Bangladesh economy growth ‘best in decades’- The economy expanded by 6.66 percent

Bangladesh’s economy has grown at its highest rate in decades, driven by resurgent exports and a strong performance by the usually sluggish farm sector, officials said Tuesday.
The economy expanded by 6.66 percent in the 12 months to June, the fastest pace since the early 1970s when it was boosted by recovery following Bangladesh’s victory in its war of independence with Pakistan.
The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, which announces annual growth figures a month before the country’s financial year ends in June, also revised its figures for 2009-10 growth upwards to 6.07 percent from a provisional estimate of 5.54 percent.
“The 6.66 percent growth is the highest in recent decades,” BBS chief Shahjahan Ali Molla .
An official at the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics said it was the fastest rate of growth for Bangladesh since 1973-74 when the economy grew by 9.59 percent.
Bangladesh has targeted growth of seven percent for the next financial year beginning on July 1.
Last year’s growth was powered by the country’s resurgent manufacturing sector and higher crop yields, the secretary of the government’s general economic division, Shamsul Alam, told AFP.
“Manufacturing was driven by an impressive 42 percent export growth in garment products. Agriculture also shone because of record outputs of rice, wheat and some other crops, thanks to favourable weather,” he said.
The World Bank had projected a 6.3 percent growth rate for Bangladesh, with a population of 150 million people, which is still one of the world’s most impoverished nations, with nearly 40 percent of people living below the poverty line.
According to the statistics bureau, manufacturing expanded by 9.51 percent overall with major industries clocking 10.41 percent growth as garment shipments soared following a dramatic surge in orders diverted from an increasingly costly China.
The country has been benefited from rising wages in China that prompted many of the world’s top retailers such as Wal-Mart to go bargain-hunting in Bangladesh, analysts said.
Garment export growth was just three percent in the 2009-2010 as demand for low-cost Bangladeshi goods fell sharply in the wake of the global financial crisis.
But the country’s total foreign trade is now expected to grow 40 percent to a record $50 billion dollars in this financial year.
“Manufacturing and agriculture have done tremendously well this year,” said Ahsan H. Mansur, a former senior official of the International Monetary Fund and the head of local think-tank Policy Research Institute.
“Garments, which account for 40 percent of our industrial activities, alone added two percentage points to growth,” he said, adding the country’s overall growth target of seven percent for the next financial year was reasonable.
At the weekend, the government unveiled a record $6.4 billion development spending for the next year to boost the economy. Power generation got the highest allocation of $1.2 billion in a bid to ease crippling electricity cuts, which have for years taken a toll on manufacturing growth.

Entry of toxic ship banned


The government has directed all concerned to ban the toxic ship Probo Koala renamed Gulf Jash from entering Bangladeshi territorial waters, Department of Environment officials say.
The move came after The Daily Star on Friday published an exclusive report that the Probo Koala, infamous for 2006 health crisis in Abidjan, has been sold to an unspecified ship breaker in Chittagong.
“We have directed the ship breakers’ association, the port authority and the Coast Guards not to allow the Gulf Jash into Bangladeshi territorial waters,” said DoE Director Zafar Alam in Chittagong.
Global Marketing System, the specialised broker of ships for demolition, sold the Gulf Jash to a Bangladeshi buyer for demolition at a Chittagong ship breaking yard. The Gulf Jash, now off Vietnam, is believed to be carrying dangerous toxic chemicals or residues of toxic chemicals which the vessel had long been carrying on board.
In 2006, toxic wastes offloaded from the Probo Koala claimed 17 lives and caused severe health problems to more than a lakh people in Abidjan of Ivory Coast.
According to Jenssen Ingvild, the director of the Paris-based NGO Platform on Ship Breaking, a global coalition of human rights, environmental and labour rights groups, the Probo Koala is a global symbol of toxic trade.
Since March 2009, the government has been dilly-dallying to formulate rules for the ship breaking industry in Chittagong.
The High Court, having stopped all activities in the industry following a petition by an environmental group, conditionally allowed import of ships for demolition for the period between March 7 and May 7 this year, until the draft of the rules was finalised.
The court extended the time for another two months as the authorities concerned on May 3 this year sought more time to formulate the rules.
Since March 7, the day the High Court first allowed the conditional import, the ship breakers in Chittagong so far have imported 59 ocean going ships, which are now awaiting beaching and dismantling.

Bangladesh poses ambitious plan to halt childhood blindness

Bangladesh, in an ambitious plan, will dispense doses of Vitamin A to nearly 19 million children below the age of 5 beginning Sunday.

