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Do scientists know what's best for environment?

Here are two tales of how scientists don't always act to protect the environment. Bharti Chaturvedi writes.

delhi Updated: Jul 19, 2010 00:14 IST
Bharti Chaturvedi

Here are two tales of how scientists don't always act to protect the environment.

Our ministry of forests and environment accepted a strange piece of advice on Alfonso mangoes. A firm called the JSW Energy Limited applied for clearance for building a thermal power plant in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, also the home of India's famous Alfonsos. You can't grow them elsewhere as they are very location sensitive.

So the problem was about the impact of the plant emissions on the mangoes, especially the SOX, or sulpher dioxides. The MOEF, via a team of scientists, declared that the impact would only be known after setting up the plant and running it for 4 years.

The project got clearance.

When the Delhi HC stayed the clearance, the MOEF set up a sub-group, comprising just one scientist.

The scientist undertook a site visit and said that vehicular pollution, also comprising SOX, seemed to be good for the fruits. He observed the mango growth around highways with pollution was better than such growth far away from highways. He concluded the power plant emissions were good for the mangoes.

The project, shamefully, got clearance again.

Reinventing Ecology
Sometimes, scientists can get sidelined, as an environmental legal firm, the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, discovered against all odds.

The environmentalists have been fighting a battle to stop the Nagarjuna Construction Company from building a 2640-MW power plant in a 12,000-crore investment, already cleared.

They say the wetland of Sompeta in Andhra Pradesh, where the plant will come up, will be destroyed. Last week, after the police firing, some protesters were killed. On the same day, the clearance was cancelled by courts because so much information was concealed.

Where do the scientists come in?

Nine of them had visited the site and declared it ecologically worthless. Their report was part of the reason why the clearance was lost.

How sad that this is the state of scientists' ability to fight for right things.