Good Energy

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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Thuraya Confirmation.

Yesterday I received an email correspondence from Thuraya confirming that NO CALL had been MADE or RECEIVED from my phone during the time I was in India and Pakistan.

I have forwarded this by fax to the police in Pushkar, but was unable to fax it to the investigating officers in Ajmer as it was a holiday yesterday in India and they weren't picking up the fax. I will retry this morning.

This corroborates the facts I gave to police during my interrogations, confirming that I have been honest, open and truthful with investigators. It removes the last shadows of doubt that I am a threat to National Security, and that I should be charged with laws designed to punish terrorists.

The police have given me their word that they will present the charge sheet, after concluding their investigation, to the Pushkar court by the end of the 28th so the Judge can rule on a start date for the trial at the hearing on the 29th, and hopefully grant a fast-track trial, which would mean it could be concluded in just a few days, rather than a few weeks.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

FAO Ajmer Public Prosecutors Office, Indian Military Intellegence and Pushkar Police


There is no way for a well intentioned tourist coming to India to discover that they need a permit for their satellite phone and, I’ve since learnt, that there is actually no formal procedure to apply for and obtain a permit. I accept that I may have unwittingly broken the rules but I will leave it to individuals to judge if they think prison time is a reasonable punishment for this technical offence. I can understand that if a terrorist uses a satellite phone to organise attacks they should face a harsh sentence, but that same punishment shouldn’t apply to an innocent person possessing a satellite phone so their mother can call to check on them when she is worried.

It’s been fascinating to see first-hand, how the security services work in India. I’m grateful to the police for having done such a diligent job in investigating me thoroughly. At the end of this process I don’t want anyone in India to have any doubt about my intentions and motives. I want to be able to walk down the street in India and be trusted by the friendly, kind and generous people I’ve met here. So it’s good that the police have left no stone unturned in assuring themselves I am of good character.

When I was first arrested they had no way of knowing who I was, and considering the troubled times in which we live in, it is understandable that they err on the side of caution and cover all eventualities when framing the initial charges. But when they submit their charge sheet on the 28th it will be the culmination of all the evidence they have collected over the previous 17 days, and this is the appropriate time for them to drop the Information Technology Act charge against me, because it is a law designed to stop terrorists, and not punish unwitting tourists. The legislator who wrote this law has publicly said so in the Indian press.

If the police drop this charge I don't think it would be fair for the press to criticise them for doing so at this stage.

The other 2 charges they have also filed against me (The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act and The Indian Telegraph Act) are far more appropriate legislation to punish my innocent mistake, and I’m glad this will give India the chance to demonstrate, as the world watches, how it's legal system balances the challenge of apprehending terrorists the need to treat innocent citizens and visitors fairly.

I hope that the high public profile of this case, nationally and internationally, will prevent other tourists making this same mistake, and allow the security services to concentrate on catching terrorists and not on investigating minor technical offences in the future.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

News update.

So many people have been mailing to ask what's going on, so to update you all:

I am free to move around India on Bail until the 23rd of this month when I have to appear in court.

My hope is that the police will have finished my case file by then, but they are entitled to take 90 days over it and are waiting for Thuraya to provide call details from my phone to corroborate that I didn't use it in India. Their monitoring equipment detected my phone being used at strange times of the day, which I am sure it was not. I can't explain this discrepancy other than by an error in the detection equipment. Investigating officers have told me that this discrepancy is the only cause for suspicion left. Getting the call records could take 5 days, 10 days, 30 days, 90 days, it might never happen. I don't think Thuraya are obliged to pass the details on.

I'm still facing an anti-terrorism charge which carries a 10 year prison sentence. There is a hope that if the police get the phone call records they will drop the anti-terror charge. No guarantees of this but my lawyer seems confident this will be the case.

The other two charges are punitive, that means they carry a fine but no prison time. (€2 for one, and €20 for the other), and can be decided instantly by a judge.

My hope is that this is all resolved as quickly as possible, and that the police drop the anti-terror charge (the information technology act section 70) and submit the case file by the 22nd, so this can all be over by the 23rd.

