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Newspaper / Hubble uncovers black hole that shouldn't exist
« Last post by Priya on July 22, 2019, 02:48:10 PM »
Hubble uncovers black hole that shouldn't exist

As if black holes weren't mysterious enough, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have found an unexpected thin disk of material furiously whirling around a supermassive black hole at the heart of the magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 3147, located 130 million light-years away.

The conundrum is that the disk shouldn't be there, based on current astronomical theories. However, the unexpected presence of a disk so close to a black hole offers a unique opportunity to test Albert Einstein's theories of relativity. General relativity describes gravity as the curvature of space and special relativity describes the relationship between time and space.

"We've never seen the effects of both general and special relativity in visible light with this much clarity," said Marco Chiaberge of the European Space Agency, and the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore, Maryland, a member of the team that conducted the Hubble study.

"This is an intriguing peek at a disk very close to a black hole, so close that the velocities and the intensity of the gravitational pull are affecting how the photons of light look," added the study's first author, Stefano Bianchi of Università degli Studi Roma Tre, in Rome, Italy. "We cannot understand the data unless we include the theories of relativity."

Black holes in certain types of galaxies like NGC 3147 are malnourished because there is not enough gravitationally captured material to feed them regularly. So, the thin haze of infalling material puffs up like a donut rather than flattening out in a pancake-shaped disk. Therefore, it is very puzzling why there is a thin disk encircling a starving black hole in NGC 3147 that mimics much more powerful disks found in extremely active galaxies with engorged, monster black holes.

"We thought this was the best candidate to confirm that below certain luminosities, the accretion disk doesn't exist anymore," explained Ari Laor of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology located in Haifa, Israel. "What we saw was something completely unexpected. We found gas in motion producing features we can explain only as being produced by material rotating in a thin disk very close to the black hole."

The astronomers initially selected this galaxy to validate accepted models about lower-luminosity active galaxies -- those with black holes that are on a meager diet of material. Models predict that an accretion disk forms when ample amounts of gas are trapped by a black hole's strong gravitational pull. This infalling matter emits lots of light, producing a brilliant beacon called a quasar, in the case of the most well-fed black holes. Once less material is pulled into the disk, it begins to break down, becomes fainter, and changes structure.

"The type of disk we see is a scaled-down quasar that we did not expect to exist," Bianchi said. "It's the same type of disk we see in objects that are 1,000 or even 100,000 times more luminous. The predictions of current models for gas dynamics in very faint active galaxies clearly failed."

The disk is so deeply embedded in the black hole's intense gravitational field that the light from the gas disk is modified, according to Einstein's theories of relativity, giving astronomers a unique look at the dynamic processes close to a black hole.

Hubble clocked material whirling around the black hole as moving at more than 10% of the speed of light. At those extreme velocities, the gas appears to brighten as it travels toward Earth on one side, and dims as it speeds away from our planet on the other side (an effect called relativistic beaming). Hubble's observations also show that the gas is so entrenched in the gravitational well the light is struggling to climb out, and therefore appears stretched to redder wavelengths. The black hole's mass is around 250 million Suns.

The researchers used Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) to observe matter swirling deep inside the disk. A spectrograph is a diagnostic tool that divides light from an object into its many individual wavelengths to determine its speed, temperature, and other characteristics at a very high precision. The astronomers needed STIS's sharp resolution to isolate the faint light from the black-hole region and block out contaminating starlight.

"Without Hubble, we wouldn't have been able to see this because the black-hole region has a low luminosity," Chiaberge said. "The luminosities of the stars in the galaxy outshine anything in the nucleus. So if you observe it from the ground, you're dominated by the brightness of the stars, which drowns the feeble emission from the nucleus."

The team hopes to use Hubble to hunt for other very compact disks around low-wattage black holes in similar active galaxies.

The team's paper will appear online today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of Stefano Bianchi (Università degli Studi Roma Tre, Rome, Italy); Robert Antonucci (University of California, Santa Barbara, California); Alessandro Capetti (INAF -- Osservatorio Astrofisico di Torino, Pino Torinese, Italy); Marco Chiaberge (Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University

Newspaper / Supernova observation first of its kind using NASA satellite
« Last post by Priya on July 22, 2019, 02:44:05 PM »
Supernova observation first of its kind using NASA satellite

When NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite launched into space in April 2018, it did so with a specific goal: to search the universe for new planets.