In a nationwide campaign, thousands of volunteers will provide life-saving Vitamin A supplements to combat chronic deficiency, which can cause night blindness, a sign of severe malnutrition.

Health workers and volunteers from 150,000 health centers, schools, and buses, country boats and train stations will also distribute de-worming tablets to 17 million children between the ages of 2 and 5 to reduce child growth retardation, according to bdnews24.com.

Apart from night blindness, Vitamin A deficiency increases the risk of diseases such as measles and diarrhea, both contributing to more than a third of child deaths in Bangladesh.

Vitamin A doses annually save the lives of more than 30,000 children in Bangladesh, said Fatima Parveen Chowdhury, director of the Institute of Public Health Nutrition.

Quoting a national nutrition survey, health official argue that night blindness among children has significantly declined from 3.7 percent two decades ago to 0.04 percent

Google’s Street View to map Bangalore

Google on Thursday said it will offer Street View of Bangalore city on its maps platform. In a statement Google said,” It will begin imagery collection in Bangalore for the Street View feature in Google Maps”.

The Internet search engine giant will collect images of streets by driving across the city in specially designed cars and trikes, (three-wheel pedi-cab), which are embedded with high resolution cameras mounted on top. The images will be made available at a later date in Street View on Google Maps.

Street View is a popular feature of Google Maps, already available in more than 27 countries. It allows users to virtually explore and navigate a neighbourhood through images

Google said in order to protect privacy, the vehicles will capture images of public places alone and blur out faces of people and number plates of vehicles to make them unidentifiable.

Moreover, Google said it will be extremely responsive to any request received from a user for the additional blurring of any images that features them.

“We decided to start driving in Bangalore because it is the IT capital of India and feel that the IT savvy users will be able to leverage the benefits of the product to the fullest.

“Street View is useful for urban development planners, law enforcement agencies, house-hunters, and travellers,” Google India Product Head Vinay Goel said.

Last year, Google came under probe from several countries following its Street View vehicles inadvertently collected email addresses, passwords and other personal information from Wi-Fi networks.

Google, which has launched the Street View services in 2007, said, “Street View is designed to comply with all local laws including those related to security and privacy in India”.

Mamata Banerjee the new West Bengal chief minister: Getting the vision going

Mamata Banerjee ,no doubt a symbol of political leadership for development .

Becharam Manna gives up on his nap. He is being repeatedly disturbed by congratulatory telephone calls. It is the day after his party, the All India Trinamool Congress or TMC, swept to power in West Bengal ending the Left Front’s 34-year reign. Manna, who spearheaded the battle of Singur’s farmers to get back the land the government acquired from them for the Tata Motors’ Nano plant in 2006, has just won the Haripal seat in Hooghly district – a stronghold of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), since 1967 – by a margin of 22,073 votes.

Manna fields another call, this one from a TMC leader worried about the arrest of a party worker. Manna tells the caller the arrest is justified: the worker had hit the bottle and attacked the local CPI(M) office.

“Overnight everyone has become a Trinamool supporter, and the situation is difficult to control,” he says, referring to Left cadres who have been switching sides. TMC chief Mamata Banerjee had ordered her party workers to refrain from victory marches, celebrations and “badla” or taking of revenge, after the elections produced a stunning result: her party alone secured 184 of the 294 seats in the state assembly. The Congress, her ally, got 42. And the CPI(M), leader of the Left Front, scraped through with just 39 seats.

Singur was the launchpad for Banerjee’s meteoric rise to power. Manna, Banerjee’s point man in Singur, has just one goal for now: ensuring that the farmers who refused to accept payment for about 400 acres are restored ownership of the land. Only then can he begin thinking of industry. The incomplete and abandoned Nano factory nearby, occupying a 1,000-acre plot, is a symbol of all that went wrong, and the hurdles ahead.

Mamotha task

No 1 in per capita debt. Total debt close to Rs 200,000 crore
No anchor project in manufacturing after Nano’s exit
Lags rivals Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in IT exports
Agricultural growth down from 17 to 7 per cent
9th among 17 major states in per capita income
Per capita Income has fallen from close to national average in 1980/81
Economy growth rate trebled in 1990s and 2000s, but share in India’s GDP fell

Banerjee’s biggest challenge will be acquiring land for industry, given her role in fighting against land acquisition from farmers at Singur and later Nandigram. As Gautam Deb, a veteran CPI(M) leader and former housing minister, tells BT, the people have put the Left in the Opposition and so the Left will watch the government’s actions keenly. “Mamata should respect the verdict and perform,” Deb said. “The main slogan of Trinamool was Ma-Mati-Manush (Mother, Earth, People). Industry was on the agenda but not a focus.”

