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Modi to Address both Houses of Congress in The US Next Week

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U.S. President Barack Obama and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) talk as they have coffee and tea together in the gardens of Hyderabad House in New Delhi January 25, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo
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NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two years ago there were questions over whether Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could get a visa to enter the United States. Next week he visits Washington as one of President Barack Obama’s closest international allies.

Obama invited Modi for one of the last big visits by a world leader before his term ends in January. Although the trip won’t feature a lavish state dinner, the Indian leader will address both houses of Congress, considered a rare honor.

This will be their seventh meeting since Modi became prime minister in May 2014, an impressive tally for a U.S. president and a leader who is not a formal ally, said Ashley Tellis at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama watch India's Republic Day parade from behind rain streaked bullet proof glass as they stand in the rain together in New Delhi January 26, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama watch India’s Republic Day parade from behind rain streaked bullet proof glass as they stand in the rain together in New Delhi January 26, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg/File Photo

“The personal relationship between the president and the prime minister … is really one of the unanticipated surprises of the past two years,” said Tellis, an expert on India.

The developing relationship is seen as an Obama foreign policy success. Washington views India as an important part of its rebalance to Asia and as a counterweight to China.

The two countries are finalizing agreements that would make it possible for their militaries to cooperate more closely, and for U.S. defense manufacturers to both sell and make high-tech weaponry in India.
A deal on logistics would govern issues such as how the two countries account for costs of military exercises. Another involves encrypted communications and geospatial data transfer.

A history of colonial rule followed by decades of non-alignment has, however, made New Delhi wary of an embrace by the more powerful United States, which has overtaken Russia as India’s top arms supplier.

“It is neither a strategic partnership nor an alliance,” said Nitin Gokhale, founder of defense portal Bharat Shakti. “It can be a long-term arrangement, but to call it a strategic partnership would be premature.”

There are frustrations, too, on the U.S. side.

The two countries reached a civil nuclear agreement in 2005, but it has yet to yield any contracts for U.S.-based companies. Only now is Westinghouse, a unit of Japan’s Toshiba, approaching the finish line on a deal to build six reactors in India.

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The visit gives Modi a chance to network with U.S. lawmakers who may feature in a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton administration but, as it coincides with the California primary, he is not expected to meet either.

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Modi is generally popular with U.S. lawmakers, who extended his invitation to address Congress. But they criticize what they see as lingering unfriendliness to U.S. firms and a stifling bureaucracy, and question New Delhi’s record on human rights.

“The economic engagement between our two countries should increase and it should be more accessible for U.S. companies,” Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a telephone interview.

Obama and Modi are expected to discuss India’s desire to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a 48-member club of nuclear trading nations.

India was shut out for decades because of its weapons program, and the civil nuclear agreement with the United States gave it access to foreign suppliers without giving up its arms.

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Obama administration officials have said they backed India’s desire to join the group, but the idea faces resistance among some on Capitol Hill, as well as from China, an ally of India’s arch-rival Pakistan.

“Existing NSG guidelines were established to guard against nuclear proliferation, and we should not create exceptions for particular countries,” Corker said.

There is lingering concern in Washington over Modi’s handling of communal riots in 2002 that killed at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, in Gujarat.

Modi was chief minister of the state at the time and, though a court-ordered inquiry found insufficient evidence to prosecute him, the issue prevented him from getting a U.S. visa for years.

Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised human rights on a visit to New Delhi this week, saying the two largest democracies had “special obligations” to set the highest standards.

Congress’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission has scheduled a hearing on India for June 7, the day Modi arrives in Washington and the day before his address to the combined House of Representatives and Senate. He leaves the United States on June 8.

Corker promised to ask Modi about India’s record on human trafficking, which he brought up recently in an emotional Senate hearing with Obama administration officials.

“The country we believe has 12-14 million slaves, which is close to half the number we believe exists worldwide,” Corker said. “It’s obviously a very significant issue and when he’s here, it’s one I certainly plan to raise.”

 

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Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

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representational image. VOA

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)