Thursday, July 31, 2008

Garo rape victim under threat for withdrawal of case

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Killing of Dr Tutul in 'crossfire': Security beefed up in northern dists

Security has been beefed up at all vulnerable points and important installations in five northern districts, including Rajshahi, in the wake of the killing of Dr Tutul, chief of outlawed Purbo Banglar Communist Party (red flag), in 'crossfire' between the police and his accomplices in Naogaon on Sunday.

All police stations, outposts and camps in the division have been put on high alert, sources in Rajshahi divisional police said yesterday.

The sources said that the operatives of outlawed parties see Tutul's death as a blow to their two decade-old underground 'armed struggle for socialism'.

The law-enforcement agencies, including the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), have also intensified their combing operations to track down the listed outlawed party operatives.

Tutul, a physician-turned-outlaw, was also known by the names 'Rafiqul', 'Masum', 'Masud', 'Milon' and 'Dadabhai'. He was killed in 'crossfire' between the police and his comrades in Raninagar upazila of Naogaon early Sunday.

However, the family of Dr Tutul rejected the claim of the police that he was killed in crossfire.

"We don't believe the story about Tutul's death the police is telling to the media," Tutul's cousin Shahidul Islam told reporters at Naogaon Sadar Hospital.

Tutul's uncle Saifuddin and two other cousins Kazi Kamal Ahmed and Shafikul Islam came to the hospital to receive his body.

They said that they had received information on Saturday that Rab members arrested Tutul from Uttara in Dhaka on Friday night.

On Saturday night, Tutul's mother Novera Khatun had also appealed to the government to save the life of her son and try him in accordance with the law of the land.

According to the police, Tutul had unleashed a reign of terror in Rajshahi division and in many southern districts by killing a number of politicians and policemen.

He had camped at Randhunibari village months before the attack on Randhunibari Police Station in Sirajganj in 2002.

Our correspondent from Jhinaidah adds: Namaz-e-janaza for Tutul was held on the Court Madrasa premises and at Kotchandpur yesterday morning and he was buried at his home village at Elangi amid tight security.

Many unknown people, even some from Dhaka and from across the country, attended his janaza.

Policemen were deployed around his graveyard, local police said.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Top outlaw Dr Tutul killed in 'crossfire’

Chief of outlawed Purbo Banglar Communist Party (PBCP Marxist-Leninist) Lal Pataka faction Dr Tutul was killed in "crossfire" between police and his accomplices before dawn yesterday in Naogaon.
In a separate incident in Natore the same day, an outlawed party member and a suspect in the Bamihal police killing and arms looting case was killed in a similar fashion.
A physician-turned outlaw, Tutul is believed to have masterminded the killings of political figures in Rajshahi, Natore and Naogaon as well as the police killings and arms lootings at Bamihal in Shingra, Taherpur in Rajshahi, Randhunibari in Sirajganj and Chowbaria in Naogaon, said police.
He was wanted in over 200 cases filed with different police stations in greater Rajshahi, Pabna, Sirajganj and a number of other northern districts.
The 42-year-old extremist group leader, son of Daud Hossain Biswas from Kotchandpur in Jhenidah, was known under several aliases including Dr Mizanur Rahman, Rafikul Islam, Masud, Milon and Dada Bhai, the police added.
Earlier on Saturday night, hours before Dr Tutul was killed, his 80-year-old mother Novera Khatun through a press conference at Jhenidah Press Club pleaded the government to save her son from "crossfire".
The police describing his arrest said near about 80 police personnel from Atrai, Raninagar and Sadar police stations cordoned off Kaligram Eidgah field at around 4:00am after receiving a tip-off regarding a secret meeting of 50 to 60 armed members of an outlawed party.
Aminul Islam, additional superintendent of police in Naogaon and the commanding officer of the raid, said soon after the criminals sensed their presence, they opened fire on the police. The police also retaliated and fired at least 100 rounds, he added.
The criminals at one stage fled the scene leaving behind one of their bullet-hit accomplices, who was later identified as Dr Tutul, claimed the police adding that after he was taken to Raninagar Health Complex, the doctors declared him dead.
Police seized two locally made firearms, 17 bullets, 7 gun cartridges, a rifle magazine, two knives, two machetes and a few sharp weapons from the scene.
Locals of Raninagar distributed sweets in celebration of Dr Tutul's death, said the police.
Our correspondent from Jhenidah reports: At around 8.30pm on Saturday, Tutul's mother Novera Khatun told journalists at Jhenidah Press Club that the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) members had arrested Tutul from Uttara in the capital on Friday night.
In an appeal to the government she pleaded for the safety of her son claiming that although Tutul was involved with an underground party, he did not participate in any killing or extortion.
Tutul dedicated his life to provide medical treatment to the underprivileged and he had even sold pieces of ancestral land for the cause, the mother said.Instead of killing Tutul in crossfire, she urged the government to put him on trial under the laws of the land if he committed any crime.
Earlier in the afternoon, the elderly woman went to the office of Jhenidah deputy commissioner to submit her plea to the government, but since the office had closed by then, she had to rush to the press club and make her request through the press, she told journalists.
A Bangla national daily (Jugantor) on Saturday in a report said the Rab has arrested Tutul from Uttara.
However, the Rab did not confirm the arrest.
Born in 1959, Tutul completed his higher secondary education from Kotchandpur in 1977. He obtained MBBS degree from Rajshahi Medical College (RMC) in 1985.
He practised medicine at Sabaihat of Manda in Naogaon and in Rajshahi town for a year alongside his government job at RMC Hospital.
Tutul, a former member of Chhatra Moitree (student wing of Workers Party), became active in PBCP activities during his studies at RMC after he made his acquaintance with PBCP leader Mofakkhar Chowdhury who was subsequently killed.
He went underground in 1986 and became a fulltime activist of PBCP. In the mid 90s, Tutul developed rivalry with his guru Mofakkhar Chowdhury.
In 1997, Tutul and Quamrul Islam Mastar, two dissident followers of Mofakkhar-led PBCP, formed a faction named PBCP Lal Pataka (red flag).
Mofakkhar's faction was called PBCP Janojuddho and he led the faction until his death in crossfire in December 2004. Abdur Rashid Malitha Tapan, who took over Janojuddho, was also killed in crossfire recently.
Quamrul, the co-founder of Lal Pataka, was also killed in crossfire in August 2006 and Tutul had been leading the faction ever since.
A correspondent from Natore adds: Ansar Ali, activist of an outlawed party and a suspect in the Bamihal police killing and arms looting case, was killed in a shootout between police and his accomplices at Kankian village in Singra upazila early yesterday.
Earlier on Thursday, police arrested Ansar from Bamihal area and following his confessional statement, the law enforcers took him along to the scene to capture his accomplices and retrieve arms.
As soon as the police reached the scene, Ansar's cohorts started to shoot at the law enforcers, triggering the gunfight. At one stage Ansar attempted to flee and sustained bullet injuries, claimed the police adding that he died on the spot.
A pipe gun, four bullets and a sharp weapon were retrieved from the scene, the police said.
Human rights group Odhikar yesterday demanded independent judicial inquiry into the killing of Dr Mizanur Rahman Tutul, a top leader of Purbo Banglar Communist Party (ML-Lal Pataka).
Police claimed that Dr Tutul died after receiving bullet shots during a 'shootout' between outlaws and the police at Kaligram Eidgah field in Raninagar upazila of Naogaon at around 4:00am yesterday.
Expressing concern over Tutul's killing, Odhikar said, "… the victim was reportedly not involved in any violent means to propagate his political believes… If this trend continues, those with 'different' views could now risk being targeted.
"Condemning the killings in 'shootouts', the rights watchdog said 197 persons were killed in the so-called crossfire, shootout, gunfight or encounters by Rab, police and other law enforcement agencies since January 11, 2007 till date under the state of emergency.
"Extra judicial killings are the worst form of rights violation … A persons' life cannot be taken away without due legal process, which is the foundation of a civilized society.
Continued extra judicial killings are eroding the foundation of Bangladesh's polity," reads a press statement of Odhikar.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