Deb has a point. The TMC’s manifesto and 200-day action plan read like a mishmash of Planning Commission dreams. Sample these: “Enhance the ease of doing business for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) by radically cutting back obstructive rules, regulations and permissions…. set up an industrial hub in each district….”

West Bengal was once a hub of manufacturing, but Left trade unionism prompted many players to shift base to other states over the first two decades of Left Front rule, and scared away prospective investors. Amit Mitra, who is now one of Banerjee’s key lieutenants as the legislator from Khardah in North 24 Parganas district – points out that before the Left Front came to power in 1977, West Bengal had a 13 per cent share of India’s manufacturing. The share has since shrunk to a low single digit.

Mitra, a complete outsider in the state’s politics who defeated CPI(M) stalwart and finance minister Asim Dasgupta, recalls how, as a child, he used to marvel at the industrial buzz in Howrah on trips there with his grandfather, Suresh Chandra Bose, the elder brother of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. “Now there is nothing there. Only some forging work is being done,” says Mitra, former secretary general of industry lobby Ficci.

Can the new government bring back industry, tackle trade unionism and revive agriculture? Abhirup Sarkar, a professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute, says, quoting official sources, that the state accounted for more than 87 per cent of the mandays lost in India due to strikes and lockouts in 2007/08. “Mandays lost due to bandhs will have to be drastically reduced to bring back revenues,” he says.

He suggests three other action areas. One, improve the infrastructure (only 23 per cent of roads in the state are pucca at present, against the national average of 55 per cent). Two, disperse industrialisation across the state with proper planning, as against the Kolkata-centric model propagated so far. Three, improve tax administration.

Trinamool supporters celebrate their victory in Kolkata
In her manifesto, Banerjee has promised to revive the agricultural economy. According to the party, the agricultural sector was growing at 17 per cent a year before the Left came to power in 1977. After 34 years of Left Front rule, the rate is down to seven per cent.

Sanjiv Goenka, vice chairman of the Rs 17,000-crore RPG Enterprises, and younger son of group founder Rama Prasad Goenka. seems ready to swear by Banerjee after interacting with her over the past few months. “She has inspired confidence,” he says. The RPG group’s businesses include power generation and supply, retail, music and entertainment, carbon black and tyres. It also includes CESC, which supplies power to Kolkata and some adjoining areas, and which was once a favourite target of Banerjee’s, drawing her ire over tariff hikes.

Banerjee’s election plank and her 200-day plan, Goenka says, are “doable”. Broadly, what the state needs are better roads and a lower tax on aviation fuel to attract more airlines. With the TMC being part of the alliance at the Centre, the state government will be in a position to influence the Union government’s actions, unlike the Left Front governments which, except for brief periods has always been at odds with the Centre.

“The opportunity in Bengal exists… infrastructure needs beefing up, but the confidence of people outside the state is lacking,” says Goenka. He says investment is a matter of confidence, infrastructure and opportunity.

He is investing around Rs 10,000 crore in a power project in Haldia. The aerotropolis, or an airportcentric city, in Burdwan district, is one of the few large infrastructure projects of Left rule to have survived controversies over land acquisition. The promoters, Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Ltd, or BAPL, have acquired 1,800 acres of the 2,300 acres required and expect the airport to be functional by 2012. The total investment expected is Rs 10,000 crore.

The TMC manifesto says completion of the project is one of its goals. Subrata Paul, CEO and Director of BAPL, says that with the change in the government people will expect faster development. “Roads and connectivity becomes a driver of economic growth… . However, we will require some anchor investments.”

The high sales tax levied on aviation turbine fuel by the state is also a worry. The resource-starved Left Front government had imposed a 25 per cent tax on aviation fuel, which deters airlines from refuelling in the state. “We will request the state government to follow the Maharashtra pattern in West Bengal too,” says Paul. Maharashtra levies 25 per cent tax only in Mumbai and Pune; at other airports in the state the rate is four per cent. So too the new government could be asked to spare airports other than the one at Kolkata, including the proposed aerotropolis.

Not all industrialists in the state are willing to come out in open support of the new government. But, as a BT poll carried out by C fore shows (See Page 60), an overwhelming majority is happy with the change and bullish on the TMC’s prospects. Call it avoiding wasteful spending, or an aversion to change or paribartan: the fading world map at the CPI(M) state unit headquarters still shows the Soviet Union. The Trinamool rode to victory on its cry for paribartan. The Left Front did try to change things, but they were too late and often in the wrong directions. In the past decade, the only exciting sector has been information technology or, IT, and IT-enabled services. When Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee began his second term as chief minister in 2006, the IT hub in Salt Lake’s SectorV was bursting at the seams, and the state was trying to market the much-delayed Rajarhat New Town project further north.