Obviously the police have to be sure that I am not a security risk, and while I think I have proved it already beyond reasonable doubt, the call records would prove it once and for all beyond ALL doubt. I know they are doing all they can to get the matter sorted.

Come on Thuraya, get your finger out.

The morning after

Waking up in the bus this morning, it looks like it’s been ransacked. It has, by me looking for documents equipment to show the police before I went to prison.

Last night there was no doubt I was going to carry on the trip, but this morning I feel numb, like this whole experience has beaten me. To do a big expedition around the world the only thing you really need is the unshakable belief that you can solve whatever problems life throws at you. Today I'm shaking.

Searching for some fresh clothes I’ve found some mouse shit. I have mice in the bus, and this feels like an insurmountable problem. I don’t know what to do about it. This minor set back makes me want to abandon the whole trip. Between the lawyer and court fees I have forked out over €3000 so far, and I still have to pay for a trial. It’s money well spent, don’t get me wrong, but those of you who know what a shoe string project this journey is running on will know what a massive impact that has. I could live on that for 3 or 4 months. This isn’t a plea for money – send donations to Haiti, not to some depressed middle class white boy who got himself into trouble with the police in India. Normally I’d be figuring out how I could use the media coverage to generate some money to cover the costs, but now I just don’t care. Numb.

Even my blog is dead. Taking pictures and blogging were the constant pleasure of the journey. Now it feels like the intimacy of this blog is distroyed. No longer am I speaking to a handful of friends, able to confide the dirty secrets of the journey, but I’m “using a media channel” with which to communicate to the public. I have to be careful what I say instead of speaking from the heart. You can’t imagine how sad that makes me.

As for pictures. I can’t see anything interesting or beautiful I want to photograph. I’m not in the mood.

I’m overwhelmed by my friends and family in a way I don’t even know how to conceive or accept, let alone be grateful for. It’s too much for me to take in. I can’t bring myself to look at the volume of comments and support on facebook.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this has happened and I’ve decided there is no reason, its just bad luck. I’m a guest in India, and I broke the rules. I can’t complain. I chose to come here and I have to take the rough with the smooth. But this is really rough. There’s nothing about satphones on the websites of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of External Affairs, or the High Commission in London. A contact at the XXXXX told me that in the weekly meeting of EU XXXXXXXX in Delhi this week, they discussed my case. They all carry sat phones and a good number of them admitted they had no idea they needed a permit for them. So I’m just the unlucky muppet that got caught first. Ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law, but the law should be proportionate and fair. I’m still facing 10 years in that prison, and having been in it and spoken with people who are doing long sentences there, I know it’s a real prospect. I can see vividly how it can really happen, to me. It’s not some ephemeral possibility, it’s a tangible nightmare.

A Thuraya phone was carried by David Coleman Headley aka Dawood Gilani, who allegedly (I use that term because I think he’s still under trial) came to India to research the Mumbai attack last year posing as a tourist. It gets worse, he came to Pushkar and evaded capture here twice, so as it turns out waving a Thuraya around in Pushkar is like eating your prison rice with your left hand. Who knew? And well done Pag for checking out, first hand, exactly what the consequences of such benign ignorance would be. Apparently if I’d had an Iridium or an Inmarsat it would have been no problem. The Indian Security Services particularly target Thuraya because of its terrorist pedigree, and maybe also because Thuraya in UAE is 40% owned by Pakistani interests. Terrorists use Thuraya for the same reason I do, mountaineers do, journalists do, soldiers in Iraq and Iran do; because it’s the cheapest sat phone network. And from what I’ve read the reality is that terrorists actually use Pay As You Go GSM SIM cards, because they are even cheaper.

But I realise now that’s this is what’s really frightened me. Armed with just a small handful of blissful ignorance, and with very little effort on my part, I have been able to sink myself into a mountain of shit so big I might never see daylight til 2020. If the journey is allowed to continue by the Judge and then by me, the fear that there are countless other shit mountains out there waiting for me to blindly stumble into has taken hold.

Sometimes life punches you to the ground for no other reason than the waves of bad luck have coincided in tsunami of jinx over you. All you can do is lie there for a minute and when you’re ready, take a deep breath, get back up, and take solace from the fact probably won’t happen again for a while. I’m not ready to get up yet, and I can hear the mouse behind the sink. Fuck, everything is fucked up.

