Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ruling party tries to capture everything

Ex-CEC critical of democracy Bangladesh style.


The type of democracy practised in Bangladesh is something vulgarised by the ruling party, which encourages black money and muscle power in the absence of the rule of law. 

ATM Shamsul Huda, the immediate past chief election commissioner, said this yesterday, adding that electoral democracy does not necessarily mean a complete democracy as every time the poll winner tries to take all. 

“Instead of building up institutions, they [the ruling party], in most cases, try to destroy institutions like the Election Commission and the judiciary,” he said. “They also try to politicise the bureaucracy, police, administration and, dangerously, the military.”

Sometimes, they even scrutinise the Public Service Commission's recommendations, he said. “Such was not possible even in the Pakistan period.”

The rule of law is something of fundamental importance, he observed. Every citizen has a right to file cases with police stations. But often police do not want to record cases.

Shamsul Huda was addressing a book launch and a seminar on “India-Bangladesh-Myanmar Relations: Challenges for Mutual Development” at Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) in Dhaka. 

The book, “Democracy in Bangladesh: Political Dimensions of National Development”, a compilation of papers, has jointly been edited by Zillur R Khan and Syed Saad Andaleeb.

At the seminar, eminent jurist and former foreign minister Dr Kamal Hossain said money has destroyed democracy in Bangladesh. “Electoral democracy has fallen sick in the country,” he said.

“There is a security problem for people in the absence of the rule of law in this country. We do not want to see impunity enjoyed by some of the people,” he said. “The system is like a democratisation of corruption.” 

Forty years into independence is enough time to establish the rule of law in the country and yet the political parties are still urging the people to wait, wait and wait, he said. 

Echoing the views of Huda, Dr Kamal said the ruling party wants to control everything, even the police, military, media and administration.

As the chief guest, Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue, said four free and fair elections were held in Bangladesh. And this is a reflection of the country's making significant progress in democratic practice.

In terms of economic and human development, Bangladesh has made advances among South Asian countries, he said.

BEI President Farooq Sobhan moderated the programme. Scholars, academicians, researchers and diplomats attended the book launch. 

PM for Yunus as WB Chief :: Is it a change of heart or a mockery?

After terming him the “bloodsucker” of the poor and relentlessly harassing him and forcing his departure from Grameen Bank that he founded and led to Nobel Prize stature, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on Wednesday, requested the visiting EU delegation to use their “influence” to make Prof Yunus the next president of the World Bank. 

On the occasion she also praised him, according to UNB news agency, for “his outstanding contribution in alleviating poverty through micro credit activities.” The PM is also quoted to have further said that Prof Yunus has vast experience and enjoys an “excellent reputation in the world”. She reportedly holds the view that Prof.

Yunus' vast experience is a “valuable asset” that the World Bank, by making him its next president, can use for the benefit of the world. 

This is for the first time we have heard anything positive from the PM about Yunus since she took power this time. Is Sheikh Hasina's change of heart for real? Or is it a mockery, with the underlying message, 'Take him away from Bangladesh?' We hope it is the former.

Countless numbers of us who have attended conferences abroad or who have done business with foreign companies, have faced relentless questions as to how the Bangladesh government could harass the very man honoured the world over. 

The support that the international community extended to Prof Yunus was seen by our government more as Yunus' capacity to lobby to gather support rather than a sign of genuine respect that he enjoyed. 

The spontaneity of the global outcry was totally lost on our government. It could not imagine, in its wildest dream, that another Bangladeshi, who wielded no political power, could have earned such a genuinely exalted place in the global scene. 

So like a stubborn individual, the more the support for Yunus, the more the government stiffened its attitude and saw it as external interference in our internal affairs. Not for a moment did it ask why heads of states and governments were rooting for this private man who had nothing to show for his power except his reputation for the work he did for the poor, especially women. 

Within the country the government, its leaders and especially the prime minister came under severe criticism for their narrow mindedness. Many termed the prime minister's attitude to be an expression of her jealousy, as some had convinced her that she deserved a Nobel Prize. She appeared to be mean, vindictive, too eager to denigrate people other than her family, and totally blind against people she dislikes for whatever reason and however unjustifiably. To make a long story short, her attack on Prof Yunus greatly diminished her, her party, her government and the country.