But in recently published research, a team of astronomers at The Ohio State University showed that the survey, nicknamed TESS, could also be used to monitor a particular type of supernova, giving scientists more clues about what causes white dwarf stars to explode -- and about the elements those explosions leave behind.

"We have known for years that these stars explode, but we have terrible ideas of why they explode," said Patrick Vallely, lead author of the study and an Ohio State astronomy graduate student. "The big thing here is that we are able to show that this supernova isn't consistent with having a white dwarf (take mass) directly from a standard star companion and explode into it -- the kind of standard idea that had led to people trying to find hydrogen signatures in the first place. That is, because the TESS light curve doesn't show any evidence of the explosion slamming into the surface of a companion, and because the hydrogen signatures in the SALT spectra don't evolve like the other elements, we can rule out that standard model."

Their research, detailed in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, represents the first published findings about a supernova observed using TESS, and add new insights to long-held theories about the elements left behind after a white dwarf star explodes into a supernova.

Those elements have long troubled astronomers.

A white dwarf explodes into a specific type of supernova, a 1a, after gathering mass from a nearby companion star and growing too big to remain stable, astronomers believe. But if that is true, then the explosion should, astronomers have theorized, leave behind trace elements of hydrogen, a crucial building block of stars and the entire universe. (White dwarf stars, by their nature, have already burned through their own hydrogen and so would not be a source of hydrogen in a supernova.)

But until this TESS-based observation of a supernova, astronomers had never seen those hydrogen traces in the explosion's aftermath: This supernova is the first of its type in which astronomers have measured hydrogen. That hydrogen, first reported by a team from the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, could change the nature of what astronomers know about white dwarf supernovae.

"The most interesting thing about this particular supernova is the hydrogen we saw in its spectra (the elements the explosion leaves behind)," Vallely said. "We've been looking for hydrogen and helium in the spectra of this type of supernova for years -- those elements help us understand what caused the supernova in the first place."

The hydrogen could mean that the white dwarf consumed a nearby star. In that scenario, the second star would be a normal star in the middle of its lifespan -- not a second white dwarf. But when astronomers measured the light curve from this supernova, the curve indicated that the second star was in fact a second white dwarf. So where did the hydrogen come from?

Professor of Astronomy Kris Stanek, Vallely's adviser at Ohio State and a co-author on this paper, said it is possible that the hydrogen came from a companion star -- a standard, regular star -- but he thinks it is more likely that the hydrogen came from a third star that happened to be near the exploding white dwarf and was consumed in the supernova by chance.

"We would think that because we see this hydrogen, it means that the white dwarf consumed a second star and exploded, but based on the light curve we saw from this supernova, that might not be true," Stanek said.

"Based on the light curve, the most likely thing that happened, we think, is that the hydrogen might be coming from a third star in the system," Stanek added. "So the prevailing scenario, at least at Ohio State right now, is that the way to make a Type Ia (pronounced 1-A) supernova is by having two white dwarf stars interacting -- colliding even. But also having a third star that provides the hydrogen."

For the Ohio State research, Vallely, Stanek and a team of astronomers from around the world combined data from TESS, a 10-centimeter-diameter telescope, with data from the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN for short.) ASAS-SN is led by Ohio State and is made up of small telescopes around the world watching the sky for supernovae in far-away galaxies.

TESS, by comparison, is designed to search the skies for planets in our nearby galaxy -- and to provide data much more quickly than previous satellite telescopes. That means that the Ohio State team was able to use data from TESS to see what was happening around the supernova in the first moments after it exploded -- an unprecedented opportunity.

The team combined data from TESS and ASAS-SN with data from the South African Large Telescope to evaluate the elements left behind in the supernova's wake. They found both hydrogen and helium there, two indicators that the exploding star had somehow consumed a nearby companion star.

"What is really cool about these results is, when we combine the data, we can learn new things," Stanek said. "And this supernova is the first exciting case of that synergy."

