Monday, March 24, 2008

Growers to face Tk 300 crore loss from potato damage

Sacks of potato are piled up on the premises of Rahman Cold Storage at Nawhata Madhusudhanpur in Paba upazila while the authorities have hung a notice announcing closure of receiving potato. Photo: STAR
About 3.20 lakh tonnes of potatoes worth around Tk 300 crore is facing damage as growers in 16 districts of Rajshahi division are compelled to preserve the perishable winter crop in traditional way.

The situation has arisen as growers have failed to preserve it in cold storages due to lack of accommodation.

A prolonged winter this year helped yield around 58 lakh tonnes of potatoes from over 3.50 lakh hectares of land in northern districts and a total of 130 cold storages in the region could accommodate only 10 lakh tonnes.

Of the remaining 48 lakh tonnes, about two-thirds 32 lakh tonnes are expected to be sold in local markets and other parts of country while the remaining amount will have to be stored in growers' households, said agriculturists and businessmen.

Apart from space constraint, growers are being forced to adopt the indigenous methods of preserving to avoid losses due to the vegetable's low price in the present market.

The influence of middlemen, hoarders and seasonal businessmen in markets of abundant supply has pushed the price down. In Rajshahi, potato is now being sold at Tk 800 per sack (84-kg), which was Tk 980 even five days back. The price is still lower at Joypurhat, Tk 750 per sack.

The hoarders blocked most spaces of cold storages through advance bookings at as high rate as Tk 130 per sack whereas the regular booking rate is Tk 60 to 90, alleged growers.

Due to the advance bookings, many cold storage owners have already hung notices announcing stoppage of receiving potatoes even before filling up the capacity, sources said. As a result, growers are compelled either to sell produces at lower rates or take back home to store indigenously.

The Agriculture Extension Directorate (AED) is circulating leaflets suggesting farmers traditional potato storage on floors, machan (straw-made platform), and beneath cots.

AED officials, however, do not know have any clear idea about how much damage to potato can be done if the winter vegetable is stored in such a way.

"We do not have any idea about it [damage caused by using traditional methods] as no survey was made. Yet the possible damage is evident," M Abdul Matin, additional director of Rajshahi regional AED told The Daily Star. "We are suggesting traditional methods as there is no other way," he said.

This correspondent met Abdur Razzak, a grower of Bargachhi in front of Raj Cold Storage in Paba upazila. He produced 720 sacks of potatoes from 24 bighas of land spending about Tk 7 lakh. "Although it is not enough to recover the production cost, I sold 200 sacks to hoarders for Tk 900 at per. I am in a problem now with the rest".

Kalam got 810 sacks of potato from his nine acres of land. "I must preserve those anyhow. By selling it five months later, I can cultivate next crops."

Experience of Intaj Ali of Madhabpur is bitter. "I have already sustained loss. I don't know what is waiting for me next."

Amjad of Bagmara, Shahidul of Durgapur and Shahidul of Naogaon have similar stories.

Mizanur Rahman Sentu, a trained farmer, however, seemed satisfied. He produced 607 sacks of potatoes from 23.5 bighas of land in Durgapur, Amgachhi and Kathalbaria villages spending Tk 4.70 lakh and managed to store all the produce.

Bumper potato output puts Rajshahi growers in peril

Potato sacks are stockpiled on the premises of Rahman Cold Storage at Nawhata in Rajshahi as authorities put up a sign saying they have stopped receiving potatoes for storage.
Potato growers in 16 districts of Rajshahi division are in great trouble due to lack of storage facility following a bumper production of the crop.

The farmers have harvested around 58 lakh metric tones of potato in the region but there have been only 130 cold storage, which can preserve only 10 lakh tonnes, agriculture department sources said.

Of the remaining 48 lakh tones, some 32 lakh tonnes will be sold in local markets, the sources said. And the rest of 16 lakh tonnes will be preserved traditionally at houses due to lack of storage facility.

But agricultural department officials fear some 20 percent of the 16 lakh tones of potatoes will be damaged.

A prolonged winter this year was behind bumper yield of potatoes from over 3.50 lakh hectares of land in north Bengal.

The bumper production has also pushed the prices down by Tk 180 per 84-kg sack. Potato is now being sold at Tk 800 per sack against Tk 980 even five days back. The price was Tk 750 at Joypurhat.

The hoarders and middlemen have already blocked spaces of cold storage through advance bookings at as high as Tk 130 per sack against the normal rate of Tk 60 to Tk 90, alleged growers.

