CHENNAI: In a huge setback to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), the southern bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) here has kept the environmental clearance (EC) granted in abeyance, while directing the project proponent to apply for EC afresh from the Union Environment Ministry. INO is country’s most ambitious basic science project proposed to come up in Bodi west hills of Theni district.
The bench comprising Justice P Jyothimani and expert member PS Rao passed the order without going into the merits of the project.
On Monday, petitioner G Sundar Rajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal submitted that the INO project was just 4.5 km away from Mathikettan Shola National Park in Idukki district in Kerala and the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border was just one km away, making the project a category ‘A’ project.
As per the general conditions of EIA Notification, 2006, any project or activity specified in category ‘B’ will be treated as category A, if located in whole or in part within 10 km from the boundary of protected areas notified under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and inter-State boundaries.
By virtue of this, the tribunal has affirmed that INO was a category ‘A’ project, which meant Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study has to be done by an accredited agency and public hearing should be conducted, said petitioner Sundar.
Since the project was near a national park, the INO was also asked to get a clearance from the National Board for Wildlife. The INO will now have to make a fresh application and also get necessary clearance from the Kerala government as well. The tribunal has disposed of the petition.
However, the saving grace is the NGT has maintained status quo on all other statutory clearances obtained by INO, including forest clearance and land. The funds and the land allotted can’t be taken back. The Government of India had approved the project and issued a financial sanction of `1,583.05 crore in January 2015.
In response, D Indumathi, physicist at Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc) and one of the spokespersons for the neutrino project, claimed the environmental clearance had not been cancelled but was rather kept in abeyance. “In view of the two specific objections raised, we have been asked to apply for the clearance afresh,” she said.
She said once the order copy was issued, the INO collaboration would be informed. The situation will be reviewed accordingly and acted upon. “We are still hopeful,” she added.