At least I have some company, and if he keeps out of sight, doesn’t chew threw the wires, or shit on my clothes again I might let him stay. The way I feel this minute, I might just give him the keys to the bus and the password to the blog.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Gomti Biofuel

I’ve already blogged about Jatropha and that India is supposedly the world’s Jatropha garden. I really believe in the Jatropha concept, so it was with a heavy heart that I have given up looking for Jatropha oil after contacting the only people in the country who are producing oil. They told me their product is at such a premium it costs $1500/tonne.

Nothing in India is a fixed price so I dare say I should have haggled a bit, but even so, that works out at about $1.70/litre which is nuts when you think Diesel is $0.60. How is that ever going to make an economic biodiesel? They tell me it’s only used for research at the moment; bought up by producers at a premium price to experiment with.

Sounds like crap to me. The expertise for turning Jatropha oil into biodiesel has been known for a long time now. The challenge is how to grow it efficiently. Varieties/strains/crop rotation/land resting e.t.c. so that plantations can produce good yields with low levels of irrigation on marginal land.

Turns out that over the last 4-5 years since people started talking about Jatropha there’s been millions of dollars used to buy up land rights for growing the crops, but no one has done the unglamorous (and un-venture-capitalist-funded) work of actually developing varieties and production practices. The money-go-round fell apart just over a year ago when D1 Oils, one of the biggest players in securing Jatropha land rights went bust. Despite having the paper capacity to produce massive amounts of oil they only seem to have produced a couple of thousand litres that have sat in a warehouse in Tyneside since 2007. I was offered it for this trip at one point.

D1 are now back and smaller and focussing on researching the agricultural techniques needed to get good production from Jatropha. It’s a plant that takes 5 years to start bearing fruit so it’s a long research process.

In the meantime I have struck really lucky in my quest for waste power. At the Indian border a very enthusiastic entrepreneur called Rocky and his family excitedly ask for a tour around the bus. He tells me there is a man in his town of Haldwani who makes biodiesel and I should come and visit.

I do, and Sanjeev of Gomti Biotech explains the amazing process he’s developed to extract oil from the waste products produced by a vegetable oil manufacturer. The waste looks like oily mud and Sanjeev uses his own patented system of solvent extraction to get 20% of it back as oil which makes the then uses to make great biodiesel. It’s a similar process to extracting oil from sewer grease and trap grease.

The fuel is a blend of Soya waste and Mustard waste so it should stay nice and runny even in the cold Haldwani winters. It’s quite dark and it smells pretty odd. Gomti sell their fuel at 3 local filling stations, and people buy it because it’s cheaper, and has a higher octane rating than normal diesel. There’s no pretence at being green here, but actually this process seems really green to me, and could help the fundamental problem faced by Indian Biodiesel producers that there isn’t any waste oil feedstock and many suppliers are making bio from imported palm oil.

Gomti’s fuel has cleared out my fuel starvation problem, which leads me to think it was probably caused by sludge in the bottom of the tank of the Iranian soya oil. I only had a couple of hundred litres left by the time I topped up with 400 litres from Gomti, and their fuel has probably diluted the sludgy remains and the bus is flying along at 80km/h again.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Delhi Conversation

I had some heavyweight intellectual company in Delhi. Jen Boyle founded a school and bank in Rwanda and Kenya after living there for 3 years. She’s now studying an MPA (I’d never heard of it but its the civil servants version of an MBA) at Harvard.

Mike Blanche MBA and Noogle (newbie at Google), was also in Delhi for a friend’s wedding. Mike had also helped me with the bus build back in Thornton Heath, so it was great to be able to catch up with him.

Jen and I talked for most of the evening about development while drinking quite a lot of Bombay Sapphire and tonic. I still don’t trust the ultimate goal of “development”. It feels like a process which only ends when every African family has a plasma screen they can watch adverts on. No one can begrudge the ideals of lifting millions of people out of poverty, but aid money is almost always linked to commercial interests that means in practice development is driven by the aim of turning poor people into consumers or consuming indigenous resources. The Japanese build roads throughout Africa so they can sell Toyotas. The Americans build roads so they can ship out oil and minerals. The Libyans build museums and cultural centres so they can flog their petrol, and the African mobile phone revolution has proved that even poor Africans are a market that can be used to turn a good profit.

