Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Government Subverts Science For Env Impact Assessement Clearances

Environmental Impact Assessement (EIA) reports are a requirement for clearing big development projects. India Together has an eye-opening article by Shripad Dharmadhikary on how this process has been subverted by the government and relegated to a side show... a mere rubber stamp for official project clearance.

First and foremost, the basin studies have been effectively de-linked from the implementation of the projects as there is no requirement that the projects be conditional to the findings of the basin studies. Neither is there any explicit stay on the consideration and implementation of any of the projects pending the studies.

Logically, the basin studies should suggest what level of development, including hydro power projects, the basin can sustain. The projects should be planned based on this. However, the current planning and decision making turns this on its head. The numbers, locations, capacities, types and other details of the projects have already been decided. Many of these projects have already been allotted to (mostly) private developers who already have or would soon be approaching the Ministry for environmental clearance. In Bichom basin, the 600 MW Bichom (or Kameng) project is already under construction.

Assessment studies for big projects can take up to 2 years but this time period for many projects is reduced to just 6 months. And often the studies themselves are superficial .."farcical" according to the article.

That could happen for a number of reasons:

1) The Terms of Reference are crafted in a way that make any coherent analysis impossible.
2) The consultants hired to carry out the EIA are of poor quality.
3) The consultants / scientists know that their work and recommendations will not have any significant impact on the project details since the government has already decided what to do. So they have no real incentive to produce good work.

To me the last one is the most depressing of all. As a working scientist I would hate to be in a situation where I know in advance that my work will not be treated with respect and will make no difference as a practical matter.

Despite all the big talk from the government about the prime position of science in society examples like this one does not inspire confidence in the government's attitude towards the role of science in charting India's development. Talk is cheap but actions speak to the real intent. By these actions the government seems to be saying ..Oh you can have your little science project on the side.. but don't bother us with the details.

We know what is good for you.

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