Cold storage owners are not taking new booking now, compelling growers either to sell potatoes at throwaway prices or store indigenously.

The Directorate of Agriculture Extension (DAE) is circulating leaflets advising farmers to store potatoes at traditional ways on floors.

But this method will lead to destruction of a huge amount of the crop, farmers feared

"We don't have any idea of such crop will be damaged", said M Abdul Matin, additional director of Rajshahi regional DAE.

"We are advocating for traditional method since there is no alternative," he added.

In front of Raj Cold Store in Paba upazila in Rajshahai, Abdur Razzak, a grower, said he middle are taking advantage of the situation.

Kalam, another farmer, said got 810 sacks by cultivating 9 acres of land. "I must preserve those any how. But I don't know how."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Editorial: Dealing with swindler NGOs

Firm action against them is a necessity

News coming in from Natore about the vanishing acts resorted to by some NGOs does little to cheer us, naturally. But what surely leaves everyone perplexed is the extent to which the district administration there has failed to take action against such NGOs even after reports about their negative activities were circulated widely. It is a lax administration we are speaking of here, for the very simple reason that despite the detection of as many as 30 fraudulent NGOs in the district, no punitive measures appear to have been taken against the people behind them. Just how serious the problem is turning out to be is to be seen from the way in which a million people have been swindled out of an altogether Taka 500 crore in eight north-western districts by these fake NGOs.

Not long ago, reports of the swindle committed by a so-called non-government organisation, Freedom Unnayan Sangstha, pointed to the nefarious role that such bodies were engaged in. That should have been reason enough for the authorities to go for concrete and tough action against the individuals and groups engaged in such shady business. That did not happen. What happened was even worse. Earlier this month, the Natore district administration permitted the establishment of some new NGOs, ignoring public opinion about the need to apprehend those who had earlier hoodwinked people by simply disappearing with their money. The height of irony is that since this new decision came into force, two other organisations, also calling themselves NGOs, vanished after pocketing a total of Taka 170 crore. Our credulity is stretched to the limits when we are informed that despite two probes conducted last year, revealing anomalies in the working of some NGOs, the authorities adopted a laid-back attitude where prosecution of the corrupt elements associated with these bodies is concerned.

A few delinquent NGOs cause scratches on the overall image of NGOs. The need now is therefore straight and simple. The Natore administration must not only explain its failure to do its job but also ensure that from here on all past lapses will be set aright. At the same time, it should be the responsibility of NGO coordinating bodies (and one may here mention such organisations as the Association of Development Agencies of Bangladesh) to have their own supervisory or investigative mechanism in place. They could prevent fake NGOs from damaging the reputation of the genuine ones.

NGO Swindling: Tk 22 lakh seized from house in Natore

NGO Swindling
Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) recovered Tk 22 lakh in cash and ornaments worth Tk 70,000 from the house of an NGO director's relative in Bharatmaria village in Puthia, Rajshahi yesterday.

Meanwhile, NGO victims in Natore demanded arrest of the deputy commissioner and social welfare officials for "helping" the frauds in exchange of bribes.

Acting on a tip off, a Rab team raided the house of Aroz Mollah, 55, father-in-law of Joynal Sheikh, director of Probhati Grameen Unnayan Sangstha, and found Tk 14.5 lakh in a trunk.

Following Aroz's confession, the elite force dug out a polythene-sack full of money and gold ornaments worth Tk 70,000 at his cowshed, said Rab sources.

Probhati officials in recent NGO scam in Natore disappeared with around Tk 100 crore from 2.5 lakh members.

Several hundred NGO victims under the banner 'Protarok NGO Birodhi Sangram Committee' staged a demonstration at Natore Bar Bhaban auditorium yesterday demanding arrest of Natore Deputy Commissioner SM Ehsan Kabir in seven days.

They said in a news conference the DC and other government officials including the Sadar upazila nirbahi officer and some policemen patronised the fraud NGOs in exchange of huge bribes.

The victims also demanded arrest of the five suspended Social Welfare Office staffs in addition to the fraud NGO officials.

The agitators announced a seven-day ultimatum to meet their six-point demand and threatened to go on tougher movement including laying a seize, strike and hartal programmes.

Their other demands include a judicial probe into the entire NGO scam, compensation to the ignorant victims, and seizure of wealth and property of the fugitive NGO men to distribute among the cheated.

