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     Volume 5 Issue 115 | October 6, 2006 |

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News Notes

Power Out, Protest In
IT'S been a week of protest in Dhaka City as well as around the country. From Mirpur to Uttara, city-dwellers, frustrated to the extreme by the never-ending power outages, went on rampages in and outside the capital, vandalising power offices, blocking roads and breaking buses and cars. With no power in some places for up to a continuous 12 hours, the people's aggravation is understandable. What good there is in causing damages of 5 crore taka to a power office in Mirpur and losses worth lakhs more in the form of damaged vehicles, however, remains a question.
Meanwhile, the prime minister has blamed the opposition for making electricity “an issue” and “resorting to destructive activities”. She has pledged to solve the power crisis and remove corruption from the country if she is re-elected. Apparently, five years in power wasn't enough to do anything about it all.
Removing Anwarul Kabir Talukder, former state minister for energy and, supposedly, one of the “cleaner” ministers who was actually trying to rid or at least reduce the power ministry of corruption, has been a controversial first step to fulfilling the PM's pledge. According to newspaper reports, Talukder follows eight power secretaries and eight Power Development Board (PDB) chairs to be removed in the past five years of the coalition government's rule, purportedly for failing to obey the wishes of vested quarters. These quarters, it is alleged, have been awarding power contracts to favoured parties, violating rules and regulations and driving away genuine power companies, a Daily Star report quoted a government official as saying.
The sole power plant to start operation in the past five years, located in Tongi, has tripped around 90 times, due to its sub-standard design and machinery, said the report. Harbin, the Chinese company which set up the plant, and which has another irregularity-ridden contract secured and yet another on the way to being signed, is said to have admitted to The Daily Star last year that it “richly bribed a section of officials and the 'alternative powerhouse' of the government”.
It remains to be seen how the next government, which ever it is, deals with its power situation.

For a better life
For years, young men have been moving to foreign countries, leaving their homes, lands and families behind in Bangladesh, only for the sake of a better life, a stable government, better earning and also a means to help their families back in the villages. However, something that they don't expect to find are conditions worse then what they would go through back at home.
Around 300 Bangladeshi youths who went abroad illegally are leading inhuman lives at a refugee camp in Ceuta island of Spain. Families of these unfortunate young men said that they had spent a huge amount of money to send them there for a better life, at a press conference at the Crime Reporters Association auditorium last week.
The blame obviously falls on the Bangladeshi councillor in Spain, who is responsible for the situation. The prime minister has been urged to see if anything could be done so the youths could stay there legally.
As part of the process for sending back the Bangladeshis, the Spain government has started taking signatures on a special form. Already 40 to 50 Bangladeshis have signed that form while others declined to do so since they do not want to return empty handed.
After staying at the refugee camp for more than one year, the thought of returning to Bangladesh empty-handed made them so frustrated that many of them are also contemplating suicide.
On their way to Spain through Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco, they had to spend days in the Sahara desert, taking scanty food and very little water. Sometimes they had to drink their own urine for want of water and now passing days half-starved at the refugee camp.

Death Do Us Part
The news item in one of the inner pages of the paper no longer evokes shock. A teenaged wife being set on fire is hardly a strange incident to us for it is a horror that happens all the time. This time it was 15 year-old Helena Akhter who was set on fire by her husband Aliar. On September 14, after the incident, which took place in her father's house in Demra, Helena was rushed to DMCH with severe burns. She spent the next twelve days fighting for her life. On September 26 she gave up and succumbed to her injuries. According to family members, the couple had had an altercation over money matters finally leading to the murder.
Helena, before she died, had written a letter, which her parents later found. The letter mentioned that her husband had deceived her and often tortured her making her want to end her life.
Naturally the husband is missing and it will be a miracle if he is found, tried and convicted.
Meanwhile we will continue to read about these young women, some still in their teens, whose dreams have been crushed, whose spirits have been destroyed and whose young lives have been cut short by brutal husbands or in laws.

Democracy at Work again
Recently the Speaker of Parliament rejected every single notice by the opposition lawmakers, who sleeked discussions on various matters of national interest. Awami League and Jatiya Party members requested as many as 162 notices demanding discussions on various issues such as electoral reforms, the acute shortage of power supply and the skyrocketing prices of essentials. They also put forward notices requesting discussions on corruption, the Phulbaria killings, Islamic militancy, the August 21st grenade attacks. Jamiruddin Sircar said, " I hope the government will take steps to control prices of essentials and corruption " before he shot down all formal discussion on any of the topics raised by the opposition. In his defence Sircar said that discussion on the August 12 grenade attacks and, the killing of Shah ASM Kibria, Kansat killing and the grenade attack on the British High Commissioner were no longer current events and did not warrant formal discussions. On a point of order Awami League's Rahman Ali said that "the people are starving due to the price hike", the speaker replied by saying that the people will decide on whether the government has failed or not. This is obviously a case of a working democracy.

Bishwa Sahitya Kendra
If there ever was an institute that deserves praise again and again it would be Bishwa Sahitya Kendra and its creator Prof. Abdullah Abu Sayeed. This unique centre has for many years been grooming what Sayeed calls 'enlightened individuals'. This is mainly done by introducing young people to world literature through books, many of them translated works of literary geniuses.
One of its most remarkable projects was creating mobile libraries carrying books all over the country. Previously these moving libraries covered four metropolitan cites Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi reaching 27000 readers. Last month the Kendra has expanded this programme to 42 more districts. With this addition, around 40,000 people from 120 upazillas will benefit from this programme that will bring books to their doorsteps.
The books being taken to the people include world famous novels, anthologies of short stories, travel stories, biographies, poetry and translated literature. Manusher Jonno Foundation and Norwegian Embassy has provided technical and financial assistance.
Sayeed, a Magsaysay award winner, believes that book reading is essential for people to become enlightened. He points out that there are very few opportunities for people to get access to books as there is a huge dearth of libraries in the towns and villages. The negligible numbers that do exist are in dilapidated conditions. Sometimes the difficult commute to the library or the expense of doing so deters people from making the journey to the library. Thus the mobile library is the perfect solution as it takes the books to the people.

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