Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mobile Courts : The Question Of Legality

In today’s Bangladesh – digital or otherwise – the word “mobile” definitely carries with it positive connotations of technological advancement, development and so on. Take for example mobile phones, or mobile clinics or even mobile libraries.  These innovations have all come with the primary goal of providing access; be it access to telecommunications, access to healthcare or access to knowledge. The initial idea behind the new phenomenon called “mobile court” was perhaps motivated by a similar aim, namely, access to justice. But what the fruit of this idea has ended up as is rather alarming. A hospital must provide medical treatment, just like a court must provide justice and prevent injustice. So, just like a hospital must be put under scrutiny if it fails in its endeavours to cure people, similarly, a court must face bitter criticism if its actions represent anything but justice. Consequently, I believe that the recent wave of criticism coming from various rights groups and the main opposition party that has surrounded the mobile form of handing out punishments are not unfounded. Our Constitution guarantees that we will be treated in accordance with the law at all times. Our Home Minister has stated that mobile courts have been given power by law enacted by Parliament and as such they are perfectly legal. But unfortunately, the Home Minister’s stance on the issue, which is shared by the government, only represents half the truth. This is because the explanation the state machinery has fed to the public and the media leaves out a very important constitutional principle, i.e. that not only must power be acquired legally, the exercise of such power must be within legal bounds as well. It is true that the Mobile Courts Act 2009 gives almost unfettered discretion to mobile courts to “hold a person guilty”. It is in this unrestricted discretion that the illegality and unconstitutionality of this system lies. The “superpower” given under the Act to mobile courts means that these courts are absolved of all the procedural and evidential requirements that exist to protect the rights of an accused person – the right to consult a lawyer, the right to defend himself, the right to cross-examine the prosecution’s evidence, the right to produce his own witnesses, the right to make a closing argument explaining his story to the court and so on. None of these rights exist for a person whom a mobile court has got hold of and, unfortunately for him, the age-old principle, “Innocent until proven guilty,” stands corrected as “Guilty until proven innocent.” If the immediate past government could be blamed for introducing “ crossfire” to a country which shed millions of lives fighting for democracy and the rule of law, the present government must receive the same treatment for utilising mobile “courts” which, in the name of quick or rapid action, hand out convictions at will. There is nothing constitutional about the way these courts operate; and fairness and impartiality are virtues they have proved to be devoid of. In these circumstances, intervention is necessary. The rights of many citizens, along with their families, are at stake. Moreover, in the current world climate, resisting political opposition must be an act done with clean hands. The era of “ crossfire” and random street convictions must end.

Khaleda's Signal Can Be Built Up On : Al Should Seize The Opportunity

For the first time since the ruling AL and the opposition BNP locked their horns on caretaker issue, we think, Begum Zia has indicated a willingness to have talks with the ruling party if the caretaker system were retained. Though the prime minister had initially ruled out the retention of CTG 'after the court verdict', lately she has been making repeated overtures to the opposition leader urging her to place her formula for CTG reform on the table. This, she felt, was necessitated by the SC verdict as well as the experience with the abuse of the system in 2007-08. However, following the opposition leader's positive signal to the PM's initiative for an engagement, some AL leaders have expressed views that did not resonate with the PM's latest stand. One part of the SC verdict allows for two-term use of the caretaker system on the basis of understanding between political parties. Moreover, in an ' observation' the SC added that if political parties agreed, higher judiciary can be delinked from caretaker system. So materially as well as interpretatively, there is no point hammering that there is no scope for continuing with the CTG after the court verdict. For, such a position does not only militate with SC verdict but also sounds discordant with the PM's own positive approach to engaging the opposition. Now that Begum Zia has shown signs of reciprocating the PM's gesture, and the BNP is speaking with one voice, the trend needs to be built up on and taken forward with sagacity. In this context, we expect all AL leaders to speak with one voice and fall in line with the PM. While we appreciate the opposition leader's positive response for dialogue, we urge her to join the parliament without any loss of time to put across her ideas of caretaker reform as the ruling party too engages the opposition over its points to arrive at a common ground. It is the House of the people through which an effective and conclusive outcome can be reached. They can make the fullest use of the parliamentary forum while an option for agitation remains, short of hartal, of course, which is detrimental to national interest.

