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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Picture of the Week

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Law enforcers sometimes violate human rights: NHRC chief

Some members of the law enforcement agencies in the country sometimes violate human rights, the chairman of National Human Rights Commission alleged on Thursday terming it 'very unfortunate'.

NHRC chairman Justice Amirul Kabir Chowdhury was speaking at a seminar organised by the NHRC at National Economic Council (NEC) auditorium in the capital.

Meanwhile, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed, who was also present at the seminar, said the government will appoint five more members to the commission by this month to make it a fully operative organisation.

The selection board, headed by the speaker of the Parliament, will sit on December 28 or 29 to finalise the appointments, Shafique Ahmed informed the seminar.

With the new appointments, the NHRC will get a full member and four other members, including a representative from the indigenous community along with a woman representative.

The government has formed the commission on September 1 last year to investigate human rights violations and advise the government on the enforcement of international human rights covenants.

Later, Justice Amirul Kabir Chowdhury, also a former judge of the Supreme Court, was appointed the chairman of the NHRC.

Then President Iajuddin Ahmed has given the appointment to him as per recommendation of the selection body.

The commission was approved in principal by the cabinet in December 2007 after years of delay under the BNP-led coalition government.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


People still struggle for living
Mustafizur Rahman and Tapos Kanti Das

Many of the people in the south affected by cyclone Sidr are still struggling to get back to their livelihood and homesteads even two years after the incident as the government and donors are far from keeping their words on survivors' rehabilitation.
   The homeless victims are also worried with the winter closing in as many of them are still living in makeshift houses on roads and embankments, mostly along the coasts in Khulna and Barisal, also battered later by another cyclone.
   Cyclone Sidr pounded the country's south, especially the regions of Khulna and Barisal, on November 15, 2007. Water surges whipped up by cyclone Aila, which crossed the coastline into India on May 25, 2009, also battered the region for the second time.
   'We have completed the rehabilitation of Sidr victims with the funds we have so far received. Sidr has become an old issue for us. We are now working on the rehabilitation of Aila victims,' the food secretary, Md Mokhlesur Rahman, told New Age on Saturday.
   He, however, expressed his ignorance about how much of the assistance pledged by international donor agencies and foreign countries for the rehabilitation of Sidr victims had reached the government.
   Prospects are still bleak for landless farmers, fishermen and day-labourers, who lost their family, homesteads and livelihood to the cyclone, to get back to work for lack of income generating initiatives in the worst-affected areas as many of them had quit their earlier occupation and some had left the areas for other places, including Dhaka, looking for work.
   More than 4,000 people were killed in cyclone Sidr, which affected 30 out of the 64 districts.
   Another 90 lakh people were severely affected in southern districts, including Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Noakhali, Chandpur, Feni, Barisal, Pirojpur, Lakshmipur, Jhalakati, Bhola, Barguna, Patuakhali, Bagerhat, Satkhira and Khulna, according to official records.
   A large number of Sidr survivors in the worst-affected Sarankhola in Bagerhat still continue to suffer as they are yet to rebuild their homesteads. They are now passing their days in utter hardship.
   People of some areas in the upazila are also suffering from shortage of drinking water. They are now drinking water from the River Baleshwar.
   'I am yet to rebuild my house. A large number of people like me are yet to rebuild their houses or get help from any organisations,' said Md Alam at Rayenda in Sarankhola.
   Thirty-year-old Alam told New Age he had lost nine of his family, including his mother, uncle, aunt and cousins, to the cyclone.
   'The shelters provided by relief agencies not like the ones we owned. They are too small [15 feet long and 10 feet wide] to live for more than five people,' said Abdur Rashid of the village who is one of a few lucky men who received a place for housing in which he lives with six of the family.

Old man in the house...!

"How could Rahul Gandhi campaign for an old man?" Akhilesh Yadav, UP MLA. Now I be reading the newspaper every morning, right, and my eyes they see this headline on inside page and me think, how old this man be that Rahul he campaigns for and oh my gosh I hear it be Raj Babbar and he be only fifty seven! Fifty-seven years old and they be calling him old? And in my eye I see good ole Morarji, he be our prime minister once and he be in his eighties and nobody thought him old except maybe the opposition and since the opposition be nearly as old as he be, nobody took notice what they say. And now fifty-seven be thought of as old. And I be wondering how old this young gentleman he want his MLA's to be, not Rahul, but this Akhilesh Yadav? "How old you want your candidate to be, sir?" MLA, "The younger the better! In fact I'd like my son to stand in the next elections!"
"And how old is your son, sir?" MLA, "This be my wife, and you can see that she is…"
"Pregnant?" MLA, "Yes, yes and so in the next elections he will be five years old!" Exclaims, "Five years old!" MLA, "A little too old, isn't it? But what to do, he is due only after these elections and now he'll have to wait, though I hope Rahul doesn't think he be too old to stand!"
"Sir, MLA sahib!" MLA replies, "Yes, yes, what?"
"You don't think five years is a little too young for being an MLA?" MLA asks, "Why you think that way?"
"I was just wondering, if you don't mind sir!" MLA, "Look at me!"
"Yes sir, I am looking!" MLA, "Now look at that little boy there! What he is doing?"
"Throwing stones!" MLA, "He throw stones, I throw mike. He spins top, I spin yarns to my voters. He flies kites I fly plane to Switzerland with my cash. What difference?"
"No difference, sir!" I said and wandered away before the next stone from the little boy hit me. I reached home and switched on the idiot box in time to see slaps being given, insults heard and fists flashing. "What's happening?" I asked. "Fighting in the Assembly!"
I turned to see Rahul behind, "Look at the children fighting!" I said angrily.
The young heir to the PM's throne smiled, "Have patience Bob, now you know why I've sent old man into the House…!"