But IT majors such as Infosys and Wipro were put off by high real estate rates quoted by the government agency developing the township and came in only after much haggling. Earlier this year Cognizant Technology Solutions built a new campus along the city’s eastern fringe. West Bengal’s software services revenues have gone up from Rs 4,000 crore in 2007/08 to Rs 6,500 crore in 2009/10, but its share in India’s total revenue from software is just 2.69 per cent, according to the Electronic & Computer Software Export Promotion Council.

At the policy level, the government paid scant heed to start-ups and local companies as it rushed to woo national heavyweights, says S. Radhakrishnan, a former president of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “It did nothing to encourage local entrepreneurs. It was more worried about whether a Wipro or an Infosys would come,” says Radhakrishnan, who is also the Managing Director of Descon Software. A section of the CPI(M), however, even questioned Bhattacharjee’s rationale of exempting the IT sector from strikes, and its labour wing tried unsuccessfully to unionise the techies.

Cognizant Technology Solutions, a company with its India headquarters in Chennai and which started operation in Kolkata in 1996, has five facilities and 9,500 professionals operating in the state. The firm’s senior officials feel Kolkata is a significant destination because of the academic institutions here and the low operational expenses.

Still, the state has a long way to go in catching up with places like Bangalore and Hyderabad. It has fewer major IT players. “The state government needs to bring in some major investments to keep the growth curve moving up,” says R. Chandrasekaran, President and Managing Director, Global Delivery at Cognizant.

For Banerjee, it is going to be a battle against time and her own record as the stormy petrel of Bengal politics ready to use any opportunity to trouble the Left Front government. Her lieutenants, though, think she has vision and is unmatched in her understanding of economic policies for the people, even though she is not an economist. Mitra says: “I feel industrial growth will not be incremental. It will be geometric.”

Ashok Leyland bags $23m order from Bangladesh

Hinduja Group flagship, Ashok Leyland has received a $23.3m order from Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) to supply 290 double decker buses.

The company said that the recent order represents its largest single order for double decker buses from Bangladesh.

Ashok Leyland managing director Vinod Dasari said Bangladesh has always remained a very important market for the company.

“Our continued focus on this growing market has helped us establish ourselves today as the second largest brand in that country’s commercial vehicle market and will continue to maintain this focus in the coming years,” Dasari said.

The company has almost doubled export volumes to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in 2009-10 while West Asia and other markets reported a fall in exports during that financial year.

The company exported 2,303 vehicles to Bangladesh in 2009-10 compared to 1,214 vehicles 2008-09, however in 2010-11, its total export numbers increased by 72% to 10,306 vehicles in which Bangladesh.

Over the years, more than 9,500 vehicles have been exported through the company’s sole dealer, Ifad Autos.

BUSINESS.
The Hinduja Group is expanding its base in India and abroad to enhance its product offerings in tune with its strategy to radically boost its automotive business and enter the aerospace sector. In 2008, the group, which has integrated all its automobile-related businesses under holding company Hinduja Automotive, had appointed V. Sumantran as executive vice chairman of Hinduja Automotive to catapult it to the position of a major player in the automotive sector.

This move seems to have paid off with Sumantran, who had earlier worked with General Motors and Tata Motors , chalking out a growth strategy with Hinduja group veteran R. Seshasayee.

Ashok Leyland, the flagship company known mostly as a truck and bus maker, is broad-basing its products through joint ventures (JVs) and acquisitions to compete with domestic and multinational players in the Indian market.

“We have created a separate entity for defence sales and have seen improved results. The defence segment is non-cyclic and is a huge market. We are also entering into aerospace and will make an announcement within four months,” Sumantran said. He, however, declined to divulge more details of the aerospace business as talks were at a preliminary stage.

“Defence is the thrust area and we are expanding our products through two joint ventures that will start rolling out vehicles later this year,” he said. Ashok Leyland has set up a JV with Nissan Motor Company to manufacture light trucks called Ashok Leyland DOST. This is the first time that the company is entering into the light commercial vehicles (LCV) segment, which the Tatas dominate.

The company has also formed a JV with John Deere Construction & Forestry Company of the US to manufacture earthmoving equipment in India. This company will produce backholes and wheel loaders that are in huge demand because of the rapid growth in infrastructure. Ashok Leyland is concentrating on the armed forces of India as well as other countries.

Recently, it showcased its models for the defence forces in the UAE to encouraging response. The Hindujas, who have been active in the Middle East for several decades, have developed special vehicles for the armed forces, including light recovery vehicles, high mobility vehicles, field artillery trucks and fire fighting trucks, to name a few.

