October 21, 2012

Friends of freedom honoured

Bangladesh Saturday honoured 61 more of the nation’s 1971 foreign friends, mostly from neighbouring India, for their remarkable ‘supports and contributions’ to its emergence through nine months of Liberation War 41 years ago.

The then Indian defence minister, Jagjivan Ram, and a number of veterans of the Indian army who fought in the 1971 war were among the Indians and conferred upon ‘Friend of Liberation War’ honour while former Indian Prime Minister IK Gujral and ex-Nepalese Prime Minister late Girija Prasad Koirala awarded Bangladesh Liberation War Honour at a special ceremony, third of its kind in Bangladesh.

President Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina together handed over the awards along with citations to the foreign distinguishes at a colourful ceremony at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the capital.

Several of the elderly 1971 foreign friends appeared in wheelchairs with beaming smiles to receive the honour in person while some were represented by their relatives as they were honoured posthumously under a government plan to formally acknowledge their contributions.

Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pankaj Sharan represented several Indians at the ceremony. Ram’s grandson and Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar’s son Anshul Abhijit received the crest on behalf of 1971 Indian defence minister Jagjivan Ram while Famous Indian film-star Sabana Azmi received on behalf of his father noted poet and lyricist Kaifi Azmi Padmashree.

“He (Ram) was instrumental in the creation of the joint command of Bangladesh and Indian forces for the final assault (on Pakistani troops) which led to the victory,” the citation for the ex-Indian defence minister reads.

Out of the 61 honoured guests, 51 are Indians while the others are from six other countries who extended their supports to Bangladesh as aide workers, politicians, journalists, artistes and diplomats. .

In his speech President Zillur Rahman termed the contribution of foreign persons to the country’s War of Liberation as invaluable, inspiring and precious.

“Your endless generosity will remain in our hearts forever. As a friend of ours, I believe, you would continue your valuable support and cooperation in our development process in the years to come,” he said.

Expressing sincere gratitude to the ‘foreign friends’ for their unequivocal support to Bangladesh’s independence, Sheikh Hasina said: “As we honour our heroes today, we reaffirm our faith in the principles we stood for.”

The Prime Minister further said: “Your support reconfirmed that our cause was right and our struggle could not be trampled. You heard our yearning for justice, honour and dignity. You added to our voice and magnified it for the global community.”

The Cabinet Division, the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly arranged the colourful function.

Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni and State Minister for Liberation War Affairs Capt (retd) AB Tajul Islam also addressed the function, while Joan A Dine, a social worker of the USA, spoke on behalf of the award-recipients.

Cabinet Secretary M Musharraf Hussain Bhuiyan conducted the function and read out citations to the persons and institutions who got the awards. One of the recipients of the honour this time is Col Ashok Tara, a well- known veteran who took part in and survived several crucial and deadly battles with Pakistani troops and was decorated subsequently with Indian army’s gallantry award.

Tara, an army major at that time, however, is more known for his role in rescuing incumbent Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, her mother and Bangabandhu’s wife Begum Fajilatunnesa Mujib, sister Sheikh Rehana and brother Sheikh Russell from the captivity of Pakistani troops at the fag end of the liberation war.

The awardees include former Chief Minister of Tripura Nripen Chakraverti, Chief Minister of Meghalaya Williamson A Sangma, former Indian minister Dr Triguna Sen, former general secretary of Indian Communist Party Chandra Rajeshwar Rao, former Indian ambassador Sashanka S Banerjee, eminent Indian lyricist Gouri Prassanna Majumdar, leader of the national liberation front of former south Vietnam Nguyen Thi Binh, Brigadier (retd) Sant Singh Maha Vir Chakra, Brigadier (retd) Kailash Prasad Pande Maha Vir Chakra of Indian Army and Captain (retd) M N R Samant Maha Vir Chakra of Indian Navy.

The government has also awarded numbers of foreign journalists including Dilip Chakraborty, Manosh Ghosh, Hiranmoy Karlekar, Pankaj Saha, Tarun Sanyal, Robin Sengupta, Anil Bhattacharya, Bhupen Datta Bhaumik, Aveek Sarker and Santosh Kumar Ghosh of India, Sir William Mark Tully of the UK, Sven Stromberg of Sweden and Anthony Laurence Clifton of Australia.