BBC Sanglap on RCC Polls: Mayor hopefuls vow to solve water crisis, remain graft-free


The two-day BBC dialogue on Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC) election at Rajshahi Medical College auditorium has created enthusiasm among the electorates.

All the 15 mayoral candidates answered to the questions from around 500 electorates in two shifts on Monday and Tuesday nights providing scopes for voters to choose the right person in election.

BBC Bangla organised the dialogue in association with the Election Commission. Both the sessions of the dialogue were aired live on Bangladesh Television (BTV), BTV World and Bangladesh Betar.

Kamal Ahmed, senior producer of BBC Bangla Service, moderated the dialogues while Waliur Rahman Miraz, producer of BBC Sanglap series, produced the event.

While answering to a query on water crisis, acting Rajshahi mayor Rejaunnabi Dudu, also a mayor aspirant, said subscribers are not available even after creating water pipelines in many areas.

Asked why water lines were taken to areas where there is no demand and when 40 percent people are reeling from water crisis, Dudu felt embarrassed and said the lines were created to provide services in disadvantaged areas.

Mayor hopeful Forman Ali expressed optimism that he wants to be an RCC mayor in order to work for people's welfare. Ali, however, vowed to remain incorruptible.

Siddikur Rahman unfolded his plan of collecting water from the Padma to meet the city's water crisis. If the Padma carries sand, he said he would preserve rainwater.

Ruhul Kuddus Tunu said he would arrange two water lines -- one for consumption and another for using household activities.

Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul, Masudul Haque Dulu, Rayhanur Rahman, AHM Khairuzzaman Liton, Abdul Matin Khan, Durul Huda, Akhtaruzzaman Babul, Nasir Ahmed Biddyut, Abdul Khaleque and Enamul Haque also answered to different questions of the voters at the dialogue sessions.

The mayor aspirants promised to ensure accountability and people's participation in all development activities if they are elected.

A BBC survey revealed that inefficiency is responsible for the present poor civic services and the mayor aspirants pledged for running the local government body in an efficient manner.

BBC Bangla is producing the Sanglap in four city corporations consecutively. After Sylhet and Rajshahi dialogues, the BBC Sanglap will be held at Khulna and Barisal ahead of the city corporation polls to be held on August 4.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

RCC Election: Campaign for candidates new source of income for hundreds

Anwar Ali, Rajshahi

Canvassing for mayor and councilor candidates has become a source of income for hundreds of unemployed and poor youths, especially women, in Rajshahi city as they are being offered attractive figures for electioneering for the candidates.

The opportunity has come as a relief among the poor against the backdrop of skyrocketing prices of essentials, although purchasing votes or influencing election through spending money is a violation of the election code of conduct.

A good number of employees of Rajshahi City Corporation and some other government offices have also engaged themselves in the election campaign seeing a new source of income, even at times hampering their duties.

The demand for women workers is high as women have easier access than men to households.

Full-time workers are being paid Tk 100 to Tk 160 per day while part-time workers are getting Tk 30 to Tk 80, according to the workers.

Children are also being hired despite the fact that engaging children under 16 years of age is prohibited in the electoral law.

In some cases, a worker is electioneering for more than one candidate following crisis of workers, since this time as many as 281 persons, including 15 for the post of the mayor, are contesting in the election. There were not more than seven mayor candidates in previous RCC polls.

The candidates are hiring the workers for distributing leaflets, accompanying them while they go door-to-door to seek votes and for taking part in election processions.

"Allah blessed us as the election season came at last. We are now able to have three meals a day," said a female worker seeking anonymity.

She added that many poor people like her used to get donations from politicians during the regime of the political governments. "We are getting no money from the politicians since the state of emergency was declared."

