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Is Centre bending rules to push India-based Neutrino Observatory project?

INO project director says MoEF may not insist on EIA, public hearing

Published: 06th January 2018 02:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th January 2018 10:17 AM   |  A+A-

The proposed site of the INO, near Bodi West Hills in Theni district | Express Photo

Express News Service

CHENNAI: The Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is likely to grant environmental clearance for the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), proposed to be constructed in Bodi West Hills on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border in Theni district, without insisting on the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and public hearing.

India-based Neutrino Observatory is a particle physics research project under construction to primarily study atmospheric neutrinos in a 1,300 meters (4,300 ft) deep cave under Ino Peak near Theni. The project is a multi-institute collaboration and one of the biggest experimental particle physics projects undertaken in India.

INO project director Vivek Datar told Express that the Ministry was considering the neutrino project as a one-off case and taken upon itself the job of processing the environmental clearance application. “The ministry confirmed that INO is a Category B project under the EIA Notification, 2006. Either the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Union Environment Ministry or the State expert appraisal committee (SEAC) can recommend grant of environmental clearance.

Usually, in most construction projects whose built-up area falls in the range of 20,000 sq m to 1.5 lakh sq m, the SEAC would do it. But in this case, the Centre is completing the formalities,” he said and added that shortly an accredited consultant would be appointed to present the project outlook before the EAC.

This comes close on the heels of PM Narendra Modi employing Cabinet Secretary Pradeep Kumar Sinha to clear the bottlenecks in the implementation of the project. Datar said the Centre had promised to extend all possible help. “We are keen to implement the project in Tamil Nadu. If it does not work out, there is a back-up plan,” he said. To a query, the official acknowledged the fact they had identified a site in Andhra.

He said the INO was the biggest basic science project and would be a boon for the nation.

“We are already behind schedule by at least a couple of years. China is addressing one of the problems that we are addressing, which are of fundamental importance — mass ordering of neutrinos — though we use atmospheric neutrinos and Chinese facility uses reactor neutrinos. China has already started work on the project and here we are still bickering about it,” he said.

Experts such as Prof Takaaki Kajita, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Prof Arthur McDonald in 2015 for their work on neutrinos, have backed the INO project. The INO will study atmospheric neutrinos produced by cosmic rays in the earth’s atmosphere. Neutrinos are subatomic particles produced by the decay of radioactive elements. They are the fundamental particles that make up the universe and are key to understanding the evolution of the universe and energy production mechanisms in the sun and other stars.

Clearance kept on hold

On March 20, 2017, the NGT Bench had kept the environmental clearance granted to the project in abeyance and had asked the project proponent to file a fresh application. The ground on which the judgment was passed is that the project site was situated within 4.9 km from Mathikettan Shola National Park in Idukki district. As per the general conditions stipulated in the EIA Notification, 2006, in cases where the project is located in whole or in part within 10 km from the interstate boundaries even if the project or activity is covered under Category B, such project or activity is directed to be treated as Category A.

The 10-km limit has been subsequently reduced to 5 km by an amendment on June 25, 2014, carried out in the EIA Notification, 2006. Still, the neutrino project should be treated as Category A project. Also, the NGT order says the project has to get clearance under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, from the National Board for Wildlife.

TNPCB consent must

Even if the Union Environment Ministry issues environmental clearance, the neutrino project has to obtain the consent to establish under Air and Water Acts before the work begins.

(With online desk inputs)



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