The modernisation programme of the Indian army has created huge opportunities for truck makers and Hindujas want to encash on it now. The automotive business is led by Gopichand Hinduja’s son Dheeraj Hinduja. Both father and son are co-chairmen in the company.

The defence and exports thrust seems to have yielded good results as Ashok Leyland sold 94,105 vehicles in 2010-11 as compared to 63,926 vehicles in the previous year. This is a rise of 47 per cent.

In 2010-11, Ashok Leyland exported 10,306 vehicles compared to 5,979 units, up 72 per cent. Ashok Leyland which has also built a lot of capabilities in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) and IT services domain is strengthening group firm Defiance Technologies to provide these services to players in the manufacturing, logistics and services sector. It has tied up with leading firm Epicor on this front.

With so many initiatives Sumantran believes that Hinduja Automotives would emerge as a strong global player.

BANGLADESH: Clean brick kiln projects limit deadly emissions

The number of deaths caused by respiratory illnesses linked to air pollution, the leading cause of premature mortality and morbidity in Bangladesh, could be halved if existing forms of brick kiln technology are replaced by cleaner alternatives, according to the World Bank and UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Experts describe brick-making in Bangladesh as a “footloose” industry in which operators fuel the country’s 8,000 outdated kilns with wood and low-grade coal, but also burn anything else – even old tyres and plastics – at great risk to the health of both the people and environment.

“A huge number of people are operating irresponsibly and passing on the cost to the public,” UNDP project manager Khondker Reaz Rahman told IRIN.

Modelled on a 150-year-old design of a trench dug into the ground covered by a crude structure, Bangladesh’s current brick kilns burn coal uncontrollably, creating extreme local and global emissions.

Bangladesh is rated as having some of the worst air quality in the world, causing an estimated 15,000 premature deaths a year in Dhaka alone, according to The Air Quality Management Project (AQMP).

Brick kilns around Dhaka are the main source of fine particulate matter – a mixture of extremely small solid and liquid droplets in the air commonly referred to as PM2.5 – which account for 40 percent of total emissions during their five-month operating period, said Maria Sarraf, senior environmental economist for the World Bank.

There are thousands of kilns across the country

Only 2.5 microns in diameter, PM2.5 is also referred to as respirable particles because they penetrate the respiratory system further than larger particles.

Changing kiln technology

The World Bank is supporting the government in setting up 25 demonstration vertical shaft brick kilns (VSBK) across the nation, which emit 60-70 percent fewer particulates than traditional kilns. The first project is in Savar, a sub-district close to Dhaka.

VSBK was developed in China in the 1970s where it takes about eight tons of coal to produce 100,000 bricks, compared to 23 tons in Bangladesh.

The project is funded by a US$62.2 million grant for the Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project established by the World Bank in 2009 to reduce emissions in two key polluting sectors by 2014 – brick kilns and transportation.

UNDP is also turning the dirty industry around with Hybrid Hoffman Kilns (HHK), which require far less energy than traditional kilns and can be used year round.

Fifteen demonstration projects are planned for the next five years and the plan is to attract a new type of financier from those traditionally associated with the industry.

“Very few investors in brick kilns are `clean’ people. The project aims to break the vicious cycle involving gangsters, political leaders and small-scale investors,” said UNDP project manager Khondker Reaz Rahman.

Illegal?

Half of Bangladesh’s brick kilns are operating illegally, as investors fail to obtain licenses and flout existing environmental laws, according to UNDP.

Government guidelines prohibit kilns within 3km of a settlement, but the Department of Environment’s director said this is “impractical” due to high population density. He believes cleaner alternatives offer the only sustainable alternative for the rapidly growing industry.

Prior to piloted alternatives, the only modifications made to existing kiln technology involved a 2004 government order to disperse pollution over a wider area by raising smokestacks.

“It’s very dangerous to live close to a brick kiln,” said Rahman. “Children and the elderly have less resistance to the health effects, such as asthma.”

According to CASE Consultant Swapan Kumar Biswas, the government plans to publish new guidelines with stronger enforcement mechanisms by the end of the 2011, along with updated data on the levels of airborne pollution

Oil imports have risen as Bangladeshi farms and industry turn to diesel to replace unreliable mains electricity


Energy-starved Bangladesh’s fuel import bill will rise by a third in the next financial year to a record $6 billion as domestic gas supplies fail to keep pace with demand.
Energy-starved Bangladesh’s fuel import bill will rise by a third in the next financial year to a record $6 billion as domestic gas supplies fail to keep pace with demand, an official said Tuesday.

