12:00 AM, March 09, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 09, 2011

Yunus removal upheld

HC rejects Nobel hero's petition against his ouster by govt from Grameen Bank; Yunus may appeal to SC today

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Ashutosh Sarkar


The High Court yesterday upheld Bangladesh Bank's "removal" of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from the post of Grameen Bank's managing director.
He will appeal against the verdict with the Supreme Court, his lawyers said.
An HC bench summarily rejected two writ petitions filed challenging the legality of the central bank's order.
Delivering the verdict, the court said the microcredit pioneer's posting as the MD of Grameen Bank since 1999 was illegal as he reached the age of 60 by then.
The MD of Grameen Bank is an official who cannot hold the office for an unlimited period, it added.
The board of directors of Grameen Bank is the authority to appoint its MD with approval from Bangladesh Bank. But it did not happen in Yunus' case since 1999, the court said.
The HC bench of Justice Mohammad Momtazuddin Ahmed and Justice Gobinda Chandra Tagore observed that there was no substance in the writ petitions.
Details of the grounds on which the HC rejected the writ petitions could not be known immediately, since the copy of the verdict's full text was not released yesterday.
The Grameen Bank authorities expressed disappointment with the verdict.
Jannat-E-Quanine, general manager for information and media co-ordination of the institution, in a statement said, "We have received the order and are very disappointed. We are consulting with our lawyers about the next steps. We hope that in the meantime nothing will jeopardise the stability of Grameen Bank."
"Eight million borrowers and 26,000 members of Grameen Bank have brought the bank to this level through their hard work and are deeply involved in building the future for their children -- we hope nothing will disrupt that," it added.
Barrister Rokanuddin Mahmud, a counsel for Yunus, told journalists in his Supreme Court Bar chamber, "On hearing the verdict, Dr Yunus asked all his counsels whether he should move an appeal with the Supreme Court. All of us suggested going to the Supreme Court to challenge the High Court verdict."
"Dr Yunus might move a provisional leave to appeal before the chamber judge of the Appellate Division tomorrow," he said yesterday.
He said his client may continue in the office of MD of Grameen Bank until its board of directors appoints his successor, as per the Bangladesh Bank's "removal letter".
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam however told The Daily Star that Prof Yunus has no right to stay in the office following the HC verdict.
He claimed the Bangladesh Bank letter does not say that Yunus may continue as the MD until Grameen Bank board of directors appoints a replacement.
Rokanuddin said it is not a setback for Dr Yunus and he has not been reduced in honour. No-one is asking questions about Yunus but about what happened in court, he said.
He said Yunus' lawyers expressed to the High Court on Monday their apprehension that the writ petitions would be rejected, and the apprehension has become true through the judgement.
Rokan hoped that the Supreme Court will cancel the HC verdict after hearing the appeal.
There are many precedents in the history of judiciary that the Appellate Division set aside HC verdicts, he said.
"We believe in the rule of law, and the supremacy of the constitution, and we have full confidence in the Supreme Court that we will get justice," Rokan said.
Everything is still now in favour of Dr Muhammad Yunus, he added. "Ordinary people of Bangladesh treat Dr Yunus as a great hope and a matter of pride and achievement. There was no great man like Yunus in Bangladesh except Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman," Rokan told the media.
"It is abnormal, unimaginable and surprising that the High Court passed the judgement without issuing any rule," said Barrister Sara Hossain, Yunus' another counsel, in an immediate reaction, terming the day as a sad one for the whole country.
In an SMS she said, "Today is a sad day for Bangladesh, and for all of us who practise before these courts. The government has attacked and vilified one of our most respected citizens, Prof Yunus, who won the Nobel Prize for Bangladesh."
The government appears intent on seizing the Grameen Bank which Prof Yunus founded and built, she added.
"We are shocked but hardly surprised at today's order. We apprehended we would not get justice, and we have not got justice," she wrote.
The lawyer went on, "The court has upheld a grossly illegal order and made an extra-ordinary declaration that Prof Yunus' term of his office expired when he reached 60 in 1999. And that the central bank's clear audits of Grameen and their engagement with Prof Yunus for ten years since amount to nothing."
"If that's the case we should perhaps ask the Nobel Committee whether they would seize the Nobel Prize which was given to Prof Yunus in 2006," she quipped.
No senior counsel for Yunus was present in the court during the verdict delivery.
Dr Kamal Hossain, Mahmudul Islam, and Rokanuddin Mahmud argued for Yunus during the three days of hearing on the writ petitions.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam at a briefing in his office told reporters that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and adivasi leader Santu Larma should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, for their contribution in establishing peace in the hills.
He said the board of directors of Grameen Bank decided in 1999 that Prof Yunus might hold the office of the MD as long as he wishes, which was contrary to the Grameen Bank Ordinance, 1983.
Yunus is now around 70, and according to section-36 of the ordinance, he cannot hold the office, he said adding that the retirement age for Grameen Bank officials is 60, which is also applicable to Yunus.
But Yunus stayed as the MD of Grameen Bank even after crossing the age of 60, without taking approval from Bangladesh Bank, he claimed.
Replying to the reaction of Sara Hossain, Mahbubey Alam said Yunus' Nobel Prize winning has nothing to do with him staying in the office of Grameen Bank MD.
"Is there any institution in the world whose officials have no retirement age?" he asked.
On March 3, Yunus filed a writ petition with the HC bench challenging the legality of a March 2 Bangladesh Bank letter that "removed" him from the post.
The same day nine elected members of the board of directors of Grameen Bank, who are poor rural women, filed another writ petition with the same bench against the central bank's "removal letter".
The petitioners prayed for a ruling on the government to explain as to why the Bangladesh Bank letter should not be declared illegal, and for a stay order on the effectiveness of the letter.
Senior judge of the bench, Justice Momtazuddin Ahmed, delivered the verdict for about an hour yesterday afternoon in a packed courtroom in presence of local and foreign journalists.
Meanwhile, speculation runs rife over the fate of a Grameen Bank without Yunus at the helm.
Khondaker Muzammel Huq, the government-appointed chairman of Grameen, told The Daily Star that he would soon hold a meeting of the board of directors and set the next course of action.

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