Nothing would please us more if Sheikh Hasina really meant what she said to EU delegation. It is never too late to correct a wrong. Yunus' possible presidency of the World Bank is of least interest to us. (It may be mentioned that the office is always held by an American, just as the IMF's stewardship is held by Europeans. On what basis our PM made such a request to the EU is beyond our comprehension). What is far more important for Bangladesh and we as a people is that we stop dishonouring a man who needs and deserves to be respected. We stop telling lies about him and about micro-credit that is being adopted in almost all poor countries of the world, some not too poor and a few rich countries as well. 

As the age old saying goes, charity begins at home. So also respect for Yunus should begin at home, at the PM's home (figuratively speaking) to be precise. 

If Sheikh Hasina believes what she said to the EU delegation about Yunus' work, his experience, his reputation then she must acknowledge that inside the country by giving him the respect he deserves. Given the ego our leaders have, it is too much to ask our PM to retract all that she has said about him in the past, especially after it proved to be all false. She would definitely gain the esteem of her countrymen if she had the maturity and the self confidence to admit that she was mistaken. 

That said, we can ask her to begin anew. She can start by giving Yunus an audience that he has long requested for and removing the misunderstanding that has been exploited by many smaller people surrounding the PM. She can take steps to restore this man's prestige that she has so unfairly, cruelly but at the end ineffectively, tried to take away from him. 

But, on the contrary, if she does not believe what she has said, then she has only made herself an object of ridicule. The world will know that she advised the EU and indirectly the World Bank and all its members to honour the very man she herself does not honour. What it will do for her own credibility and stature, not to speak of respect among her peers, is an open question. But it is one that should be asked by her. 

It is our fervent hope that the PM's words signal a change of heart. We would further like to hope that she will act according to what she has said and try to heal this festering wound that has harmed us all so much, more her than anybody else. However, if her words turn out to have been just that --- words, without any substance or meaning --- then it will stand out as having made a mockery of us all. 


Border management top on agenda

As effective implementation of the Coordinated Border Management Plan is likely to top the agenda of home minister Shahara Khatun's meeting with her Indian counterpart P Chidambaram on Friday, New Delhi is set to urge Dhaka to restrict movement of people along the border.

While Dhaka is expected to take up the issue of alleged excesses committed by India's Border Security Force (BSF) personnel on the citizens of Bangladesh, New Delhi is set to point it out that the policy of restraint implemented by its border guards had 'emboldened' the criminal elements active across the line between the two neighbours.

Sources in the India's ministry of home affairs said New Delhi would point out that taking advantage of the policy of restraint exercised by them, criminal elements active along the border had in the past few months stepped up attacks on the BSF personnel.

"There have been a number of attacks on the BSF personnel in the recent months along the India-Bangladesh border. A BSF head constable also got killed by smugglers, who came from across the border at Gobardah in North 24 Parganas district in West Bengal," said a senior official.

"We would stress that illegal activities, which sometimes lead to regrettable loss of lives on both sides of the border, need to be addressed through joint collaborative efforts and mechanisms," he added.

Shahara's meeting with Chidambaram is the second between the two. They last met in Dhaka in July last year, when the Coordinated Border Management Plan was signed.

The video footage of a Bangladeshi national being stripped and tortured by the BSF personnel along the border in Murshidabad district of West Bengal on Dec 9, 2011 triggered uproar last month, prompting Dhaka to lodge a protest with New Delhi. The BSF suspended eight soldiers, who were involved with the torture of the man, and also ordered an investigation.

Dhaka, however, is expected to raise the issue once again at the home minister-level meeting starting Friday.

But New Delhi maintains that number incidents of firing by BSF personnel or alleged excesses committed by them have came down drastically in the recent months as the paramilitary force was told to exercise as much restraint as possible, and that .

Sources in the Indian ministry of home affairs claimed that BSF has been exercising utmost restraint and resorted to firing in self-defence only in the recent months. Besides, New Delhi had also started arming the BSF personnel with non-lethal weapons apart from taking other measures, like round-the-clock domination and intensive patrolling as well as night time restrictions on the movement of people in the border areas.

"Unfortunately, this policy of restraint has emboldened criminal elements who have stepped up their attacks on BSF personnel deployed along the border in order to facilitate their illegal activities," said a senior official in New Delhi.