The supernova this team observed was a Type Ia, a type of supernova that can occur when two stars orbit one another -- what astronomers call a binary system. In some cases of a Type I supernova, one of those stars is a white dwarf.

A white dwarf has burned off all its nuclear fuel, leaving behind only a very hot core. (White dwarf temperatures exceed 100,000 degrees Kelvin -- nearly 200,000 degrees Fahrenheit.) Unless the star grows bigger by stealing bits of energy and matter from a nearby star, the white dwarf spends the next billion years cooling down before turning into a lump of black carbon.

But if the white dwarf and another star are in a binary system, the white dwarf slowly takes mass from the other star until, eventually, the white dwarf explodes into a supernova.

Type I supernovae are important for space science -- they help astronomers measure distance in space, and help them calculate how quickly the universe is expanding (a discovery so important that it won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011.)

"These are the most famous type of supernova -- they led to dark energy being discovered in the 1990s," Vallely said. "They are responsible for the existence of so many elements in the universe. But we don't really understand the physics behind them that well. And that's what I really like about combining TESS and ASAS-SN here, that we can build up this data and use it to figure out a little more about these supernovae."

Scientists broadly agree that the companion star leads to a white dwarf supernova, but the mechanism of that explosion, and the makeup of the companion star, are less clear.

This finding, Stanek said, provides some evidence that the companion star in this type of supernova is likely another white dwarf.

"We are seeing something new in this data, and it helps our understanding of the Ia supernova phenomenon," he said. "And we can explain this all in terms of the scenarios we already have -- we just need to allow for the third star in this case to be the source of the hydrogen."

ASAS-SN is supported by Las Cumbres Observatory and funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Mt. Cuba Astronomical Foundation, the Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics at Ohio State, the Chinese Academy of Sciences South American Center for Astronomy and the Villum Fonden in Denmark.

Genetic breakthrough in cereal crops could help improve yields worldwide

A team of Clemson University scientists has achieved a breakthrough in the genetics of senescence in cereal crops with the potential to dramatically impact the future of food security in the era of climate change.

The collaborative research, which explores the genetic architecture of the little understood process of senescence in maize (a.k.a. corn) and other cereal crops, was published in The Plant Cell, one of the top peer-reviewed scientific journals of plant sciences. Rajan Sekhon, a plant geneticist and an assistant professor in the College of Science's department of genetics and biochemistry, is the lead and corresponding author of the paper titled "Integrated Genome-Scale Analysis Identifies Novel Genes and Networks Underlying Senescence in Maize."

"Senescence means 'death of a cell or an organ in the hands of the very organisms it is a part of,' " Sekhon said. "It happens pretty much everywhere, even in animals. We kill the cells we don't need. When the weather changes in fall, we have those nice fall colors in trees. At the onset of fall, when the plants realize that they cannot sustain the leaves, they kill their leaves. It is all about the economy of energy."

As a result, the leaves die off after their show of color. The energy scavenged from the leaves is stored in the trunk or roots of the plant and used to quickly reproduce leaves next spring. This makes perfect sense for trees. But the story is quite different for some other edible plants, specifically cereal crops like maize, rice and wheat.

"These crops are tended very carefully and supplied excess nutrients in the form of fertilizers by the farmers," Sekhon said. "Instead of dying prematurely, the leaves can keep on making food via photosynthesis. Understanding the triggers for senescence in crops like maize means scientists can alter the plant in a way that can benefit a hungry world."

Sekhon, whose research career spans molecular genetics, genomics, epigenetics and plant breeding, established his lab in 2014 as an assistant professor. He has played a key role in the development of a "gene atlas" widely used by the maize research community. He has published several papers in top peer-reviewed journals investigating the regulation of complex plant traits.

"If we can slow senescence down, this can allow the plant to stay green -- or not senesce -- for a longer period of time," Sekhon said. "Plant breeders have been selecting for plants that senesce late without fully understanding how senescence works at the molecular level."

These plants, called "stay-green," live up to their name. They stay green longer, produce greater yields and are more resilient in the face of environmental factors that stress plants, including drought and heat.

