and advisers for construction of Padma bridge upon a request by the communications ministry following suspension of 1.2 billion dollar fund by the World Bank. 

ACC appointed its Deputy Director Mir Joynul Abedin Shiblee and Assistant Director Mirza Zahidul Islam as inquiry officers for probing corruption charges in appointing contractors and advisers for the Padma bridge construction.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith informed the media on October 10 last year that WB had suspended the fund for construction of the bridge.