During his meeting with Shahara, Chidambaram is likely to stress that the Coordinated Border Management Plan envisaged joint responsibility of both BSF and Border Guard Bangladesh to synergize their efforts to ensure effective control over cross-border illegal activities and crimes as well as for maintenance of peace and harmony along the border.

"Illegal activities, which sometimes lead to regrettable loss of lives on both sides along the border, need to be addressed through joint collaborative efforts and mechanisms. We will continue to work closely with the government of Bangladesh to maintain peace and harmony along the border," said the official of the ministry of home affairs.

Chidambaram and Shahara will hold a one-on-one meeting before leading the delegations of the respective countries to the parleys.

A press-release issued by the India's ministry of home affairs on Thursday said that "issues concerning security, border management and enhanced cooperation between the police and law enforcement agencies between the two countries" would be high on agenda.

India's national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, home secretary R K Singh and foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai would be members of the Indian delegation to be led by Chidambaram. The Bangladesh delegation would include prime minister Sheikh Hasina's advisor Gowher Rizvi, Bangladesh high commissioner in India Tariq A Karim and senior secretary of the ministry of home affairs C Q K Mustaq Ahmed. 

EU shocked by killings at border

The killing of Bangladesh civilians on the border by the Indian Border Security Force is shocking and should be strongly addressed, Jean Lambert of European Parliament said yesterday.

She made the remarks replying to queries at a press conference in Dhaka yesterday.

“This is going on for a considerable period,” she said adding that the matter would be raised in European Parliament and with the Indian ambassador in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union. It will also be taken up with the European delegation visiting India.

Lambert is the leader of a seven-member delegation of the European Parliament for Relations with South Asia. The delegation came to Dhaka on a five-day visit on February 19. 

Without mentioning the BSF chief's name, she said the comments that the killing is inevitable were outrageous in terms of human rights.

European Union Ambassador in Dhaka William Hana was present at the press conference. 


Border firing to go on

Reasserts BSF chief day before home ministers' meeting in Delhi.


Indian Border Security Force chief UK Bansal yesterday reaffirmed that his soldiers at the border with Bangladesh would fire on criminals who dare them, a statement that has already created controversy over border killings.

"If, despite their [BSF personnel] efforts [of exercising restraint], they get into a situation where they are threatened and their lives are in danger, then they will use the force available to them to save their lives or the lives of their companions. That means they will fire," Bansal told Press Trust of India news agency.

According to rights organisation Odhikar, 203 people lost their lives in BSF firing near the border between 2009 and 2011. 

None of the killings occurred in a situation in which the Indian guards' lives were at stake.
Triggering a controversy, Bansal had earlier said firing by BSF along the border with Bangladesh cannot stop completely.

The BSF chief, however, made it clear that firing will be the last resort and that the force has put in a number of measures to avert casualties.

His remarks came a day ahead of a meeting between Home Minister of India P Chidambaram and Bangladesh Home Minister Shahara Khatun. When the two ministers meet, Shahara is expected to raise the issue of BSF firing and killing of Bangladeshi civilians along the border. 

Yesterday the BSF director general said, "They [BSF personnel] will fire with the available weapon... it may be non-lethal, it may be lethal... every patrol company will have both weapons but if a person is under attack and he is holding a rifle, he will fire his rifle.

"Even that firing he will do as far as possible with the intent not to kill but if casualties occur... we will have to tolerate it as an inescapable alternative," he said.

"It gives me no pleasure in killing any civilians. We have the best of relations with Bangladesh. We want to improve those relations... but we certainly cannot sacrifice the lives of our officers and men and we also have to complete our mandate which is border guarding and, therefore, we are trying to strike a difficult balance between completing our task with as little force as possible," Bansal said.

He said the BSF is sending a fresh lot of non-lethal weapons to 23 border posts along the Bangladesh border. However, he claimed that since the time BSF decided to exercise "restraint" while dealing with cross-border movements, criminals have become bold.

"They are coming in larger numbers... sometimes even 300-400 at a time. They are breaching the fence with the confidence that they can get away with it... Cattle smuggling is being attempted with much greater openness," Bansal said.

"Some people say these are cattle traders and that BSF is killing them. My question is what trade is done in the middle of the night? From dusk to dawn, on the entire Bangladesh border we declare curfew and no movement is permitted. Whether Indian or Bangladeshi, he has no business to be there... So, to say that these people are innocent traders is not a very convincing argument," he said. 