But even with the existence of stay-green plants, there has been little understanding about the molecular, physiological and biochemical underpinnings of senescence. Senescence is a complex trait affected by several internal and external factors and regulated by a number of genes working together. Therefore, off-the-shelf genetic approaches are not effective in fully unraveling this enigmatic process. The breakthrough by Sekhon and his colleagues was the result of a systems genetics approach.

Sekhon and the other researchers studied natural genetic variation for the stay-green trait in maize. The process involved growing 400 different maize types, each genetically distinct from each other based on the DNA fingerprint (i.e., genotype), and then measuring their senescence (i.e., phenotype). The team then associated the "genotype" of each inbred line with its "phenotype" to identify 64 candidate genes that could be orchestrating senescence.

"The other part of the experiment was to take a stay-green plant and a non-stay-green plant and look at the expression of about 40,000 genes during senescence," Sekhon said. "Our researchers looked at samples every few days and asked which genes were gaining expression during the particular time period. This identified over 600 genes that appear to determine whether a plant will be stay-green or not.

"One of the big issues with each of these approaches is the occurrence of false positives, which means some of the detected genes are flukes, and instances of false negatives, which means that we miss out on some of the causal genes."

Therefore, Sekhon and his colleagues had to painstakingly combine the results from the two large experiments using a "steams genetics" approach to identify some high-confidence target genes that can be further tested to confirm their role in senescence. They combined datasets to narrow the field to 14 candidate genes and, ultimately, examined two genes in detail.

"One of the most remarkable discoveries was that sugars appear to dictate senescence," Sekhon said. "When the sugars are not moved away from the leaves where these are being made via photosynthesis, these sugar molecules start sending signals to initiate senescence."

However, not all forms of sugar found in the plants are capable of signaling. One of the genes that Sekhon and colleagues discovered in the study appears to break complex sugars in the leaf cells into smaller sugar molecules -- six-carbon sugars like glucose and fructose -- that are capable of relaying the senescence signals.

"This is a double whammy," Sekhon said. "We are not only losing these extra sugars made by plants that can feed more hungry mouths. These unused sugars in the leaves start senescence and stop the sugars synthesis process all together."

The implications are enormous for food security. The sugars made by these plants should be diverted to various plant organs that can be used for food.

"We found that the plant is carefully monitoring the filling of the seeds. That partitioning of sugar is a key factor in senescence. What we found is there is a lot of genetic variation even in the maize cultivars that are grown in the U.S."

Some plants fill seeds and then can start filling other parts of the plant.

"At least some of the stay-green plants are able to do this by storing extra energy in the stems," Sekhon said. "When the seed is harvested, whatever is left in the field is called stover."

Stover can be used as animal feed or as a source of biofuels. With food and energy demand increasing, there is a growing interest in developing dual-purpose crops which provide both grain and stover. As farmland becomes scarce, plants that senesce later rise in importance because they produce more overall energy per plant.

The genes identified in this study are likely performing the same function in other cereal crops, such as rice, wheat and sorghum. Sekhon said that the next step is to examine the function of these genes using mutants and transgenics.

"The ultimate goal is to help the planet and feed the growing world. With ever-worsening climate, shrinking land and water, and increasing population, food security is the major challenge faced by mankind," Sekhon said.

Newspaper / Red wine's resveratrol could help Mars explorers stay strong
« Last post by Priya on July 22, 2019, 02:38:23 PM »
Red wine's resveratrol could help Mars explorers stay strong

Mars is about 9 months from Earth with today's tech, NASA reckons. As the new space race hurtles forward, Harvard researchers are asking: how do we make sure the winners can still stand when they reach the finish line?

Published in Frontiers in Physiology, their study shows that resveratrol substantially preserves muscle mass and strength in rats exposed to the wasting effects of simulated Mars gravity.

Space supplements

Out in space, unchallenged by gravity, muscles and bones weaken. Weight-bearing muscles are hit first and worst, like the soleus muscle in the calf.

"After just 3 weeks in space, the human soleus muscle shrinks by a third," says Dr. Marie Mortreux, lead author of the NASA-funded study at the laboratory of Dr. Seward Rutkove, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School. "This is accompanied by a loss of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are needed for endurance."

