Bangladesh is not opposed to providing transit facilities. to India, even many of its critics here say, but the way the government is moving in extraordinary hurry without caring for people's consensus and undertaking appropriate exercises on fixation of fees to be levied on various services may cause perplexity. This may lead to critical misgivings sharpening the country' s political divide in one hand while contributing to more misunderstanding with India on the other. Economist Dr. Debapriya Bhattachariya, fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), recently observed that the country is not ready for providing transit facilities in the first place because of lack of necessary infrastructure facilities. Besides, agreeing to any rate on Indian terms without undertaking proper exercise would be suicidal to the nation. He suggested adequate preparation is necessary before entering into any deal on service rates. But the government leaders have quickly dismissed the proposition, saying neither India nor Bangladesh can wait any more. They say transit for India through Bangladesh will introduce a new level of business to accelerate the pace of economic prosperity and those opposed to it are focused only on creating trouble using it as a political tool. Gawhar Rizvi, Foreign Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister, last week made the above statement at a seminar at Jatiya Press Club and hoped it will establish Bangladesh as a regional business hub. He further said that the government is taking all preparations to sign and seal a deal on fixation of various rates on transit facilities during the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's forthcoming Dhaka visit. He said forty years have passed since Bangladesh became independent "and we can not wait further to establish the Indian connectivity. It would open up a wider scope of greater regional connectivity of Bangladesh to Nepal, Bhutan and other countries beyond the region." Rizvi blamed narrow mindedness as a factor which delayed the opening of the country to Indian transportation of goods and passengers. However, political analysts wonder who Dr Rizvi is as he is dealing with such sensitive issue while the people and the media do not have any idea about him and the deal that Dhaka is going to sign with the Indian prime minister. The government has to come out with the details of the deal and try to reach a national consensus. They also feel that before he makes public comments on national issues he has to establish his credential as a patriot and has the country's interest in his heart. He is a foreign national and is working on contract and would return once he finishes his job. Rizvi opened the delivery saying, "Assalamu Alaikum and Nomoskar. " He dismissed the claim that the government is giving a corridor facility to India in the name of transit. To a questioner--who asked why Dhaka has to scrap a circular issued on realizing transit fee-- Rizvi said, "India has not refused to pay it, they will pay what we will demand based on certain calculation." Rizvi said the fixation of any rate should also take into account the market factor and the business volume. "We must keep it reasonable to entice them to use the facility. We may demand anything but they may have their own calculation." Rizvi said it is not fair to demand equal sharing of money to be saved from shortcut transit route. "Such argument will only reflect the narrow mindset to create trouble in the process", he said, adding that Suez canal authority never make a point to shipping companies saying "you are saving so much by avoiding long shipping routes and so you should agree to equal sharing of the saving." To a question why we are in a haste to sign a deal without enough exercise on different issues, he said the contrary has already passed 40 years and the waiting should be no more. TC Chairman Tariff Commission (TC) Chairman Dr Mujibur Rahman, who lost job during the previous BNP government for taking part in open electioneering campaign of 2001 for Awami League (AL) and restored to service again this time on the AL's return to power, said it is not fair to relate recovery of transit- related infrastructure investment to transit fees. Bangladesh is investing on its own need to develop the facilities with $1 billion Indian credit this time. But the country needs further investment in this regard which may stand at $7 billion in next three to four years. He said the cost recovery would be slow, it may come from expansion of transport network, development of hotel and restaurant, clearing forwarding services and such other trade facilitation activities. He said connectivity will also bring dividend by way of facilitating resolution of political misunderstanding and through increased cultural ties. Bangladesh should move towards a bigger merger with Indian trade and transportation system like the one that the European countries have developed, he maintained. He disagreed to relate investment recovery with transit fees saying Bangladesh is investing for its own good and the recovery may be slow. $11.6 for 100 km Meanwhile media reports mentioned a formula quoting official sources as saying there is a proposal to fix US$11.6 for each 100 kilometre distance for trucks, while it may be $5 for passenger buses over the same distance. The charge may be fixed for repair, maintenance, compensation against accidents and environmental damage. Discussants at another seminar last week in the city said Bangladesh should charge service fees rather than customs or import duty for allowing transit to its neighbouring countries. "Transit fees should come as a payment against export of services rather than 'rent from geography'," said AB Mirza Azizul Islam, former finance adviser to the last caretaker government. However he said, "It would be immoral to exploit geography in order to extract unreasonable rent from the neighbours." Import or customs duty applies if goods are produced in a particular country and are exported to another country, Islam said at a workshop in Dhaka. "But the goods in transit are not meant for use in Bangladesh," he said. Sadiq Ahmed, vice chairman of PRI, said the principles of transit between two points of India through Bangladesh are not different from the use of port services for third country trade. Ahmed said Bangladesh will export services to India and traffic will pay a service charge, which should be based on the principles of cost recovery and rate of return on investment. He was speaking at a workshop on the economics of transit in South Asia's northeast region organised by Policy Research Institute (PRI), a think tank.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Thousands of protesters marched in capital Dhaka on Thursday against Bangladesh parliament adopted an Islamic constitution, steering away from a secular political culture, which was enshrined in 1972 constitution.
A half a mile long rally organized by a conglomerate of left parties and pro-secular groups, chanting anti-government slogans and waving red flags marched towards the parliament, where the ruling party and her alliance lawmakers hastily adopted several amendments to the constitution on Thursday noon.
Hundreds of riot police in flak jackets, armed with shot guns and tear gas shells blocked the marchers putting up barbed-wire fences. The protesters in summer heat and intermittent rain stopped at exit of the Dhaka University, where leaders in makeshift dais addressed the crowd and bitterly criticized the government for switching to an Islamic constitution.
