17 February 2013

Italian court rejects India’s request for papers

February 16, 2013 
By Vinay Kumar 

PTI This February 13, 2013 photo shows an AW101 VVIP Helicopter model on display at a Finmeccanica stall recently in Bengaluru. 

PTI A model of AW101 VVIP Helicopter on display at a Finmeccanica stall recently in Bengaluru. File photo 
Judge says the information related to investigations is covered by secrecy 

India’s efforts to get information from Italy on the Rs. 3,600-crore VVIP helicopter deal, mired in allegations of kickbacks to the tune of Rs. 362 crore, received a jolt on Saturday as an Italian court rejected New Delhi’s request for documents related to investigations, citing grounds that the information was covered by secrecy. 

Keeping a close watch on the developments, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who is on a visit to Meghalaya, asked Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma to send a senior Joint Secretary of the Ministry to Italy to “gather as much evidence as possible” relating to the allegations of corruption in the acquisition of 12 helicopters for the elite communication squadron of the Indian Air Force from Italian firm Finmeccanica’s subsidiary AgustaWestland, U.K. Joint Secretary Arun Kumar Bal, who has been looking after Air Acquisitions in the Defence Ministry, is likely to travel to Italy on Monday, official sources said on Saturday. 

4 terror strikes in '07-'11 when Fasih was in India: Police

By Prawesh Lama 
Feb 17 2013,

Fasih Mehmood, an alleged Indian Mujahideen (IM) founding member who was deported from Saudi Arabia last October, visited India on five occasions between 2007 and 2011, and four of those visits coincided with a terrorist attack in the country, police have said. 

In a chargesheet filed in court on Saturday, the Delhi Police Special Cell said Fasih and other founding members of the IM received "generous support from many people in Pakistan who are well placed in the government there". The chargesheet based on Fasih's confession  describes him as a "motivator" of the IM. 

Immigration records show 30-year-old Fasih  who was arrested at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport on October 22, 2012 came to India five times between May 2007 and October 2011, the chargesheet says. 

During one of those visits  from February to June 2008  a series of nine blasts killed over 60 people in Jaipur on May 13, 2008. 

Two years later, when Fasih was in the country between February and April 2010, a bomb at the famous German Bakery in Pune killed 17 people on February 13, the chargesheet says. A month later and days before he left several people were injured after two bombs went off at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium on April 17. 

The David Headley Problem

February 16, 2013 
By Sridhar Krishnaswami 

The sentencing of David Headley to 35 years in prison has angered many in India. Will it damage growing U.S.- India cooperation in other areas? 

There is understandable anger and grief in India over the United States recently sentencing David Coleman Headley to 35 years in prison. Formerly known as Daood Sayed Giulani, the Pakistani American Headley was one of the masterminds behind the November 26, 2008 terrorist assault on Mumbai that left 166 persons dead, including six Americans, and injuring hundreds of others. 

In the years since Headley’s arrest in the U.S. in 2009, New Delhi has been demanding that Washington extradite him to India to face trial, where he would almost certainly receive the death penalty. At the same time, the UPA government has also understood that extradition faced many legal and bureaucratic obstacles, making it unlikely to occur. 

Thus India's response to Headley's sentence was one of measured frustration, with officials continuing to demand Headley ultimately be brought to India while stopping short of criticizing the sentence Headley received. 

"We would have wanted him to be produced in court here and face trial because we suffered the maximum damage from him. We will continue to strive to ensure that people like him are brought here and made to face trial because I believe that if the trial took place here, the punishment would have been even more serious," India’s Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid said. 

The next tango with Paris

By C. Raja Mohan
Feb 14 2013,

India, France must integrate the strands of bilateral cooperation in the maritime domain 

There will be much to celebrate when the president of France, Francois Hollande, arrives in Delhi on Valentine's Day to review the state of bilateral relations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and chart out an ambitious future course. 

Two decades of political romance with Paris has produced one of the most productive bilateral relationships for Delhi. By choosing India as one of the first major foreign destinations, Hollande is signalling his determination to deepen the partnership that was founded and built by his two predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. Whether it was Delhi's integration into the global nuclear order or the recognition that its rise on the global stage is inevitable, it was Paris that first articulated big new ideas about India in the last two decades. This week, the two leaders have work to do finalising the terms for many large transformative projects that are in the pipeline. Two of them have grabbed most of the headlines. 