Khatun's cousin said maximum candidates are offering a satisfactory figure, but some are paying them as low as Tk 30 to Tk 50 per day.

Rubel, a youth of Laxmipur area, said he has so far worked for three candidates.

"I got Tk 50 participating in a procession of Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul of BNP, Tk 60 distributing leaflets for AHM Khairuzzaman Liton and Tk 100 for campaigning for Raihanur Rahman of Progressive Development Party (PDP).

An employee of Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC) said many of them (RCC employees) are working full-time for Tk 150 per day. He informed maximum of RCC workers are working for acting mayor Rezaunnabi Dudu and Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul.

Another RCC official said the official activities are being hampered following absence of workers.

"Ahead of the elections, Dudu (Acting mayor) earned sympathy from employees by canceling a RCC plan for expelling some 300 employees from July that was essential for curtailing annual expenditure," said the official seeking anonymity.

Many workers are eager to work for him because of that move, he added.

The outgoing ward councilors, who are also contesting the poll, are also using RCC employees rampantly in campaigning for them, alleged several councilor aspirants.

They said some candidates are distributing donations among poor people and promising them jobs and other facilities provided they win the election.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rajshahi City Polls: Violation of code of conduct alleged

Mayoral and councillorship hopefuls in Rajshahi City Corporation elections yesterday at a meeting with local administration raised allegations of gross code of conduct violations.

Campaigning under the banners of political parties, spending of black money and intimidation by hired thugs are widespread, claimed a number of contestants.

The meeting, held at Rajshahi District Council auditorium, was organised by returning officer and regional deputy election commissioner of Rajshahi.

Honest, educated and competent candidates are at a disadvantage due to the authorities' indifference toward the violations of the code of conduct, said the speakers.

Bribing prospective voters and intimidation and attacks targeted at opponents by some of the candidates will foil the government's effort for holding an election free from violence, corruptionists and black money holders, they cautioned.

Out of 15 candidates running for the mayoral post of the city, 12 were present at the meeting. The three candidates who did not show up are AHM Khairuzzaman Liton of Awami League (AL) Rajshahi city unit, Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul of BNP and Akhtaruzzaman Bablu, president of Bikalpadhara Bangladesh Rajshahi city unit.

Around 600 councillor candidates attended the meeting.

Dissident candidates from political parties also spoke against their parties for various violations of the code of conduct.

A number of the speakers said instead of waiting on receiving formal complaints about any sort of rules violations, the government should ask its intelligence agencies to increase vigilance over different campaigns.

Rajshahi Divisional Commissioner Hafijur Rahman Bhuiyan, Rajshahi Deputy Election Commissioner Sayed Muhammad Musa and the commissioner of Rajshahi Metropolitan Police were present at the meeting among others.

Mayoral candidate and Rajshahi city AL President Masudul Haque Dulu said the AL-led 14-party alliance quite openly endorsed Fazle Hossain Badsha, but the AL is now backing AHM Khairuzzaman Liton.

"Isn't this political campaigning? Doesn't this violate electoral rules? If yes, the authorities are being two-faced as they had been trumpeting the rules on one hand, while on the other, they aren't taking any action against the violators," Dulu said.

Another mayor aspirant Durul Huda, president of Jatiya Party city unit, said, "Major parties are openly endorsing their candidates. Let us know if it's legal, then we'll also arrange political support… Why would we lag behind?"

Progressive Development Party's Raihanur Rahman said almost all candidates are secretly hiring workers by huge numbers to do their campaign work.

Acting mayor Rejaunnabi Dudu alleged that many candidates are spending black money to engage hired thugs and run smear campaign against their opponents.

Abu Bakar Siddik, a councillor hopeful at ward 10, said many public servants are also taking part in campaign work in exchange for money. "Hired goons of the present councillors who are also contesting the polls are threatening to kill us," he added.

Abul Kalam Azad, contesting councillorship post at ward 14, said many candidates are campaigning at places of worship including mosques.

Rajshahi Divisional Commissioner Hafijur Rahman Bhuiyan said to assist the authorities take swift action, everyone, if necessary withholding their identity, should provide the authorities with specific information on rules violations.

Deputy Election Commissioner Sayed Muhammad Musa said starting Monday (yesterday), the authorities would take tough action against violators of the code of conduct.

Rejecting Musa's comment, a few candidates said they also want action against all the violations that have been committed so far.

"We so far warned candidates for violation of rules. But from now on, we will inform the Election Commission in Dhaka [of any allegation] so it can initiate an investigation and cancel candidacy of the offender," Musa said.

Musa also assured the candidates of justice and told them that the commission has instructed them to take action against those who are using resources of political parties in their election campaigns.

Australian Dy HC visits Rajshahi

Australian Deputy High Commissioner Kilmeny Beckering Vinckers paid a two-day visit to Rajshahi to monitor the situation here before the Rajshahi City Corporation election.

During her visit, she met Acting Rajshahi Mayor Rejaunnabi Dudu, also a mayoral candidate, at his office yesterday morning. She had talks with other mayoral candidates including City Awami League President Masudul Haque Dulu and General Secretary AHM Khairuzzaman Liton over cell phone.

Earlier, she met Rajshahi Divisional Commissioner Hafijur Rahman Bhuiyan, Rajshahi Deputy Commissioner M Ibrahim Khalil and Deputy Election Commissioner Sayed Muhammad Musa on Sunday.

