Neutrino observatory in TN gets environmental clearance, activists cry foul

The environmental clearance for the Neutrino Observatory in Theni was given with over 40 clauses and conditions for setting up the project.
Neutrino observatory in TN gets environmental clearance, activists cry foul
Neutrino observatory in TN gets environmental clearance, activists cry foul
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After a decade long wait by scientists for a go ahead to set up the India-based Neutrino observatory in Theni, TN, the environment ministry on Monday gave a nod for the project.

A letter by the director of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) Kushal Vasisht to the director of the Indian-based Neutrino observatory (INO) VM Datar issues formal clearance to the project to be set up at Pottipuram village in Uthamapalayam taluk in Theni district. The project is promoted by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

Conditions to set up the INO

Water needs: The total water requirement of the project is expected to be 340 Kilolitres per day (KLD) with 20 KLD for drinking and service and the other 320 KLD cooling water. The water requirement, according to the MoEF will be met by the Mullai Periyar Water Supply. However, it is not supposed to exceed 340 KLD .

Green cover: The letter states that minimum cutting of trees should be done while building the INO. A minimum of 1 tree for every 80 sqm of land should be planted and maintained and preference must be given to native species, according to the letter.

Further, a compensatory plantation of 1:3 (3 trees to be planted for every felled tree) should be maintained in case of tree cutting.

Natural drainage: No construction should obstruct the natural drainage through the site, on wetlands and water bodies. Check dams, bio swales landscape and other sustainable urban drainage systems are allowed for maintaining the drainage pattern and for rain water harvesting.

Sewage Water Treatment: Sewage shall be treated in the plant with tertiary treatment i.e Ultra Filtration. The treated effluent from STP shall be recycled re-used for flushing and plantation. Further, the installation of the sewage treatment plant shall be certified by an independent expert and a report shall be submitted to the ministry before the project is commissioned for operation.

The letter also asked the INO director to advertise in at least two local newspapers in the region that the project has received environmental clearance within 7 days of receiving the clearance, a TNIE report stated.

Further, the letter also said that the ministry reserved the right to add additional safeguard measures subsequently, if found necessary, and to take action including revoking of environmental clearance under the provisions of the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986, to ensure effective implementation of the suggested safeguard measures in a time bound and satisfactory manner.

Another clause was that a copy of the clearance should be displayed by the TNPCB, District Industries Centre, the Collector, the tahsildar for 30 days besides uploading it on their website.

Protest against the clearance

Activists who have been waging a decade long battle against the setting up of the INO in Theni said that the clearance came without any public hearing conducted of those likely to be affected by the project. According to them, this is yet another example of the centre disregarding the considerations of the locals, according to a TOI report.

Hours before the clearance became public, a Chennai based NGO Poovulagin Nanbargal, received a reply to a query under the RTI act. The query which was about public hearing in the environmental clearance given to the INO received “Public hearing was not conducted. No details available in this office file records,” as the response, a TOI report stated

Calling this clearance illegal and unconstitutional, G Sundar Rajan of Poovilagin Nanbargal has tweeted,“We strongly condemn the enviro clearance granted by the ministry of enviro & forests to the Neutrino project. This clearance is Ilegal, as it has violated the established laws of this country and a categorical order of NGT. While The NGT has said it is category A project in its judgment,the MoEF has still gone ahead and cleared as category B prj. No public hearing was conducted and no proper EIA was done. This is anti-constitutional, anti people and anti- national. We will strongly take this up In court of Law and in the people’s court.”

Anticipating backlash, the clearance letter also included that, “Any appeal against this clearance shall lie with the National Green Tribunal, if preferred, within a period of 30 days as prescribed under Section 16 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010,” in its list of general conditions. 
The clearance for this project comes even as activists and residents of Thoothukudi district protest against the expansion of a sterlite copper plant, alleging that it is polluting the environment in the region. 

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