Monday, August 16, 2010


1) India-BD trade issues Linky

On August 5, the commerce minister and the prime minister's economic adviser shared views with members of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry on the impediments in the path of bolstering exports to India, our largest neighbour with whom we happen to have a very hefty trade deficit. Despite bilateral negotiations and even some unilateral trade concessions from India, our exports remain a fraction of the more than $3 billion that India annually exports to us. Does this mean we don't have anything the Indians want? Nothing can be farther from the truth -- as seen in the quantity of products Indian traders informally take back across their border. The problem lies elsewhere.

Many entrepreneurs blame non-tariff barriers, such as cumbersome product testing and certification, inadequate land-port facilities and lack of pass-through traffic for trucks and cargo containers. Entrepreneurs claim product testing and certifications alone account for 70 percent of the export bottleneck. If so, the imbalance in trade can be mitigated by getting products testing and certifications from Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), recognised by its Indian counterpart. But does India have confidence in the standards and testing competence of BSTI? It may hurt our national pride to admit it, but the BSTI needs to improve its capabilities and ensure the integrity of testing and certification.

As a result, Jamdani sari exported to Kolkata now gets stuck at the land port for up to six months, waiting for textile testing done only in Chennai. And the Indian bureaucracy is responsible for this and many similar examples that remain thorns in our shoes. But the BSTI itself is also at fault. It lacks both the technicians to carry out sophisticated tests and assessments and often also the equipment for modern product testing. Most damaging is the common perception that certifications can be purchased and test results manipulated by greasing palms. Over the past 20 years, I have had many policy-level interactions with the BSTI and its ministry (Industries). I know the government is aware of BSTI shortcomings and has, over the years, undertaken many programmes to ameliorate the BSTI -- some funded locally but most funded by development partners, such as the European Union and International Trade Centre.

Despite this, the local business community has little confidence in the institute, so we can hardly fault India for taking issue with its certifications. India even included an upgrade project of BSTI facilities on the list of 14 projects to be funded by its $1 billion loan agreement. Yet such technical enhancements have done little to allay the business community perceptions of corruptibility and lack of professionalism at BSTI thus far.

To break the BSTI free from the clutches of nonchalant bureaucrats, rent-seeking syndicates and incompetent technical staff, we need public-private partnerships (PPPs). Product testing and certification jobs are revenue generators. The cost of setting standards can be largely borne by pro-bono professional inputs from private sector organisations. Many private technical organisations, industry-specific trade organisations and universities would find it financially feasible and expedient to form PPPs with the BSTI, and to raise its services world-class levels in testing, certification and standards-setting. International bodies can even vet (or cross-certify) these, for instant recognition overseas. Local and foreign entrepreneurs in Bangladesh would pay for such professional services. Such PPP arrangements ensure investment in: proper equipment; capable hired hands; market-based, demand-driven training; and professionalism among top management. Instead of being a blemish on Bangladesh's image, the BSTI would then actually be a driver of growth.

2) Prime accused of Gorkha leader Tamang’s murder arrested Linky

The West Bengal criminal investigation department (CID) made a significant breakthrough late on Sunday night by arresting Nicole Tamang, the prime accused in the murder of All India Gorkha League president Madan Tamang. Nicole is a central committee member of Bimal Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which is leading the struggle for a separate Gorkhaland state. Gurung is one of 23 people against whom FIRs have been registered.

CID sources said the involvement of Nicole had been proved on the day of the murder as his mobile phone had been found on the site of the crime. “However, Nicole went into hiding. Our officers arrested him from his ancestral home at Kaijalay, Darjeeling, after receiving specific information,” a CID officer said. Sources said tracking call details of Nicole’s mobile revealed his direct involvement in the murder. His calls to hired killer Kayla strengthened CID’s belief. Kayla, the sources said, stabbed Madan with patang, a local weapon, while he was addressing a rally in Darjeeling on May 21.So far, 11 people, including Nicole, have been arrested in the case.

Nicole was Bimal Gurung’s driver, but quickly rose through the ranks and became a member of GJM’s central committee. Till Madan’s murder, Nicole used to accompany Gurung to important meetings.

Telegraph adds Linky

Nickole, the ninth person to be arrested in the case, has been charged with murder and conspiracy. He was produced in the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Darjeeling amid tight security and remanded in judicial custody for 14 days.

3) Francis Rabha, one of the top leaders of the 109th 'Battalion' of ULFA, is killed in an encounter with the 12 Battalion CRPF.
4) Linky

The Manipur government put one more feather in its cap by opening a medical institute in Imphal West today, three days after starting a National Institute of Technology (NIT). The government-run Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital at Porompat of Imphal West was upgraded to the 300-bed Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS). This is the first medical institute to be run by the state government and the second one in Manipur after the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), which is under the Union health ministry. The Medical Council of India on July 14 sanctioned the new institute. The MBBS course at JNIMS has 100 students. Eighty-five of them are from the state while the remaining seats have been filled up with students from other states nominated by the Union health ministry.

At the inauguration ceremony, Governor Gurbachan Jagat said the opening of the NIT and medical institute pointed the direction in which the state should move towards the path of development, peace, reconciliation, education and health for all. The governor said the government should start planning and provide attractive packages for the these doctors and engineers of tomorrow so that they do not go outside the state for jobs. Jagat lauded chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh for making “tremendous efforts” personally to open the two institutes. Ibobi Singh said the institute would produce enough doctors for the requirements of the state. He also pointed out that by 2025, Manipur would be requiring 1,000 additional doctors to provide quality health service. Health minister Ph. Parijat Singh expressed happiness that the present government could realise long cherished dreams of the people and fulfil their demands. He promised speedy infrastructure development for the institute and the hospital.