One is the plan to build six large nuclear reactors in Jaitapur, Maharashtra. Besides the reactors, France is committed to developing "full civil nuclear cooperation" with India. Delhi expects French cooperation in building commercial uranium enrichment facilities that would fuel the new Indian reactors as well supply other nuclear power stations in the region. More broadly, the civil nuclear collaboration between Delhi and Paris could help develop India as a joint base for providing nuclear services in Asia and beyond. 

The other is the deal to supply 126 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to the Indian Air Force. This is not just a one-time transaction to equip the IAF with modern fighters but facilitates a significant expansion of India's defence industrial base. In the civilian nuclear arena as well as in defence, France promises to differentiate itself from other suppliers on the critical question of technology transfer. This makes the role of France a very special one in the development of India's strategic capabilities. 

Prime Minister Singh and President Hollande are not expected to dot the many 'i's and cross the 't's of the two agreements. Their task is to recognise the special salience of the current moment in bilateral relations, demonstrate maximum flexibility in what each has to offer and push the two bureaucracies into clinching final agreements. Hollande needs early closure as part of his effort to revive the sclerotic economic growth in France, and the PM can't afford endless haggling, the default Indian negotiating style, on these two strategic projects. 

A Perfect Cone

By Phil Plait
Feb. 16, 2013,

[UPDATE (Feb. 16, 21:00 UTC): I have a correction to make in the article below. Normally, Slate's policy is to label the offending part and then correct it at the bottom, but it turns out a lot of the article was based on that error, so it's a bit hard to label the places I was wrong. Plus, the mistake also reminded me of a lesson about science itself which is worth telling you up front.

In the following post, I thought the Mt. Taranaki, pictured below, had a perfectly circular flank. From the photo, that's an easy assumption to make. Also, I looked up info about the volcano on various websites, and what I read reinforced that idea…but only because I already had that idea in my head. 

But, in fact, the circular nature of the volcano is an illusion; in reality a circular region centered on the peak has been made into a National Park with a radius of 9.6 kilometers (6 miles), and that's what you see in the photo. 

But, because I had the idea in my head that the volcano itself was such a lovely shape, I read those other sites and the idea got nice and stuck in my brain. People in the comments below and via email let me know I was wrong, and I thank them for it. What's funny to me is that in the post itself I express some skepticism that you could get such a circular volcano via dome collapse, which generally makes asymmetric cones. 

I should've trusted my scientific instincts. 

The point: We all make mistakes, some big, some small, and it's easy for even people experienced in the ways and means of skepticism to get their wrong ideas reinforced. I'm glad I got this reminder, and I sincerely hope that others can also get a kick in their cerebrum from this, too. 

2 space rocks hours apart point up danger to Earth

By Associated Press : Cape Canaveral (Florida),
Feb 16 2013

A space rock even bigger than the meteor that exploded like an atom bomb over Russia could drop out of the sky unannounced at any time and wreak havoc on a city. And Hollywood to the contrary, there isn't much the world's scientists and generals can do about it. 

But some former astronauts want to give the world a fighting chance. 

They're hopeful Friday's cosmic coincidence Earth's close brush with a 150-foot (46-meter) asteroid, hours after the 49-foot (15-meter) meteor struck in Russia  will draw attention to the dangers lurking in outer space and lead to action, such as better detection and tracking of asteroids. 

"After today, a lot of people will be paying attention,'' said Rusty Schweickart, who flew on Apollo 9 in 1969, helped establish the planet-protecting B612 Foundation and has been warning NASA for years to put more muscle and money into a heightened asteroid alert. 

Earth is menaced all the time by meteors, which are chunks of asteroids or comets that enter Earth's atmosphere. But many if not most of them are simply too small to detect from afar with the tools now available to astronomers. 

The meteor that shattered over the Ural Mountains was estimated to be 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. It blew out thousands of windows and left more than 1,000 people injured in Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million. And yet no one saw it coming; it was about the size of a bus.