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Global Warming Settles Indo-Bangla Island Dispute | Hot Selling Tata Car Gets All Fired Up — Literally | U.S. House Encourages Bangladesh Reconciliation | India to Probe Headley | Hasina Thanks Indian People | Modi Questioned | U.S. Reassures India | Maoist Storm | Joins  ICC | Opposition Protests | UN Hails Refugee Move

Global Warming Settles Indo-Bangla Island Dispute

Almost half the land of Ghoramara island was underwater due to rapid erosion. Now, rising sea levels in the Bay of Bengal have plunged New Moore Island in the Sunderbans completely underwater.

For nearly 30 years, India and Bangladesh have argued over control of a tiny rock island in the Bay of Bengal.

Now, it’s gone.

Rising sea levels in the bay have plunged New Moore Island in the Sunderbans completely underwater, said oceanographer Sugata Hazra, a professor at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. Its disappearance has been confirmed by satellite imagery and sea patrols, he said.

“What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming,” said Hazra.

Scientists at the School of Oceanographic Studies at the university have noted an alarming increase in the rate at which sea levels have risen over the past decade in the Bay of Bengal.

Until 2000, the sea levels rose about 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) a year, but over the last decade they have been rising about 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) annually, he said.

Another nearby island, Lohachara, was submerged in 1996, forcing its inhabitants to move to the mainland, while almost half the land of Ghoramara island was underwater, he said. At least 10 other islands in the area were at risk as well, Hazra said.

“We will have ever larger numbers of people displaced from the Sunderbans as more island areas come under water,” he said.

Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation of 150 million people, is one of the countries worst-affected by global warming. Officials estimate 18 percent of Bangladesh’s coastal area will be underwater and 20 million people will be displaced if sea levels rise one meter (3.3 feet) by 2050 as projected by some climate models.

India and Bangladesh both claimed the empty New Moore Island.


Hot Selling Tata Car Gets All Fired Up — Literally

A brand new silver Tata Nano in flames in Mumbai.

Satish Sawant was proudly driving his first car home from the showroom: A brand-new silver Tata Nano, draped with a celebratory garland of marigolds.

Then there was smoke. And then there was fire.

Minutes after the software engineer's wife and five-year-old son clambered out of the back seat, smoke from the engine, located in the Nano's rear, erupted into flames that engulfed the tiny car.

His ordeal showed just the latest problem with the low-cost Nano — raising fresh questions about safety and quality as top Indian carmaker Tata Motors sets its sights on global expansion and aims to ramp up production of the Nano with a new factory next month.

"My wife now doesn't want to buy any car," Sawant said. "She doesn't even want to go for a Mercedes."

Starting around $2,500, the Nano has been heralded as the world's cheapest car, and was meant to usher in a safety revolution, which would get millions of families off dangerous motorbikes and into the cool comfort of an affordable car.

Tata Motors, which also owns Jaguar and Land Rover, plans to start selling versions of the Nano in Europe in 2011, and later, in America.

Tata Motors spokesman Debasis Ray said the company is investigating the incident but believes it to be a one-off problem rather than the result of faulty design or manufacture.

"We believe it was a one-off stray incident," he said. "It did catch fire. We're trying to figure out what may have caused it."

Tata has offered Sawant a replacement Nano or a refund.


U.S. House Encourages Bangladesh Reconciliation

Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y.

Bangladesh is making progress toward joining a key aid program for democracies, the U.S. House of Representatives has said as it urged leaders to turn the page on bitter partisanship.

In a resolution, the House expressed its "strong support for the people of Bangladesh" and saluted the country's return to democratic rule in December 2008 elections.

The House "urges the government of Bangladesh to work together with all political leaders to continue and deepen reconciliation," the resolution said.

It also called on Bangladesh to ensure the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, including Hindus and the Ahmadi sect.

The resolution said Bangladesh is "making progress" to join the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. aid program that has granted billions of dollars to nations deemed as respecting political and economic freedom.

Representative Joseph Crowley, who sponsored the resolution, said that despite Bangladesh's myriad challenges, the 160-million-strong nation has made progress on democracy, women's rights and fighting extremism.

"This is exactly the kind of country the United States should work with and do more to support — not because the situation on the ground is perfect, but because by working together, we have clearly created a better path forward," the New York Democrat said.

He noted that a year and a half ago, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution out of fear that Bangladesh was "creeping toward authoritarianism" after the military took charge in 2006 and cancelled elections.

A total of 380 lawmakers voted for the resolution. Seven members, all Republicans, voted no, while 42 others did not take part in the late-night vote.


India to Probe Headley

Courtroom sketch shows David Coleman Headley (R), facing U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber in Chicago.

Even as the U.S. is yet to provide access to Headley, India is reportedly planning to send a magistrate to U.S. to record Headley's statement, which can be used as a evidence in the court in New Delhi.

