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US scientist questions green nod to Indian hydel projects

Kolkata, March 12 : A top American researcher has questioned the scientific accuracy of environmental impact assessment reports for India's hydropower projects, criticising the process behind environmental clearances as being "manipulative".

Kelly D. Alley, a professor of anthropology, Auburn University, U.S. has carried out research in northern India for over twenty years, focusing on public culture and environmental issues.

"I took two sets of hydropower cases that are important projects -the Subansiri and Dibang projects in north east India.

"My paper questions the EIA and the processes... how those (environmental) clearances are obtained. Basically the clearance process is corrupt in terms of rent-seeking. I wanted to highlight the clearance processes are manipulated so that in this dangerous situation we should do a better job," Alley told IANS here, after the study was released.

Alley is the author of books such as 'On the Banks of the Ganga: When Wastewater Meets a Sacred River' that explores Hindu interpretations of the sacred river Ganga in the light of environmental problems.

Some of her other notable publications include 'Water Wealth and Energy in the Indian Himalayas' and 'The Developments, Policies and Assessments of Hydropower in the Ganga River Basin' among others, a result of her work in the Brahmaputra basin and in Varanasi.

She was in the city as part of a delegation for the two-day 'Building Pan Asian Connectivity' conference. Alley released her paper titled 'Challenges for hydropower governance in Brahmaputra basin: Informality, Documentality and Citizen Mandamus' which will be part of a book and will be put in the public domain soon.

"I have shown some of the issues involved in clearing the projects such as forest, environmental clearances and the processes... the steps that a company would have to go through to get it approved and cleared for construction.

"It's not a completely scientific process and many people have questioned the quality of environmental impact assessments (EIA)," she said on Wednesday.

Citing the example of the devastating 2014 Uttarakhand floods and glacial lake outburst in Kedarnath, Alley said the way ahead is to incorporate scientific methods to plan sites of dams.

"When you have so much rain and have it mixed with this glacial melt, it just puts a lot of pressure on the dam and you have rocks and boulders getting shoved down the river bed... it's going to ruin the dam and create blockages," she explained.

To counter the potential hazards, the researcher stressed that 'lot of good science and clean science (not politically motivated) has to go into figuring out how to site dams properly and what are the best locations ecologically, in terms of water cycle for people etc."

"It all comes back to the regulatory process," she pointed out.

The other aspect, according to Alley, is to focus on climate-friendly infrastructure.

"You have the condition of more extreme floods happening. So you have to make sure that whatever infrastructure you built, it can somehow adapt to those conditions and you need some good science, engineers who are thinking about infrastructure adaptable to climate change etc.," she added.