5) See my earlier post on this matter: Linky

The Bangladesh government has asked countries, including India, where it suspects the killers of its founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman are hiding to track down and arrest the absconding men. Dhaka suspects that at least two of them, former captain Abdul Majed and Risaldar Moslehuddin, are hiding in India and has written to New Delhi to seek their custody. "We have sought Indian assistance for tracking down and arrest the remaining killers... We asked India to return them if they really are staying there," Home Minister Sahara Khatun said.

Twelve Bangladesh Army officers were convicted for leading a putsch in which Rahman and most of his family members were killed 15 August, 1975. Five of the 12 convicts were hanged earlier this year. One of them has died while six are absconding. Ruling Awami League general secretary and minister Syed Ashraful Islam told newspersons that the absconding killers "living particularly in western countries" could be extradited through court clearance from those countries.
A senior police official at the police headquarters told BSS, the official news agency last week, that ex-lieutenant colonel Khandaker Abdur Rashid was hiding in Libya and often travelled to Pakistan while S.H.B.M. Noor Chowdhury was in Canada but sometimes travelled to Britain. Ex-lieutenant colonel Shariful Haque Dalim is staying in Kenya and Rashed Chowdhury is in the US.

6) Hydro power in the NE (there are some whines in the report) Linky

For hydroelectric power projects, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam are deemed the best places as these two States are very rich in water resource. Moreover, other States of Northeast India also have some potentiality for hydro-power. A report based on a survey conducted by the Department of North Eastern Region (DoNER) also confirms it — the potential of generating energy is to the extent of a staggering 50,328 MW.
The Central Electricity Authority (CEA), which has carried out the preliminary ranking study of India’s national hydroelectric power potential in 2001, gave the highest status to the Brahmaputra river system. The 168 schemes considered in the northeastern States have been estimated to possess a cumulative power potential of 63,328 MW. These schemes are at various stages of investigations and development. The developments have been carried out by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), North Eastern Electric Power corporation (NEEPCO), Brahmaputra Board, State electricity boards and several private companies. Since power demand in the industrially backward northeastern States is quiet low as compared to the national requirement, the northeastern power potential will mostly feed the other States of the country. Some of the projects will be the largest project of India, such as the 3000-MW projects of Dibang and Lohit rivers, three 2000-MW projects of Subansiri to name a few, of which the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri project is expected to be completed by this year.

India already has a large number of dams, many of which are multipurpose dams of which irrigation is one of the major objectives. So far as the Northeast is concerned, power generation is the main objective, escaping the requirement of flood cushioning and flood moderation which is vital in the Brahmaputra and Barak Valleys. Since the dams constructed are of ‘‘run-of-the-river’’ type, they are not designed and aimed to accommodate the peak-flood discharge and hence will not work for flood moderation during monsoon. None of these projects have irrigation component, except the Pagladiya dam project of the Brahmaputra Board which was abandoned halfway due to problems associated with rehabilitation and resettlement.
About 103 dam projects have been cleared by the Ministry of Forest and Environment, Government of India, in the northeastern region of various magnitudes. The main hydro-power projects in the Northeast are Ranganadi, Doyang, Khandong, Loktak and Umium. Lohit, Tipai-mukh, Siang, Subansiri, Dibang, Kulsi, Jiadhal, Simsang etc are under construction. Among all these multipurpose dam projects, most of the dam projects are related with the Brahmaputra and its tributary rivers like Kapili, Doyang, Khandong, Subansiri, Lohit, Dibang and Kulsi.

7) Nepal update: Linky

The Maoists have indicated that after the next round of election if unsuccessful, they would look for other alternatives. It is not clear what that means. Their central committee will be meeting on the 19th. The Nepali Congress has not changed its stand. They are insisting that a consensus should be forged on vital issues of peace process mainly on integration and rehabilitation of Maoists combatants before they could change their stand.

8) Oz elections: I must admit that I am a bit too late to the electioneering. Nevertheless, I read with amusement how Tony Abbott who was a no-namer from the Liberals side -- the man who had won his party's leadership over Malcolm Turnbull by a single vote, the man who was never in the scene till Joe Hockey committed hara-kiri over the conscience vote on the emissions trading legislation, the man whose opposite number (Kevin Ruud) was enjoying astronomical popularity ratings, etc. came to be a contender for the top post. Similarly, amusing is the fall from grace of Kevin Ruud -- losing his ability to communicate in public, especially in the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate change fiasco (to the Oz side, that is), thumbing his nose at the Cabinet processes, calling the chinese "ratf***ers" in open mic, losing the party control to the machinations inside ALP, etc. In the midst of all this lies the "Welsh woman" -- a pejorative for Julia Gillard, a first generation immigrant from Wales, a political operator par excellence, defying conventional mores and leading an "unAustralian" way of life, etc. This sure as heck is a soap opera par imagination.

A PTI report that is floating claims this: "Gillard likes to see Australia as a ‘republic’" Linky. Having followed her interviews fairly closely, I can say that the report is wrong as well as right. JG claims that she would like to see a Republic, but she herself would not do anything towards that goal. She claims that a Republic needs more than just politicians' involvement and if it does happen in her regime, she would be happy for that. But she would nt go around "wasting" her time and dividing the people vertically in that goal. That is a more nuanced take on the matter than what the PTI report says. JG in her interviews comes across as a fairly intelligent lady, while TA comes across (at least to me) as someone whipping the hysteria of "boat peoples", mining super-tax, etc. But nothing is guaranteed once these folks are in power, nothing, absolutely nothing.

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