“We have an initial list of over 500 such foreign friends who made immense contribution to the birth of Bangladesh. We want to honour them all in phases,” State Minister for Liberation War Affairs retired captain AB Tajul Islam told BSS ahead of the ceremony.

He said more 1971 foreign friends were expected to be conferred with the honour in ceremonies at home and abroad in phases while foreign ministry officials said the next such ceremony would be held in Dhaka coinciding with the Victory Day celebrations in December this year.

The then Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was the first ‘foreign friend’ to be conferred with the honour while her daughter-in-law and ruling Congress president Sonia Gandhi received the honour on her behalf last year at a special ceremony.

October 7, 2012

Bribe money used in Sengupta’s telecom business

Azam Khan, the whistleblower of the railwaygate scandal, appeared in a two-part interview aired on Rtv on Friday and Saturday nearly six months into the scandal.
On Saturday, Driver Azam Khan claimed that railway's money had been used in the telecom business of former railway minister Suranjit Sengupta's son Soumen Sengupta.
"Discussion about the business of Suranjit's son Soumen Sengupta took place in front of me," Azam.
On April 9, Azam drove Faruq's microbus into Pilkhana, and blew the whistle that there was 74 lakh cash stashed in the vehicle.
Apart from Faruq, railway's general manager (east) Yusuf Ali Mridha and Dhaka division security commandant Enamul Huq were in the microbus. Faruq was sacked and Mridha and Enamul were suspended following the incident.
After the vehicle entered Pilkhana, the Border Guard Bangladesh detained the four for that night but freed them the next day when their identification was confirmed.
Not only as minister, Suranjit had been involved in several grafts involving recruitment and transfer when he was the head of Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Azam told the private television.
The driver claimed that Suranjit used to phone State Minister for Law Quamrul Islam and tell him, "I am sending my APS. There are some quotas."
If Suranjit Sengupta had given five (names), the APS would add five more and get money, Azam claimed.
After the railwaygate scandal, the APS offered Azam ten to twenty lakh taka on condition of saving the then railway minister, the driver said.
"The APS told me that if you agree with us, you will get a good amount but I (Azam) told him that it was not possible for me."
Earlier, the APS told Azam that from next time, they would collect money through a bank account of a Suranjit's friend as it had become risky to carry the money in car.
"I had targeted to get them arrested with the money. As they decided not to carry money in my car anymore, it was the last chance for me. So, I drove the car into the Pilkhana on April 9," he said.
Azam quoted the APS, "We both know where the money was going. I have taken all the responsibilities (for the money). Do not implicate any others. Do not implicate Suranjit Sengupta. Implicate me. You will say, the money is mine."
Apprehending that he might be killed or abducted if he comes out of the hideout, Azam appealed to the prime minister and the home minister for securing his life.
"I feel bad. I want to see my father and mother," he said.
Seeking Suranjit's comment, the Rtv contacted him but Suranjit, the minister without portfolio, termed all the allegations baseless.
"What is the meaning to tell all this now? Want to drown the government? He has been called by the Anti-Corruption Commission several times. He did not turn up. Why did he not utter a single word in last six months?" Suranjit said.
Azam in the first interview with Rtv aired on Thursday night said the Tk 74 lakh stashed in his car was being taken to the then railway minister Suranjit's house.
Earlier on April 15, Yusuf Ali Mridha in a written statement to the ACC said he along with Faruq and Enamul was going to Suranjit's Jigatola residence that night.
And though a government investigation found irregularities in the recruitment in the railway's east zone, a railway departmental report on May 13 gave a clean chit to Suranjit Sengupta, saying he had no involvement in the scandal.
According to railway sources, some 1,128 people were given jobs in the railway's east zone in the last one year. Allegations are Yusuf and Faruq took Tk 3 to 5 lakh from each of the jobseekers.

October 6, 2012

Tk 74 lakh was being taken to Suranjit’s house

Missing Driver Azam Tells RTV
Opening a Pandora’s Box of midnight money scandal that led to the resignation of Suranjit Sengupta from railways ministry, missing driver Azam Khan has said on private TV channel RTV that the money was being carried to the minister’s residence.

Azam Khan has been missing since the minister’s sacked APS, Omar Faquque Talukder, suspended Railway Genneral Manager Yusuf Ali Mridha and Railways Police Commandant Enamul Haque were confined at Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) gate on April 9 midnight with Tk 70 lakh.