Dhaka, Nov 15- Leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, including US President Barack Obama, opened the second and last day of annual talks Sunday

In Saturday's talks, the theme of free trade "resonated strongly" among leaders, the Singapore hosts said in a statement.
They "resolved to inject a strong political push" to conclude by the end of 2010 the stalled Doha round of negotiations aimed at dismantling barriers to global trade, the statement said.
"There was a sense of urgency that as negotiations moved into the end-game, strong political will is critical to break the impasse."
The APEC leaders represent more than half the global economy, and some 2.6 billion people stretching from the United States to impoverished Papua New Guinea via China and Chile.
They agreed to pursue efforts towards a massive Pacific-wide free trade area, and welcomed Obama's announcement that the United States will throw its weight behind a small trade pact seen as a nucleus for the wider agreement.
They will also declare that it is too early to end massive stimulus packages implemented to ward off a deeper economic crisis, according to a draft summit communique seen by AFP.
Obama missed Saturday's summit session but joined APEC leaders at their gala dinner in the evening, after concluding a visit to Tokyo.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The need to increase food output

Bangladesh has compelling reasons to increase its food production on a priority basis. The country produces most of its food requirement and imports meet the limited shortfall. It is a delicate balance which, if it tilts negatively due to weather or other unforeseen factors, as it often did in the past, could force greater imports. In a year of higher staple prices, due to global shortages, the situation can get precarious for Bangladesh.
Obviously, it calls for Bangladesh to go on increasing its food grains output. This year's boro rice production shows that it is very much possible for Bangladesh to increase its food grain production. Bangladesh should, in fact, adopt a long-term plan to attain self-sufficiency in food grains. The faster it is done the better. The aim should be to eventually double the output.
Another imperative for Bangladesh to increase its food output is its growing population.
Every year, the country loses nearly 80 thousand hectares of arable land due to river erosion, building of houses and infrastructure. That is, Bangladesh loses one per cent of arable land each year when the demand for food is rising at a rate of 1.4 per cent due to population growth. The mismatch will only worsen in the years to come, unless vigorous steps are taken right now to gradually increase food grain output.
The strategy should be to grow more food from less land, which is very much possible. According to experts, Bangladesh can immediately produce an additional 30 million tonnes of rice by growing high-yielding varieties on 60 per cent of arable land, up from the existing 20 per cent of the area.
Bangladesh should produce and distribute more high-yielding seeds. Out of the current demand for 300,000 tonnes of rice seeds, Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) supplies 80 per cent and the rest 20 per cent is supplied by the private sector. The BADC and the private sector should increase production of high-yielding seeds for distribution to farmers with a view to increasing the acreage of high-yielding rice.
Besides, cropping as a whole in Bangladesh should be modernised for higher productivity. Farmers, in many areas, do it now on their own. But, the required transformation needs official support to benefit the growers throughout the country. Besides, the government should ensure availability of agricultural inputs in time and in adequate quantities to the farmers at affordable prices.

Economic Analysis: Looking East for new directions in trade and industry strategy

Zaidi Sattar

While the streets of Bangladesh are tense and the political stalemate remains unresolved, any thought of new directions in economic strategy might seem quite out of place. Yet, if history is any guide, this cannot be everlasting. A decade or two later, we could reminisce about these days of national discomfort as short-lived episodic hazards of Bangladesh politics raising transaction costs of business. For the present, life has to go on and we will live another day hoping that tomorrow will be a lot better than what it is today.

Meanwhile, the global economy is on the move. Innovation and the process of creative destruction is the order of the day, with new opportunities beckoning entrepreneurs in Bangladesh no less. They can only ignore them at their own peril, something we can all regret later.

One such opportunity is being created by the new somewhat unnoticed trade and industrial revolution that has taken place in our backyard - East Asia. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was East Asia that showed the way to export-led growth for developing countries.

Again, it is East Asia that has emerged as the pioneers in integrating with cross-border production networks and trading in intermediate goods, the fastest growing segment of international trade, making up some 75% of East Asian commodity trade over the past two decades.

Participating in regional or global production networks or trading in intermediate goods has hardly played any role in Bangladesh's industrial evolution. It is therefore high time to reflect and take action before the train leaves the station, as it were.  

After an initial decade of experimentation with import substituting industrialization, Bangladesh did come to terms with export-led growth as a strategy for income and job creation. That has paid huge dividends for the nation and promises to do so in the future.

Export markets are vast, and trade openness - in goods as well as in services - is likely to be the order of the coming decades, what with the rapid spread of automated procedures for movement of goods and services, global integration of production networks, significant reduction of transport costs, and modernization of ports, customs administration, and other trade infrastructure.

Going forward, export markets, rather than the limited domestic economy, will also be the main driver of employment for the vast number of labour force entering the labour market as an offshoot of the demographic transition the country is experiencing.

Though export markets are spread across the globe, bulk of the effective demand for our export products, dominated by readymade garments (RMG), has come from the West, i.e. North America and the European Union (EU). As part of our strategy for geographical diversification of our export markets, it is now time to look eastward where, clearly, there is a growing market for our exports, in India, Japan, China, Australia, S. Korea, and the ASEAN countries en bloc.

However, to make the most of the emerging opportunities, a re-orientation of our approach to trade and industrial policy is critical. Because trade patterns are changing, creating opportunities as well as challenges for Bangladeshi exporters.

The structure and composition of manufacturing is changing with new features and processes replacing old ones. In a fast changing landscape of trade and industry, where will our comparative advantage be in future?

The Industrial Revolution had led to a proliferation of invention in process engineering in manufacturing leading to the "first unbundling" which occurred in the 19th century when the principle of 'division of labour' was applied to assembly lines popularized by Henry Ford in the automobile industry.

 According to research done by UNCTAD-WTO-ERIA (Economic Research Institute of Asean), the "second unbundling" is now in progress giving rise to a new trend in the character of export-led growth. It is the 'unbundling' of production across countries fostered by widespread trade liberalization, advances in information communication technology (ICT), and lower transportation costs. This allows entrepreneurs to 'unpackage' their factories and locate various production stages (tasks) across countries in accordance with each countries' respective comparative advantage.

The fragmentation of production processes across different countries has given rise to global value chains (GVCs) creating opportunities for intra-industry trade globally as well as between contiguous economies within a region. This is the new type of international division of labour, and it turns out that East Asia currently has the most advanced production networks in the world, particularly in electronic and machinery industries.

International trade theory involving transaction costs see "production networks" being feasible only when speed and tight coordination among production blocks are effective through swift service links that ensure quick, high-frequency, synchronized transactions in the manufacturing sector. This is found typically at the regional level such as in East Asia, or potentially in South Asia, rather than globally. This latest configuration of production networks and trade integration inevitably fostered a boom in intermediate goods trade, which has over the years become a major driver of export growth particularly in East Asia and other emerging economies of Asia.

In the 1970s, at a time when developing countries were saddled with non-performing import substituting industries that failed to generate high growth, several East Asian countries (S. Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore) showed the way to prosperity through rapid export-led growth.

In the 21st century once again, East Asian countries, including members of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), are showing the way in exploiting GVCs created by production networks held by multi-national companies (MNCs) from developed as well as developing nations. Thanks to these production networks complimented by high-frequency synchronized trade transactions, trade in intermediate goods has become the fastest growing segment of international trade. Some three-fourths of trade of East Asian countries is in intermediate goods.