Monday, July 21, 2008

'Warning for first time violation as rules are quiet new'

Violating the election code of conduct, a coloured banner is hung near RDA market in Rajshahi city seeking vote for a mayoral candidate. Photo: STAR

Independent mayor candidate Siddikur Rahman gave an undertaking at Rajshahi deputy election commissioner's office yesterday that he would no more violate election rules by using loudspeakers beyond the officially fixed time limit.Election officials along with police seized a three-wheeler and loudspeakers while those were being used for campaigning for Siddikur Rahman after 8 pm Saturday night, which is prohibited.Siddikur Rahman was then summoned to the deputy election commissioner's office. He gave in writing that he would never use loudspeakers on streets violating the code of conduct and abide by other polls rules.However, sources at the election office said they received many such allegations of violation of code of conduct. In most cases, they warn the candidates through letters.Rajshahi city Awami League (AL) secretary and Nagorik Committee candidate AHM Khairuzzaman Liton, Progressive Development Party (PDP) convenor Raihanur Rahman and several counsilors have already given warning for violating the code, the officials said.Visiting the city areas yesterday, big colourful banners seeking vote were seen though these are prohibited as per electoral law. A 25-feet banner was seen on both sides of the over-bridge in front of RDA market, seeking vote for mayoral candidate Masudul Haque Dulu, president of Rajshahi city AL. BNP's Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul and AL's AHM Khairuzzaman Liton were also seen using coloured banners in campaign processions.Deputy Election Commissioner Sayed Muhammad Musa said they were warning candidates for first time violation as the rules are quite new.“If we find candidates violation rules again, we will take action. Warning is also an action… cases of serious offences are separate”, he said.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rajshahi City Corporation: Mayor aspirants vow to check crime, graft

Twelve mayoral candidates of Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC) polls during a meeting with people of the city yesterday vowed to resist crime and corruption.

They took an oath holding each other's hands that they would not use or raise musclemen for winning the elections or to confront their opponents.

They promised to ensure people's participation in planning and implementing development schemes, if elected. They also promised to accept defeat in the election and help the winner in the work for development of the city.

They pledged that they would try to increase the use of local resources in augmenting development, hold open budget sessions and maintain regular interaction with the people to ensure accountability.

Three mayor candidates, Awami League (AL) leader Nasir Ahmed Biddyut, Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh Rajshahi city President Akhtaruzzaman Bablu and independent candidate Forman Ali, did not show up at the meeting.

Prof Muzaffar Ahmad, eminent economist and chairman of Transparency International Bangladesh, attended the meeting as the chief guest.

Rajshahi district Shushashoner Janney Nagorik (Shujan) President Prof Nurul Alam presided over the meeting and Shujan General Secretary Badiul Alam Majumder conducted the programme.

Shujan organised the meeting titled "Face-to-face with people" at a local community centre. Channel i, Prothom Alo and The Daily Star were the media partners of the programme.

Former Rajshahi University vice-chancellor Prof Saidur Rahman Khan, Prothom Alo City Editor Pranab Saha, and Shujan Rajshahi city unit President Shamsuddin also spoke at the meeting.

RCC mayor candidates acting RCC Mayor Rejaunnabi Dudu, city AL President Masudul Haque Dulu, its General Secretary AHM Khairuzzaman Liton, BNP's Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul and Enamul Haque, Progressive Democratic Party's Raihanur Rahman, Jatiya Party's Durul Huda, Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal's Ruhul Kuddus Tunu, and independent mayoral candidates Abdul Matin Khan, Abdul Khaleque and Siddikur Rahman replied to questions of the people present.

Speaking on the occasion, Prof Muzaffar said the country's constitution and ideologies of the Liberation War entrusted people with the country's power.

"But people are losing this hold on power due to terrorism, militancy and corruption… A non-elected government has now assumed power due to the failures of political parties," he said.

Calling upon the people to elect honest and competent candidates, he said an elected government is needed to help democracy survive.

The mayor candidates were given a chance to speak briefly on why they joined the mayoral race and what they want to do if they are elected.

Masudul Haque Dulu refrained from making any promises in the meeting even though almost all candidates pledged for different development work including bringing natural gas supply to Rajshahi by 2010.

"The local government is part of the central government. I only can do what the central government allows me to do… this is why I am not making any promises but I assure you that I have love for the people of this city and I would do my best to come to their aid," Dulu said.

Rejaunnabi Dudu said he became RCC acting mayor when the RCC had the burden of Tk 30 crore of unpaid loans. "In the last 14 months, I repaid Tk 13 crore of loans. The corporation's annual expenditure is Tk 18 crore against the income of Tk 14 crore. If elected, I can do better," he said.

Khairuzzaman Liton said he would not let political goons control affairs of the city corporation and he will build a training centre for people seeking jobs overseas.

Mosaddek Hossain identified unemployment and drug as major problems of the city and said he plans to free the city from drugs and create employment opportunities for young people.

Dulu showcaused for defying party decision, faces expulsion

Front Page

Rajshahi city unit of Awami League yesterday issued a notice on its president Masudul Haque Dulu, asking him to explain why he will not be expelled from the party.

Dulu is facing expulsion for running in the mayoral election to Rajshahi City Corporation defying the party's decision. Local Awami League nominated its general secretary AHM Khairuzzaman Liton for the mayoral post.

A press release signed by city AL acting General Secretary Shafiqur Rahman Badsha said the executive committee of the unit at its meeting in the morning unanimously decided to issue a show cause notice on Dulu for contesting the election defying party's decision.

BCKS Rejoinder, our reply

Front Page

Bangladesh Chashi Kalyan Samity (BCKS) in a rejoinder protested a report headlined "Five lakh depositors swindled by Jamaat's farmer wing" published in The Daily Star on July 7.

It said BCKS considers the report "a malicious attempt to spread venom against a political party which has clean image amongst people and has no working relationship with BCKS".

It claimed BCKS to be a "non-political" and "non-profit" organisation for farmers' welfare and said it is not true that BCKS acted as financial front of Jamaat through illegal banking.

It claimed that central BCKS did not decided on closing down branches and the allegation of selling offices was irrelevant.

The rejoinder contradicted that Tk 100 crore was swindled out of five lakh people. It said they now have Tk 4,23,81,920 unpaid savings of 32,370 people and Tk 5,06,81,689 distributed loans among 12,832 people in 14 districts.