Due to his desperate move, Omar Faquque and others were held at the BGB gate and now he is disclosing the story behind the scandal.

Speaking on the TV channel from an undisclosed location, Azam Khan said the above personnel were going to Suranjit Sengupta’s residence with the huge amount of money to bribe the minister to get several hundred people appointed in the railways department.

“So far I know GM Mridha entered into a contract with APS Faquque to secure the job with the help of the minister”, he said.

Azam referred to a conversation of APS Faquque, GM Mridha and Commandant Enamul Haque that Tk 10 crore will be given to the minister in exchange for appointment of 600 people.

The scandal resulted in a critical situation for the government, forcing Suranjit Sengupta to resign from the post of railways minister on April 16, 2012. APS Faquque was sacked while GM Mridha and Commandant Enamul Haque were suspended. Later the trio remained fugitive for some days to avoid arrest.

On August 14, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed cases against them as they concealed information in their submitted wealth statements.

Besides, ACC has approved filing another case against Yusuf Ali Mridha for his involvement in railway appointments.

Azam said, “When they were making it to the minsiter’s house, I turned the incident into another direction.”

He said the above mentioned officials started their journey with the money from house no 3 located at road no 5 in Dhamamondi.

Narrating the incident of that night he said “When I drove the car to GBG gate, they asked me where I was going. I told them as you are carrying bribe money, I have entered the car to the gate to get you arrested.”

He said at first the officials offered him Tk 5 lakh, then half and finally the whole amount to drive the car out of GBG gate and let them go free.

“I turned down their request, saying that I won’t be an accomplice in the bribery.”

He mentioned the name of some Mashiur who is involved in this appointment business.

“He [Mashiur] handed over a cheque for Tk 3 crore to the APS to secure the job of several hundred people in railways department”, he added.

Azam said on several occasions, the persons made it to the minister’s house with bribe money.

He said the APS and others tried to shift the responsibility to the government. “They asked me to drop the matter on the pretext that the government is involved in the incident.”

“But I know the Prime Minister has a stand against corruption. She wants that no corrupt goes scot-free.”

He made a plea to the government to protect him as he is hiding to avoid the wrath of the above mentioned officials.

In an instant reaction, Suranjit Sengupta rejected the statement made by driver Azam.

“No, these are false and fabricated allegations against me. These are bogus stories created by the media.”

The minister without portfolio questioned as to why driver Azam did not make his statement to the inquiry committee earlier.

“Why did he not go through investigation process? He has been absconding for long. From where has he appeared now? Everything is designed to make me scapegoat”, he told reporters.

October 2, 2012

Oil-Gas committee vows to continue protest

Rehnuma Sultana
The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports at rally in front of the National Press Club on Monday condemned the police attack and vowed to continue the movement until its seven-point demand was met.

Speakers at the rally said about 50 leaders and activists of the committee were injured in Sunday’s police attack on the march towards the energy ministry. Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and charged baton on the peaceful march. The committee convener Sheikh Muhammad Shaheedullah asked the government to bring to book the police personnel responsible for the attacks on the marchers.
The committee to press its demands including withdrawal of latest power price hike effected from September 1, leaders said at the rally. The national committee will continue its movements until the increased power tariff was withdrawn and quick rental system cancelled. A select group of businessmen close to the government are benefitting from the quick rental plants at the cost of the people. The national committee will enforce agitation programmes, including hartal, siege and sit-in, to realise its demands, Shaheedullah said.
Communist Party of Bangladesh central leader Ruhin Hossain Prince said that their activist Arafatul Kabir Rizvi was seriously wounded in Sunday’s police action. 

Socialist Party of Bangladesh general secretary Khalequzzaman said that the national committee would continue its movement until the seven-point demand was fulfilled.

Ganasanghati Andolan coordinator Abdus Salam said frequent power price was adding to the sufferings of the people.
Revolutionary Workers Party general secretary Saiful Huq called on the government to withdraw increased power tariff immediately.
Workers Party leader Ragib Ahsan Munna, Democratic Revolutionary Party general secretary Mushrefa Mishu, Workers Party (Reconstituted) general secretary Abdus Satter, Samyabadi Dal leader Moshayed Ahmed, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal leader Mahiuddin Chaowdhury Liton, Jaitya Gana Front leaders Abu Taher and Shamsul Alam also spoke at the rally.

The rally was followed by a protest procession.
Bangladesh Today