The DG said the BSF has asked the Border Guard Bangladesh to ensure strict vigil in vulnerable areas during the nights.

He claimed that since Chidambaram's visit to Bangladesh in July last year and subsequent order to exercise maximum restraint on the Bangladesh border, firing incidents have come down by "about 70 percent".

Meanwhile, Home Minister Shahara Khatun reached New Delhi yesterday afternoon leading a 12-member delegation including Gowher Rizvi, international affairs adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh High Commissioner to India Tariq A Karim, and Home Secretary Mustaq Ahmed. 

Before the talks with her Indian counterpart, Shahara is expected to call on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence around 10:00am today. 

Home secretaries of the two countries held a preparatory meeting yesterday at the Indian home ministry ahead of the talks between the two home ministers.

Meanwhile, an official statement of Indian government last night said Chidambaram and Shahara would have one-on-one meeting before the delegation-level talks today. 

Issues on security, border management and enhanced cooperation between the police and law enforcement agencies of the countries will be high on the agenda. 

India's National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, Home Secretary RK Singh and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai would be in the Indian delegation.

The meeting of the home ministers of Bangladesh and India take on the added significance with the presence of Gowher Rizvi and Indian National Security adviser Shivshankar Menon, said officials who regularly attend ministerial-level talks between the two sides.

This clearly indicates that the home minister-level talks would focus on all issues relating to security cooperation between the two sides, especially the drives against terrorists and criminals.

Sources said India is likely to ask Bangladesh to consider imposing night curfews along the border to prevent movement of people like India has done. 

Obama apologizes to Afghanistan for Quran burning

President Barack Obama apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of Qurans by NATO troops, calling the act an inadvertent "error," Karzai's office and National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Thursday.

"We will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, including holding accountable those responsible," Obama said in the letter, which was delivered by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker.

Afghanistan has erupted in violent demonstrations since the burning of the Islamic religious material by NATO troops at the beginning of the week.

Two American troops were killed Thursday by a person wearing an Afghan National Army uniform, a U.S. official said, asking not to be named discussing casualties.

It is not clear if the troops were killed in revenge for the burning of Qurans, but the attack occurred at a base outside of which a demonstration was taking place, a local official said.

The protest and shootings came as the Taliban called on Muslims to attack NATO military bases and convoys and kill its soldiers following the admission that NATO troops had incinerated Islamic religious material at Bagram Airfield.

At least two demonstrators were killed when gunfire was exchanged near the base in Nangarhar province, said Haji Mohammad Hassan, chief of Khugyani district in the east of the province.

Two U.S. soldiers and seven demonstrators were injured in the clash, he said.

"We don't know who started the shooting first and what kind of guns were used, but we have started our investigation to find out the details of the incident," Hassan told CNN.

He said there were 200 to 300 demonstrators at the protest, which he said was now under control.

There was also a larger demonstration near a Norwegian-run Provincial Reconstruction Team compound in Maimana, the provincial capital of Faryab province, a regional police spokesman said.

Afghan security forces prevented the demonstrators, who number between 700 and 800, from getting into the compound, said police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai said.

They burned a few civilian vehicles parked near the compound, he said.

American diplomats in Kabul and the north and south of Afghanistan are on lockdown for a second day in the face of protests, U.S. Embassy spokesman Mark Thornburg said.

At least five people were killed in demonstrations Wednesday.

The commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, Gen. John Allen, apologized Tuesday for the incineration of the materials and said it was a mistake.

The materials were gathered for disposal and were inadvertently given to troops for burning, Allen said.
The Taliban Thursday rejected the apology.

In an e-mail message, the Islamist militia accused "the invading infidel authorities" of trying to calm the situation with two "so-called show(s) of apologies, but in reality they let their inhuman soldiers insult our holy book."

They called on Afghans to take revenge "until the doers of such inhumane actions are prosecuted and punished."

"We should attack their military bases, their military convoys, we should kill their soldiers, arrest their invading soldiers, beat them up and give a kind of lesson to them that they never dare to insult the holy Quran," the message said.