The rejoinder, however, confirmed "some irregularities" in Rajshahi district that they explained to have occurred following misappropriation of about Tk 12.40 lakh of people's savings by its staff.

It said legal actions for the misappropriation are under process while one case filed in 2006 is still pending. It said BCKS is trying to realise the embezzled money through arbitration.

Meanwhile, The Daily Star received two copies of the same rejoinder that were carrying signatures of two separate persons claiming to be BCKS public relations officer.

The forwarding letters show BCKS's central office at two places in Dhaka. The web address given has not been found.

Our story was based on documents and mainly interviews of a number of senior BCKS officials, dissident ones and responsible Jamaat leaders.

Jamaat's link with BCKS is clearly evident as acting Jamaat Ameer Maulana Abul Kalam Muhammad Yousuf is its head since Liberation War period while local Jamaat unit presidents are regularly made BCKS advisers. BCKS presidents at branch levels are almost always chosen from high level Jamaat members (Rokon).

In our story, it is Jamaat men who described how BCKS collected money from people irrespective of profession, despite BCKS's professed status being meant only for farmers.

BCKS branch staffs, who were trying to buy the branches, provided the contents on which The Daily Star report is based.

The Daily Star has documents that prove BCKS has control of credit programmes at branch levels and that it decided to shut down and sell a number of branches. The Daily Star also has documents that prove BCKS central oversaw the selling of branches. The documents are also supported by people The Daily Star interviewed.

BCKS defended the allegation of swindling by saying that funds were never transferred to the central office. The Daily Star did not mention that any such money transfer took place.

We stand by our report.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Old faces show up again with belied pledges

Rajshahi city dwellers demand live TV programmes by polls aspirants

Anwar Ali, Rajshahi

Shahadat Hossain, Moniruzzaman Sharif, Rejaunnabi Al Mamun

The electorate, 'cheated' in the past, are bewildered as old faces, many of them tainted, are showing up in the upcoming city corporation polls with old unfulfilled pledges.

Among 16 mayor aspirants, 13 are known persons belonging to different political parties. They are now making pledges anew for a 'beautiful and developed Rajshahi city' free from corruption, terrorism and drugsthe same promises they made ahead of 2002 city corporation election.

Among 236 councilor aspirants and 62 women candidates, some 100 are known political personalities. The 26 incumbent councilors, including six having records of facing criminal charges, are also in race in Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC) election scheduled for August 4.

The mayoral candidates have already started reiterating almost the same old pledges in small gatherings and party meetings.Many citizens talking to this correspondent said the candidates should make their commitments formally in live television programmes.

According to police, four mayoral aspirants Workers' Party Politburo member Fazle Hossain Badsha, city Awami League president Masudul Haque Dulua and BNP leader Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul and Rajshahi city Bikalpa Dhara president Akhtaruzzaman Bablu were accused in cases.

They all were however acquitted by court.Acting mayor Rejaunnabi Dudu, who was allegedly involved in corruption with Rajshahi Development Authority, is also an aspirant to retain the post.

Other mayor aspirants are AHM Khairuzzaman Liton and Nasir Ahmed Biddyut of AL, Enamul Haque and Jahan Panna fof BNP, Durul Huda from Jatiya Party (Ershad), Ruhul Kuddus Tunu of BSD (Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal) and Raihanur Rahman of PDP (Progressive Democratic Party).

Rejaunnabi Al Mamun, RCC councilor from ward no. 15, who is accused in 10 criminal cases, also submitted nomination. Police said he is evading arrest.

Another polls runner Moniruzzaman Sharif, councilor from ward no. 19, is widely blamed for land grabbing, cheating people. He was arrested in January by joint forces on charge of criminal activities.

Shahadat Hossain Sahu, councilor from ward no. 17, arrested nine months ago for criminal offences, was released recently. He and his wife Nazma Ali also submitted nominations.

There are allegations of terrorism and tender manipulations against councilors Rabiul Alam Milu and Tarikul Alam Paltu, both aspirants in the coming polls. A businessman quoting records of law an order committee meeting claimed that at least 60,000 bottles of phensidyl flew into the city everyday, although making it drug-free was an election pledge.

Promises made ahead of 2002 RCC polls include pipeline supply of gas to Rajshahi city to boot industries, not to increase taxes, reduce water crisis, build new educational institutes and construct new roads. All remained unfulfilled.

Despite pledges not to increase taxes, holding taxes were increased by 20 per cent and water tariff by 50 per cent in last ten years, said Zamat Khan, convenor of Rajshahi Rakkha Sangram Parishad (RRSP), a citizens' body.

“We reminded the authorities of their pledges”, he said. Rajshahi University teacher Dr Golam Sabbir Sattar said, “We are deprived of civic amenities despite giving taxes.”

Lawyer Habibur Rahman said, he can not hope a change through the upcoming election as old faces are showing up and making the same old promises.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

'Voters denied right to know candidates'

Shujan discussion told in Rajshahi

Staff Correspondent, Rajshahi

Speakers at a views exchange meeting in Rajshahi city yesterday said the Election Commission (EC) is depriving people of their right to information by not providing detailed information on mayoral and councillor candidates in local government elections.

