Theni/Bodi Neutrino project gets nod to go ahead

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Neutrino Project at Bodi near Theni near Madurai
Neutrino Project at Bodi near Theni near Madurai

Theni/Bodi Neutrino project gets nod to go ahead.  India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests approved the building of the Indian Neutrino Observatory (INO) in the Bodi West Hills, located in Tamil Nadu. The INO is a ridiculously ambitious project that dwarfs CERN, requiring 50,000 tons of magnetized iron to study neutrinos.

What are Neutrinos:

Neutrinos are the elusive miniscule particles that are able to travel at tremendous speeds and pass through ordinary matter undetected, which of course makes it hard as hell to detect them. Scientists have previously built giant machines to attempt to study them, and proposed such goofy ideas as using the moon as a tester. But the INO might be the most impressive of all.

Why Neutrino Project lab in Tamil Nadu?

The lab is being set up in Tamil Nadu because all other states are opposing for it.

First discussed in 1989, the INO was shuffled around due to a lack of resources (including a lack of trained physicists) and opposition from environmental groups (the original site was next to a tiger preserve). But a new program to train physicists was set up, the site was moved to Tamil Nadu, and now the plans have secured approval from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Neutrino Project details
Neutrino Project details
Latest Update on Neutrino Project at Bodi near Cumbum near Theni near Madurai:

The India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project has got a fresh lease of life with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) taking it up as a special case and granting it environmental clearance to set up the lab in Bodi West hills, 100 kms from Madurai.

MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee (Infra 2), after detailed deliberations on the proposal and submissions by the project proponent, recommended this at its meeting on March 5. According to the minutes of the meeting available in the public domain, the EAC was given to understand that though the proposals were not within its scope, the Ministry wanted it to consider this as a special case.

As the previous EC granted in 2011 was quashed by the courts, a certified compliance report may not be required and no work has been initiated at the site, the project proponents submitted.

The panel was informed that there was no scope for radioactivity and leaching of water and these have been explained to the courts. The project proponents clarified that studies showed there would be no impact of blasting on any habitation in the vicinity.

During the panel’s deliberations, an expert from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was present.

Two conditions

While granting EC, the committee stipulated specific conditions, of which two are key for the project to take off. One is the consent to establish and operate to be obtained from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). In the past, INO project proponents had complained that the TNPCB had been sitting on the file for years without taking any action when Jayalalithaa was Chief Minister (2011-16). Also, the INO team has to obtain the necessary forest and National Board for Wild Life clearances as per law. The Mathikettan Shola National Park in Idukki district, Kerala, is situated within five km from the project site.

When the project was considered by the Tamil Nadu State Expert Appraisal Committee in November 2017 (after Jayalalithaa’s death), it said that the proposed site forms part of the catchment area of various streams that contribute to the Vaigai watershed.

Therefore, Tamil Nadu was of the opinion that the proposal could not be appraised under category B of item 8(a) ‘Building and construction projects of the Schedule to the EIA notification 2006’, as it involved many technical features other than mere construction. The SEAC also said the project should be appropriately handled by the Centre. Incidentally, Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam represents the Bodi Assembly constituency.

Considering the national importance of the proposal, the MoEF decided to take the proposal at the Central level as a special case — a category 8(a) project — and granted environmental clearance with 17 conditions.

Mandates of the expert committee

The Expert Appraisal Committee Infra 2 of the Ministry of Environment and Forests deals with projects related to all ship breaking yard including ship breaking unit, airport, common hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities, ports and harbours, aerial ropeways, Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP), common municipal solid waste management facility, building/construction projects, townships and area development projects.

NGO slams approval

Poovulagin Nanbargal, an NGO fighting against the implementation of the INO project in the area, has condemned the environmental clearance to the project.

In a statement, it said the committee had cleared it as a special case without considering the law, Tamil Nadu’s stand and local sentiments.

It said the Tamil Nadu government has always opposed the project.

Even last month, Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam had said that the project would not be allowed if it was found to be harmful.

The ruling party and opposition parties should oppose the project and the attitude of the Centre which was bent on implementing the project with scant regard for the State’s considerations and environmental laws, the NGO demanded.