To allow astronauts to operate safely on long missions to Mars -- whose gravitational pull is just 40% of Earth's -- mitigating strategies will be needed to prevent muscle deconditioning.

"Dietary strategies could be key," says Dr. Mortreux, "especially since astronauts travelling to Mars won't have access to the type of exercise machines deployed on the ISS."

A strong candidate is resveratrol: a compound commonly found in grape skin and blueberries that has been widely investigated for its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and anti-diabetic effects.

"Resveratrol has been shown to preserve bone and muscle mass in rats during complete unloading, analogous to microgravity during spaceflight. So, we hypothesized that a moderate daily dose would help mitigate muscle deconditioning in a Mars gravity analogue, too."

Mars rats

To mimic Mars gravity, the researchers used an approach first developed in mice by Mary Bouxsein, PhD, also at Beth Israel Deaconess, in which rats were fitted with a full-body harness and suspended by a chain from their cage ceiling.

Thus, 24 male rats were exposed to normal loading (Earth) or 40% loading (Mars) for 14 days. In each group, half received resveratrol (150 mg/kg/day) in water; the others got just the water. Otherwise, they fed freely from the same chow.

Calf circumference and front and rear paw grip force were measured weekly, and at 14 days the calf muscles were analyzed.

Resveratrol to the rescue

The results were impressive.

As expected, the 'Mars' condition weakened the rats' grip and shrank their calf circumference, muscle weight and slow-twitch fiber content.

But incredibly, resveratrol supplementation almost entirely rescued front and rear paw grip in the Mars rats, to the level of the non-supplemented Earth rats.

What's more, resveratrol completely protected muscle mass (soleus and gastrocnemius) in the Mars rats, and in particular reduced the loss of slow-twitch muscle fibers. The protection was not complete, though: the supplement did not entirely rescue average soleus and gastrocnemius fibers cross-sectional area, or calf circumference.

As reported previously, resveratrol did not affect food intake or total body weight.

Perfecting the dose

Previous resveratrol research can explain these findings, says Dr. Mortreux.

"A likely factor here is insulin sensitivity.

"Resveratrol treatment promotes muscle growth in diabetic or unloaded animals, by increasing insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake in the muscle fibers. This is relevant for astronauts, who are known to develop reduced insulin sensitivity during spaceflight."

The anti-inflammatory effects of resveratrol could also help to conserve muscle and bone, and other anti-oxidant sources such as dried plums are being used to test this, adds Dr. Mortreux.

"Further studies are needed to explore the mechanisms involved, as well as the effects of different doses of resveratrol (up to 700 mg/kg/day) in both males and females. In addition, it will be important to confirm the lack of any potentially harmful interactions of resveratrol with other drugs administered to astronauts during space missions."

Story Source:

Materials provided by Frontiers. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Newspaper / Waste no time, seek treatment
« Last post by Priya on July 22, 2019, 02:33:30 PM »
Waste no time, seek treatment

Dengue may be fatal for those who had already contracted the disease before, with doctors suggesting immediate treatment at the first sign of a fever for everyone.

“The disease becomes aggressive and more threatening when the patient is a second or more time carrier of the virus,” said Robed Amin of the medicine department at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. 

Robed suggested consulting a physician immediately if one gets a fever around this time to confirm if they have dengue and what its severity is.

A majority of those being diagnosed were found to have been infected for the second time by the mosquito-borne disease persisting in the country for nearly two decades, he said.

A person can be infected by dengue four times by four different serotypes of the virus -- all of which exist in Bangladesh. During the first time, a patient may not suffer much or show any symptoms of the disease.

As many patients wait two to three days before seeking medical advice, the situation can get worse. Dengue tests can be done free of charge at public hospitals and it costs about Tk 250-300 at private facilities. Physicians recommend taking the test at the first sign of a fever, instead of waiting.

Robed has seen some 150 patients receiving treatment over the last three weeks at the unit he is in charge of. Overall, the public hospital is estimated to have got around 1,300-1,400 adult patients until now.

Children and pregnant women are considered to be most vulnerable to fatalities stemming from the disease. Adults who have health complications like diabetes, high pressure, kidney or respiratory problems are more likely to suffer more if infected with dengue. 