They observed that not providing information about candidates is violation of a court order and it would help dishonest and corrupt candidates win again.
The speakers said this is allowing criminals, corrupt and disputed politicians to have the chance to be elected again despite government efforts for electoral reforms to have honest and competent candidates.
Former adviser to a caretaker government ASM Shahjahan was the chief guest while President of Shushashoner Janney Nagarik (Shujan) Rajshahi district unit Nurul Alam presided over the meeting.Shujan organised the meeting titled "Responsibilities of concerned citizens to elect honest and efficient persons" at Rajshahi Chamber of Commerce and Industries auditorium. Channel i, Prothom Alo and The Daily Star were the media partners to the programme.
Shujan General Secretary Badiul Alam Majumder, Prothom Alo Assistant Editor Arun Bosu and Shujan Rajshahi city unit President Shamsuddin spoke among others.
Among the Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC) mayoral and councillor candidates, Awami League Rajshahi city unit President Masudul Haque Dulu, its General Secretary AHM Khairuzzaman, Workers' Party politburo member Fazle Hossain Badsha, BNP's Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul, Progressive Democratic Party's Raihanur Rahman and independent candidate Abdul Khaleque spoke on the occasion.
Badiul Alam Majumder, Prothom Alo Assistant Editor Arun Bosu and Shujan Rajshahi city unit President Shamsuddin spoke among others.
Among the Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC) mayoral and councillor candidates, Awami League Rajshahi city unit President Masudul Haque Dulu, its General Secretary AHM Khairuzzaman, Workers' Party politburo member Fazle Hossain Badsha, BNP's Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul, Progressive Democratic Party's Raihanur Rahman and independent candidate Abdul Khaleque spoke on the occasion.
ASM Shahjahan said the EC is not allowing people to know details of mayoral and councillor candidates, which violates a court verdict.
"We are seeking information about candidates, but the EC is refusing to provide it before July 14… what is their [the EC's] interest? Do they want to save somebody by hiding information? The EC's refusal is a clear violation of the right to information," said Badiul Alam Majumder.
Liakat Ali, editor of a local Bangla daily Sonali Sangbad, said people are being cheated as the EC is failing to protect the elections from criminals and corrupt people even after formulating stringent laws for electoral reforms.
"About 50 people collected nomination forms for the RCC mayor post but only 18 of them submitted theirs. Old political faces showed up even though participation of political-party affiliated people in the polls is not allowed," he said.
The speakers said electing honest and competent people would be very difficult as politically-affiliated candidates will use their influence in the election and afterwards.
Arun Bosu called upon people to unite and elect an honest and competent candidate.
"Sona Dighi was turned into a sewage line; drugs are destroying the city's youths… the people themselves are to choose a leader who can relieve them of these problems," he said.
The speakers said silence and inactivity of good people is more dangerous than corruption and crime. Citizens should unite against corrupt people and criminals and protect the country from them.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tremors and tottering buildings

Are rules of construction being followed?

A five-storied building in Rajshahi has moved sideways and leaned on to another building. There was, of course, a mild earth tremor that caused such a condition. And as earthquakes go, the possibility of disasters is always there. But what is of greater significance in the present circumstances is the question of why a mild tremor should leave a building in precarious conditions. Over the last many years, the media have consistently drawn the attention of the authorities to the poor and sloppy manner in which buildings, especially high rise ones, are being constructed in the nation's urban areas. In the capital itself, there have been instances of buildings developing cracks not long after they have been constructed, with residents moving out in panic.

There are quite a few crucial points that must be addressed insofar as the construction of buildings is concerned. And these questions are there because in a very large number of cases it is such areas as water bodies or places where the earth is soft that plans for residential buildings have been put in place. One of the questions, therefore, is to what extent such soil has been examined for content and to what degree it has been flattened and hardened in order to withstand the pressure of new construction. There are already projections that in Dhaka itself, a relatively serious earthquake could result in as much as 80 per cent of high rises collapsing all around us. That may sound apocalyptic, but it cannot be dismissed out of hand. The frenzy with which old homes are being demolished and apartment complexes are rising in their place is quite naturally worrying for everyone. The nature of the soil aside, there comes the question of the fraudulent means employed in the supply and use of construction materials. Allegations have been rife about spurious cement, meaning a mixture of simple soil and actual cement, as well as steel of poor quality being used to construct buildings. The impunity with which such grossly questionable activities have gone on has never been challenged or checked.

Which is why it now becomes a matter of vital concern that the regulatory bodies, responsible for overseeing building construction across the country, take a little more interest in the matter. Of course, there are also the corrupt elements within such bodies; and as long as they are safely ensconced in their jobs, nothing worthwhile can be expected from their organisations. The job of handling the issue must begin, therefore, through making these regulatory bodies corruption-free. Only then can they morally be serious about upholding the existing building code for citizens.

Monday, July 7, 2008

5 lakh depositors swindled by Jamaat's farmer wing

Bangladesh Chashi Kalyan Samity (BCKS), farmers' wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, but also registered as an NGO, remained the party's financial front through illegal banking in at least 17 districts over a decade, sources say.

Following a changed scenario after 1/11, the NGO has shut down its offices and swindled a huge amount of money collected through deposits, special deposit schemes and investment on loans among members since 1997.
The BCKS business was also unlawfully sold to Jamaat supporters for covertly continuing the financial activities.Dissident BCKS officials, involved Jamaat leaders and victims say the accurate amount of misappropriation cannot be found out without proper inquiry. But they add the figure would be minimum Tk 100 crore collected from about five lakh people.

The sources say each of seven BCKS branches in Rajshahi earned around Tk 2.5 crore annually and the NGO staffs were engaged in misappropriation from the very beginning. A large number of officials and employees, who were also members of Jamaat and its front wings, had left both job and party in protest against the cheating.

Some dissident employees are now on the run following threats on their lives by Jamaat men.Rafikul Islam, formerly a member of Islami Chhatra Shibir and BCKS field worker, on June 16 filed a general diary (GD) with Puthia Police Station. He says in the GD he has been threatened with death for revealing BCKS "secrets".

"I couldn't even imagine that Jamaat men were cheating," Nazmul Haque told The Daily Star. He was a Rokon (member) of Jamaat's Bagha unit and BCKS assistant director and resigned from both posts in September 2007. "Members used to express anxiety over future of their money. I always assured them that Jamaat men cannot cheat. I had such confidence in Jamaat that I promised to return their money were they cheated. ”My illusions are now shattered. I've become penniless as I had to return money to many members from my pocket."