Bangladesh Petroleum Corp (BPC) has been forced to increase imports as agriculture and industry turn to diesel generators to replace unreliable mains electricity, Muktadir Ali, chairman of the state-owned oil company, told AFP.

“Import costs will be a record $6 billion next year as the economy roars ahead,” said Ali, who added that the bill in 2010-2011 was $4 billion.

Bangladesh suffers from a daily power shortfall of 1,000 megawatts of power, with daily demand at 6,000 megawatts against supply of around 5,000 megawatts.

Several new power plants are set to come online this year but due to a lack of new finds in Bangladesh’s gas fields, most will use diesel to generate electricity and so further push up import costs, Ali said.

Bangladeshi gas fields used to provide more than 95 percent of the country’s electricity but now generate only 80 percent said power department spokesman Saiful Islam.

According to the state-owned Petrobangla, Bangladesh’s daily gas demand has risen to 2,500 million cubic feet, 500 million cubic feet more than it can supply.

The World Bank has criticised the government’s reliance on new diesel and furnace oil power plants, saying such short-term solutions would widen the fiscal deficit and cost the country more in the long run.

BPC is losing 16 billion taka ($222 million) a month due to government fuel subsidies, Ali said.

“If fuel prices are not increased locally in the coming months, the losses will mount, as global crude prices remain volatile,” Ali said.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest countries, with nearly 40 percent of its 150 million population surviving on less than a dollar a day.

Street protests routinely break out whenever gas, electricity or transport costs rise, with dozens of small protests erupting this week in Dhaka over a 30 percent ticket price hike on natural-gas run buses.

source:google news

Islamic Development Bank to help $140 Million loan for Padma Multipurpose Bridge

Islamic Development Bank, the Jeddah- based multilateral lender, will lend $140 million to Bangladesh to build a bridge connecting the country’s southwest region with the capital, Dhaka. The government has signed the loan agreement with the Islamic Development Bank to finance the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project.
Finance minister A M A Muhith and IDB president Ahmad Mohammed Ali inked the deal on Tuesday morning.

The bridge, to be built at Mawa-Jajira, is the country’s biggest-ever infrastructure project involving an estimated cost of $2.9 billion being co-financed by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and Japan

“It’s the biggest participation by IDB in a single project in Bangladesh,” Ahmad Mohamed Ali, president of the lender, said today in an interview.

The loan agreement follows one with the Japan International Cooperation Agency last week to lend more than $400 million for the construction of the 6.15 kilometer (3.8 mile) long bridge, which will cut travel time between Dhaka and Khulna city to three hours from 12 hours. The project, which will eliminate dependence on ferry services for transport, is expected to boost Bangladesh’s annual economic growth by half-a-percentage point, the Japanese agency said.

The World Bank and Asian Development Bank are the other lenders to the project, which will cost $2.91 billion to build, according to the website of Bangladesh Bridge Authority.

Bangladesh – Home schooling

Sources : This year, like in the previous years, thousands of students from different secondary schools have passed their SSC examinations with stupendous results. It has been reported that the percentage of students who have passed in this year’s SSC examinations from all the ten education boards of Bangladesh has broken all the previous records. This is a piece of great news indeed and we have reasons to believe that our boys and girls are now fully conscious that there is no alternative to education and the secondary school certificate is their pride possession and their first permit to climb the ladder up to higher education.

It has been proven that those who get good grades in both SSC and HSC examinations can ultimately matriculate to a good university. If we try to find out why our students are faring so well in SSC and HSC examinations it will transpire that it was more the students’ and their guardians’ determination and perseverance than the quality of classroom lessons or the dedication of school teachers or private tutors that propelled our boys and girls to attain good results in their examinations.

Of course, there were a good number of good schools and colleges where quality education was imparted to students by qualified teachers. But their numbers are now fast dwindling away. Even schools and colleges which were traditionally reputed to be the best few in the country are no more staffed by dedicated teachers.

There are quality teachers who are in the payroll of those famous schools and colleges, but they dispense knowledge to students on a piecemeal approach by offering classroom lessons in such a manner that the students feel impelled to enroll themselves as pupils under those teachers’ private tuition to fill up the gaps of knowledge left unfilled in their classrooms. Classroom lectures of those teachers are the advertisements for their tutorial businesses. A good college is an attractive avenue for those teachers to monetise the gathering of prospective clients. Lectures in classes are their giveaways to lure the gullible students into buying knowledge on sale the way freebies are offered to hook customers into buying merchandises on display in the markets.

Such a scenario is prevalent not only in Bangladesh but also in other developing countries in the world. Selling knowledge is nowadays a multibillion dollar business not only in developing countries like Bangladesh but also in developed countries like the United States of America. But there is a difference between how students are taught in the classrooms in Bangladesh and in America.