For children and elderly people with health complications, it is best to get doctor’s advice on the first day of a fever, even before dengue is confirmed, experts said. 

A dengue patient’s health condition is considered alarming when they get abdominal pains, seizure, surface bleeding, lethargy and nausea, and they urinate less, seizure.

For children, excessive crying should also raise the alarm.

Any delays in seeking treatment, can result in serious complications.

Somridhi, a six-year-old girl from Uttara, was admitted to Shishu Hospital yesterday afternoon, three days after she got fever. Her temperature was below 100 degrees Celsius and it didn’t seem worrying at the time.

Yesterday, her gums began to bleed, said Kinkar Ghosh, an epidemiologist of the public hospital.

Kazi Jabunnahar also went through a similar situation. The 39-year-old had fever for three days before she was taken to a nearby hospital from her Banasree residence about a week ago.

Two days later, her blood pressure dropped drastically and she got seizures. She has been on a saline drip and at the same time has been drinking fluids. More than a week later yesterday, her health condition became stable. 

According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), 6,544 people have so far been infected with the virus between January 1 and yesterday. Five of them died.

The number of dengue patients between January and July last year was 1,374, meaning it is almost six times higher this year.

As many as 285 patients, including children, were admitted to public and private hospitals across the country in the last 24 hours. 

“Last year people were infected with serotypes 1 and 2 but this year they have been infected by serotypes 3 and 4, which is why we are getting a higher number of patients with shock syndrome,” Kinkar observed.

The condition may lead to deaths if not addressed immediately.

Lutful Ehsan Fatmi, head of the child health department at Holy Family Red Crescent Medical College and Hospital, said almost all the patients admitted there with dengue suffered hemorrhagic fever.

Most children were suffering from haemorrhagic dengue, which means they bled from their organs. “It is quite dangerous,” he said.

In most cases, the treatment is to ensure that the amount of fluid drained out is being injected into the body, according to Robed Amin from the DMCH. If the treatment begins earlier, patients will suffer less and recover faster.

A set of national guidelines have been issued and around 2,000 doctors have been trained and instructed to follow them.

Against the backdrop of the recurring dengue epidemic every year between July and October when humidity is high along with rainfall, it is feared that the dengue situation will become more severe each year.

The only way to control this is to control the vector, which in this case is Aedes mosquito.

Awareness has to be built at the individual level and at community, corporate and state levels so that breeding places for the mosquitoes, such as stored still water, is not stored anywhere.

Newspaper / Collaboration to accelerate RMG wage digitalisation: study
« Last post by Priya on July 22, 2019, 02:29:30 PM »
Collaboration to accelerate RMG wage digitalisation: study

Some 82 percent of the apparel factory owners will digitise wage disbursement if it assures transparency, saves time and lowers complexities, a recent study found.

The factory owners face multiple challenges with cash-based disbursements, the most pertinent of which is risks of transporting Tk 15-20 crore every month, found the study styled ‘Prospects of wage digitisation in the apparel sector | Bangladesh 2019’.

The findings of the study conducted by consulting firm LightCastle Partners was unveiled yesterday at the capital’s Six Seasons Hotel.

Losses caused by management malpractices and presence of fake and damaged notes are the other problems.

Roughly a million apparel workers are now digitally receiving salaries from factories such as Noman Group, DBL Group and Mohammadi Group.

The challenge is to accelerate the adoption from the current 200 to 250 factories to the over 2,500 factories.

The study, which engaged around 40 management professionals and owners from the apparel sector, recommended greater collaboration between buyers, suppliers, digital financial service providers, government agencies and industry associations to accelerate wage digitisation.

Of the factories, 50 percent were using a banking system to disburse salaries, 30 percent mobile financial service (MFS) and 20 percent were found doing it in cash.

Of the total, 70 percent were paying wages in a hybrid model of either banking plus cash or cash plus MFS.

The report, however, found 82.5 percent of the digitised factories were saving a significant amount of time during wage analysis and salary disbursement.

Factory management stated that digitised platforms provide 60 percent less complexities over manual ones alongside real-time data, seamless monitoring and reviewing and in recording variable component of salaries on top of the government mandated base, allowing sounder decision-making.