The lesson? Capital-strapped developing countries no longer need to invest in huge plants and equipment to produce final goods, but can specialize in the production and trade in parts and components of final goods, all according to each country's comparative advantage.

That scenario seems to fit well with the Bangladesh context characterized by capital scarcity, labour abundance, and the proliferation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the manufacturing and service sectors. The potential is vast but a number of constraints stand in the way.  

First, Bangladesh exports predominantly final goods (98%) and intermediate goods in the export basket are all but absent.

Second, domestic production of import substitutes is concentrated in final consumer goods which receive high tariff protection while intermediate goods production (e.g. light engineering, parts and components of electrical or electronic products) receive little or no protection. Indeed, a review of tariff trends show a secular decline in input tariffs (including those on intermediate goods) undermining any incentive for directing investment in the direction of intermediate goods production. Thus, in the manufacturing sector, effective protection (i.e. policy support) on consumer goods has been rising at the expense of protection on intermediate goods - a clear anti-intermediate goods bias of trade policy.

Third, whereas a lot of policy attention has been focused on developing linkage industries for the RMG sector, with significant positive results, precious little attention has been given to the economy's linkage industries, i.e. intermediate goods industries. Consequently, Bangladesh continues to have a negligible share of intermediate goods in overall manufacturing. Though it has been popular to highlight the dynamism of the small entrepreneurs in the light engineering sector, its profitability under the present tariff regime is low resulting in stunted growth from poor access to institutional finance from the banking sector.

Finally, to exploit GVCs, (a) import-export procedures need to be streamlined in order to ensure high-frequency synchronized transactions within production networks. For this, Bangladesh must fully implement the trade facilitation agenda of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) making effective use of copious resources made available by development partners; and (b) Bangladesh has to invite MNCs by creating a welcoming foreign direct investment (FDI) environment in order to integrate domestic production enterprises with cross-border production networks.

This is a tall order but one that can take Bangladesh to the next level of export-led growth with a diversified export basket that comprises significant share of intermediate goods from a rising competitive and diversified domestic industrial base.

As in the 1970s, East Asia is offering a new model of export-led growth for the world. A number of East Asian developing economies have taken advantage of the mechanics of production networks and have successfully moved up the ladder of industrialization. Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines went through this process by the late 1980s and early 1990s. China accelerated the process of participating in production networks, particularly from 1992. Indonesia, Viet Nam and India began the process in the mid-1990s and 2000s. Cambodia, Lao P.D.R. and Myanmar are now about to jump on the bandwagon. Can Bangladesh afford to be left behind?

The foremost challenge is to redirect industrial and trade strategy to capture the opportunities unfolding in the East. Opportunities beckon, but the challenge is formidable. Bangladesh must move fast in order not to miss the bus.

(Dr. Sattar is Chairman, Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh. Email:

The Financial Express, 23 February 2015

Mamata's goodwill visit

Mahmood Hasan

WEST Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has just concluded her 3-day visit to Dhaka. She came at the invitation of Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali to pay respect to the martyrs of Ekushey February. During her brief stay in the capital she called on President Abdul Hamid, met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and paid tribute to the martyrs at the Central Shaheed Minar.  
Mamata's visit is considered significant for several reasons. She is the chief minister of West Bengal, with which Bangladesh has close affinity. Bangladeshis know Kolkata much better than Delhi. Relations between Dhaka and Delhi depend to a large extent on relations between Bangladesh and neighbouring Indian states. Most of the cross border issues -- trade, water sharing of common rivers,  smuggling, BSF shooting, insurgency etc -- involve these bordering states. Thus, if they are cooperative many of these issues can be easily resolved between Dhaka and Delhi.
Since 2009, with the coming to power of the Awami League government, relations between Dhaka and Delhi witnessed an upturn. However, two long-delayed issues but extremely important to Bangladesh remained unresolved -- the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) and the Treaty on water sharing of Teesta River.
After lengthy and arduous negotiations the LBA was ready for ratification by the Lok Sabha. The Treaty on water sharing was also ready for signing during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka in September 2011. Manmohan Singh's UPA government supported by Trinamool Congress (TMC) was confident that Mamata Banerjee would be on board when concluding the two agreements with Bangladesh.
But Mamata Banerjee, due to internal political expedience, objected to the agreements and refrained from coming to Bangladesh with Manmohan Singh, who was deeply embarrassed. Sheikh Hasina felt let down.
Meanwhile, Narendra Modi's BJP swept into power at the Lok Sabha Elections in 2014, decimating Congress. The change of guards in Delhi was a major setback for Mamata's TMC. BJP immediately focused on how to uproot TMC from West Bengal. It was at that time that Mamata's tune showed signs of change.
Two issues were brought to bear on TMC. First was the scandal related to the Saradha chit fund, in which several top ranking TMC MPs and ministers were alleged to be involved. The second was the bomb blast in Burdwan. BJP accused Mamata of not giving priority to security issues and for giving sanctuary to Islamic fundamentalists.
The changed political scenario has put Mamata under tremendous pressure from BJP and CPI (M). Already there have been defections from TMC to BJP.  The electorate in West Bengal is said to be rejecting the Left Front and opting for BJP as the opposition to TMC. Mamata's political future will face serious challenge at the West Bengal Assembly elections in 2016. She is desperately trying to lift her sagging popularity.
Thus, internal political imperatives have forced Mamata to change her stance on the LBA and the Teesta Treaty. TMC has withdrawn its opposition to the LBA and the related bill is expected to be passed by the Lok Sabha at its next session. Mamata has asked for funds from Delhi for rehabilitating the people of the enclaves.
As for the Teesta Treaty, Mamata has asked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to have “trust” in her. The Treaty has already been initialed by the two countries, awaiting formal signature. What exactly will be the share for Bangladesh will not be known until the Treaty is made public. Presently, the flow of Teesta in Kurigram in Bangladesh is so low that it is clear that India has been withdrawing massive quantum of water from the upstream of the river.
It is clear that Mamata Banerjee, as chief minister of a state, cannot promise anything on a Central government subject. But she can, and she has in the past, thrown a spanner on a bilateral issue.
Sharing of water of common rivers will remain contentious between Bangladesh and India, primarily because demand for water will keep increasing with each passing year. Experts say that both Bangladesh and India can get the benefits of common rivers if cross border water management projects are undertaken by both.
In a sense Mamata has probably made Delhi's position rather tricky on this issue. Can Prime Minister Narendra Modi backtrack on the promises he made to Sheikh Hasina at Kathmandu during the Saarc summit last November? There are unconfirmed reports that Modi may visit Bangladesh on March 26, 2015 to attend the Independence Day celebrations.
Accompanied by a large cultural delegation, Mamata's visit was in fact a public relations exercise to prop up her image in West Bengal. She has offered to set up a “Bangabandhu Chair” in Kolkata University and construct a “Bangabandhu Bhaban” in Kolkata. She also invited Shiekh Hasina to Kolkata. Mamata also wanted closer cultural ties between West Bengal and Bangladesh. She emphasised the need for more trade between Bangladesh and India.
Mamata visited Dhaka at a time when the Bangladesh polity is deeply fractured. A disunited nation cannot expect benefits from other nations. The current political turmoil in Bangladesh may give Delhi excuses to delay the signing of the two important agreements.  
Thus, though Mamata Banerjee has radiated all the positive vibes before departing from Dhaka, her goodwill may not be translated into reality anytime soon.
The writer is former Ambassador and Secretary.