They also demanded one-year postponement of interest collection by different other NGOs from where they took loan to invest with the fraud NGOs.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Swindler NGOs: Lax admin control, irregularities led to crisis

Swindler NGOs

Taking advantage of lax administration and irregularities at social welfare office, 30 fraud NGOs swindled about 10 lakh people out of around Tk 500 crore in eight northwestern districts.

Based in Natore, the NGOs stretched business web in the name of voluntary organisations for the poor quite openly over Rajshahi, Naogaon, Bogra, Pabna, Joypurhat, Kustia and Dinajpur since March last year.

Even after leading swindler Freedom Unnayan Sangstha (FUS) disappeared with Tk 250 crore, the Natore district administration gave other NGOs green light at a meeting on March 3, ignoring general participants' opinions for arresting some officials.

Following that meeting, two more NGOs having 3.5 lakh members -- Probhati Grameen Unnayan Sangstha, with around Tk 100 crore, and Palli Jagoroni Unnayan Sangstha with Tk 70 crore -- vanished.

Two separate probes into NGO activities revealed a number of anomalies last year, but the district administration mysteriously delayed taking action against these NGOs.

The investigation report by Natore Sadar UNO Mahbub Shahin exposed seven irregularities including money collection without receipt, not depositing collection to banks, and not getting approved monthly income and expenditure.

Another report by Abdullah Al Mujahid, a Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) official, mentioned 10 discrepancies. Intriguingly, the report had even alerted that the NGOs might get away ruining the ignorant investors.

The NGOs were enrolling members taking Tk 6,400 per person against an offer of weekly dividend of Tk 570 until the total stands at Tk 29,640 in 52 weeks, 4.6 times higher than investment.

Each member was given conditions of bringing two more members for getting the dividend.

The victims said besides the attractive offer, police escort for the NGO men and law enforcers' frequent visits to their offices gave them confidence to invest.

Contacted, Natore Deputy Commissioner SM Ehsan Kabir pinned the blame on the police and social welfare office.

"It's them who had kept mum (about the NGOs). We had sent them copies of the probe reports... We later informed higher authorities and the home ministry.

"The decision (of allowing other NGOs on March 3) was taken unanimously only after the NGO men promised they would not escape, while local UP chairmen took their responsibility and police assured of watching them," the DC said.

Natore Superintendent of Police (SP) Shah Golam Mahmud refuted the allegations saying, "The police had no complaints to chase the NGOs."

Social Welfare Directorate (SWD) in a departmental probe found irregularities and on Monday suspended five officials of Natore office -- deputy directors Mir Bux and Azimussan, registration officers Ismail Hossain and Anisur Rahman, and clerk Abdul Mannan.

Filing departmental cases against these officials is underway, said SWD Director General Dr Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury.

Due to registration flaws, many 'unskilled' people like Ishaq Mia, a class-five pass former night guard at a Dhaka garment factory, became key persons of the NGOs.

On the other hand, many NGOs were operated by changing names, head offices and beyond registered territory.

The victims demanded a judicial as no investigation into the whole scam has yet to take place.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Rajshahi poultry farm owner, family safe from bird flu danger

The poultry farm owner and his wife and son, who were quarantined on suspicion of avian influenza infection, were released from Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH) yesterday after pathological tests in the capital produced negative results.

The tests of throat and nasal swabs of Ashraf Hossain, 42, and his wife and 14-year-old son were carried out at the virology departments of Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) and the ICDDR,B.

"We recommended releasing the three after extensive tests. We first performed a rapid test for influenza at the virology department of IEDCR and the results were negative for all three," said Prof Mahmudur Rahman, director of IEDCR.

"Usually, we do not proceed for further tests after the rapid test. But since it was the first case in the country where the patient was from an infected farm, we gave it a top priority," he said.

The specimens were then sent to the virology department of ICDDR,B for real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test and the results were negative for H5 virus too.

Ashraf Hossain, a poultry farmer of Terokhadia Paschimpara in the city, had been taken to RMCH on March 5 and quarantined the next day on suspicion of being infected with the avian influenza H5N1 virus.

The surveillance physician of the RMCH influenza surveillance informed the IEDCR of the matter.

On February 20, some 100 chickens of his farm died and he buried those without taking any protective measures. Two days later, the district livestock department confirmed the presence of bird flu virus at the farm and culled 600 chickens.
Bird flu infection suspected

A poultry farmer was quarantined at Rajshahi Medical College Hospital as doctors suspect that he might be infected with bird flu virus.