Afghan religious scholar Anayatullah Baligh said it can be appropriate to burn a damaged Quran to dispose of it, but that it should be done by a Muslim who is performing the act respectfully.

"I can't tell you whether Americans intentionally burned the copies of the holy Quran to make Muslims angry or if they did it mistakenly," he said, but said their "carelessness" was "a crime they have committed against the holiest book of two billion Muslims around the world."

In his apology for the burning Tuesday, Allen said: "It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it, we immediately stopped and we intervened."

A military official told CNN Thursday that it was unclear at this point how many Qurans were involved in the improper disposal and accepted that some had been partially burned.

American troops at the base would not have been able to read the texts and that would have contributed to the mistake, the official said, asking not to be named discussing an ongoing investigation,
He also said it was not clear what method of disposal had been intended for the texts.

A second military official said earlier the materials were removed from a detainee center's library because they had "extremist inscriptions" on them and there was "an appearance that these documents were being used to facilitate extremist communications."

But Allen's words were not enough to appease angry Afghans, who massed outside the Bagram base Tuesday, chanting "Death to America! Death to the Afghan government! Long live Islam!"

Protesters burned tires and threw rocks outside Camp Phoenix Wednesday, close to the Kabul International Airport, the U.S. Embassy said in its official Twitter feed. It asked Americans to avoid the area, saying the protests had "turned violent." It also suspended all travel.

In Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, hundreds chanted "Down with America" as crowds gathered near the local airport.

Authorities have questioned some troops as part of their investigation, but had not detained anyone, a coalition official said.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter apologized Karzai during a meeting at his presidential palace, according to Karzai's office.

Muslims believe the Quran is the word of God, so holy that people should wash their hands before even touching the sacred book, which is why Quran burning incites such fury.

Desecrating the book is seen as an affront -- an act of intolerance and bigotry.

Last year, when controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones presided over what he called a trial of the Quran and burned a copy, Afghans took to the streets by the thousands. In the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, demonstrators stormed a U.N. office and killed 12 people. In Kandahar, three people were killed in one demonstration, and nine in another when police and stone-throwing demonstrators clashed.
American officials vociferously condemned the pastor's act.

In 2010, Afghans protested outside the Forward Operating Base Mirwais in response to an alleged Quran burning inside the base. But coalition forces said the suspected burning was a routine burn-pit session in which military documents are destroyed.

Yunus should be able to stand for WB chief: EU delegation

Supporting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s proposal to appoint Prof Yunus as the World Bank president, a delegation of European parliament said Thursday a personality like him should be able to stand for the post. 

“The proposal is a very positive, interesting and an expression of confidence about a person of international repute for this prestigious post,” said delegation leader Jean Lambert, who represents UK’s Greens.

Addressing a pre-departure press conference after a five-day visit, she however said the EU does not have vote on the WB but the national governments have that.

Hasina, at the end of her meeting with the visiting seven-member delegation on Wednesday, asked the EU to nominate Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus as the president of the WB.

Asked whether they would pursue their respective countries' governments to forward the proposal of appointing Prof Yunus as WB chief, Lambert said she is confident that some members of her delegation would take back the proposal to their governments and some would take to European parliament to discuss the "interesting idea".

In reply to another question whether she thinks Hasina’s proposal to make Prof Yunus the WB president as a political joke, the EP delegation leaders said, "When one makes such proposal about a man of international standing for an import job cannot be joke.”

Lambert said Prof Yunus has quality of understanding about the needs of the developing countries and vast economic ideas. “Yunus is an outstanding personality in Bangladesh and also internationally.”

The EP delegation leader said 60 organisations including the Oxfam and the European parliament partly supports reforms to ensure transparency in the process of appointing the president of the World Bank.

It should not be automatically rest with the largest contributor, Lambert said, adding the time has come to rethink about the selection process and about the quality of a candidate who knows what is needed for the world’s poorest countries and has experience to offer.

She said the poor and developing countries have been saying for a long that they are not represented in a figure that would run the World Bank.

“It needs fresh thinking about who should hold this post and the EU parliament has a position on the reforms of the appointing process of the World Bank,” she added. 


CERN to re-run Einstein tests in May after cable doubts

Physicists are to run new tests in May after the CERN research institute said on Thursday that its startling findings appearing to show that one of Einstein's fundamental theories was wrong could have been caused by a loose cable.