Brahmaputra Course : Dhaka To Play Diplomacy Card With China

The Chinese government's plan to divert the course of Brahmaputra river to the dry region of Xinxiang will be tackled diplomatically, the water resources minister has said. Ramesh Chandra Sen on Thursday told bdnews24. com that some steps were taken in this regard. Ministry sources said China last year announced to build a massive dam on Yarlung Tsangpo river, the first major dam in Tibet, with a view to setting up the world's biggest hydro-electric power plant having 510 MW capacity. He said the plant would be constructed on the upper reaches of Brahmaputra and would not divert the river's course causing possible downstream impact on India or Bangladesh. But China began damming the Tsangpo's flow in November 8 last year which raised concerns about a possible impact for the downstream people. Originating from the southwestern Tibet as the Yarlung Tsangpo river, Brahmaputra is nearly 1 ,800 miles (2 ,900 km) long. It flows through Arunachal Pradesh in the southwest of the Assam valley of India as Brahmaputra and in Bangladesh, Jamuna is its main branch. Sen said that foreign minister Dipu Moni, who is now in China on a state visit, would discuss the matter of change in the course of the river with the Chinese government. Dipu is accompanied by water resources state minister Mahbubur Rahman Talukder and a joint secretary. The foreign minister would also visit different rivers, dams and would accumulate knowledge about their cost and know-how, Sen added.

China And Opposition To Dams : Chocking On The Three Gorges

RAIN along the middle and lower Yangzi River this week has helped alleviate the region’s worst drought in 50 years. But it has not doused a storm of criticism of the Three Gorges dam upriver, including allegations that it contributed to the disaster. Opponents of the colossal edifice have been emboldened by rare government admissions of environmental and other “urgent” problems caused by the dam. In private, officials have worried about the project for some time and occasionally their doubts have surfaced in the official media. But the government itself has refused to acknowledge them. When the project was approved by the rubber-stamp parliament in 1992 , debate was stifled by the oppressive political atmosphere of the time, following the Tiananmen Square massacre three years earlier. Last July, with the dam facing its biggest flood crest since completion in 2006 , officials hinted that they might have overstated its ability to control flooding. On May 18 th, with the dam again in the spotlight because of the drought, a cabinet meeting chaired by the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, went further in acknowledging drawbacks. Having called the dam “hugely beneficial overall”, the cabinet’s statement said there were problems relating to the resettlement of 1.4 m people, to the environment and to the “ prevention of geological disasters” that urgently needed addressing. The dam, it said, had had “a certain impact” on navigation, irrigation and water-supply downstream. Some of these problems had been forecast at the design stage or spotted during construction. But they had been “difficult to resolve effectively because of limitations imposed by conditions at the time.” It did not elaborate. The confession has triggered a flurry of articles in official newspapers about the dam’s deficiencies. Some recalled a warning given by one of China’s most famous critics, Huang Wanli, before his death ten years ago that the dam would silt up the reservoir basin and sooner or later have to be blown up. The Oriental Morning Post even filled its front page with a picture of Mr Huang, who was persecuted by Mao Zedong for his criticism of the Sanmenxia dam on the Yellow River. Sanmenxia was the nation’s pride until its reservoir silted up. On June 7 th Shanghai Daily , an English-language paper, called the Three Gorges “that monstrous damming project”. Its effect on the drought is difficult to prove. Officials deny assertions that the dam and its more than 600- km (370- mile) reservoir might have affected the regional climate. But one official, Wang Jingquan of the Yangzi’s Water Resources Committee, conceded that the dam had lowered water levels in two of the country’s biggest freshwater lakes, making the impact worse. The rapid lowering of the reservoir’s level has also raised fears of landslides and earthquakes. Probe International, a Canadian NGO, published a report on June 1 st by Chinese government experts saying the dam had caused “ significantly increased” seismic activity. This debate has erupted at a time of heightened political uncertainty as the Communist Party prepares for sweeping leadership changes next year. The government’s decision to be open about doubts that had previously been harboured in private could reflect struggles between outgoing leaders and their still-influential predecessors. The earlier generation had been responsible for getting the project started in the 1990 s. But President Hu Jintao and Mr Wen did not attend the dam’s completion ceremony in May 2006. For liberal intellectuals, the furore has provided an opportunity to push back against hardliners (who tend to favour grandiose displays of state power). One liberal newspaper published an interview with Mao Yushi, a prominent economist who has been fiercely denounced recently by hardliners because of an article he wrote attacking Mao Zedong. Mr Mao (the economist rather than the Helmsman) contributed to a book criticising the Three Gorges dam which was published in 1989 , shortly before the Tiananmen protests. It was later banned. In the interview Mr Mao accused the government of shuffling off responsibility for the dam 20 years ago by ignoring anti-dam experts and then getting the legislature to approve the project. “If there are any problems in future, you won’t be able to find anyone. There is nobody taking real responsibility,” he said.