The Tamil Nadu government has made their stand on the proposed project of the underground Indian Neutrino Observatory (INO) laboratory loud and clear. The government has refused to permit the construction at Bodi West Hills in the Theni district, which is spread across Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The project is to set up a 51,000 ton Iron Calorimeter (ICAL) detector to observe naturally occurring atmospheric neutrinos in a cavern at the end of an approximately 2 km long tunnel in a mountain. The detector will be the first of its kind in India.
Harm Wildlife, Biodiversity
On Thursday, February 17, the State Environment Department filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, through advocate Joseph S. Aristotle, refusing to establish the observatory, stating the area as the sensitive ecological zone of the Western Ghats. The government said it would be set up at a cost to wildlife and biodiversity, The Hindu reported.
The affidavit was filed two days after the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) gave a no-objection certificate (NoC) to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research to construct the laboratory.
Uncertainty With Construction
The project has raised uncertainty since its inception. According to the India Today report, it was conceived in 2005. In 2099, the Bodi West Hills site was identified, following which ₹ 1,500 crore fund was proposed by 2015. But the project was delayed with legal battles and remained a proposal to date.
Rejected By CM, Officers & Public
After the funding was sanctioned, the MDMK general secretary Vaiko had filed a petition at the Madras High Court challenging the construction of the underground lab, claiming it would destroy the environment of the Theni district and the livelihood of the locals.
It has also come under the radar of the locals and the public, who have outrightly refused the construction. The project has also been rejected by the district officer and Chief Minister M.K. Stalin. Even the government's alliance, Marumalarchi DMK, has resisted the construction.
The CM met Prime Minister Narendra Modi last June and requested to revoke project implementation. In September, a team headed by MP TR Balu had also met the Ministers of industries and forests to convey the state's stand on the project.
The project has received strong support from the BJP, which claims that the construction would help boost scientific research in the country.
Disastrous To Animals Residing In Parks, Reserves
The project, if implemented, will create havoc on the Periyar Tiger Reserve and Mathikettan Shola National Park, DownToEarth quoted the affidavit. The reserve and the park have been globally recognised for protecting wildlife, especially endangered species.
Disturbance To Ecosystem
The state said the Western Ghats is considered a global biodiversity hotspot, which nurtures several species of flora and fauna. The project is on the hill slopes of this part of the Ghats, which align within the Mathikettan-Periyar tiger corridor.
The corridor links the Periyar Tiger Reserve along the Kerala and Tamil Nadu borders and the Mathikettan Shola National Park. The project also spreads where Srivilliputhur Meghamalai Tiger Reserve is located. The area is also a significant watershed and catchment zone for Sambhal and Kottakudi rivers.
The construction would have a substantial ecological impact. Besides, blasting, transportation, excavations, tunnelling and other activities would jeopardise the ecological sustainability of the zone.
In 2019, the central government had approved the project and stated it would not affect the ecosystem around the site and does not release any radiation, as it does not have any radioactive substance.