The CERN lab near Geneva appeared to contradict Albert Einstein's 1905 Special Theory of Relativity last year when they reported that sub-atomic particles called neutrinos could travel fractionally faster than light.

Einstein's theory, which underpins the current view of how the universe works, says that nothing can travel faster than light, and doing so would be like traveling back in time.

CERN said two possible effects had been identified that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement during its OPERA experiment. "New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May," it said in a statement.

One effect concerned an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS (Global Positioning System) synchronizations, which could have led scientists to overestimate the neutrino's time of flight.

However, the other effect appeared to be more significant in the faster-than-light finding of the original OPERA experiment.

"The second concerns the optical fiber connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken," said CERN. "If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos."

The faster-than-light finding was recorded when 15,000 neutrino beams were pumped over three years from CERN to an underground Italian laboratory at Gran Sasso near Rome.

James Gillies, a spokesman for CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) said late on Wednesday that the result was now in doubt.

"A possible explanation has been found. But we won't know until we have tested it out with a new beam to Gran Sasso," Gillies told Reuters in Geneva.

Physicists on the experiment said when they reported it last September that they had checked and rechecked over many months anything that could have produced a misreading before announcing what they had found.

A second test whose results were announced in November appeared to provide further evidence that neutrinos were travelling faster than light. But many experts remained skeptical of a result that would have overturned one of the fundamental principles of modern physics.

Edward Blucher, chairman of the Department of Physics at the University of Chicago, said the original finding would have been breathtaking if it had been true. As it was, the research inspired many spirited discussions, if few believers.

"I don't think I met anyone who said I bet it's going to be true. I think the people on the experiment worked as carefully as they could and I think they ran out of ideas of what could be wrong and they decided to present it," he said.

"Maybe they should have waited a few more months," he added.

Withdrawal, Diversion Of Teesta Water Cause Steep Decline In Teesta Flow

Withdrawal and diversion of Teesta water by up-stream India has brought down the volume of water in Teesta irrigation canal to 450 cusec and that of the Teesta river to below 1,000 cusec, a leading national daily said here Thursday.

It said, Water Board officials said the volume of water in Teesta drops steeply in December-March as India holds almost all the water during that period.

Bangladesh needs 3,500 cusec of water during February-March lean period, they informed.

"We cannot open the sluice gates of the irrigation canal everyday as the water might flow down to the Teesta River hampering the irrigation gravely," the report quoted an engineer of Teesta Irrigation Project as saying.

In 1990, Bangladesh constructed the Teesta Barrage to supply water for irrigation to about 6.32 lakh hectares of land in Nilphamari, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Joypurhat, Gaibandha and Bogra districts.

According to available information, about 3,000 acres of char land in the Teesta has been lying unused for years as availability of water is not sufficient for farmers to grow rice and other crops there.

The water level in Teesta has been going down by around two feet a year in the northern region of the country due to excessive use of ground water for irrigation, the report said.

Tobacco cultivation, requiring less water but posing serious threat to human health and ecology, has almost doubled in the northern districts in the last couple of years as farmers are not getting adequate water for Boro cultivation during February-March.

According to Water Development Board records, water flow in the Teesta used to be at least 4,000 cusec in February before India built the Gazoldoba Barrage in the 1980's and started to divert Teesta water for irrigation and to the Mahananda river.

The river has a history of an average flow of at best 2,80,000 cusec and at least 10,000 cusec at Dalia, upstream of the Teesta barrage in Bangladesh.

Due to increasing withdrawal in the upstream, this flow has come down to about 1,000 cusec which goes down to even 500 cusec in the dry season.

Quoting experts and Internet findings, the report observed that India's irrigation plan with the Teesta is massive, covering about 9.22 lakh hectare of land in Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur and Malda districts.

Besides, India also diverted its water towards the Teesta Irrigation Project areas and has been releasing huge quantity of water towards Bihar through the Mahananda and Mechi rivers, the report said.

Source :

Syria unrest: Reporters' deaths spark Western outrage

The killings of two Western reporters in the city of Homs and reported deaths of some 60 people across Syria have triggered further Western outrage towards the Damascus government.

Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin, an American, and French photographer Remi Ochlik died in shelling by Syria's government forces. 

The US said it was "another example of the shameless brutality" of the regime.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "That's enough... The regime must go."