In the end I got so drunk I invented a 2 step doctrine which will alleviate all global inequalities. Firstly export all our (developed world) costly welfare state to the 3rd world. Using southern Spain as a model, all the infirm, elderly, jobless and retired get shipped off to “care communities” in the developing world, run at a fraction of the cost of providing welfare services in Europe. Plus they’d provide massive new industries and investment in the developing world. It’s already happening in expat enclaves in Costa Rica and Senegal.

Secondly, open all borders. I spent 3 months working undercover in the UK immigration system, covertly filming for an award winning BBC documentary. During that time I met detainees who had risked their lives to reach the UK and were being sent back because they were economic migrants rather than political migrants. In my eyes this key difference has become meaningless. If someone has no opportunities because there are none in his country, or if they have no opportunities because they are being persecuted, it amounts to the same thing. They need to get out. The clandestine journey from Africa to Europe is literally murderous. If someone is so desperate they embark on it, in my eyes that makes them sufficiently needy that asylum should be granted regardless if its politics or poverty driving them.

Open borders for a global free movement of labour would bring about a quick and uncomfortable rebalancing of a lot of 1st world/3rd world inequalities. Let Africans and Indians come to Europe and America to benefit from the wealth created by the colonialists’ exploitation of their resources, and all our old folk can see out their days in a specially built resort which happens to be somewhere like Ghana.

The doctrine probably needs a bit of sober finessing. Perhaps the deportation ships full of pensioners isn’t quite congrous with the libertarian open borders concept.

In the 60’s the hippy trail started out as a backlash to societies post war rigidity, but by the 70’s it was bringing back new thinking which challenged the status quo and authority (Vietnam protests, Paris riots) and it slowly impregnated the mainstream (The Beatles in Rishikesh). I don’t know if the anti-capitalist/environmental movement will ever have the same strength of influence as the hippies did, but I think there is a hope the tie-dyed earth-mothers will achieve more than persuading McDonalds to serve fruit smoothies. Society’s rigidity today lies in its unquestioning importance of the search for personal wealth, and as much as this sounds like hippy claptrap, the counterculture backlash should be about creating lives made rich by being part of a non-consuming community. Not a million miles away from the hippy ideals.

Sunday, 10 January 2010


Amritsar is my introduction to India, but 3 weeks on I am still struggling to form an opinion on this country. I love it, but I’m not sure why because there’s an awful lot not to like.

The religious town is heaving with Sikh pilgrims but despite the mass of humanity, it’s clean and calm. I camp right by the temple, there’s a tradition of welcoming visitors which means there is a free hostel with a broken washing machine, and food is laid on 24 hours a day for thousands of worshipers. It’s cooked by volunteers who do everything from peeling the onions, chopping the peppers to stirring the massive cauldrons.

Dinner is served from slop buckets by guys racing down the line of pressed trays laid out on the floor in front of the hungry followers. It’s an amazing set up, which works phenomenally well. The washing up volunteers work around the clock and the unceasing clanging of plates is only drowned out by the piped devotional music. I’m parked right next to them and am woken every night at the 4am volume crank that keeps the washers motivated.

I realise after a very short time listening to Tajinder, a devout follower who is harbouring some Sikh supremacist tendencies, that it’s not religion I have an objection to. My problem is with people who have no doubt, and refuse to accept there can be doubt. Not just in religion, but in any belief. Extremists. Tajinder is a lovely extremist and a pleasure to spend time with.

I’ve also found that India is full of people and systems which only serve to make life a little harder than it needs to be. Civil servants’ role is to interject a measure of complication. The principle extends to anyone with a uniform, anyone with any power, and anyone that feels they have a right to tell me that I can’t park here. The bus is 7 metres long, so it’s not like I have a lot of choices.

The bus was running badly to Delhi, no acceleration, and it felt like fuel starvation. I stripped various parts of fuel system without finding the source of the problem. It would be another week before I discover what was going wrong with the bus, and in the meantime I was destined to see foggy India at 60km/h.