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     Volume 4 Issue 51 | June 17, 2005 |

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News Notes

The Story behind Bidisha's Arrest
Bidisha Ershad, sacked Jatiya Party (JP) presidium member and wife of JP Chairman HM Ershad, burst into the media as she was arrested on June 4 after her husband, the former president charged her with stealing a cellphone set and embezzlement. While Ershad charged his third wife of cheating, embezzlement, theft, damaging furniture and making threats, the newspapers were flooded with debunking reports that the arrest was a bid by the present coalition government to pressurise the second largest opposition party in parliament to join their camp in the next general election.
Talking to the press in the recent past, Ershad admitted that the cases have virtually crippled his life. "I cannot act on my own, as the government often warned of putting me behind the bars," he said. Meanwhile, Bidisha was reported to have been busy courting the largest oppsition, AL. Reports revealed that two senior JP leaders arranged a meeting between Ershad and an influential BNP leader, who is not in the cabinet, on June 3, where the later raised questions about some recent activities of Bidisha.
"Bidisha works for AL alleged the BNP leader and asked the JP chair to throw her out of the party. Ershad was also instructed to tell her to leave the country immediately or to face arrest on charge of money laundering. The BNP top gun claimed that they have enough proof of her smuggling money abroad. Sources said to The Daily Star reporter that the BNP leader directed Ershad to axe all "anti government leaders" from his party.
Sources also said that Bidisha's visit to India for what she claimed was medical treatment angered a section of the government. The coalition partners believe she made high-level meetings with the Indian government during her stay there and worked as an agent of the AL.
The government put her under watch since her return from India. Both plainclothes men and uniformed police were deployed at the hospital, where she was undergoing treatment.
After her arrest, Bidisha had been tipped that she may be allowed a safe passage abroad in exchange for her stepping aside from politics. She was on a three day remand after a two cases has been slapped for theft on June 4 and a passport forgery case on June 5. Newspaper reports claimed that the government might clamp down on her with cases of money laundering if she did not agree to leave the country. Two lower courts rejected her bail prayer after she was produced before them on June 8, asking the authorities to comply with High Court orders issued on June 7. She was moved to the prison cell of Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital in the afternoon of the same day as per High court order the day before. She told journalists that she has been tortured while in remand.
One of the counsels for Bidisha, Shafi Uddin Bhuiyan, argued in the Court of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Dhaka, that the cases were filed to harass and humiliate his client. He maintained that the government pressured Ershad into filing the case to advance its own interest.

When looks can Kill
According to a Daily Star investigation, the city's markets are flooded with adulterated and contaminated food items, the looks of which are enhanced by using harmful chemicals. The investigation has found that wholesalers and retailers are happily mixing substandard and artificial chemicals - some of them poisonous - in the food to make them look more attractive. This includes life-saving drugs, fine rice, colourful pulses, fruits, vegetables, fish, jams and jellies. All these items were found to be mixed with harmful chemicals.
The constitution of the country holds the government responsible for ensuring food safety and public health. But the authorities are not taking effective measures to stop this evil practice that poses a major health hazard to the public. According to the head of The Public Health and Drug Testing Laborotary, around 99 percent of food items are adulterated. Concerned officials, while they know about the situation, are powerless when it comes to clamping down on the culprits. One major reason for this that the law addressing food is 38 years old and imposes fines that do little to intimidate the law breakers. The highest penalty for adulterating food under the present Bangladesh Pure Food Rules is only TK 5,000. But the expenses involved in proving such cases in court and realising the penalties are much higher.
A shortage of manpower is another reason for poor monitoring practices. Before going into production, manufacturers are required to get a certificate of approval from the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institute (BSTI). The certificate is supposed to be renewed every year with the BSTI officials required to make inquiries at the factory and test the product on a regualr basis. But this is hardly ever done and most of the BSTI seals are fake according to the Daily Star report. According to BSTI there are only 13 BSTI field officers for the whole country, five in Dhaka division for checking seals and conducting mobile courts.
Although the BSTI Act has been amended and the fine for fake labelling fixed at TK one lakh, the number of seizures culprits violating the law has been unimpressive.

Eating rubber
The next time you are going over to your daughter's in-laws for dinner or to a birthday party and decide to buy kilogram worth of Laddus or Rasmalai, you might think of opting for something else like fruits instead. It seems that all the 'yummy scrummies' like Rasogolla, Kalo-jaam, Chamcham, Jilapi, Paantoa, Shandesh, Mihidana, Khirsa, which happen to be ritualistic delicacies of out country, simply might not be safe.
According to the food and sanitation officers from the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC), most of these mouth-watering sweetmeats seem attractive in the showcase but chances are that they are made with adulterated ingredients and produced in a filthy environment.
DCC officials found that 100 percent of examined samples of Rasogolla, Kalojaam, curds, and Sandhes were adulterated, in a survey conducted in February.
According to the pure food ordinance 1959, at least 10 percent milk fat is mandatory in sweetmeat. However, reports reveal that only five percent is used in most cases. A recent visit to Sadarghat found that traders bring milk in unclean drums, placing unclean hyacinth on top of the milk to ensure that it does not spill.
A source from the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) said that posset makers in different parts of the country put sulphuric acid in hot milk to produce the posset quickly. The posset makers first put the paste of ground rice into the milk, followed by sulfuric acid to turn the milk into posset within minutes.
There are only 20 food and sanitary inspectors against more than a 1000 sweetmeat shops in Dhaka to ensure the quality of food for more than 12 million people. It seems that punishments for such crimes range from Tk 100 to Tk 1,000 in fines, in addition to one month to six months jail time. However, because it takes a lot of time and money to prove a case, DCC officials generally do not file them.

Child trafficker nabbed
Reaz Uddin was handed down the verdict even though he was absent last week, of 30 years' of imprisonment for trafficking an eight year old boy to Dubai as a camel jockey. The same old story repeated itself, when Reaz took Mintu alias Rajib from his house at Shaildhar Char of Gafargaon upazila in Mymensingh on June 2, 2000 promising his mother Halima Begum to give him a job at a shop in Dhaka with Tk 2,000 as monthly salary. However, the child was sent to Dubai and was used as a camel jockey. Reaz, however, would send Tk 2000 every month to Mintu's mother, which convinced her of her son's safety.
She came to know of her son's plight after two years when Reaz told her that her son wound return home from Dubai. After Mintu's return, Halima filed an abduction case against Reaz and his wife Parveen with the Airport Police Station on June 4, 2002.
The court acquitted Reaz's wife Parveen, another accused in the case, as charges against her were not proved.


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