Bangla HC upholds sacking of Yunus from Grameen Bank

Dhaka: In a major setback to Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladesh high court on Tuesday upheld his dismissal from the Grameen Bank he founded nearly three decades ago.

The petitions by 70-year-old Yunus challenging legality of a Central Bank order removing him as Managing Director of the Grameen Bank "are rejected," said justice Momtaz Uddin Ahmed, the senior member of a two-judge bench which delivered a lengthy judgement after three days of hearing on his writ.

The bench, which had Gobinda Chandra Thakur as the other judge, said that despite being a mandatory provision, the prior permission of the Bangladesh Bank was not obtained when the Grameen Bank Board appointed Yunus as the executive chief of the pioneering micro-lending agency, which Yunus founded in 1983.

At the crowded courtroom, Yunus was represented by only one of his junior lawyers Sara Hossain, who said "what we had apprehended appeared true."

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam and the Central Bank lawyers, however, were present as the judgement was passed.

Yunus has been continuing in his job with "no legal basis," judge Ahmed said.

"Also, the managing director is an officer of the bank, and the mandatory retirement age for bank officers is 60, so he has also exceeded his retirement age long ago," he said.

Yunus had defied the last week government order removing him from his position at the Grameen Bank, returning to work and filing the petition in the High Court against his dismissal.

He has alleged that the government was trying to take control of the pioneering micro lending agency, which provides small loans to the poor.

Ahead of the verdict, Yunus sought people`s support for smooth transition of leadership in his Grameen Bank.

"I have dedicated my entire life to the cause of overcoming poverty for the people of Bangladesh…(and now) there should be a smooth transition of management leadership from me to the next managing director in a congenial environment," he said an open letter issued last night.

He said: "I urge everyone to support the cause of smooth and joyful transition in Grameen Bank".

Yunus` experiment of poor men`s banking has earned Bangladesh the repute of being the home of micro credit. He himself got the Nobel Peace Prize along with the micro lending agency in 2006.

He claimed that the Grameen Bank directors appointed him as managing director with permission from the Bangladesh Bank and, unanimously, decided that no age limit would be applicable to the post.

Yunus also pointed out that despite yearly audits by the Central Bank, the question surfaced over his appointment after 12 years.

The Grameen Bank founder drew massive support from international community as well as the civil society groups in the country. Main opposition BNP chief Khaleda Zia yesterday strongly criticised her arch-rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for "tarnishing the country`s image" by removing Yunus.

"The debate created by the government centering Grameen Bank and Dr Yunus is nothing but a blatant exhibition of its partisan views and mean mindedness. It will harm the institution and the poor will be deprived of the privileges," Zia said in her first public comments on Yunus.

The former premier said "disrespect" towards Yunus showed the ignorance of some top government officials about his contributions and "this attitude of the government is being condemned both within and outside the country".

Grameen Bank, which is 25 per cent state-owned and employs 24,000 people, provides collateral-free loans to eight million borrowers, the vast majority from rural areas.

"The MD of the Grameen Bank is an official who cannot hold the office for an unlimited period," the High Court said in its judgement.

The court also rejected an identical writ filed by nine directors of the Grameen Board after analogous hearing.

Yunus` lawyers said they may challenge the High Court judgment before the apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court through a provisional leave petition.

"I have advised my client to prefer a petition seeking stay of the High Court order before the Appellate Division. We may move the petition before the chamber judge (of the apex court) tomorrow," said Rokomuddin Mahmud, one of Yunus` lawyers.