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Activists allege that the govt is pushing the project from Category A to B, which doesn’t require an environmental assessment or public hearing.

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news Environment Monday, January 08, 2018 - 13:55

The Western Ghats, where the project is to be constructed, is one of “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity in the world according to UNESCO.

Activists protesting the setting up of the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), a particle physics research project that aims to study atmospheric neutrinos, allege that the project is being pushed through illegally by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

In March 2017, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asked INO to apply for fresh environment clearance from the union ministry since the project was sited at a distance of only 4.9 km from the Mathikettan Shola National Park in Idukki, Kerala. According to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the project should be outside a 5 km limit.

The project, touted to be India’s version of the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, is to be constructed at the Bodi West Hills Reserved Forest in a 4,300 ft-deep cave under Ino Peak in Theni district, Tamil Nadu.

The Western Ghats, where the project is to be constructed, is one of “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity in the world according to UNESCO, which has also conferred it a World Heritage Site status.

Poovulagin Nanbargal is the environmental movement at the forefront of the protest against the construction of the project in the ecologically sensitive area.

In a letter, Poovulagin Nanbargal activists point out that the permission issued for the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board to carry out the project was rejected by the NGT’s southern bench in March 2017.

Noting that the permission is not as simple as one sought for the construction of a building, the activists allege that the ministry is giving the project a go-ahead without either a public hearing or an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Speaking to TNM, G Sundar Rajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal said, “The NGT has clearly stated that this is a Category A project which requires both an Environmental Impact Assessment as well as a public hearing. However, now the government is trying to circumvent this by saying it is a Category B project which doesn’t require such things. This is illegal and anti-constitutional.”

The activists allege that the only EIA that was conducted was by the Salim Ali Centre, which the activists had proven to the Tribunal was not, in fact, an authorised agency to carry out the assessment.

The NGT, in its March 2017 order, also observes the extent of the ecological damage that would be caused by the tonnes of explosives used to blast rocks to clear and construct the observatory in the Bodi West Hills area.

The activists also pointed out that there was no assessment conducted to measure the potential impact on water bodies and aquifers in the region. The area is close to the Mullaiperiyar dam, the Vaigai dam as well as the Idukki dam.

“Any heavy construction in the area could lead to human-induced seismicity. This will affect the livelihood of the people in the area,” says Sundar Rajan.

With a protest planned at Thevaram in Theni on January 30, it appears that the environmental groups and the people affected by the project are willing to fight this out legally.

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