Sources said that the Home Ministry is likely to write a letter in the coming week to the U.S. Department of Justice, requesting access to Headley, an LeT operative who has admitted links to the Mumbai terror attacks.

The magistrate will be joined by lawyers and officials of Mumbai Police and National Investigation Agency, who will question Headley.

In the letter, the Home Ministry will inform the U.S. officials that the India is ready with its investigation team and will be sending its team as soon as U.S. gives confirmation.

The NIA will reportedly file a chargesheet against Headley only after the team has a direct access to him.

Headley pleaded guilty to 12 counts of terror charges, including the Mumbai terror attacks, after entering into a plea agreement with the U.S. government.

Under the agreement Headley cannot be extradited to India, Pakistan and Denmark but he can be questioned in U.S. soil.

On the name of four Pakistan Army Officer figuring in the list of Headley's handlers, sources said India has received information only about two Army officers.

"There could be a third Army officer, but there is no reliable information about him," the sources said.


Hasina Thanks Indian People

Sheikh Hasina

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed her gratitude to Indian people for their support during Bangladesh's 1971 Liberation War.

"We are grateful to the Indian people including the people of Tripura for their unforgettable gestures to our freedom fighters and millions of refugees," a spokesman of the Hasina's office told PTI as Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar made a courtesy call to her.

Sarkar, who is on a two-day visit to Bangladesh to attend the 39th Independence Day celebration, paid tributes to the country's founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The spokesman said both the premier and the chief minister agreed to increase connectivity between the Indian northeastern state and Bangladesh while Sarkar said the landlocked province could be a good market for Bangladeshi fertilizers and other products.

He said the Tripura government had decided to allocate a building to set up a Bangladesh Trade Centre in Agartala to enhance trade relations between Bangladesh and Tripura.

Sarkar earlier called on Foreign Minister Dipu Moni who too expressed her deep gratitude to the people of Tripura for their support by sheltering the refugees during the war.


Modi Questioned

Narendra Modi

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has appeared for the first time before a panel investigating deadly riots in 2002.

Gujarat authorities have been criticized for not doing enough to prevent the violence in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died.

Modi, a leading member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, denies any wrongdoing.

The riots took place after 60 Hindus died in a train fire.

The cause of the blaze was never clearly established.

Hindu groups allege the fire was started by Muslim protesters, but an earlier inquiry said the blaze was an accident.

Modi told reporters he had been questioned for several hours by the Supreme Court-appointed panel, but gave no details of his testimony.

"I have said before, India's constitution and the law are supreme . . . no-one is above the law," Modi was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

He was summoned in connection with the murder of a former Congress party MP, Ehsan Jaffrey, who was among dozens of Muslims killed in a residential complex in Ahmedabad.

His widow has filed a petition accusing Modi of aiding and abetting his murder, a charge that has been rejected by the chief minister's BJP party.

Security was tight as Modi appeared before the special investigating team.

Few people have been brought to justice for the 2002 riots, which were among the worst outbreaks of violence in decades.

The Supreme Court set up a panel to investigate the riots two years ago, after allegations that the Gujarat government was doing little to bring those responsible to justice, he adds.

Modi is one of more than 60 people who have been named as co-accused.


U.S. Reassures India

Hillary Clinton (r) and Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi

As the Pakistan-U.S. strategic dialogue and its accompanying hype wound down in Washington, the U.S. has briefed India about the content and scope of the discussions between the two sides.

U.S. National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones called up Shivshankar Menon, India’s national security adviser, to bring him up to speed on the talks, while U.S. undersecretary William Burns briefed his counterpart Nirupama Rao. The conversations were intended to allay any Indian apprehensions of secret understandings reached with Pakistan.

As the joint statement made clear, there was no reference to India or Kashmir in the document. Even on the water issue, the stress was not India, but on domestic water management projects which the U.S. has agreed to help Pakistan with. Pakistan is seriously betting on being the deliverer of US’ changed Af-Pak strategy, by delivering the Taliban as a credible negotiating group to Washington. This would be of serious concern to India, which does not believe a reconciliation policy is what should be pursued at this point.

This was a point driven home at various meetings by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao during her recent  trip to Washington, particularly with the U.S. NSA.  Sources said, her visit focused heavily on Af-Pak, Rao articulating India’s concerns and interests. Thus far, the U.S. appears to continue to view events in Afghanistan pretty much the way India does. That, sources said, could change. But on the issue of weapons supplies to Pakistan, Indian objections aside, U.S. is set to deliver F-16 combat aircraft to Pakistan as soon as in the next few months. The new aircraft are expected to have  Beyond Visual Range capability, and would essentially be force multipliers for the Pakistan military.

India’s objections, said sources, were all valid and acknowledged by the U.S. But that would not prevent them from continuing with the supplies to Pakistan.


Maoist Storm

Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah

Two years after Nepal’s interim parliament officially abolished monarchy, Nepal’s last king, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah, continues to dominate the news with his bitter foe, the Maoists, going on war footing against him once again.