The Daily Star, 23 February 2015

Saturday, October 31, 2009

2 killed, 100 hurt as police fire into RMG workers in Bangladesh

Two people were killed as the police fired into garment factory workers rallying for pay unpaid for three months at Ershadnagar in Gazpur on Saturday. More than a hundred, including law enforcers, were injured.
The killing and the firing into the workers of the Nippon Garments Industry Limited, who had blocked the Dhaka–Mymensingh Road for about four hours, led to further clashes between the workers and the lawmen in the Tongi Industrial Area.
The Tongi police officer-in-charge, Tapan Chandra Saha, late Saturday night confirmed the death of two — a rickshaw-van puller and an unnamed pedestrian.
According to spot accounts, the police charged with truncheons at the workers who blocked the highway to push for their pay for three months in arrears. As the clash began, the lawmen fired gunshots, rubber bullets and teargas shells into the workers.
Vehicles remained stuck spanning 10 kilometres on both ends of the road stretch.
The workers, however, claimed four of their fellows were killed in the police firing. They alleged the police had taken away the bodies, but the local administration brushed aside any such allegation of taking away any bodies.
Witnesses said the deceased were rickshaw-van puller Mohammad Babul Sheikh, 35, and an unnamed pedestrian aged about 45 years.
Witnesses and local residents said several hundred workers of the garment factory, located near the Ershadnagar bus stand went to work about 7:30am, but the authorities with the help of the police stopped them from entering the factory.
The workers then went out on demonstrations and the authorities pasted a notice on the main gate announce a lay-off at the factory till November 29. The notice further said salaries would be paid on November 10.
The workers immediately took to the streets and blocked the Dhaka–Mymensingh Highway about 8:15am.
As the police charged at them with truncheons, the workers pelted the lawmen with stones, which led to a series of clashes.
They damaged the glasses and windowpanes of at least 50 vehicles stranded on both ends of the road stretch and set fire to a bus used to carry workers and a motorcycle parked in front of the factory.
The workers took control of the Nippon Garments Industry premises and kept clashing with the lawmen in several small groups.
The Gazipur police superintendent, Mahfuzul Haque Nuruzzaman, in the afternoon said, ‘We reinforced police deployment inside the factory Friday night as requested by the garment factory management.’
The workers alleged the owner had announced the lay-off after the police deployment without any notice and without paying their salary in arrears.
Rabeya, a worker of the factory, said, ‘The police beat us ruthlessly and assaulted female workers by confining them to the factory premises.’
The situation eased a bit at 11:30am after the deployment of additional police and Rapid Action Battalion personnel at the spot. But sporadic clashes continued as the rumour that four of the workers were killed in police firing spread.
Rokhsana Begum, a worker of the factory, said, ‘My husband was killed in the police firing. He was coming to take me back home from the factory after he heard of the clash.’
Several thousand workers then gathered again on the road and clashed with the police, deployed there from Friday night.
They became angry hearing that the police were trying to take away the bodies of the people killed in the firing.
Personnel of the police, Riot Police, Ansars and the Rapid Action Battalion again fired gunshots and teargas shells to disperse the workers.
Many were injured with the bullets and truncheons. A place inside the factory was stained with blood and there was a piece of brain, which the workers believed was of a worker who was killed the firing.
‘We fired gunshots to control the situation,’ said a policeman on the spot.
Once the situation calmed down, about 1:30pm, some people in the area started looking for people who they said had been missing since the clash began.
The injured were admitted to Gazipur General Hospital, Dhaka Medical College Hospital and other local clinics.
The inspector general of police, Nur Mohamamd, and the Rapid Action Battalion director general, Khandaker Hassan Mahmood, visited the spot.
Local lawmaker Zahid Hasan Russel and Tongi municipal mayor Azmatullah also visited the place.
A tense situation was prevailing in the area and a huge number of policemen were deployed in and outside the factory to stave of further troubles.
The incident took place a day before the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association holds Batexpo garment workers’ fair ’09 at the Bir Shreshtha Shaheed Sipahi Mohammad Mostafa Kamal Stadium at Kamalapur in Dhaka today.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Picture of the week

Power crisis, solar panels and CFLs

THE power crisis has been a sore point for past and incumbent governments. For, it is dealing a crippling blow to the economy and giving rise to serious resentment among all sections of the society. Entrepreneurs, local and foreign, are deciding against new investments, particularly in the manufacturing sector, because of power shortage. And the sufferings of the existing industrial units has reached its peak because of frequent load shedding. Many large and medium manufacturing and commercial units have installed their own captive power generators, leading to a rise in their cost of operations.
Since the incumbent government's coming to power, a flurry of activities has been noted in the power ministry to beef up power production. Side by side with efforts to woo foreign and local investors for building a good number of large power plants, the government has completed formalities required to invite bids for setting up a few rental power plants to, partially, manage the power shortage in the short-term. The power ministry, reportedly, is planning to organise road shows in some of the world's major cities with a view to attracting renowned international power companies to build, at least, five independent power plants at an estimated cost of US$ 1.0 billion and generate over 1300 megawatt of electricity.
There is no denying that the government is serious about resolving the nagging power crisis. Though there would be an option to run, at least, two of the proposed power plants with furnace oil, the large power plants would have to be fed by a cheap energy source, natural gas. So, without receiving a guarantee about uninterrupted supply of gas, not many foreign investors would be interested to put in their money in new power plants in Bangladesh. It remains a puzzle how the government would provide guarantee to this effect when many industries have gone out of operation because of the non-availability of gas. Failing to get adequate gas supply for the last six months, the management of the Monno Fabrics Ltd. in Manikganj, one of the largest textile units in the country, laid off its workers from October 22 last. However, there could be improvement in the supply situation if the Chevron's reassessment of the gas reserve of the Bibiyana field was found to be genuine. A foreign firm engaged by the Chevron has reported the existence of more than double the size of recoverable gas reserve estimated earlier. The Petrobangla is now reviewing the report.
While doing all the necessary exercises to generate more power using the conventional methods, the government does also need to explore the possibility of exploiting other renewable energy sources for power generation and saving the power now in use. Solar power though becoming popular in some selected rural areas of the country is yet to get the much-needed official patronisation. An adviser to the Prime Minister, last Sunday disclosed that all government buildings in Dhaka would be fitted with their own solar panels to help ease the power crisis. He, however, did not elaborate. If implemented, it would, surely, be a good move. But what is more important is the financial support from the government to those who are willing to set up solar panels at their homes and establishments.

