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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.