The former Maoist guerrillas, who fought a 10-year war to dethrone the king, began a war council of its top leaders to decide their future course of action following a public statement by Gyanendra that monarchy was not yet dead.

At the end of the meeting at Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s residence, the leaders called for unity among the major parties to oppose the return of the crown, just like the uneasy unity they had forged in 2006 to unitedly oppose the coup staged by Gyanendra.

“Taking advantage of the political turmoil, the former king is conspiring to catch fish in muddy water,” Maoist deputy chief Baburam Bhattarai told the media at the end of the meeting.

“But he is day-dreaming if he thinks monarchy can be reinstated in republic Nepal.”

The unease among the parties comes after Gyanendra, who had been keeping a low profile since the abolition of monarchy, began attending Hindu religious festivals since last month.

His recent visit to the Ram Janaki temple in Nepal’s Terai generated more attention than President Ram Baran Yadav’s, especially after a brief interview given to a private television station.

Gyanendra told Avenues TV that people’s wishes and opinions should be respected on the subject of monarchy or any other issue. “I want whatever the majority wants,” he said.

“May the garland that our ancestors assembled be never torn asunder,” he said, in a tacit reference to his ancestor conqueror Prithvi Narayan Shah, who was regarded as the unifier of Nepal but is now vilified as a colonialist.


Joins  ICC

Bangladesh has become the first country in South Asia to join the International Criminal Court based in The Hague.

The statute will enter into force for Bangladesh on June 1, 2010, bringing the total number of states parties to the Rome Statute to 111.

"The government of Bangladesh ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court," the ICC said in a statement.

India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have not signed on to the ICC, which is currently investigating crimes that have occurred in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

In 2009, the ICC issued its first arrest warrant for a sitting head-of-state, Sudanese President Omar-al Bashir, for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict.


Opposition Protests

A Buddhist monk calling for the release Sarath Fonseka

Hundreds of protesters gathered in the Sri Lankan capital to demand the immediate release of the country's opposition leader, an ex-army chief facing a court-martial on charges including participating in politics while still in uniform.

The arrest of Gen. Sarath Fonseka has been condemned by the opposition and human rights groups, who accuse the government of retaliating against a man who dared challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his re-election bid. They say the government is trying to cow the opposition before April 8 parliamentary elections.

Fonseka is the leader of the opposition Democratic National Alliance, which organized the protest in Colombo, and is running for a seat in parliament despite his detention.

Party spokesman Vijitha Herath told reporters at the protest that it is clear the charges against Fonseka are "baseless" and the government has no moral or legal right to court-martial the former army chief.

"We are protesting against the government's attempt to suppress the opposition and this fraudulent court-martial," he said, vowing to bring more people into streets.

Fonseka was arrested by the army last month after he lost January's presidential election. He has been charged with participating in politics while army chief and violating military procurement procedures.

Rajapaksa and Fonseka were once strong allies in their campaign to defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels and end their 25-year armed campaign for an independent state. After routing the rebels last May, both men were hailed as heroes by the country's Sinhalese majority.


UN Hails Refugee Move

The UN refugee agency has welcomed Pakistan's decision to allow nearly 1.7 million Afghan refugees to remain in the country for three more years.

Agency chief Antonio Guterres said as a host to the largest refugee population in the world, Pakistan's help was vital.

The decision to allow Afghan refugees to remain in Pakistan till 2012 is part of a new policy that was approved by the federal cabinet in Islamabad.

The refugees live mainly in designated villages or among host communities.

Last year the UNHCR temporarily suspended operations helping Afghans return home from Pakistan in order to safeguard the security of its staff.."



Click here to read the Current Issue in PDF Format

Hungry for Coal:
India’s Soaring Imports

As the Indian economy continues to grow and domestic production lags, imports are surging in India’s relentless pursuit of coal, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Remembering Faiz:
ICC Program

Urdu aficionados delighted in an afternoon of remembrance that poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and singer Iqbal Bano, writes Ras Hafiz Siddiqui.

Cricket Tamasha:
IPL 2010

The Indian Premier League has degenerated into a bizarre spectacle with unbridled commercialization gone berserk. A Siliconeer commentary.

EDITORIAL: India’s Hunger for Coal
CELEBRATION: Chhandam Marks 30 Years
SUBCONTINENT: Another Arms Race?
REAL ESTATE: The April Program
RECIPE: Hariyali Paneer Tikka
SUBCONTINENT: India's Climate Change Policy: Debate in Strategy
LAW: Estate Planning
PERSPECTIVE: Passage to America
TRAVEL: Mt Madonna Center, Calif.
AUTO REVIEW: 2010 Jeep Compass
BOLLYWOOD: Film Review: Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge?
TAMIL FILM REVIEW: Kacheri Aarambam
FESTIVAL: Rang Barse!

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