In a massive constitutional reform, the non-partisan interim government has been deleted, which was practiced for 15 years to hold credible elections and ensure smooth transition to an incumbent political government. The opposition fears that the ruling party will rig the election, despite denial by the prime minister.
A set of 55 amendment proposals were incorporated in the constitution amendment bill by 289-1 division vote.
Main opposition described the abrogation of neutral caretaker government from the democratic constitution will be written in the history as a “black day”. Opposition leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia threatened series of street protests and political agitations to undo the constitution reforms.
Prime minister Shiekh Hasina warned the opposition not to create anarchy and instead olive branches to hold parleys with the government and suggest how to hold a credible election scheduled in 2014 and also reduce military interference in state polity.
The prime minister was highly critical of the last military-backed caretaker government (2006-8), which sent the present prime minister and opposition leader to prison for corruption.
The independence war veterans, secularist and left leaning parties have came down heavily on the government for converting a secular political culture to an Islamic one.
Several lawmakers mostly from the left leaning parties have voted against the proposed amendment of the constitution, which has included Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (in the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful), a verse from Koran in the preamble and Islam as state religion.
The ethnic minority leader Mangal Kumar Chakma in a statement protested the new constitution, which has termed the indigenous peoples as “tribals, small nationalities, ethnic groups and communities.”
What angered the indigenous peoples when the discovered that they have been bracketed as “Bangalee”, who are majoritarian Sunni Muslims. The indigenous communities divided in several sub-groups have different languages and are mostly Buddhist, Hindu and animist.
Bangladesh gained independence from Islamic Pakistan after a bloody war on the principle to establish a secular and democratic nation.
Former Justice Golam Rabbany lamented at a seminar on Thursday that from now the nation has lost its secular identity, which was gained after decades of struggle. The sacrifices of thousands of martyrs during the independence war forty years ago have been insulted, he decried.
Ahead of his proposed visit to Dhaka, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has said Bangladesh's political landscape could 'change anytime', reports bdnews24. com. He also said 25 percent of Bangladesh's population count on anti-India Jamaat-e-Islami, which was often influenced by the Pakistani spy agency Inter Services Intelligence. "Our relations (with Bangladesh) are quite good. But we must reckon that at least 25 percent of the population of Bangladesh swear by the [Jamaat-e-Islami] and they are very anti-Indian, and they are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI. "So, a political landscape in Bangladesh can change at any time. We do not know what these terrorist elements, who have a hold on the [Jamaat-e-Islami] elements in Bangladesh, can be up to," said Singh. He made the remark while interacting with some of the senior editors of Indian newspapers on Wednesday. His office made public the full transcript of the Question and Answer session. Though India recognises that its relation with Bangladesh significantly improved after Sheikh Hasina took over as prime minister, Singh's remark apparently reflected New Delhi's concerns over vulnerability of the Awami League government in Dhaka. The Indian prime minister made the remark at a time when Dhaka is set to play host to a number of dignitaries from Delhi. India's external affairs minister S M Krishna is likely to reach Dhaka on July 6 next for a visit to Bangladesh. Water resources minister Salman Khurshid may also visit Dhaka soon for a meeting with his counterpart Ramesh Chandra Sen. Sen and Khurshid are expected to give final touches to an interim agreement on sharing of water of Teesta. President of India's ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, is also expected to be in Dhaka on July 25 next to attend a special conference on disabled and autistic children. Gandhi, who also chairs the ruling United Progressive Alliance, accepted an invitation from Hasina to attend the conference. Singh, who himself is also likely to go to Dhaka on a state visit to Bangladesh within the next few months, made the remark on Bangladesh, when he was asked by a senior editor to comment on the situation in the neighbourhood of India. He started his reply to the question admitting that he was worried by the situation in the neighbourhood. "Well, neighbourhood worries me a great deal, quite frankly." He lauded the Awami League government in Dhaka for going out of its way to detain the leaders of the Indian insurgent organizations from Bangladesh and hand them over to India in 2009 and 2010. "With Bangladesh, we have good relations. Bangladesh government has gone out of its way to help us in apprehending the anti-Indian insurgent groups which were operating from Bangladesh for a long time. And that is why we have been generous in dealing with Bangladesh," said Singh. He was obviously referring to the tacit cooperation between Dhaka and Delhi that led to the arrest of several top leaders of the Indian insurgent organisations like United Liberation Front of Assam and National Democratic Front of Bodoland along the border in November and December 2009 as well as in May 2010. The arrested militant leaders included ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and NDFB chief Ranjan Daimary. Neither Dhaka nor New Delhi, however, recognised the role of Bangladeshi agencies in creating the situations that led to the arrests of the top militant leaders. But, according to New Delhi's official versions, all of them were arrested after the Border Security Force personnel spotted them near the Bangladesh-India border. New Delhi has since long been alleging that insurgents active in India's North-East have bases and training facilities in Bangladesh and many leaders of its proscribed militant organisations live in its eastern neighbour. "We are not a rich country. But we offered it a line of credit of one billion dollars, when Sheikh Hasina came here (Delhi). We are also looking at ways and means of some further unilateral concessions," he added. Singh said that New Delhi and Dhaka were also "looking at ways and means of finding a practical and pragmatic solution to the sharing of water of Teesta". "I plan to go there myself," he said, referring to his proposed visit to Bangladesh. Indian prime minister's remark on the ISI's influence on Jamat-e- Islami also came at a time when the testimony of terror-plotter David Coleman Headley during the trial of his childhood friend and accomplice Tahawwur Hussain Rana in a court in Chicago exposed the Pakistani spy agency's role in the November 26 , 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The carnage perpetrated by 10 terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba left at least 174 killed and many others injured. Both Headley and Rana were arrested by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in Chicago in October 2009 for plotting the terror-attacks in Mumbai and Denmark.