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     Volume 5 Issue 93 | May 5, 2006 |

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News Notes

30% Increase in a Week!
It was just a week ago, when the citizens of this country were still trying to cope up with the increase in the prices of oil and petrol, when they were bombarded with an increase in the prices of essentials that shot up an unusual 20-30 per cent in the last week, leaving the people of low and fixed income groups grappling with this burden.
As a result of this, adjustments in their budgets have made them give less priority to certain basic needs like health care.
"I cannot buy fruits or vegetables for their high prices, which has ultimately affected the nutrition level of my family," said Shikha Teresa, an NGO health worker. "Transport costs also have almost doubled in the last few months whereas my salary is what it was before."
Advocate Sumaiya Islam said she has never seen prices of essentials go so high. A 2.5-pound Nido powder milk, which she used to buy for Tk 800 from New Market is now around Tk 1600.
"To meet my children's nutrition and education expenses, I cannot go to doctors for my regular health check-up," Sumaiya said, adding that the high prices of essentials and even household materials have forced them to consume less. She said she now prefers using public buses to comfortable and smooth transport to save money as her income has not increased in line with the price hikes.
At the kitchen markets in the capital, mutton is selling at Tk 260-270 per kilogram, which was Tk 200-220 in January, and beef at Tk 160 that was Tk 100-120. Broiler chicken is being sold at Tk 95-100, but it was sold at Tk 60-65 just two months back. The local chickens sell at Tk 280 that was not more than Tk 150.
Prices of all varieties of fish also shot up steeply. At the Karwan Bazar fish market 1kg local variety catfish was found selling at Tk 400, ruhi at Tk 420, small ruhi at Tk 110-120, koi at Tk 400-450, and taki at Tk 110.
Onion is being sold at Tk 25 a kg, which is Tk 5 higher than that of previous week, pulses at Tk 58, Tk 6 higher, gram at Tk 52, Tk 7 higher, garlic at Tk 110, Tk 20 higher.
Prices of potato, tomato, aubergine, carrot, chilli, papaya went almost 20-25 per cent higher in just one week.
Traders and common people identified price hike of fuel and agriculture products including fertiliser and seeds as the major reasons for price hike of essentials. Hoarding of essentials by unscrupulous syndicates has also contributed to the hike, they said.

Nepal's Unfinished Revolution
Nepalese King Gyanendra bowed down to people's power last week after nationwide protests had paralysed the idyllic Shangri-La for two weeks. Mainstream political parties, joining hands with Maoist insurgents called for protests against the King, who declared himself absolute monarch five years ago.
Twenty people died in the mass upsurge; and there was widespread fear that if the Maoists had run over the capital, events would have met a bloodier end; the rebels, who control a huge swathe of rural Nepal, want to abolish the monarchy and establish a people's republic.
Nepalese parliament met last week and a general election is to be held soon to form a constituent assembly that will decide the King's future. Nepal's democratic revolution has become a beacon of hope for other South Asian countries like Pakistan and the Maldives where autocrats of different colours still rule.
It seems, even as a constitutional monarch, the King's days are numbered and that should be the fate of every ambitious tyrants.

Fuel Crisis Hits Hard
Last time it was Finance Minister Saifur Rahman's slip of tongue that led to the spiraling of fuel price. As he said he was set to increase the oil price it led to hoarding of fuels by unscrupulous traders and that led to a fuel crisis. The hardest hit were the northern districts of the country. However, the government kept denying any shortage of fuel all throughout and said it had no plan to increase the fuel price in the first place.
And this time the government first contemplated increasing the price of fuel oils and then the energy secretary backtracked on his decision and announced that the price was to remain unchanged. But by then the worse happened, the country plunged into a worst fuel crisis of its history. The funny thing is that the government remained unfazed as ever. The handout that it issued on April 30 simply claimed that there was no shortage of fuel in the country. The government's claim came hard on the heels of an acute shortage in fuel throughout the country. With many petrol pumps dried up and closed, vehicles around the country queued up in the few open ones. The lucky ones were few who did not have to return empty handed. While many had to keep their vehicles idle, some resorted to the black market that emerged instantly and where fuel could be secured only at cutthroat prices.
Newspaper reports testified that the filling stations too in many places across the country charged exorbitant prices for octane, petrol, and diesel. According to a Daily Star report, in Satkhira, petrol was sold at Tk 52 a litre against the official rate of Tk 42. Some customers even paid Tk 55 to Tk 60 per litre to buy petrol from retailers.
While the crisis crippled the transport operators around the country, Finance Minister Saifur Rahman's announcement on the last day of April that the government will decide on the price of fuel within a week only made matters worse. It gave hoarders the hint that the price could go up and it was worth it for them to not let go of whatever supply they had in their hands. Though the government handout denied of having a fuel shortage it alleged that the crisis was an artificial one. In the same handout the government put the blame squarely on the shoulder of a section of unscrupulous dealers. It also stated that the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation has some 3.5 lakh MT oil in stock, which could meet the demand of at least the next one and a half months.

Crony TV
As if they didn't already have enough power over the electronic media, members of the ruling alliance are now about to launch two private satellite television channels, conveniently a few months before the October handover of power.
The two upcoming TV channels Satellite National Television (SNTV) and Islami Television (ITV) have already received government approval. SNTV is being jointly launched by Salahuddin Ahmed (a BNP MP from Demra constituency) and Nasiruddin Ahmed Pintu (a BNP MP from Lalbagh constituency). Meanwhile Major (Retd) Sayeed Eskander, BNP lawmaker from Feni-1 constituency who is also younger brother of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is launching ITV.
It does not take much pondering to know that these channels have been granted permission to use them for campaigning during the next general elections. Especially since 50 other applications were not given the go-ahead. It is common knowledge that Alliance ministers, MPs and their close associates are involved behind previously permitted Channel 1, Banglavision, Baishakhi and RTV.
According to a Daily Star report, Channel 1 is owned by the PM's son Tareque Rahman (also BNP's senior joint secretary) and his close friend and business partner Giasuddin Al Mamoon. A few ministers and MP AHM Selim are also involved in this channel. Meanwhile key people of Banglavision include Dhaka City Corporation Mayor Sadeq Hossain Khoka, State Minister for Home Afairs Lutfozzaman Babar and State Minister for Expatriate Welfare Major (Retd) Kamrul Islam. As for Baishakhi channel, this one belongs to Mirza Abbas, Housing and Public Works Minister. Finally, ntv and RTV are owned by Mosaddek Ali (Falu). One can only guess the kind of objective role these channels will play om the next elelctions, especially without much competition in terms of politically-backed channels from the opposition camp.

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