Ashraf Hossain, 32, of Terokhadia Pashchimpara in Rajshahi was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday as he showed multiple symptoms of the disease. His blood sample was sent to Dhaka for test.

"If his case is confirmed, he will be the first person in the country to have been infected with bird flu", said Dr Abdul Alim, who is treating the patient.

Dr M Sajedul Islam, civil surgeon of Rajshahi, said, "It would take only seven days for him to be cured if it is established that he's caught the avian influenza virus", he said.

Nearly 500 bird-flu infected chickens were culled at Ashraf's farm on February 23.

NGO victims seek justice

Submit memo to Natore DC for CA, army chief

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Probe finds anomalies in NGO registration

Now Sylhet NGO vanishes with money from 500 depositors

The Social Welfare Directorate (SWD) yesterday stand-released two officials of Natore office as primary investigation revealed irregularities in registering fraud NGOs that disappeared with members' about Tk 500 crore.

Meanwhile, the tendency of disappearing with public money spreads elsewhere, as another NGO vanished, this time in Sylhet, with Tk 50 lakh from over 500 depositors, report UNB.

Sources said, Social Welfare Deputy Director Mir Bux has been transferred to Bhola and registration officer Ismail Hossain to Bandarban, reports our Roving Correspondent from Natore.

The steps were taken after the three-member SWD team from Dhaka probed discrepancies in Natore office in the last three days.

Headed by SWD Additional Director Sailendranath Paik, the team also comprises Deputy Director (HQ) Badiuzzaman and Assistant Director Nasir Uddin.

"Now they [two officials] are transferred, but punitive action might be taken against them and some others who are now working in other districts once the probe completes," said one of the team.

Meanwhile, an impending threat on law and order is being widely apprehended in Naldanga and neighbouring upazilas as victims attacked and torched two more houses yesterday.

A mob swooped on the house of Wabaidul Haque at Sonapatil looking for his relative Sentu, a staff of Freedom Unnayan Sangstha. Failed to find Sentu, they beat up Wabaidul and his wife Monwara Begum and ransacked their house.

Another group of cheated people stormed the house of Abdul Aziz at Sheikhpara where Freedom rented a branch office. They later torched the house.

People also held wife and 12-year-old son of Anarul of West Madhnagar on Friday night but released them yesterday when UP member Golam Joarder assured them of handing over Anarul.

Anarul, a surrendered member of Purba Banglar Communist Party, was Freedom's branch manager at East Madhnagar.


The NGO, Islamic Development Foundation (IDF) had earlier promised to return depositor's money with interest from its office in Gopalganj upazila headquarters on May 9 in presence of its high officials.   

But the depositors on Friday learned that IDF has vanished with the money and informed police.

The NGO started its activities in Gopalganj in February this year initially by providing 'loan'. It collected Tk 1,000 from each depositor for giving them Tk 10,000 and Tk 2,000 for giving Tk 20,000.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Tk 7cr more gone with 2 other Natore NGOs

Registration of 2 NGOs cancelled

The Social Welfare Directorate yesterday cancelled registration of two fraud NGOs in Natore while officials of two more NGOs disappeared with around Tk 7 crore in Natore and Rajshahi.

Registrations of Freedom Unnayan Sangstha and Probhati Grameen Unnayan Sangstha that disappeared on February 28 and March 4 with huge amount of money were cancelled.

Bank authorities said they have been asked by the district administration to freeze accounts, if any, of the two NGOs.

Victims of these NGOs held a protest meeting in Nasratpur from where they announced to besiege Natore Deputy Commissioner's Office on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Jibon Dhara, an unregistered NGO in Dhamongram village in Naldanga, and Doel Bahumukhi Atma-Karmasangsthan Sangstha in Durgapur, Rajshahi have disappeared.

Jibon Dhara staffs Shahidul Islam and Moazzem Hossain told reporters the NGO had collected about Tk 4 crore from 6,000 members through 104 branches in Natore, Rajshahi and other districts.

"The NGO men were distributing money among its members of Dhamongram and announced refunding its members from other villages today [Thursday]. But we found its office shut and no-one was available," said Azad of Dharampur in Durgapur, Rajshahi.

Doel men also disappeared in a similar fashion with Tk 3 crore collected from 104 branches. Officials of many other NGOs also went into hiding as angry members began to hold officials.

