The bottomline is no project can be above law and there is no “special case” provision in the Environmental Protection Act or Environmental Impact Assessment Act.

Why the environmental clearance for the Neutrino project in TN is not as per law
Voices Opinion Saturday, March 31, 2018 - 13:35

“A half-truth is even more dangerous than a lie. A lie, you can detect at some stage, but half a truth is sure to mislead you for long,” wrote Anurag Shourie in his book Half A Shadow.

The above statement could hold well for the proponents of the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project. In the last few days, after the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) (Infra 2) of the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) recommended granting environmental clearance as a “special case”, a lot of media reports said that everything was done in accordance with the law. The half-truth here is this - “Everything was done”. The other part, however, is that it was “not in accordance with law”. How?       

On March 20 last year, while keeping in abeyance the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted to INO, the National Green Tribunal, in an appeal by G Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal said that:

“The document produced before this Tribunal by Mr Radhakrishnan also shows that the distance is 4.9 Km and in such view of the matter, not only the project in question should be treated as Category-A project but also clearance under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is to be obtained from the National Board for Wildlife.” 

After holding as stated, the NGT also directed the project proponent (PP) of INO to make a fresh proposal in appropriate form under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, to enable the statutory authorities to consider the proposal in accordance with the law.

Thereafter, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research — the PP —  applied for fresh EC before the Tamil Nadu State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) under category ‘B’ of item 8(a) ‘Building and Construction Projects’ of the Schedule to the EIA Notification, 2006. The proposal was considered by the SEAC in its 98th meeting held on November 27, 2017, and after deliberation, the Committee noted that the project cannot be appraised under item 8(a) for the following reasons:

a. The tunnelling work involves carrying out blasting in hard and composite rock mass, and requires huge quantity of high-strength explosives to break it. Further, the tunnelling work involves the excavation of 6,00,000 m3 of charnockite rock from the mountain.

b. The tunnel and cavern will be at the depth of 1000m from the top of the mountain. At the depth of 1000m, mountain rock would be under tremendous pressure and the vertical stress is expected to be greater than 270 kilograms per metre square. This will create problems like rock burst and roof collapse. The proposals of the PP regarding the safeguards will have to be scrutinised using geotechnical studies.

c. The SEAC, in general, is of the view that the Western Ghats is a global biodiversity hotspot and a treasure trove of biological diversity. It harbours many endemic species of flowering plants, endemic fishes and amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates and is also an important centre of evolution of economically important domesticated plant species.

d. The proposed site is also part of a catchment of various streams and streamlets that ultimately contribute to the Vaigai watershed, which is crucial for the communities dependent on it. It provides water for drinking and agricultural purposes in five districts of Tamil Nadu.

As it can be seen, the SEAC was of the opinion that the INO proposal cannot be appraised under 8(a) as it involves many technical features and not just a mere construction. Hence, the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority was also of the opinion that this project should be appropriately handled by the Government of India. 

The INO proposal was considered by the EAC of the MoEF as a “special case” in its appraisal meetings. Even the EAC has categorically stated that “the committee was given to understand that though the proposals are not within the scope of the EAC(Infra2), the Ministry would want the EAC (Infra-2) to consider this as a special case”.

The EAC, which handled this project said it was not within their scope, but it was considered as a special case. “Out of scope” here could mean that it is either not within their jurisdiction or that they don’t have the wherewithal —  both are a problem. Even the mining expert called by EAC to attend this meeting was absent, and only 6 of the 11 members were present.

As can be seen from the minutes of the meetings, none of the concerns raised by the SEAC were dealt with by the EAC or by the PP.  Even RTI replies show that no public hearing was conducted.

INO is being executed by Department of Atomic Energy. The presence of DRDO officials at the appraisal meeting also raises questions about the nature of INO project.

The bottomline is no project can be above law and there is no “special case” provision in the Environmental Protection Act or Environmental Impact Assessment Act.

(Note: Views expressed in the article are personal.)

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.