The Southern Bench of National Green Tribunal has suspended the Environmental Clearance granted to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) proposed to set up near Kerala-Tamil Nadu border near Theni, just a few kilometre from Mathikettan Shola National Park. The INO project has raised serious concern among the people on both sides of the border, triggering a heated debate.

 

The NGT bench took serious note of the fact that the Rs.1,500 cr INO project is supposed to come up by making tunnel in Bodi Hills very close to Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. The proposed project is only 5 km away from Mathikettan Shola National Forest, G Soundar Rajan, the petitioner argued. The environmental clearance (EC) given by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) was kept in abeyance as the NGT urged the INO to seek fresh EC and another clearance from National Board for Wildlife.

 

The INO project, planned underneath the Bodi West Hills, was given the EC by the MoEF in 2010, despite protests from environmentalists and local people. The project, a multi-institutional effort aimed at building a world-class underground laboratory to study neutrinos, was originally planned to be finalised by 2015, but got delayed for various reasons.

 

INO project 

  • To study neutrinos. Neutrinos are fundamental particles belonging to the lepton family.
  • Jointly funded by the Dept. of Atomic Energy and Dept. of Science and Technology.
  • The project is approved as  a mega project for funding during the XII Five Year Plan
  • Area covered by tunnels and caverns: 2.5 hectares.
  • over-ground facility: 1.07 ha.
  • The construction involves 2,000 metre long horizontal tunnel to reach the underground laboratory.
  • One large and two small labs in caverns with a rock cover of more than 1000 metres all around to house detectors and control equipments.
  • - 4.62 ha forest and diverted for INO as per EC.

 

The NGT ordered that the INO should seek another EC, taking the argument of the petitioner that it falls within the stipulated limits of a national park and very close to border. The tribunal also directed the INO to seek a clearance from National Board for Wildlife. Even though the EC was suspended, other clearances given to the project are not affected.

 

Eminent environmentalists like Medha Patkar, former Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and Tamil Nadu political Vaiko had expressed solidarity with the protests against the INO. The scientific community, however, dismissed the apprehensions of the people and also the environmental concerns.