CHENNAI: A delegation from Tamil Nadu, led by Lok Sabha MP TR Baalu, on Monday demanded the Union government to drop the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project proposed in the fragile tiger corridor of the Western Ghats in Theni district. The demand was raised to the Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal in New Delhi, ahead of the Prime Minister-chaired PRAGATI (Pro-active Governance and Timely Implementation) review meeting scheduled on Wednesday, where the project would be discussed.
The Centre has been trying to push through the project by putting pressure on the State, despite Chief Minister MK Stalin himself having written to the PM saying the project cannot be permitted at the proposed site. Piyush Goyal – the head of the Project Monitoring Group, during a meeting held in July, had reportedly threatened the State to block the Union government’s funds, if necessary permissions were not granted to the project, sources said.
TR Baalu told TNIE, “Centre can’t force the project on TN. We have clearly conveyed to Piyush Goyal that TN will not give permission for the project, and the reasons behind it. They will have to search for alternative sites in other States.” The ambitious basic science project has been in the cold storage for more than two decades, hard done by ecological concerns and court cases. The project cannot proceed without the consent of TN Pollution Control Board and approval of National Board for Wildlife. Currently, the proposal is before the State Board for Wildlife, chaired by CM MK Stalin.
When contacted, neutrino project director Gobinda Majumder told TNIE, “Many scientists like me have sacrificed their career for the project. It will be the nation’s loss if we fail in our endeavour.” “Site falling inside notified tiger corridor” According to the State forest department, the project site falls inside the Mathikettan-Periyar tiger corridor. “It’s a very narrow strip of land which serves as the only link between Periyar Tiger Reserve, Mathikettan Shola National Park, Anamalai Tiger Reserve, Eravikulam National Park and the Srivilliputhur Megamalai Tiger Reserve for the movement of tigers for genetic mixing,” a forest official told TNIE.The official added the corridor was part of the Western Ghats’ fragility. “It is a rocky terrain ideal for tiger movement. It shouldn’t be disturbed.”
Neutrino project director Gobinda Majumder said in a statement the project comprises 26.825 hectares of revenue land above ground and 4.62 hectares of land underground comprising the tunnels and lab caverns. “The facilities on the surface are restricted to the 26.825 hectares of revenue land and lie completely outside the reserve forest. This would not be of any disturbance to the forest or the tiger corridor,” he said.
Forest officials countered to this by saying that the tiger corridor already demarcated is only notional and that the corridor used by tigers may include the adjacent revenue lands as well. Any disturbance will affect the big cat population in several critical habitats of Western Ghats, they added.