Nazmul was not alone. Aminul Islam, a BCKS supervisor, field workers Rafiqul Islam of Damadi village, Nazrul Islam, Khalid of Namajgram and Aminul of Agla also left both party and job.

Even a number of Jamaat leaders have expressed opinions against BCKS activities. "We were against Jamaat's involvement in financial activities... loan recovery with interests and irregularities were turning us into enemies of the people," said Rafiqul Islam, Chapainawabganj BCKS president and district Jamaat executive member. "The closure came more as a result of our demand than the central direction," Islam added.Jamaat members -- Rakibul Islam, BCKS' regional coordinator, and Abu Hanif, Pabna district president -- echoed Rafiqul.

BCKS came into existence before the country's independence.Maulana Abul Kalam Muhammad Yousuf, founder of collaborator Razakar force and convener of Khulna district peace committee during the Liberation War, was also president of East Pakistan Chashi Kalyan Samity. Now acting Jamaat ameer, Yousuf still heads BCKS. The district and upazila Jamaat ameers were made BCKS advisers across the country, the sources say.

However, BCKS got registered as an NGO for farmers' welfare with the Department of Social Welfare in September 1990 showing its inception in June 1977. It also became involved in banking in different districts in 1997 and availed the social welfare department's approval to expand business across the country in January 2002. It also managed the NGO Affairs Bureau (NAB) registration in January 2005 for receiving foreign funds.

Economist Abul Barakat in an essay on "Economics of Fundamentalism" writes that NAB registration was contradictory to law of the land that says "political party or their affiliates cannot be registered with NAB".

Contacted, NAB Assistant Director (Registration) Pranab Kumar Ghosh said during registration there was no objection from the home ministry. However, Mozakkher Ali, deputy secretary, security-4 section of the home ministry, refuted the NAB claim.

"The Bureau preserves all rights of registering... We only look into some points whether the NGO men are accused of criminal activities or corruption or if the organisation is involved in any anti-state activities," he explained. Ghosh categorically said the process might have been influenced by the political government.

"Earning profit from not-for-profit organisations is a major strength of religion-based political parties and it's dangerous both for politics and society," said Golam Arif Tipu, senior lawyer and president of Rajshahi Concerned Citizens' Committee.

Months after 1/11 changeover, BCKS issued a directive to close all branches by December 2007, said insiders, adding, all branches were sold in time. The act violated BCKS constitution, which says opinion of 80 percent members is mandatory for the organisation's shutdown.Moreover, NAB and bank experts say by no means an NGO office or its activities can be sold.

"NGOs are aimed at non-profit social welfare jobs and can never be sold," said former deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank (BB) Khondoker Ibrahim Khaled. He said BCKS banking activities without BB approval and sale of offices were punishable offence. BCKS central auditor Shah Alam admitted they decided for the closure following allegations of corruption and "we had no clearance from Bangladesh Bank".

He however denied the sale, adding, "We opted to hand over our activities to willing organisations on condition of returning the deposited money. "However, The Daily Star has managed a copy of a deed that says BCKS branch at Kahalu upazila in Bogra was sold up to Shekhahar Krishak Kalyan Samity (SKKS) at Tk 2.5 lakh in presence of central officials in August 2007.

Abdul Momen, Kahalu upazila Jamaat president and BCKS adviser, who signed the deed as a witness among others confirmed it. BCKS insiders say Baneshwar branch was sold to Namajgram Chashi Unnayan Sangstha (NCUS) at Tk 2.2 lakh in November 2007.

Marjina Begum of Jaigirpara of Puthia showed her NCUS passbook, saying she was depositing Tk 10 every week to BCKS since 1997. "The NGO men changed my passbook showing the earlier savings of Tk 4,450," she said.

Field workers Rafiqul, Khaled and Aminul said nine of them had proposed to buy Baneshwar office. But it was sold to their colleague Ferdousi Begum, a relative of the Rajshahi east district Jamaat president, Rafiqul said, adding, "The sale is merely eyewash to hide Jamaat's bid to retain its control.”

Asked how field workers became so rich to own NGO, Rafiqul said, "It's good business and we used to earn 5-10 percent commission from each member's enrolment."

"BCKS was, in fact, made for creating a source of earning for Jamaat and Shibir workers in rural areas," Rafiqul noted.

Ferdousi's version
Ferdousi Begum, NCUS president and a Jamaat supporter who became president from a field worker, told another story.

She joined BCKS as a field worker in 2001 and collected Tk 20 lakh from 350 members till 2006. "In 2004, I was frightened to see authorities avoiding bank dealings and keeping people's deposits in personal possession. I also saw field workers misappropriating money and the authorities turning a blind eye to it. "I thought of leaving the organisation but couldn't as I had to earn a living. I was trying to get registration of a new NGO."

Finally, with the help of relatives and local Jamaat leaders, she managed NCUS registration in early 2007 and started her new business from November. She admitted purchasing BCKS Baneshwar office and explained that she didn't have to pay for that. "In fact, I had people's savings with me."

Elsewhere in Rajshahi region, when Ferdousi saw rampant gobbling up of money, the dreadful rise of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) took place with funding from many so-called Islamist NGOs.

BCKS had seven branches at Baneshwar, Basupara, Sadar of Puthia, Monigram of Bagha, Godagari, Tanore and Charghat upazilas in Rajshahi.Besides, it expanded its activities to Boraigram and Gurudaspur in Natore, Kahalu in Bogra, Shibganj and Kansat in Chapainawabganj, Sadar, Atghoria and Ishwardi in Pabna and in Sirajganj of northern region.

Based in Dhaka, BCKS had branches in Narayanganj, Comilla, Netrakona, Kishoreganj, Khulna, Jessore and Kustia. Each office had around 30,000 members who enrolled giving Tk 40 to Tk 1,000 on monthly payments, or having fixed deposits for 10 years over promises of double return and loans. Although it was an NGO for farmers, they enrolled teachers, businessmen, and even beggars.