For instance, China is now producing 820 megawatt using solar power and expects to reach 20 gigawatt (GW) by 2020. The Chinese government would be subsidising half of the total construction costs of solar power plants. The Indian government with support from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) is providing cheap loans through banks to individuals installing solar panels on their rooftops. While extending similar support to ensure wider use of solar panels, the government should implement with due seriousness the distribution of 10 million energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) free of cost among the power users by February next. The World Bank-supported programme, designed to replace an equivalent number of incandescent lamps, is expected to save about 360 megawatt of power that would help meet additional demand for power during the coming Boro season.

Deep-seated discrimination and mistaken identity

It seems that all the difference has been due to the fact that Masum happens to be a journalist and not just another Joe on the street. Surely, the home minister would not have visited Masum in the hospital had he been simply another citizen of Bangladesh who might have suffered the same indignity and had worse injuries… it appears that the sense that some people are more equal than others has become entrenched the

Rapid Action Battalion reportedly stated that a marked criminal by the name of Kamrul Islam Bappi had died during a gunfight between the crime fighting unit and criminals. This Kamrul Islam Bappi who supposedly took bullet injuries during the skirmish was an abettor of the Jishan Gang, alleged the battalion on September 9. But Bappi’s family members were aghast when they came to know. Their Bappi, one Kaisar Mahmud Bappi, did not return home when he left home after iftar on the evening of September 9. According to a report in the Bangla daily Prothom Alo, as the entire family became worried later, Bappi’s friends called them saying they had seen their friend’s body in the morgue on television. It was there at the morgue during identification that the relatives found out that the name on the post mortem report was different. The police told them Kaisar Mahmud could well have been an alias used by Kamrul Islam, who alleged he was a notorious criminal and had died during a shootout with the battalion.
More than a month and a half later Bappi’s family held a press conference where his relatives said he was not the alleged criminal, the report said. Apparently, the dead Bappi had graduated in commerce and was looking for a job and did not have a criminal record. His relatives also showed his academic certificates to prove that his name was indeed different from the one that the Rapid Action Battalion had presumed it to be. Bappi’s mother reportedly lamented at the press conference that she could accept that her son had been killed, but now she would also have to reconcile with the fact that her family would now be branded as that of a criminal’s. There is clearly a very good chance of mistaken identity. The report also quotes the battalion chief saying that if there was indeed any wrongful act, there would certainly be action according to the law.
This shows that the elite crime fighting force could, in fact, take someone in custody without being sure of the identity. One should not allege that the battalion actually shot and killed Bappi because one cannot quite prove that. But ‘crossfire’ as they call them has come to be widely perceived as a synonym for ‘murder in custody’. And the perception is not quite baseless either. These deaths, and so far there have been hundreds, have all been preceded by uncannily unique and similar chain of events according to the official press releases that followed. The chances of such coincidence are so slim that they are quite impossible to happen in reality and thus the general perception that crossfire is synonymous to murder by the state.
Although a number of law enforcement agencies have engaged in such practices, the primary tool to carry out crossfire has been the Rapid Action Battalion, formed as a hybrid force drawing personnel from all the defence and security agencies including the police, military and paramilitary forces. So far, since July 2004 there have been 1,161 deaths in ‘crossfire’, 116 since the current government took office in January. Whether there were other cases of mistaken identity like that of Bappi is a matter of conjecture, and the answer to such a question from this elite crime fighting force would be similar to the one in the case of Bappi.
But this is not to say that it would have been alright to kill the other Bappi, who was allegedly a criminal, since his crime was not proven in a court of law. And the state minister for home affairs said as much when he tried to defend crossfire, saying that there were certain things that had to be done in this manner because of the overall situation of the country. However, extrajudicial killings cannot be termed as justice delivery simply because they were carried out by uniformed men hired by the state and not by a radical acting against the state. They are both committing murders. However, when the state provides a certain agency such a licence to kill, it begins to gain a sense of impunity and acts as if its actions are not within the ambit of the laws of the land. It would be a natural progression.
Thus, the Rapid Action Battalion’s officer was not at all acting out of character when he tortured FM Masum, a junior staff reporter of New Age. But this was no case of mistaken identity. His beatings continued well after Masum had been able to disclose his identity in between blows. The similarity with Bappi was probably that Masum happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. It appears that is all the difference between life and ‘crossfire’, indignity and freedom. It is highly unlikely that this is the first time that any officer of the battalion has beaten up someone innocent for no reason and then detained that person without solid grounds for suspicion at the battalion’s offices for over ten hours. It is also very likely that this very officer has before this acted in a similar fashion that should have indicated an undesirable streak in him.
Perhaps quite like Bappi’s death, the previous incidents were overlooked as there was no hue and cry. There were no such press releases of rights groups at home and abroad demanding justice, the media had hardly paid attention on the previous occasion, and surely this would be one of the instances that the home minister and her state minister visited a torture victim.
But even there, when she visited the hospital, there were no assurance that the officer would be punished but only similar pronouncement that proper punishment would meted out if there has been any wrongdoing, as if she were not aware at that time that the Rapid Action Battalion itself had issued a statement regretting the incident and apologising for the untoward incident. When the institution itself has admitted its wrongdoing the minister still seems bent to stand by it. On the other hand, all that the battalion can do is withdraw the individual from active duty and send them back to their original unit where perpetrators of injustice would be able to continue with their jobs. That, however, is hardly any punishment for killing someone, or even beating up an innocent citizen.
It seems that all the difference at this instance has been due to the fact that Masum happens to be a journalist and not just another Joe on the street. Surely, the home minister would not have visited Masum in the hospital had he been simply another citizen of Bangladesh, who might have suffered the same indignity and had worse injuries. It is true that repression of journalists is considered a grave crime by a government that claims to have a democratic dispensation and so there is always much hue and cry. But it appears that the sense that some people are more equal than others has become entrenched. It has become so entrenched that even the victims do not question such open discrimination against an ordinary citizen and the topic is not even broached in any form. This Awami League government, however, is expected to usher in times of change. It is also expected to uphold the spirit of equality of every citizen. But the home minister would hardly be able to make time to visit Bappi’s family for instance. They are less equal.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Not so Good