The digital financial service providers need to expand the ecosystem to increase adoption among workers while factories must have enough options to digitise at a realistic rate with a service provider that suits them, according to the report.

Digital advocates among large suppliers and hosting platforms for knowledge sharing are required alongside training for workers on tech literacy by stakeholders to make a smoother transition.

Sheikh Md Monirul Islam, chief external and corporate affairs officer of bKash, said they helped 180 factories to digitise in the last two years to benefit over 200,000 workers.

Moreover, bKash itself bears the 1.85 percent transaction charge in 90 percent of the factories while jointly with the factory owners in the rest, meaning workers do not lose any money while availing the services, he said.

The ICT ministry and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association recently signed a preliminary agreemnet to create and launch a digital payment gateway within a few months, said Tina F Jabeen, investment adviser of ICT Division’s Startup Bangladesh.

This will allow workers to access their cash through an app alongside connecting merchant and banking networks, startups and service providers, she said.

Mashook Mujib Chowdhury, deputy manager for sustainability at DBL Group, gave a presentation on some of the problems they were facing when adopting wage digitisation.

Amer Salim, group director of Knit Asia, and David Hasanat, CEO of Viyellatex Group, also spoke at the programme.

Newspaper / Rising default loans affecting banks’ profits
« Last post by Priya on July 22, 2019, 02:23:30 PM »
Rising default loans affecting banks’ profits

The growing trend of default loans has put an adverse impact on banks’ profitability and their daily operations, said Bangladesh Bank Deputy Governor SM Moniruzzaman yesterday.

“It is a harsh reality,” he said at a roundtable on “Corporate Guarantee: Does It Work in Recovery of Loan?”

The Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BIBM) organised the event at its office in the capital.

Banks have to keep provisioning against their default loans, which directly affects their net profit, Moniruzzaman said. The increase in default loans widen the volume of risk-weighted assets (RWA) in the banking sector, which, in turn, will create pressure on maintaining the regulatory capital, he added.

Banks should follow a cautious policy while disbursing loans by way of taking corporate guarantees, said Barkat-e-Khuda, a professor of the BIBM.

Bankers should acquire detailed knowledge of corporate guarantee, which will help them disburse loans the proper way, he added. Mosharref Hossain, assistant professor of the BIBM, presented the keynote paper at the discussion.

The paper recommended proper assessment by banks before accepting corporate guarantee.

Banks should accept the guarantee provided by a credible and solvent entity only, it said.

Or else, the guarantee would not be of much help in the event of non-repayment by the borrower, according to the study.

The study will help explore the enforceability and effectiveness of corporate guarantee in loan recovery in Bangladesh, said Md Nazimuddin, director general of the BIBM.

The paper will also help the regulators as it has delineated the regulatory aspects of corporate guarantee in detail, he said.  Prashanta Kumar Banerjee, a professor and director of the BIBM; Helal Ahmed Chowdhury, a supernumerary professor of the organisation; and Yasin Ali, a former supernumerary professor, spoke among others at the event.

Newspaper / Lower lending rate to single digits
« Last post by Priya on July 22, 2019, 02:11:28 PM »
Lower lending rate to single digits

The central bank has once again instructed banks to lower their lending rate to single digits as per instruction of the government and as committed by the sponsors of the lenders.   

Banks should follow the directive on maintaining a 9 percent lending rate and 6 percent deposit rate in line with the promises made by the Bangladesh Association of Banks (BAB), a platform of the sponsors of private banks, last year, the central bank said at a meeting yesterday.

Bangladesh Bank Governor Fazle Kabir presided over the meeting at the central bank headquarters in Dhaka, where managing directors of all banks were present.

“We all have to give a collective effort to lower the lending rate to single digits,” Syed Mahbubur Rahman, chairman of the Association of Bankers, Bangladesh, a platform of the managing directors of private banks, told reporters after the meeting.

Banks have a responsibility to implement the agreed rate as the BAB has given its word to the government to do so, he said.

“But, this is not solely the duty of banks to bring down the interest rate on lending as depositors also have a role to play,” he said.

In 2017, banks cut down the interest rate on lending to single digits, helping the government keep up the growth momentum of the economy.