In most of the American schools and colleges the students are very powerful as they pay money for their tuition and the tuition fees are pretty high there. Teachers remain alert to the possibility of losing their jobs in case the students are not satisfied with the way lessons are taught in the classrooms. Each and every student is required to submit their evaluations of his teacher on every single class lesson taught in the classrooms.

Poor observations made by students about a teacher in America means earning bad points on the part of the teacher the way an American motorist earns bad points for each violation of traffic rules. While each traffic violation is not in itself serious enough to require suspension or revocation of a driver’s license, several violations may indicate that action has to be taken. If a certain number of bad points are reached within a prescribed period of time, the driver’s license may be suspended or even revoked. Similarly, if students continue submitting bad evaluations about the teaching patterns of a teacher, his privilege to teach in a school may also be suspended or even revoked.

But in Bangladesh students are too weak to fight against their teachers. Students in Bangladesh are required to keep mum when they do not understand what their teacher is babbling away on Mathematics or on any other subject in the classrooms. In Bangladesh, it is the teachers who decide the fate of his students depending not on who is attentive in the classrooms but on who is enrolled as a student of those teachers’ private tuition sessions in the afternoon or at night.

Guardians of this year’s SSC examinees who secured good results, especially of those examinees who got GPA-5, are happy at their wards’ academic accomplishments, no doubt; but they must at the same time be passing dreadful moments, worrying over whether they could get their wards admitted in reputed colleges given that the number of eligible candidates will far outweigh the number of seats available in those famous colleges.

Should a guardian feel disgruntled at the failure of his or her ward’s getting admission in a college like Dhaka College or Holy Cross College? Should not the guardians be smart enough to find an alternative method in which their wards could prepare themselves for higher secondary certificate and fare equally well in HSC examinations the way they did in SSC examinations? Should not our government take steps to redress the problem by introducing an effective alternative system for those meritorious students who for no fault of their own would not get admission in the so-called reputed colleges?

We should bear in mind that it is no more, or not necessarily, the reputation of a school or a college or its teachers that are responsible for the stupendous results of our boys and girls in SSC or HSC. Rather it is the students’ and their guardians’ determination and perseverance that have made students excel in their academic pursuits. Students in Viquarunnissa School, Dhaka College, Notre Dame College or Holy Cross College showed stupendous results in their exams not for the signboards of the institutions but for the intrinsic quality of the students themselves. If today all the students of the so-called famous colleges collectively decide that they would study from the comfort of their homes taking help from online courses, the dominance of the greedy teachers will die soon and the business monopoly of the educational institutions would be vanished too.

Even in America there is a system of home schooling which is also known as home education or home learning in which children are educated at home, typically by parents, but sometimes by tutors too, rather than in other formal settings of public or private schools. In fact, prior to the introduction of compulsory school attendance, most education, especially the childhood education, occurred within the family or community. Home schooling in the modern sense is an alternative to expensive private schooling run on commercial considerations.

What is needed today in Bangladesh for emancipating our students from the shackles of oppressive and expensive education systems is free or subsidised access into internet by all our young students. Here, the government and the nongovernmental organisations can play their pivotal roles. In this age of information technology, if our students can get lessons from free educational websites like those of “Khan Academy” in English or from that of AGAMI, the Bangla counterpart of “Khan Academy”, the guardians may rest assured that their wards who would fail to get admissions into so-called reputed colleges will not lag behind their classmates who would ostensibly be luckier in getting admission into colleges of their choices.

It may be mentioned that AGAMI, a US-based non-profit organisation run by some IT professionals based in California, has almost completed the job of translating the “Khan Academy” tutorials in English into Bangla for all the Science play lists on Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Organic Chemistry. Now it is up to the Bangla spoken students and learners in Bangladesh to make the best use of it by visiting the websites of Khan Academy and AGAMI or by clicking the related YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/KhanAcademyBangla).

I wonder how Rabindranath Tagore, had he been alive today, would react to the hapless situations of our students eager to get admissions into famous colleges, but miserably failing!

Rabindranath Tagore believed in absolute freedom in education; he found his outside formal schooling to be inferior and boring and, after a brief exposure to several schools, he refused to attend school. The only degrees he ever received were honorary ones bestowed late in his life. As an alternative to the then existing forms of education, he started a small school at Shantiniketan in 1901 that developed into a university and rural reconstruction centre, where he tried to develop an alternative model of education that stemmed from his own learning experiences.

Had Rabindranath Tagore been alive today, he would perhaps initiate a worldwide campaign to stop the commercialisation of education and set up a global NGO which would organise distributing educational materials and know-how absolutely free through internet.

