CHENNAI: India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) - proposed in Theni district, has run into rough weather with the Tamil Nadu government making it explicitly clear that the project cannot be appraised under 8 (a) ‘Building and Construction Project’ of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006. This is contrary to the view taken by the Union environment ministry, which approved INO project issuing environment clearance in March this year.
In an affidavit submitted by AV Venkatachalam, member secretary, Tamil Nadu State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), before the Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal in a case filed by Chennai-based activist G Sundarrajan challenging the environment clearance granted, it was revealed that SEIAA rejected the proposal submitted by Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, in November last year, saying it’s a Category ‘A’ project and cannot be appraised as building and construction project. It asked the project proponent to approach the Union environment ministry and file a fresh proposal under appropriate category.
In fact, SEIAA had turned down the request of environment ministry to transfer the proposal to be handled by Government of India. Instead, the authority had returned the proposal to the project proponent. However, the ministry, while granting the environment clearance, had claimed that SEIAA was of opinion that this project should be appropriately handled by Centre.
After the southern bench of NGT in March last year ordered that the previous environment clearance be kept in abeyance, there has been a series of letters exchanged between SEIAA and environment ministry. At least on three occasions, the ministry had tried to impress upon SEIAA to appraise the project under 8 (a) and the authority had promptly refused. The final decision to return the proposal was taken during 98th meeting of SEIAA in November and the same was even communicated to the ministry.
SEIAA has also expressed serious concerns, while turning down the proposal. “The proposed project is a unique one involving Neutrino physics research, formation of tunnels and caves about two-km long in the reserve forest (construction of underground laboratory for experiments of the cutting edge of neutrino physics and building of a large magnetised iron calorimeter detector in it) and also in long run, the lab may includes experiments in other fields in physics, biology & geology.
Moreover, the project proponent has not furnished the future expansion details of experiments. The proposed site is located about two km from the Kerala State boundary and also falls within 4.9 km from Mathikettan Shola national park in Idukki. So it may fall under Category A,” SEIAA said in one of the letters to the ministry.In another communication, the authority expressed need for conducting geo-technical studies to scrutinise the safeguards as it involves excavation of six lakh cubic metres of charnockite rock from the mountain.
However, the ministry has chosen to ignore all concerns raised and granted environment clearance appraising it under 8(a) of EIA Notification, 2006, Sundarrajan, told Express.