Controversial Environmental Clearance for Neutrino Project:

MoEF&CC has controversially granted environmental clearance to the Neutrino Observatory project (INO) as a special case. The India Neutrino Project is to come up in Bodi West hills amidst stiff opposition from the locals. The Expert Appraisal Committee (Infra 2) has mentioned that it found the project to be out of scope but was asked by the ministry to clear it as a special case.

Earlier the National Green Tribunal had quashed the environment clearance and had asked to reapply under the EIA notificiation 2006 to get the clearance as the project site is at 4.9km distance from the Mathikettan Shola National Park in Idduki district of Kerala. The NGT had said “the document produced before this tribunal by Mr. Radhakrishnan also shows that the distance is 4.9 km and in such view of the matter, not only the project in question should be treated as Category-A project but also clearance under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is to be obtained from the National Board for Wildlife.”

Following this directive from the NGT, TIFR which is the project proponent applied for environment clearance under category B of 8 (a) which is the schedule dealing in building and construction projects in the EIA Notification 2006. However, the Tamil Nadu State Expert Appraisal committee had refused approval as they noted that the INO project is not a simple building and construction project as it would involve massive blasting of rocks and lot of high strength explosives to break those rocks. The tunneling work inside the mountain will need excavation of 6 lakh cubic meter of charnockite rock. Additionally the tunnel and cavern will be 1 kilometer deep from the mountain top and hence will need lot of reinforcements to stop the mountain roof from collapsing.

The State expert appraisal committee had also rightly pointed out that the area falls under the Western Ghats which is a global biodiversity hotspot. There are many endemic species of plants, animals, birds, herpetofauna in the area. The area is also catchment of various streams which ultimately become part of the Vaigai river watershed and hence is very important to be protected as the water quenches the thirst as well as irrigation needs of five districts of Tamil Nadu. So now wonder local people are also up in the arms against the neutrino project.

However, now the Central Government has forced the State expert appraisal committee to clear it as special case. Earlier Tamil Nadu under the Chiefministership of J. Jayalalithaa didn’t clear this proposal. However, the present AIADMK leadership is hobnobbing with the BJP and taking instructions from it. The present AIADMK believes their survival is dependent on the Central Government. So even though the Deputy Chief Minister represents the Bodi assembly constituency where the Neutrino project is going to come up and large number of locals are demonstrating there, the AIADMK Government is fine with the neutrino project.

There are many physicists who want this project, as obviously they are an interested party. In the past some biologists have acted as consultants and hence pushed for environmental clearance to the neutrino project. The unfortunate situation in India is that no one is thinking in a holistic manner for preserving our wilderness and wildlife. Everyone is looking for their narrow interests. In such a situation ultimately India’s environment and wildlife always comes out as a loser.