Syrian troops have been shelling opposition-held areas of Homs for weeks. 

Thousands have died since the unrest erupted last March.

The International Red Cross said it hoped Wednesday's deaths would draw the attention of the world to the many hundreds of other people suffering in Syria.

It earlier urged the government and rebels to agree to a daily ceasefire, to allow medical supplies to reach the worst affected areas and get civilians out.

However, there is no sign yet of this being agreed.

'Dreadful events'
Colvin, 56, and Ochlik, 28, were reportedly staying in a house in Homs' area of Baba Amr that was being used by activists as a media centre when it was hit by a shell on Wednesday morning.

Rockets were also said to have hit the building's garden when people tried to flee afterwards.
At least two other foreign journalists were wounded, activists said.

One was named as British freelance photographer Paul Conroy, who was working with Colvin, and Edith Bouvier of the French newspaper, Le Figaro. Bouvier was said to be in a serious condition. The dead and the injured journalists are said to have been taken to a field clinic in Baba Amr. 

Activists have expressed fears that Bouvier risks bleeding to death without urgent medical attention and they were trying to get her out.

Syrian state TV said the information ministry had asked officials in Homs to determine the location of foreign journalists because it had learned that some may have been injured.

In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "This tragic incident is another example of the shameless brutality of the Assad regime."

Earlier, the US warned that it was not ruling out taking "additional measures" to assist the rebels if the government onslaught continued.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said his country held the Syrian government accountable for the deaths. 

"Damascus owes us an answer," Mr Juppe said.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament: "This is a desperately sad reminder of the risks that journalists take to inform the world of what is happening, and the dreadful events in Syria."

Later, the Syrian ambassador to London was summoned to be told that the UK expected Damascus to arrange for the immediate repatriation of the journalists' bodies and to provide medical treatment for the injured British journalist. 

Colvin's last article
The editor of the Sunday Times, John Witherow, said the newspaper was doing what it could to recover Colvin's body and get Conroy to safety.

"Marie was an extraordinary figure in the life of the Sunday Times, driven by a passion to cover wars in the belief that what she did mattered," he added. "She believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice." 

Her mother told journalists Colvin's legacy was: "Be passionate and be involved in what you believe in. And do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can."

Ochlik had reported from Haiti and covered many of the recent uprisings in the Arab world.

Colvin had been a foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times for two decades, and had reported from several war zones. She lost the sight in one eye in Sri Lanka in 2001 after being hit by shrapnel.

On Tuesday, she told the BBC the bombardment of Baba Amr by Syrian government artillery and tanks had been "unrelenting".

"I watched a little baby die today, absolutely horrific, a two year old - found the shrapnel had gone into the left chest and the doctor said: 'I can't do anything,' and his little tummy just kept heaving until he died. That is happening over and over and over.

The Sunday Times on Wednesday made available Colvin's last article in which she said, "We live in fear of a massacre".

Western journalists have mostly been barred from Syria since the uprising began.

But increasingly, they have risked entering the country undercover, helped by networks of activists, to report from flashpoints.

Last month, the French television journalist, Gilles Jacquier, was killed in Homs while visiting the city on a government-organised trip.

Anthony Shadid, of the New York Times, died of an apparent asthma attack in Syria last week.

US and North Korea resume nuclear talks

Countries hold first talks since Kim Jong-il's death in Beijing, in effort to restart wider six-nation negotiations.

Envoys from the United States and North Korea have met in Beijing for their first talks on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programme since the death of Kim Jong-il, the country's long-time leader.

The discussions, which started on Thursday, will be closely watched for signs of a more co-operative approach from North Korea, which stands to gain food and economic aid in return for taking steps to end its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Kim's death on December 17 last year stalled talks that officials said were close to concluding a deal on the US providing food aid in return for the suspension of uranium enrichment activities.

"Today is, as we say, 'game day'. We will have an opportunity to meet with First Vice Foreign Minister Kim and his team," Glyn Davies, the US envoy, said before the start of morning talks on Thursday with Kim Kye Gwan at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing.

The two will hold a second session of meetings on Thursday afternoon at the US embassy.

The talks in Beijing are the third round of negotiations since July, and are aimed at restarting wider six-nation disarmament talks, which also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

Those talks have been suspended since 2009, when North Korea walked away from the table, and later exploded its second nuclear device.