Victims of Sonar Bangla held its staff Rois in Babur Pukur in Natore and took him to Bhabni in Naldanga. They also picked up Nurul Islam, brother of NGO staff Walimuddin, and another staff Zamal in Bhabni and beat them up.

Leaflets were circulated in Naldanga villages on behalf of the victims of Freedom and Probhati drawing attention of the chief adviser and the army chief.

Police and district administration officials visited the NGOs several times, held meetings with the victims and asked them not to worry.

Sources said Freedom director Ishaq Mia before disappearing gave his 15 reliable staffs including the area manager and branch heads Tk 10 crore to share among them.

"It's not possible to do business here any longer despite bribing the police and administration Tk 50 crore," he was quoted as telling his staffs.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Yet another NGO vanishes with Tk 2cr

Probe body arrives in Natore

A three-member probe committee from Social Welfare Directorate (SWD) in Dhaka arrived in Natore yesterday as another NGO disappeared from Mirjapur Diarpara in Naldanga with about Tk 2 crore.

Headed by Sailendranath Paik, SWD additional director, the committee will look for discrepancies in registering NGOs that sprang up in Natore and surrounding districts and engaged in swindling people.

Natore Social Welfare office registered 59 NGOs since January last year and most of them locked into illegal businesses, which the office also grossly ignored, said sources.

Three officials of unregistered NGO Ashar Alo fled from the head office in Mirjapur Diarpara in Natore with around Tk 2 crore collected from around 5,000 members through 58 branches.

About 100 people gathered in front of the head office with hopes of refunding.

They said director Rejaul Karim, Selim and Rejaul Amin fled during downpour in the night.

Meanwhile, another three-member committee formed by the district administration and headed by Additional Deputy Commissioner (General) Monoj Kanti Boral started investigation.

The committee, also comprising Mahbub Shahin, Sadar upazila nirbahi officer, and Ashraf Ali, assistant superintendent of police, visited Nasratpur in Naldanga and talked to locals.

The locals told them they kept faith on the NGOs as police used to visit the offices frequently and spent long time with the officials.

In another development, police yesterday arrested Biprobelgharia Union Parishad Chairman Mahua Parvin Lipi at Natore General Hospital as three cases were filed against her.

She is undergoing treatment in police custody as an angry mob assaulted her on Tuesday for her apparent role in helping four NGO men disappear.

Her supporters attacked a group of NGO men who were to return invested money in Teghorpara village. Ten people were hurt in the attack, three critically.

Three NGOs -- Adibashi Unnayan Sangstha, Grameen Unnayan Sangstha and Al Kaba -- have meanwhile started returning money to the members in Puthia, Rajshahi.

"They NGOs are returning about Tk 5 crore in the villages," said Sajjad Hossain Mukul, Shilmaria UP chairman.

In Nasratpur, over a thousand members are waiting in front of ransacked office of Probhati Grameen Unnayan Sangstha. Many of them are ashamed to return home empty-handed.

Rahima Khatun of Natore Sugar Mill broke down saying she had collected Tk 7 lakh from 212 members and is not going home for fear of attack.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Editorial: Bogus NGOs' vanishing act

How could they operate at all?

ANOTHER form of organised extortion is increasingly in evidence going by two front-page stories run in a row by our newspaper in the last couple of days.

In villages of Natore and Rajshahi, gullible people were registering with so-called NGOs on payment of money as investment promising weekly dividends. For some time impressive returns were given to members winning their confidence and thereafter the NGOs suddenly disappeared from the scene. Such vanishing acts have been performed by a number of NGOs with catchy high sounding names in Rajshahi and Natore areas cheating unsuspecting rural people of Taka 260crore in total.

Deeper down, the tales are pathetic and one tends to grit one's teeth in rage when confronted with the full detail. Many sold everything they had or mortgaged their only piece of land or borrowed money from Karitas, Grameen Bank and Padakkhep and deposited it with the NGOs to make quick money. They are now left pauperised.

The sheer amount of the money looted speaks of the duration of the operation as well as the sweep of such NGO networks. How could they dare act so openly, however, resourceful their repertoire of tricks might have been, especially in these days of mobile communication. Gullibility alone couldn't have ensured the thugs good business. There must have been something else which we identified as turning of a blind eye to such NGO operations by the local administration being in cohorts with some influential people and NGO operatives.