ADB to provide $23m for transportation Development project as technical assistance loan

The Asian Development Bank has made a pledge of $23 million to Bangladesh as technical assistance loan for a series of regional transport projects.

Under the proposed Sub-regional Transport Project Preparatory Facility, the loan will facilitate the scheme for cross-border routes identified in Saarc’s Regional Multimodal Transport Study, ADB officials have said.

Also, transport corridors — like Asian Highway Network and Trans-Asia Rail Network — linked with the member countries of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) will be targeted.

The facility will cover eight percent of Bangladesh’s major roads and 12 percent of its railways.

It is projected to cost $27.59 million, including taxes and duties, physical and price contingencies, and interest and other charges during implementation.

The loan, which is from ADB’s concessional Asian Development Fund, will have a 32-year term, including a grace period of eight years, with one percent interest rate per annum during the grace period and 1.5 percent per annum thereafter.

The government will provide $4.59 million for local taxes and duties.

The facility will increase sub-regional trade among South Asian countries, especially through Bangladesh that borders India and Myanmar and is geographically close to Bhutan, Nepal, and Kunming — the key transport hub in southwest China and also the capital of Yunnan province.

The road component of the facility aims to prepare project covering at least 300km road for tendering in 2012, and an overall approximate length of 1,700km by the end of 2013.

Primarily, all roads will be designed as four-lane, but the final design will depend on the feasibility study.

Consultants will also explore possible public-private partnerships for financially viable sub-projects.

Under the railway component, the facility aims to prepare at least one project, or minimum 85km, for tendering by the end of 2012.

Government of Bangladesh, US commemorate operation

A Bangladesh soldier with the 18th Engineer Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, Bangladesh Army, passes off supplies to Sgt. Joseph Bergeron Jr., an engineer with Marine Wing Support Squadron 472, Marine Wing Support Group 47, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve, during an engineering civic action project at the Salimpur Primary School, Chittagong, Bangladesh, May 3.
Members of the Government of Bangladesh, the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka and Marines with the III Marine Expeditionary Force, participated in the 20th anniversary commemoration of Operation Sea Angel here May 12.

On the evening of April 29, 1991, Cyclone Marian (Tropical Cyclone 02B) struck the Chittagong district of southeastern Bangladesh. Approximately 139,000 people were killed and an estimated 10 million became homeless or displaced.

Less than two weeks later, the U.S. organized a contingency joint task force commanded by Marine Lt. Gen. Henry Stackpole, to spearhead humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts to the devastated areas. The operation was dubbed Sea Angel.

“This event is an opportunity to reflect on the strong, multi-decade partnership between Bangladesh and the United States in areas such as disaster relief and humanitarian assistance,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Lance E. Jacobsen, the senior defense official and defense attaché to Bangladesh. “We look forward to acknowledging and celebrating the many achievements that have been made over the past 20 years.”

The international disaster relief effort was an unprecedented demonstration of multilateral cooperation, according to Patricia Hill, press and information officer, U.S. Embassy, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This occasion commemorates a stellar example of U.S. military support provided to a nation in a time of crisis. Stackpole and the 6,700 American service members under his command are credited with saving 200,000 lives and providing medical care to more than two million people, according to Paul A. McCarthy, former logistics officer during Sea Angel.

As part of the commemoration ceremony last week, Marines from 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III MEF, and Marine Wing Support Squadron 472, Marine Support Group 47, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve, based in Chicopee, Mass., in coordination with the Government of Bangladesh, conducted an engineering civic action project, where they constructed cyclone shelters near Chittagong from May 4-9.

The U.S. would provide necessary support for Bangladesh to build 130 multi-purpose cyclone shelters in the disaster-prone areas, said James F. Moriarty, U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh.

“We have 40 shelters (already) built and in use with over 130 planned in the near future,” he said. “Each shelter would provide classrooms for more than 120 children and house 1,200 people in case of emergency.”

Working alongside the U.S. Marines for the first time was a special experience, said Maj. Muhammad Zakir Hossain, commanding officer of 18th Engineer Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, Bangladesh Army.

“They’re well disciplined, courteous and receptive. I think this is very important for our future operations and continuous relations between the two nations.”

According to the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh, the cooperation among all agencies and between the two governments has been positive and productive.

“During this commemoration we have to remember that this disaster was the foundation of mutual respect and mutual effort, that we went forward and built a solid partnership on,” said Lt. Gen. Duane D. Thiessen, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.

“Bangladesh and the United States enjoy a longstanding relationship marked by cooperation, mutual respect and shared goals,” concluded Moriarty.