- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008


Americans visiting India are warned about bomb blasts, street demonstrations, outbreaks of bird flu and even threats against the temple of the Hare Krishnas. Now the U.S. Embassy is advising Americans to beware of a new danger: open manholes on flooded streets of Bombay.

Unwary Americans could fall into the sewers, the U.S. Consulate in India’s commercial capital warned this week, much to the displeasure of the local authorities who said the American diplomats are overreacting to problems Bombay residents face every year during monsoon season.

“There is no need for undue concern,” Vilasrao Deshmukh, chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, which includes Bombay, told the Times of India newspaper Thursday. “We are geared to tackle any eventuality.”

Jairaj Phatak, the municipal commissioner of Bombay, added that no more than 10 people have stumbled into the open manholes and “fewer have died in such a manner in recent years,” Reuters news agency reported from Bombay.

The city government wrote the consulate a letter expressing dissatisfaction with the warning posted on its Web site (mumbai.usconsulate.gov) on Monday. The city claimed it always marks the manholes when they are opened to allow the flood waters to drain off the streets.

The consulate later noted that the city “sometimes” sticks tree branches in the open manholes to serve as “caution signals.” Nevertheless, the consulate persisted in keeping the entire warning on its Web site.

“The monsoon has arrived in western India and [Bombay] is experiencing the season’s storms,” the consulate said. “Be extremely cautious when driving or walking.”

“In reduced visibility conditions, you could drive into one of these open manholes,” it said. “You should also pay attention when walking, since sidewalks are non-existent in some areas or used for other purposes in most parts of the city.

“It’s possible that you could inadvertently step into an open manhole.”


Despite opposition from many Democrats on Capitol Hill, Colombian officials remain hopeful that Congress will approve a free-trade agreement “in the near future,” a visiting Colombia official said this week, as the Colombian Embassy opened a lobbying campaign to win support for the measure.

The embassy on Thursday released testimonials from seven Latin American presidents, the prime minister of Canada and the trade commissioner of the European Union, endorsing the free-trade pact.

Presidents Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Felipe Calderon of Mexico, Alan Garcia of Peru, Elias Antonio Saca of El Salvador, Manuel Zelaya of Honduras and former Guatemalan president Oscar Berger sent letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who is holding up the agreement in the House.

European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson wrote to both Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada endorsed the Colombia trade deal in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Luis Guillermo Plata, Colombia’s trade minister, told reporters in Washington that he is using the delay in the House to try to build congressional support for the deal. Democrats who oppose the measure accuse Colombia of failing to protect labor union leaders from violence from right-wing paramilitary groups. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe says his government is aggressively prosecuting the accused killers and reducing attacks on labor leaders.

— Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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