Despite allegations being aired by union parishad leaders and media exposé from time to time, the authorities failed to take action against illegal money making projects. The upshot of all this has been commotion and protests by the incensed victims. As far as we understand, such NGOs are required to be registered with a local office under the social welfare ministry. Were they registered?

The district administration has decided to stop activities of such NGOs and is moving with concerned authorities for cancellation of their registration. So far so good, but equally important is the task of bringing the thugs to justice and arranging refund of the victims' money.

Another NGO disappears with Tk 18 lakh in Natore

Victims torch office, assault UP chairman

Thousands of victims of Probhati Grameen Unnayan Sangstha went on the rampage yesterday, assaulting a woman Union Parishad chairman and torching office and chief's house in Naldanga as the NGO disappeared with about Tk 18 crore.

The NGO officials went into hiding hours after being in the charge of Mahua Parvin Lipi, chairman of Biprobelgharia UP, at Monday night's meeting at the deputy commissioner's office, Natore.

A huge number of police, Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and members of joint forces rushed to bring the situation under control. A contingent of armed police has been on hand as the furious members of the swindling NGO might explode anytime.

It could not be immediately estimated how much money the NGO swindled out of its members. Police suspect the NGO collected over Tk 150 crore from around 60,000 members in the last one year through about 1,000 branches in Natore and surrounding districts.

They said Probhati was the second largest swindling NGO after Freedom Unnayan Sangstha that vanished with Tk 250 crore on Thursday midnight.

Some 100 victims yesterday noon went to the Natore DC office to submit a memorandum demanding justice. But police intercepted them on the way and army also intervened to quell the agitating mob.

Earlier on Monday, participants of a meeting at the DC office demanded arrest of four Probhati officials -- president Azhar Ali and employees Ishaq, Joynal and Lalu -- who were also present.

But Lipi took charge of them assuring the meeting that they would not disappear, while the four also promised to return the money from next morning.

However, Probhati members went to the office at Nasratpur to find that the four had fled.

Infuriated, the members swooped on Lipi, wife of swindling Durjoy Bangla's adviser Shahin Alam, and clashed with police, who also baton-charged the mob to rescue her. She was committed to Natore General Hospital under police protection.

Police yesterday arrested four fleeing officials including Bazlur Rahman, Probhati adviser, and Lalu of two NGOs in Natore and Rajshahi.

People held Shariful, Fazlur Rahman, his son Asaduzzaman and Soab of Naba Jagoron in Satbaria in Puthia. Following a negotiation, the four agreed to return Tk 59 lakh of unpaid Tk 98 lakh to Natore members and were handed over to police after returning Tk 38 lakh in cash and cheque.

In another drive, locals caught Meher Ali of Target-20 and left him bound all day long in Chaukhali in Brammapur. Despite repeated calls, police did not rescue him.

A number of such NGOs in Puthia, Rajshahi however started returning members' money amid police vigilance, said Shilmaria UP Chairman Sajjad Hossain.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

3 more NGOs vanish with Tk 10 crore

Mob ransacks 10 NGO offices

Monday, March 3, 2008

Swindler NGO men flee with Tk 250cr

2 lakh cheated of their last penny

Mozahar Hossain was enthusiastic about being a member of local NGO Freedom Unnayan Sangstha in Natore depositing only Tk 6,400, as the return seemed very promising. Initially he was asked to bring two more members to start getting Tk 570 a week until Tk 29,540 in 57 weeks.

Mozahar, a rickshaw-puller from Mominpur, Naldanga borrowed Tk 70,000 mortgaging his only piece of land and put down the money. He was planning to deposit more when he got back Tk 16,000 in weekly payments.

Housewife Sabiha Begum of Mollapara in Puthia, Rajshahi borrowed Tk 38,000 from Karitas, Grameen Bank and Padakkhep and credited those with the NGO. She was getting Tk 3,990 per week.

Like Mozahar and Sabiha, thousands of ignorant people from remote villages in Natore, Rajshahi and neighbouring districts were enthusiastic about making quick money, even by selling everything they had and taking loans.

But to their utter despair, Freedom director Ishaq Mia and other officials disappeared overnight with nearly Tk 250 crore closing its 2,000 branches on Thursday. The NGO collected the money from about 2 lakh members saying they were doing garment business.

Four members have been dead so far, three of them died of heart attack and the other committed suicide.

A huge contingent of police was deployed at villages in Naldanga following angry gathering of thousands of disarrayed NGO members. Furious people damaged and torched Freedom central office and 10 branches on Friday and assaulted a number of employees available on the scene.

