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US apologises, grants visa to scientist

The US State Department clarified, "There never was a refusal of a visa."

india Updated: Feb 24, 2006 21:46 IST

Ahead of President George Bush's visit to India from March 1, the US on Friday apologised for the controversy surrounding the denial of a visa to a top Indian scientist by allowing him to travel to attend a seminar.

"The US embassy is pleased to note that a visa for Mehta was issued today," a press release by the US embassy said in New Delhi.

"Processing of Mehta's visa had been suspended pending its review in Washington. That review has been concluded," it added.

US ambassador David Mulford had called Mehta on Thursday to "express both his apologies and satisfaction that a visa would be issued immediately."

Mehta, former director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, had charged that he was denied a visa by the US consulate in Chennai as he was suspected of being involved in chemical warfare and bio-terrorism.

A furious Mehta, who was invited to deliver a lecture at the American Chemical Science Society, had asked the Government to take a stand on the issue.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli vehemently denied refusing a visa to Mehta, saying the delay was because of non-receipt of information from him.

"Well, just to get the facts straight, Professor Goverdhan Mehta, a prominent and distinguished Indian scientist, applied for a visa and that visa is being issued," said Ereli at the daily press briefing.

"It was -- there never was a refusal of a visa. There was information that was needed to process the visa application that we did not receive," he reiterated several times at a press briefing on Thursday.

"Because Professor Mehta is engaged in the sciences and in the kind of research that he -- a specific kind of research, US law requires us, in order to be able to issue a visa, to get some information about his activities and the purposes of his visit and all that sort of stuff. That took some time," clarified Ereli.

"And pending the receipt of that information, we weren't in a position, by law, to issue the visa. Once we got the information, we issued the visa."

"Well, it was not. There was never denial of a visa," Ereli stressed.

President APJ Abdul Kalam had reacted to the denial of visa to Mehta in Bangalore recently and said, "While science has no borders, some minds have."

Mehta, a member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Scientific Advisory Committee and known for his pioneering research in organic chemistry, has been to the US at least a dozen times before. Mehta has been awarded the Padma Shri, one of India's top civilian awards.

Besides Mehta, P Rodriguez, former director of Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam, and leading agro-scientist PC Kesavan of MS Swaminathan Research Institute in Chennai have also been denied a visa. The fate of their visa applications is not entirely clear.

Kesavan on Thursday had vowed that he would not ever step into the consulate nor would go to the US after a "humiliating" experience at the US consulate in Chennai while seeking a visa to attend an international seminar.

The American scientific community has reacted strongly to the denial of visa to Indian scientists.

"This leaves a terrible impression of the United States. We want people to know the US is an open and welcoming country," Wendy White, director of the Board of International Scientific Organisations, told The Washington Post.

First Published: Feb 24, 2006 17:36 IST