'Positive sign'
The US has insisted that any progress on providing aid will be tied to North Korea improving relations with neighbour to the south, South Korea, which is a key US ally.

The North has rejected South Korean offers to return to the negotiating table in recent weeks, and tensions remain high on the Korean peninsula following violence in 2010, when a North Korean artillery attack killed four South Korean soldiers and a South Korean warship was sunk.

Davies said that it was a positive sign that Pyongyang had agreed to restart talks so soon after Kim's death, amid a power transfer to his son, Kim Jong-un.

Davies said that a key point would be if North Korea was willing to fulfil promises made in a joint statement in September 2005, when the country agreed to abandon its nuclear programme in exchange for aid and pledges from the US that it would not seek to destabilise the North Korean government.

In Washington, Mark Toner, the US State Department's spokesman, said that the US was "cautiously optimistic" about Thursday's talks.

Toner said food assistance would be discussed in the talks, but that the United States has some concerns it wants North Korea to address. He did not say what those concerns were, but analysts have said North Korea must agree to have UN watchdogs monitor any freeze of its uranium enrichment.

Davies, who is accompanied by Clifford Hart - the US special envoy for the six-party talks - will also meet his Wu Dawei, his Chinese counterpart, on his trip to China, before leaving on Saturday for South Korea.

Key nuclear summit
Worries about North Korea's nuclear capability took on renewed urgency in November 2010 when the country disclosed a uranium enrichment facility that could give it a second route to manufacture nuclear weapons, in addition to its existing plutonium-based programme.

As the envoys began talks in Beijing, North Korean state media criticised next month's Nuclear Security Summit, to be held in Seoul.

"It is illogical to discuss the 'nuclear security' issue in South Korea, the US nuclear advance base and a hotbed of nuclear war," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary Thursday.

The North said it is "worse still" to hold the summit during joint US-South Korean military drills scheduled for the next few months, which the commentary called "rehearsals for a nuclear war against the North".

Seoul and Washington say the annual drills are defensive in nature.

Manmohan-mamata Talks : Farakka dominates, Teesta ignored

Paschimbanga Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday focused on the leakages in the Farakka barrage, which, she claimed, had led to an excess water flow to Bangladesh. 

However, a brief discussion took place between them on the sharing of water of the Teesta River with Bangladesh.

Mamata was asked about the report of the one-man commission she had formed to conduct a study on the availability of water in the Teesta round the year, particularly during the lean season. She replied that the commission was working on the matter and that she would inform the centre of the report after its submission.
The Paschimbanga government is likely to firm up its stance on the proposed Teesta treaty after receiving the report of the Kalyan Rudra commission. 

On the Farakka barrage issue, Mamata at the meeting demanded a high-level inquiry into the leakages from two sluice gates. 

Manmohan told her that the Ministry of Water Resources was working on plugging the leakages and that the task was likely to be completed by March, according to an official statement. 

Emerging from the meeting with Manmohan at his official residence in New Delhi, Mamata told newsmen that the prime minister had assured her of an inquiry into the leakage issue. 

She said a team from West Bengal led by Power Minister Manish Gupta in June last year discovered the leakages. 

"My government had asked the central government to take care of the problem." Eight months have passed but no action has been taken to repair the leakages, Mamata added.

The chief minister also said that under the India-Bangladesh Ganges water-sharing treaty of 1996, Bangladesh is supposed to get 33 percent of the water but due to the leakages in sluice gates 13 and 16, 88 percent of the water is flowing into Bangladesh.

The excess water flow to Bangladesh lowered the water level of the Bhagirathi River, because of which ships cannot move in Haldia port of West Bengal now, said Mamata.

Moreover, West Bengal depends on the Bhagirathi River for drinking water and electricity, she pointed out.

Mamata continued that West Bengal's rivers, including the Bhagirathi, were drying up as a result of the leakage of water from the Farakka barrage.

"A thermal power plant is about to shut down due to the water crisis," she said adding that a disaster is imminent because of the crisis.

Mamata said the team of West Bengal government after its visit to the Farakka barrage had submitted a report saying the leakage of water was "man-made". 

Since the barrage is a property of the central government, it was its duty to address the problem, the chief minister said.