Back in February, all BCKS offices in Rajshahi were closed overnight without any notice or paying off members. As the members approached, Jamaat leaders assured them of payment through NCUS. But problem occurred in May when NCUS denied paying BCKS members.

During a visit to Baneshwar, no signboard was seen at former BCKS zonal office now taken over by NCUS, although it is mandatory for NGO offices. BCKS accountant Helaluddin and patron Ahmadullah were in the office. They claimed the office has now unpaid deposit of Tk 56.41 lakh, while they are to get Tk 78.13 lakh given on loans. They denied the office's sale to NCUS.

On bank dealings, Helaluddin said they don't need to submit money to banks as they distribute the collected money instantly on loans.

Mina Begum, a widowed domestic help of Agla village in Puthia, deposited Tk 5,000 in three years to BCKS Baneshwar branch."They promised me by Allah of doubling my money. Now they deny giving back even the original amount," she lamented.Marzia deposited Tk 11,000 over nine years. "They cheated me and snatched away my deposit book [only evidence of deposit]," said the elderly woman.A field worker took away her passbook in February saying her term of savings completed and money with profit will be returned. "Still I am after them in vain for my money and passbook."Businessman Eklasur Rahman of Shibpur deposited Tk 1.08 lakh, village doctor Naimuddin Tk 50,000 and Hazrat deposited Tk 21,800 with no returns yet. Hazrat and Ekhlasur went to Puthia police but didn't file a case following assurance by local Jamaat leaders.Jamaat leaders at a meeting at local municipal building on June 12 assured that their money would be returned in one month."I deposited Tk 1.08 lakh and should get Tk 2.2 lakh, but they pledge to give me Tk 1.4 lakh," said Ekhlasur."They had made me agree to receive Tk 21,000 against my Tk 21,800 deposit and gave me only Tk 4,000 three days after the agreement," said aggrieved Hazrat. Hajera, a beggar, expressed anxiety over her Tk 9,000. "What will happen to my money, I have none to lobby for it?"Day labourer Abdul Karim similarly lost Tk 10,400. Many like him gather in front of the closed offices with hopes but return empty-handed.

Rajshahi district (eastern) Jamaat Ameer and BCKS adviser Rejaur Rahman and Rajshahi BCKS president and Jamaat member Hafizur Rahman denied the allegations."We've just closed offices, not fled. We'll return everyone's money by turns," said Hafizur.He pinned the blame on field workers, who, according to him, fled with people's money. Asked if he filed complaint against them, Hafizur said, "No, but I will."However, he didn't go to police until yesterday. "BCKS got Jamaat colour as its officials and employees belong to the party" said Rejaur Rahman.Shah Alam, a BCKS central auditor, said BCKS head office had nothing to do with financial activities of branches, other than providing suggestions. Jamaat Publicity Secretary Tasnim Alam denied the party's link with BCKS. He claimed Islami Chhatra Shibir is also separate from Jamaat. "Shibir is as separate as BCKS until someone forcibly links those with Jamaat. The organisations just have similar ideologies."BCKS president and Jamaat acting ameer Maulana Abul Kalam Muhammad Yousuf repeatedly denied talking on BCKS. "I'm on the move", "I'm ill" or "I'll talk later," he said each time he was contacted.Puthia Upazila Nirbahi Officer Khaled Mamun Chowdhury said he has yet to receive any complaint. "However, hearing from journalists we started looking into BCKS documents and activities last week." Earlier in March, some 30 fraud NGOs swindled about Tk 500 crore taking advantage of lax administration in eight northwestern districts. Those fraud NGO leaders and their abettors have not yet been brought to book.

Building leans as tremor jolts Rajshahi

Haji Bhaban, right, at Masterpara leans on another building following an earthquake that hit Rajshahi on Saturday night. Photo: STAR

A five-storied building leaned on another building while cracks developed on a number of houses following an earthquake that hit Rajshahi and its adjoining areas on Saturday night.The five-storied building owned by an official of Rajshahi City Corporation leaned some three feet onto another building at Masterpara in the city. Besides, many houses at Chhoto Bongram, Seroil, Masterpara and Laxmipur in the city developed cracks.However, no injuries or casualties were reported. The earthquake, measuring 5.1 in the Richter scale, jolted the northwestern region of the country for nearly six seconds from 10.56pm. The epicentre of the quake was recorded at Bishpur of Indian State of Assam, some 290km to the northeast of Dhaka. Witnesses said the tremor was felt strongly in Chapainawabganj, Rajshahi, Natore and Naogaon districts. Panic-stricken people rushed out of their houses and shops during the quake and stayed in open place till the midnight for fear of aftershocks.

appeared in

Sunday, July 6, 2008

5.1 Quake jolts Rajshahi

An earthquake, measuring 5.1 in the Richter scale and with its epicenter in Indian state of Assam jolted the north-western region last night sending a wave of panic among the people in the areas.Chapainawabganj, Rajshahi, Natore, Naogaon were the districts where the quake was felt strongest, said witnesses.

The earthquake sparked panic among people in the areas who rushed out of homes and shops on to the streets as it lasted for some 5 to 7 seconds beginning at 10.56pm.

But there were no reports of casualties or damage from the tremor and its epicenter was recorded 290-km to the north-east from Dhaka at Bispur of Assam, said Metrologist Monirul Islam at Dhaka Met office.

(The epicenter was found at 26 degrees 07.45 minutes north latitude and 91 degrees 39.33 minutes east longitude)

Sensing the "imminent" danger many Muslim people started offering prayers and Hindus started making the Ulu Dhoni.

"It was an awful experience and I didn't felt such jolt and banging in my life", said Shamsul Islam, a 65-year old resident of Kumarpara of Rajshahi. He said, the jolt lasted for at least 10 seconds and all the residents of the area were frightened.