Hazards abroad: Sent home

by Naomi Lubick
Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On May 19, 2012, seismologist Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado at Boulder landed at the airport in Delhi, India, on his way to Bhutan. He debarked from the plane and was met by Indian customs officials, who declared he was on the “blacklist” and not allowed entry to India, despite having a valid visa. Two hours later, he was on a plane heading back to the U.S.

Bilham had been given no reason why he was denied passage through India, but said the U.S. State Department later confirmed his blacklisting. He surmised the reason was that he had recently co-authored articles on the difficulties of assessing the seismic risks near Jaitapur, where the Indian government wants to build a nuclear power plant. The papers were “critical of the absence of open scientific discussion of seismic hazards near Jaitapur,” Bilham says, noting that the government’s geological report for the region still has not been released.

According to a press release from the Indian Home Office, issued last January, Bilham’s published scientific work and presentations, as well as his communication with members of the press, amounts to “journalistic activities” — illegal under his visa to enter the country as a scientist. “I gather I am still denied entry” to India, Bilham says, “but there is only one way to find out — to go and possibly be sent back again. [That would be] expensive and mentally distressing.”

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