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US scientist deported from airport
Mamta Chitnis Sen  Mumbai | 27th May 2012

he National Science Foundation of the United States is making enquiries with their counterparts in India on why American seismologist Roger Bilham was deported from the New Delhi airport. Bilham arrived by United Airlines Flight 92 on 19 May and was on his way to Bhutan, but was made to return by United Airlines Flight 93. Bilham is a professor of Geological Sciences at the Colorado University and had "predicted" the Haiti earthquake. In November 2011, Bilham, who is against the building of a nuclear power plant in Jaitapur, had told a press conference in Mumbai that an earthquake of the magnitude of 6.5 could not be ruled out from hitting the upcoming plant.

In an email interview with this newspaper, Bilham said, "Since no reasons were given I cannot say why I was escorted straight back to the return flight. It would be surely have been honest for the immigration people to indicate why entry was forbidden. But the officers refused to discuss reasons." He said that he was supposed to be working in Bhutan this week but since his presence was not needed immediately his team was going ahead with the measurements. "It's unfortunate because I was merely in transit to Bhutan. They were unable to discuss this either."

After returning to the US, Bilham updated his website giving more information on the Jaitapur plant and the Vijaydurg fault that is located in the region: "It is not at all clear to me that geologists involved in the site characterization at Jaitapur have fully realized that should the Vijadurg fault slip it might do so in a magnitude of 7 earthquake less than 5 km from the power plant. The terrace on which the power plant is planned could sink one or two meters during such a large earthquake, which would aggravate the run-up from the resulting Tsunami..."

What Bilham, who is obviously against India getting nuclear power plants, did not say was by that logic the whole of California would have to be evacuated as it sits on a fault line.

Dr Anil Kakodkar, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India, said Bilham's views were nothing but speculative: "The fault line which he is talking about is not an active one at all. The Nuclear Power Corporation India (NPCIL) has done a thorough study on Jaitapur site. I have spoken to my people in the department and they are very aware of this gentleman and his work and they do not agree to whatever he has said. Such claims are aimed at creating a scare amongst people for no reason. The point is you can't try to create panic out of whatever little knowledge you might have."

"The geology and seismology of Jaitapur site have been studied since 2003 by the Geological Survey of India, Atomic Mineral Directorate for Exploration and Research and National Geophysical Research Institute. The site has been studied by GSI from 2003 to 2006. A micro earthquake (MEQ) study by NGRI is being conducted since 2004 near the site and no micro earthquakes have been seen up to 44 km from the plant on land or on sea. The micro earthquakes recorded are at Koyna and Warna regions. The micro earthquake study is being conducted by Koyna Bandhkam Vibhag since 1970. As per their records also, the nearest recorded micro earthquake is 44 km from the Jaitapur site. The Vijaydurg fault has been studied by Indian geologists and has been found to be of pre-quaternary age, i.e., a dead fault of 1.6 million years," he added.

A leading Indian scientist said on the condition of anonymity, "Post the Pokhran test, the US has been in a denial mode in terms of allotting visas to the Indian scientific community. There is this Visa Mantis programme where scientists' visas are kept on hold for long and eventually denied. For example even BARC has been given the status of an entity and no scientist from here has ever been given a visa either to do research or attend a science conference. India has become an open house for all where anyone with an American passport can walk in and out. It is high time that India puts in stringent rules in allocation of visas to American nationals as well."

Dr Kakodkar said, "The point is that each country has its own framework for managing security and movement of foreigners. There have been times when many Indian scientists have been denied entry to the US even to use their labs. But the scientist community can always interact with each other irrespective of such hurdles."

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