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     Volume 8 Issue 92 | October 30, 2009 |

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Who can be behind the arson?

Ershad Kamol

Even after a week of the fire at the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) warehouse in Tejgaon industrial area on October 18 a fire that continued burning for four days, the government has not yet disclosed the total damage done by the fire till writing of this report on October 25.

The government formed a probe committee to investigate the issue on October 18, which was supposed to submit the primary report by three days and its final report by 15 days. The probe committee submitted the primary report on October 21 and Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid disclosed the report. The preliminary investigations found indication of arson. Briefing the press the Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid, said the October 18 fire was not caused by an electric short-circuit as evidence of powder like substances were found on the spot which, which suggests it was an act of sabotage.

The minister said the fire had started in three corners of the spot and the night guards had detected it at about 6:30 am when they were switching off the lights after their duty hours. However, the minister said that the probe was yet to confirm the persons behind the arson, though the ministry is expected to receive the final report of the committee in 15 days.

A high placed NCTB source preferring anonymity told The Star that most of the papers damaged inside the warehouse are for publishing texts for Ibtedia (primary of Madrassa board) for the academic year 2011 and printing teachers' guides. About 280 of tonnes paper burnt in the fire were stocked at the warehouse to be used for textbooks for the academic year 2010. Moreover, three types of textbooks for primary students-- mathematics for class II, Bangla for class II-- and a few textbooks for the secondary students supplied by Ananda Printers, PA Printers and Super Offset to be distributed were also damaged at the warehouse.

Like other such subversive acts, quite a few theories have cropped up. Meanwhile Bangladesh Chhatra League brought out a procession accusing the leader of the opposition for the arson. Some are pointing to the fundamentalist groups, claiming they may be behind the arson, since they don't want the implementation of the proposed education policy. On the other hand, many are accusing the printers, who usually create shortage of the textbooks by hoarding to get more profit. The logic behind such conspiracy theory is that some people are claiming that after introduction of free textbooks by the government and printing these books by the printers across the country, the Banglabazar based syndicates of wholesalers -cum-printers have become affected.

Accusing the leader of opposition is a part of the 'blame game' in our national politics. Those who are accusing the religious fundamentalists, erroneously think that the textbooks to be printed for the next academic year are based on the proposed education policy that intends to minimise the gaps between existing streams. The Banglabazar-centric printers are also not affected after introduction of the free distribution of the textbooks, since most of these printers ultimately were commissioned by NCTB to publish 19 crore textbooks for the next academic year. It therefore does not make any sense that they would be behind the fire.

Then who can be behind the arson?
This is for the first time that NCTB purchased papers from two private companies besides the state owned Karnaphuli Paper Mills Limited. The printers submitted the written complaint against the poor quality papers supplied by one of the two private companies. In response to the complaint, NCTB formed another enquiry committee, which is investigating the issue visiting different printing presses. So far, the committee has not submitted the report.

However, many printers who had complained told The Star that they refused to take the poor quality papers supplied by that company, however, being requested by the NCTB Chairman they took papers despite the business loss. As a result, they preferred papers supplied by another private suppliers. Just before the fire, papers supplied by the private company accused for supplying poor quality papers stacked their supply at the warehouse. Most of these papers stocked meant for textbooks for the 2010 academic year were burnt.

Meanwhile, this particular private company filed a case in the High Court and obtained a rule, for which it would not be possible for the government to arrange an international tender to publish textbooks. Moreover, the customs have imposed additional charges for importing papers. Thus the private company could be a possible beneficiary. If the government needs to purchase paper immediately, it has no alternative but to purchasing papers from that company.

Industry sources think that this company is aiming for a monopoly in the NCTB textbooks business. However, it is expected that the government completes the investigation on this issue and find out who the culprits behind the arson are, a crime that could hamper a noble initiative taken by the government of supplying free textbooks to the primary and secondary students. The answer may be related to the question: who would be beneficiary of this incident?

Star File Photo

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