KEPZ couldn't start fully in 17 years Land transfer deed yet to be complete; row with DoE over clearance for developing industrial plots

Sharier Khan

Due to unexplainable hindrance from the government, the Korean Export Processing Zone (KEPZ) in Chittagong could not launch full swing operations even 17 years after the initiative.
KEPZ officials said even though the government handed over land for the zone in 1999 and issued operational licence in 2007, it has not completed the deed of transfer of land. As a result, it cannot lease out industrial plots to potential investors.
On top of that, the Department of Environment (DoE) on January 22 halted land development in the hilly zone on the Karnaphuli saying that hill cutting violates the clearance DoE gave to KEPZ. In a notice in early February it said the land was not being developed as per the approval. It had approved hill “dressing” not hill cutting.
In reply, the KEPZ argued that the DoE clearance gave KEPZ a contour map allowing it to develop the 2,500 acres in different segments, by trimming the hills and filling up ditches. The KEPZ denies having violated any part of the clearance.
The KEPZ added that it was strictly following the DoE environmental clearance and if the DoE sees anything wrong then it was the clearance itself to blame, not KEPZ.
Upon hearing KEPZ's argument on March 7, the DoE took a few days' time to decide its next course of action. Sources said the DoE was considering deployment of a third party surveyor to see if KEPZ violated the clearance.
“Should we refrain from touching the hills, then all we can develop here is a cottage industry, not export-oriented industries,” says Adviser to KEPZ Mohammad Hasan Nasir drawing attention to the hilly landscape of the area.
The KEPZ is also troubled by National Revenue Board's withdrawal of 10-year tax holiday for all EPZs.
Korean company Youngone, which owns the KEPZ, is now running the first phase of a massive shoe factory on 3.72 lakh square foot area. Three more units of such size were being implemented.
It has developed 300 acres of industrial plots, 22km of internal road network, a dormitory for foreign investors and expatriate staff. Development of another 300 acres of industrial plots and 10km of roads were also underway.
“This hilly land was barren, dry and it used to be the den of smugglers and pirates,” noted Nasir.
After developing the area with a budget of $200 million, this same area has now become lush green with many lakes, which serve as the water source for the vegetation, he said. When fully operational, the KEPZ would have 500 industrial units, with $1 billion investment and employ around 100,000 people directly and another 200,000 indirectly.
But different governments coming up with hurdles were holding the KEPZ back, he said.
In 1995, the-then BNP government led by Khaleda Zia signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korea to set up the Korean Export Processing Zone. The following year, the then Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina framed a new law to allow operation of private EPZs. In 1999, the government handed over 2,500 acres of land to Korean company Youngone to develop the EPZ.
But Youngone could not open the zone as the BNP-led alliance government assuming power in 2001 declined to give it operating licence without mentioning any explicit reason. In September 2006, just before quitting power, the BNP government conditionally issued a licence, which the KEPZ authorities deemed unacceptable.
The last caretaker government re-issued the licence as per the private EPZ law. But even that did not end the ordeal KEPZ had to go through.
“For an EPZ to develop and become operational, it needs four essential clearances: operational licence, environment clearance, Customs SRO (Statutory Regulatory Order) and deed of transfer of land,” said KEPZ President Jahangir Sadat, adding, “Without solving these issues, the KEPZ cannot perform.”

The DoE suspended the KEPZ's development work on the grounds of violating its environment clearance. The DoE had issued the clearance after seven years of exercise.

The KEPZ had hired its own consultant to prepare an environment impact assessment study in 2002 and submitted the report to DoE in 2003. The DoE took a long time to review the study and in 2007 it dismissed the study and asked KEPZ to prepare a detailed study through the Centre for Environmental and Geographical Information Services (CEGIS) under the Water Resources Ministry.
Two years later, CEGIS completed the study and the government approved it in 2009. The study gave a land development plan in which the area would be developed in nine different elevations, ranging from six metres to 30 metres. The plan also showed areas where the original elevation would not be changed.
The development plan was used as a guide by the KEPZ authorities for the last two years to streamline the hills and ditches and convert certain areas suitable for industrial installations.
In January, the DoE suddenly stopped the development work saying that the KEPZ was cutting hills with excavators and had removed 40,000 cubic feet of earth from 40-50 foot high afforested hills, damaging the environment.
In the notice to the KEPZ (written in English), the DoE said, “There was no permission for cutting of hills in the first Environment Clearance Certificate issued by the DoE on 23-11-2009. There is permission only for dressing of hills.”
In response the KEPZ said the DoE's 2009 clearance, issued in Bangla, clearly stated that the KEPZ was allowed to remove or cut hills as per the land development plan in the environment impact assessment and forbids anything outside that plan. They were just following the plan, the KEPZ said.
The KEPZ officials also argued that the 2009 clearance used the Bangla word “mochon” in dealing with hills. The meaning of the word is unambiguously “removal”, but now the DoE is using the word “dressing”.
“We are now waiting for the DoE to clear this issue,” said Jahangir Sadat, adding, “We are not at fault because we were following the law. If there was anything wrong, then it has to be the environment clearance itself.” 

Source: The Daily Star, 25 March 2012

Help me Lion


Monday, October 26, 2009

Whither a 'strong Bangladesh' and the missing middle-class?