Based in remote Nasratpur village at Naldanga in Natore, Freedom activities were spreading to other areas including Bagha, Charghat, Durgapur, Puthia, and Bagmara upazilas in Rajshahi, Naldanga, Sadar, Lapur, Bagatipara of Natore, Kahalu of Bogra, Joypurhat, Naogaon, Chapainawabganj, Dinajpur and Kustia.

Encouraged at Freedom's 'success', 57 similar NGOs, 37 registered, sprang out in Naldanga and surrounding villages over the last one and a half years. These NGOs are still active under the shed of local administration and influential people, said Sajjad Hossain Mukul, chairman of Shilmaria Union Parishad, Puthia.

"These NGOs have no other income than enlisting members, they don't deal money through banks, and offer 4.6 times higher in return… still Natore district administration was allowing their activities," Mukul complained.

He mentioned the names of some NGOs including Swadesh Unnayan Sangstha, Swadhin Unnayan Sangstha, Diamond, Janaseba, Nabajagoron, Daridra, Suryamukhi, Nakshi Bangla, Samaj, Asar Alo, Alor Dishari, Gram Jagoron, and Shekor Unnayan.

Nurul Islam, a businessman from Natore, said: "We drew the administration's attention when we saw NGO men carrying people's money in jute-sacks to unknown destination, but there was no-one to hear."

Mahfuz Alam Moony, a senior journalist, alleged local media repeatedly asked the deputy commissioner of Natore to take action as the NGOs were "illegally" cashing on government registration for social welfare.

"The DC without stopping the NGO activities for reasons unknown approved them ignoring majority opinion at a meeting at his office," he said, adding, "Some NGOs are still active."

Deputy Commissioner SM Ehsan Kabir denied receiving any complaint in this connection. He pinned the blame on police for not being watchful.

"At the January 27 meeting, we allowed the NGOs after asking police to be vigilant in the villages so that no NGO can go away with people's money. Social Welfare office was to look into the matter, but no-one worked."

"It's simply impossible for police to be vigilant round the clock over so many NGOs in the remote villages. Regulating the NGOs is an administrative job," said Shah Golam Mahmud, superintendent of police in Natore.

A member of Freedom Unnayan Sangstha committed suicide yesterday and three others died of heart attack since the news broke on Friday.

Jotsna Begum, 29, wife of Mozammel Haque of Leppara, Sadhanpur, Puthia in Rajshahi hanged herself yesterday morning as she lost Tk 26,000.

Azimuddin, 56, of Chowbaria in Durgapur upazila who deposited Tk 1.7 lakh died of heart attack on Friday.

Abul Hasem, 35, of Bangal Khalsi village who deposited Tk 12,800 and Baby Begum, 35, wife of Abul Kashem of Chhatarbhag in Natore, who deposited Tk 6,400 died of heart attack on Saturday.

Sugar prices up in Rajshahi as govt mills stop sales

Sugar prices up in Rajshahi as govt mills stop sales
Sugar prices increased by Tk 7 a kg in retail markets in one week in Rajshahi region after the government on Monday stopped selling sugar from eight mills in northern region.

Sugar was selling at Tk 36 a kg yesterday in Rajshahi, Natore and Naogaon districts against Tk 29 a week ago.

Earlier on February 17 the sugar mills under Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation (BSFIC) stopped sales, but a day later the mills resumed selling at Tk 28,000 per metric ton against the previous price of Tk 25,000 per metric ton.

Industry people said the BSFIC took the move to increase the prices of sugar.

When contacted, managing directors of Rajshahi, Natore and North Bengal sugar mills confirmed that the mills have stopped selling sugar.

Asked about reasons behind the price hike of sugar, M Yahia Mia, managing director of Rajshahi Sugar Mills, said production cost of per ton of sugar is around Tk 41,500 but the mills sell at Tk 28,000. The mills will incur loss if they sell sugar at present rates, he added.

"Mills will face ruins if we don't make profits," said Taiyab Ali, MD of Natore Sugar Mills.

Retail traders in Rajshahi attributed the price hike to supply dearth. They said some 30 dealers in Rajshahi usually get 120 tons to 150 tons of sugar against average monthly demand for 900 tons, but this month they are yet to get the supply.

Omar Ali, a local dealer, said price of refined sugar is now at Tk 34.50 per kg at mill gate against Tk 28 last month.