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LA bids farewell to Consul General Susmita Thomas

Susmita Thomas

The Global Organization of People of Indian Origin in association with the National Federation of Indian American Associations, the Federation of Indo-American Associations of Southern California and India Association of Los Angeles held a farewell dinner for San Francisco Indian Consul General Susmita Thomas at the Royal Delhi Palace Banquet Hall in LA.

The dinner was attended by over 150 people, including several community leaders and the heads and members of the four hosting organizations.

FIA chair Anju Garg, while praising the consul general for her links with the community, pleaded for a consular office in Los Angeles. FIA president Rajinder Dhunna compared the consul general with important women leaders in India like Mamta Bannerji, Sheila Dixit and Sonia Gandhi.

GOPIO chairman Inder Singh said that obtaining an Indian visa had never been a problem in the past. At monthly visa camps in Los Angeles, 400 visas were issued within a few hours. Singh stated that the new restrictions for the grant of visa to India imposed in May 2010 triggered resentment and obtaining a visa became a nightmare.

GOPIO got the fee for surrender certificate reduced and some penalties eliminated, he said, but that did not ease the continuing problem. Singh, however, praised Thomas for trying to apply the new rules more humanely and urged her to get the rules for visas relaxed and make the process work smoothly.

Thomas, in her farewell speech, said that she was obligated to follow the new rules but also had a responsibility to the needs of the people for consular services. While her workload had increased substantially, her staff strength remained the same. Still, her staff strived very hard to provide consular services people deserved, she said.

During the remainder of her tenure, she pledged to ensure that applicants are served properly while she traveled to various places within her jurisdiction for face-to-face interaction with the community.

Columbia’s Chandran awarded $1.5 million Gates grant

Kartik Chandran

Kartik Chandran, an associate professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University, has been awarded $1.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for his project to develop a revolutionary new model in water, sanitation, and energy.

Working with his partners Ashley Murray, founder and director of Waste Enterprisers, and Moses Mensah, a chemical engineering professor at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Chandran is developing an innovative technology to transform fecal sludge into biodiesel and create the "Next- Generation Urban Sanitation Facility" in Accra, Ghana.

"We are especially pleased that the Gates Foundation has recognized the critical importance of sustainable sanitation by investing in our pioneering project," Chandran said.

"Thus far, sanitation approaches have been extremely resource- and energy-intensive and therefore out of reach for some of the world’s poorest but also most at-need populations.

This project will allow us to move forward and develop practical technologies that will be of great value around the world," the Indian American researcher said.

Chandran and his team aim to develop a bioprocess technology to convert the organic compounds present in fecal sludge to biodiesel and methane, two potent sources of energy, and thus convert a waste-processing facility into a biorefinery.

The biorefinery will not only be an economical source of fuel but, by minimizing discharge of fecal sludge into local water bodies, it will also contribute to improved human health and sanitation.

Chandran says that potential outcomes of his work will also include integrating the bioprocess technology component into a social enterprise business model that will further promote widespread implementation of this approach and technology across the globe, especially in developing economies.

Chandran has been associated with Ghana for two years as the faculty advisor for the Columbia University Engineers without Borders Ghana team and expects to involve them in this project as well.