Mahfuz Kabir

In his State of the Union Address 2015, President Barack Obama urged building of a 'Strong America.' He affirmed: “This country does the best when everyone gets their fair share, everyone plays by the same set of rules. Everyone needs to contribute to the country's success.” His 'mantra' of middle class economics seemed to be working as per the statistics presented in the address. It is indeed a contradiction of Kuznets' hypothesis that the income inequality tends to decrease if income per capita increases. Indeed, global income inequality has been mounting in a never ending process that cannot be reversed automatically through increasing income; it has to be tamed through invigorating something like middle-class economics.
In a report titled “Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More,” Oxfam mentioned that only 85 individuals possessed wealth equivalent to that of half of the world's population. Now, 1% of the world population has 48% of world income, which will be 50% by 2016 as per projection. Income gap between women and men has also been widening sharply. Such extreme economic inequality is a stumbling block in alleviation of global poverty.
Even though recent World Bank estimates provide conservative figures of income inequality, national reports paint a dismal picture. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics reports Gini index of income inequality to be 45.8 in 2010, which was 46.7 in 2005. That means, annual rate of reduction of inequality was a minuscule 0.18 percentage point even though macroeconomic and development policies were claimed to be pro-poor in nature. With the same database the World Bank's conservative estimate of Gini index is only 32.1. If Bangladesh's estimate is taken as baseline, the distribution of global inequality would reveal a much worse scenario.
The gap between income group at the bottom (lowest 5%) and their richest counterpart (top 5%) is extremely high; the correspondent figures were 0.78 and 24.61%, respectively in 2010. Top 10% households had as high as 35.9%, while their corresponding bottom households had only 2% share in total income. World Bank had conservative estimates of these numbers too, but the huge disparity is quite vivid across the world. Even Sweden, one of the most equalising countries, could not bring income of top 10% households to 20%. The income of bottom 10% also does not make a difference as it is 3.8% of its total income.  
In response to Oxfam's report, Bill Gates responds quite correctly that market economy creates space for abnormal extraction of income ('high success,' in his words) of a few people. However, his solution to the problem is 'charity' as he believes that “philanthropy is part of how we deal with those inequities.” Now a million-dollar question to the multi-billionaire: what do statistics tell about this claim? They show that charitable spending is high in the countries with high inequality.
In his address, Obama emphasised that many corporations give low to no tax and he wanted to bring them in the tax net for spending on the middle-class. Areas of increased spending would be, among others, on helping middle-class families, childcare, schooling, retirement benefit, and community college from where 40% of the graduates would be from the US. At the same time he made a commitment to develop a competitive economy, promote smart leadership and invest on quality infrastructure. This is the essence of middle-class economics for a 'strong America.' Indeed, middle-class is the bearer of social values, creativity and strength of the society. They also have been instrumental in driving civilisations as Arnold Toynbee mentioned in A Study of History.
Is there a middle-class economics in Bangladesh? Do we have strong commitment of public spending on and redistributive priority for the middle-class? During his last visit to Bangladesh, Professor Nurul Islam urged crafting of a strong, educated and hardworking middle-class for intellectual development, creativity and driving the society. Bangladeshi middle-class has been struggling and decaying between 'ends and scarce means.' In the last decade, we promoted pro-poor growth; we changed it to inclusive growth and shared prosperity for this decade to become a middle-income country, maybe without adherence to the needs of the middle-class.
The dream of an American lies in the middle-class economics for a strong America. Conversely, the dream of a strong Bangladesh dries in the desert of diminishing middle-class aspirations. Indeed, the middle-class helped the formation of Bengali nationalism, and was at the forefront in the War of Liberation. They have been forgotten since the third five-year plan and thus have become a real 'missing middle.' The seventh five-year plan is currently being prepared. It is now imperative to place strategies and policy priorities for invigorating them again, fulfilling their hopes and desires.  
The writer is an Economist and Senior Research Fellow, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS).

The Daily Star, 27 January 2015

Short Story: Lovers' mistakes

I met her at a party. She was only eighteen, and had just started her first year at the university. I was a senior, a communications/journalism major, working two jobs to help pay the bills. I was staying with my parents in Uttora and while they paid for my tuition and books, all other expenses, including transportation, meals, and other incidentals, came out of my pocket. I did not have time to party much, but when my classmate Sharmila invited me to her birthday party, I accepted. It was there that I met Nora.
“Hey, Abu, I want you to meet Nora, my neighbor. She just started university and is fun to be with!” said Sharmila by way of introduction.
I stood there uncomfortably, trying not to look directly at Nora, while Sharmila did the introductions and then the two of them proceeded to engage in small talk. I felt awkward not knowing whether they were ignoring me, but I did not want to walk away from them without saying “Hello” to Nora. So I continued to pretend that I was part of their conversation and was enjoying their discussion of Hindi movies. I could sense that Nora was just as bemused, and I even imagined that she might be itching to break away from this long discussion about Hindi movies, which I knew was Sharmila's addiction, but she just had to go along with the flow in deference to the host. Finally, when Sharmila paused for a second, Nora turned to me and said, “Hi!”
“Kemon achho”, I said in Bengali. She had an innocent charm about her that was very appealing, and in her voice, I felt genuineness even when she first greeted me. We talked a little bit about school, her career interest, which happened to be diplomacy, and then music. I knew (or just guessed) that she was a singer, and she was. She went to Chhayanaut, and sang Nazrul Geeti. “Wow”, I said to myself. I knew nothing about Nazrul Geeti, except that some of them had a classical arrangement.
The party went on past 10 o'clock, and I stayed until the end. I ran into Nora a couple more times at the party that evening, and we even had a dance together. I was not much of a dancer but when I saw all my classmates were having a good time on the floor, I also waded in and found Nora who said yes when I asked her for a number.
Two days later, I saw Nora at the university, and this time I approached her as she was getting off the car at the front entrance.
“Hi, Nora. Do you remember me?”
“Of course, I do. You like Tagore songs and work as a journalist.” I was pleasantly surprised that she remembered those little details about me from a few minutes' encounter at Sharmila's party. However, I also felt thrilled that she had paid attention to my hobbies and interests and did not hesitate to let me know that she did not forget about things that I have shared with her at our first casual encounter.
She was wearing a shalwar kameez, and looked very different from the Nora I saw at the party. I felt a tug deep inside my heart, and knew that I had to show her that I was also interested. So, I said, a little hesitatingly,
“Do you mind if I walk you up to your class?” “Oh no, not at all,” she said in her sparkling voice. “And actually, my class does not start until another hour. So I am in no hurry.”