“We can do it again, but all stakeholders should respond to this end,” said Rahman, also the managing director of Dhaka Bank.

Md Serajul Islam, spokesperson and an executive director of the central bank, said the BB was now monitoring whether banks follow the 6-9 percent interest rates.

Rahman also said the central bank had also asked to lower the default loans and follow banking norms for the betterment of the financial sector.

“Default loans may decline in the second quarter this year. A majority of banks have informed the central bank that their non-performing loans have decreased significantly during the period.”

Currently, lending rates range between 12 percent and 15 percent and deposit rates hover around 10 percent.


Newspaper / Bank Asia’s agent banking deposits cross Tk 1,000cr
« Last post by Priya on July 22, 2019, 02:09:40 PM »
Bank Asia’s agent banking deposits cross Tk 1,000cr

Bank Asia’s deposits in agent banking have recently crossed the Tk 1,000 crore mark, further consolidating the bank’s position in the sector.

Bangladesh Bank has so far given agent banking licences to 21 banks but 19 has so far rolled out their service. Of them, Dutch-Bangla Bank and Bank Asia are leading the pack with a combined market share of 78 percent.

Introduced in 2016, agent banking allows the underserved population to take limited scale banking and financial services by way of authorised agents.

Usually, the owners of the village stores conduct banking transactions -- such as cash deposits and withdrawals, loans and remittance disbursement -- on behalf of a bank.

As of March, total deposits through agent banking stood at Tk 3,734 crore, according to data from the BB.

In 2018, Tk 3,112 crore was received by way of agent banking, up from Tk 1,399 crore a year earlier.

A Rouf Chowdhury, chairman of the bank, along with directors and managing director, celebrated the landmark at an event held at the Bank Asia Tower in the capital recently. At present, Bank Asia has 2,880 agent banking points in 64 districts.

Newspaper / GP, Robi dues: No scope for arbitration, says BTRC
« Last post by Priya on July 22, 2019, 02:02:12 PM »
GP, Robi dues: No scope for arbitration, says BTRC

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) today said there is no scope for arbitration under the existing law over its action taken against the two major telecom operators.

On Thursday, BTRC partially blocked the bandwidth capacity of Grameenphone and Robi for non-payment of dues detected in audits -- a drastic step that ultimately hurts the 12.25 crore subscribers of the two operators.

According to the BTRC’s audit claim, Grameenphone has Tk 12,579.95 crore pending and Robi Tk 867.24 crore.

However, Grameenphone is in favour of arbitration, and therefore, it is proposing the government for an amendment in the telecommunication law, BTRC Chaiman Md Jahurul Haque told The Daily Star this afternoon.

BTRC is monitoring customers' suffering and it will decide on the next course of action in its next meeting, Haque said. 
GP's press conference

Terming the blocking of bandwidth “inappropriate and illegal”, the market leader telecom operator said regulator's directive adds burden to the customers and local business communities with investors and IIG operators.

At a press conference in Dhaka, Grameenphone authorities urged the BTRC to withdraw the directives and cooperate in resolving the “disputed” audit demand issue through a constructive arbitration process under the Arbitration Act 2001.

Grameenphone had served a Notice of Arbitration on the BTRC inviting the regulator to a constructive arbitration process to resolve the disputed audit claim. BTRC has remained silent, GP said.

The directive issued by the BRTC is not addressed to Grameenphone but the telecom regulator has publicly stated that the bandwidth capacity will remain blocked until Grameenphone pay a “disputed audit demand”, GP said.

The BTRC directive is therefore specially designed to put pressure on the operator by negatively impacting customer experience on the operator’s network, said Michael Foley, chief executive officer of Grameenphone.

He said that this directive would also have a negative consequence for local business communities and for the affected IIGs as they would lose potential revenue and business opportunities for a situation totally outside their control.

The operator asserted that it was very unfortunate that directives to the IIG operators were given in an attempt by the regulator to pressure GP to pay a disputed audit claim.

The telecom operator believes that this move is illegal, and the company will seek intervention of the court against this unconscionable decision of the regulator, Grameenphone said.

Foley said, the directive adds a burden to Bangladeshi people and businesses.

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