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Big concerns with small projects: Evaluating the socio-ecological impacts of small hydropower projects in India

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Although Small Hydropower Projects (SHPs) are encouraged as sources of clean and green energy, there is a paucity of research examining their socio-ecological impacts. We assessed the perceived socio-ecological impacts of 4 SHPs within the Western Ghats in India by conducting semi-structured interviews with local respondents. Primary interview data were sequentially validated with secondary data, and respondent perceptions were subsequently compared against the expected baseline of assured impacts. We evaluated the level of awareness about SHPs, their perceived socio-economic impacts, influence on resource access and impacts on human–elephant interactions. The general level of awareness about SHPs was low, and assurances of local electricity and employment generation remained largely unfulfilled. Additionally most respondents faced numerous unanticipated adverse impacts. We found a strong relationship between SHP construction and increasing levels of human–elephant conflict. Based on the disparity between assured and actual social impacts, we suggest that policies regarding SHPs be suitably revised.

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We are deeply grateful to Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and Asoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) for financial support extended to us through the CEPF-ATREE Western Ghats Small Grants Program. We also thank Dr. Siddharth Krishnan, Arjun Srivatsa and Divya Karnad for their invaluable inputs. We express our sincere gratitude to the reviewers and the editor for their comments and suggestions, which have greatly improved the quality of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Suman Jumani.

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Jumani, S., Rao, S., Machado, S. et al. Big concerns with small projects: Evaluating the socio-ecological impacts of small hydropower projects in India. Ambio 46, 500–511 (2017).

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