Her frankness put me at ease, and we decided to go to the canteen on the sixth floor. We found a corner table and talked about all sorts of things over coffee and sandwich.
I started enjoying the way she talked. She had a very rhythmic and musical tone, and an easygoing style. Unlike my other friends, she never disagreed with anything I said, either about pop culture, international affairs, social taboos, or what have you. I wasn't sure if she just was being polite, wanted to be nice to me, or that was her real nature. But I liked talking with her. Soon we were meeting on a regular basis before and after her classes, and hanging out together a lot. Even though we tried to meet at parks and other locations out of sight of our friends and classmates, pretty soon they knew about us and would leave us alone whenever they saw us chatting in the cafeteria corner.
Our best times were near the lake where I'd ask her to sing. She had the most beautiful voice, and I felt very thrilled that she was singing at my request. Her favorite song was Anjali Loho More, a Nazrul Geeti, and Amio Srabon Hoye, an old song from the 70s. I would just be floating with the clouds since not only did her voice soothe my nerves, but also knowing that I was with someone who was as passionate about music as I was, even if of different genres. My favourite singers were Srikanto, Jorasanko, and Subhomita. I'd sometimes hum their tunes, but often thought I had failed to impress Nora with my skills in the vocal department. Occasionally, she'd also tease me about my choice of songs and artistes, a ploy I later learned was often only to get me into a chatty mood. She once said,
“I don't know how you can worship Srikanto. I think he does not have the depth, and his voice is kind of flaky. If I get a chance to go and study at Shantiniketan, I'd like to sit down next to Aurobindo and learn from him.”
I try to stay calm knowing she was teasing me, and just played the game. “But did you hear Srikanto sing one of my favorites, ami chonchol hey? I bet if you listen to his rendition and compare it to Debobroto's or Mohiuzzaman's, you'll reconsider your low esteem for Srikanto's musical talents”.
Nevertheless, Nora liked it every time I sang amar praaner porey choley gelo ke. She'd just sit there motionless, without any comments, or any expression on her face, and allow me to finish the song, which took me a full five minutes. I never told her that it was my feeling that came out through that song. “A thousand flowers bloom when she comes” (phool phutiyey gelo shoto shoto). But that did not stop me from believing that she knew the song was written for me to express how I felt about her.
On my mp3 player, I'd carry some of these tunes and let her listen to them while we were together. But I failed to change her mind about these artistes and their repertoire. Basically, our quarrels always centered around our choices of artistes and songs. She'd interpret a song one way and I'd do it differently, and vice versa. And we did so endlessly, and she never seemed to get tired of our verbal swings at each other's favourites.
But these differences did not matter to me and I was in the seventh heaven. I was thinking about finishing my studies, and getting a full time job. For the first time in my life, I was able to see the road ahead clearly, and think about what I need to do to build a career.
Being with Nora made me feel good. My friends were constantly teasing me for going out with a first year student. Once my friend Shamim, trying to defend me, said, “Premey mojiley mone, kiba hari, kiba dome”. I took exception to this characterization, and jumped at him “Shala, is Nora a dome? I'll tell her what you think of her”. “Oh, no! Please don't, I can't face her wrath.”

Of course, I would not tell her. To shield her from my friends' jokes and other jabs, she and I would go out whenever I had the car, and sit beside the lake. Our favorite was always Ashulia, and Nora and I spent quite a few afternoons on a bench facing the vast expanse of open water. But we also spent a lot of time in empty classrooms or just talk on the phone.
She got me to use the SMS. At night, while I would be studying for an exam or hunched over the computer, she'd text me, “Don't study too hard”. Or, “please don't forget 10 oclock tmrw”. I had to work hard to learn her vocabulary.
As my final exams drew closer, I was spending more time in the library or at home studying, and could not meet with her as often. I was feeling envious of her friends and my friends who saw her more regularly than I, and going to movies or spending time together. I could not tell her that I was jealous. After all, even though we were close, nothing forbid her from seeing or talking with others, I reasoned. She knew that and sometimes I felt she was trying to make me jealous. When she'd talk about her young teachers or other friends in glowing terms, or praise their look or style, I always felt a little pain.
Soon, my final exams were over, and I was working on a couple of papers that I had sought an extension for. One evening, I went to a wedding. Some of my friends and I were hanging out at the entrance just chatting away and waiting for the groom's motorcade to arrive. I spotted Nora from a distance, and I had not seen her almost two weeks. My heart raced fast at her sight, and I was looking for an excuse to break away from my friends to go and talk to her. I could not take my eyes off of hershe was wearing a magenta saree with matching ornaments and accessories. She looked very mature, and, almost “dulhanish”, as if ready for her own transition along the path of matrimony. She finally spotted me with my friends and approached us.
“Hi Nora, look at you”, I said first.
“Look at you too! Why didn't you tell me that you were coming to this wedding?”
“How would I have known that you were coming here too?
“Well I thought you were too busy studying. Now I know what you were studying. Other girls!”
I was a little surprised that she decided to bring up other girls. I was not sure if she was just teasing or was showing jealousy. Soon the conversation turned to other things, and my friends joined in. Nora became the center of attraction and my friends were competing with each other to talk to her. Pretty soon, I felt left out, and every time I tried to rejoin the “chat room”, as it were, someone would cut me off, and try to grab her attention. I felt a little piqued and as the conversation drifted I was almost an observer. I was also feeing very empty inside, and could not reconcile that Nora, my steady girl friend, was giving all her attention to my friends, and almost ignoring me who had not seen her for more than two weeks. Soon the call for dinner came and we all split up and I just had my dinner and left.
The next day she texted, “Hi didn't see u after dinner. Where did u go”. Her text stirred up my bad feelings from last night and I did not text her back. She also left me a voice mail message and I ignored that too. I tried to bury myself in the papers that I had to finish. I ignored two more text messages from Nora the next day. One said, “Why are you ignoring me?” I could not tell her that I was too hurt to reply, or call back.

A month passed by and I was waiting for my final graduation. I had a job offer but was not sure whether to take that offer or look for more jobs. I also had filled out the forms for the Civil Service exams, and started getting mentally ready for it. But, I was missing Nora, and wanted to just hear her sing one last time.
It was a Sunday night and I had come back home from a concert by Saadi Muhammed. I had met Saadi Bhai when he had come to visit the University during our Cultural Week at the invitation of Shama Madam. During that visit, he offered two classes and we learned a few Tagore songs from him. During the concert, I requested him to sing “Amar praner porey” and soon as he started, I felt very lovesick. After the concert, we just stayed and chatted a little. It was past midnight. I came home and was just checking my emails when I saw some news about the University, and the beginning of a new semester. Nora was probably going back to school, I said to myself. I decided to pick up my mobile and texted,
“Hi Nora, r u going to U tmrw”
Within seconds came the reply, “At 10. r u coming”
“love 2”
“luv u”, was her reply in text.