Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has asked the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to assess the ecological impact of the Rs. 900 crore Neutrino Observatory (INO), the country’s most ambitious mega science project.
The project, proposed to be set up deep under the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve at Masinagudi in Tamil Nadu, has run into rough weather with the state forest department raising objections over its location citing that it is a prime elephant and tiger habitat.
“There have been a severe opposition from green lobby regarding the chosen site which is a buffer zone of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
“As the proposed project threatens the flora and fauna of the fragile ecosystem, the Minister has asked NTCA member secretary Rajesh Gopal to study the implications and submit a report,” sources told PTI.
Gopal will soon visit the reserve to survey the impact of the project on the wildlife in the region, they said, adding “further action will be taken depending on the report“.
The INO, planned to be built a kilometre under the surface, will be connected to the outside world by a 2 km-long tunnel. It would be funded by the Department of Atomic Energy, the department of science and technology and the UGC.
Neutrinos are one of the fundamental particles which make up the universe. They are also one of the least understood.
Essential geographical requirements to set up a neutrino observatory are a 360 degree curve, rock—mass for at least a km, mountain feature which is at least a km or km and a half tall, little or no gorge area among others -- one of the reasons why the Nilgiris was chosen.
More than 50 scientists from about 15 institutes and universities have promoted the INO believing that neutrinos hold the key to several important and fundamental questions on the origin of the universe and energy production in stars.
However, their efforts have evoked a stiff resistance from wildlife experts and environmentalists, who pointed out that the region is home to 15 threatened species and no assessment has been done on the impact of the project on them.
They also argue that the tunnel portal is less than one km from the boundary of the Mudumalai Critical Tiger Habitat.
As per the Supreme Court Order any project within 10km require special consideration by the National Board for Wildlife.
“The proposed site is within the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve -- the first Biosphere Reserve in India and of global importance. As per the United Nations guidelines, research initiatives that feed conservation are welcome. But the INO research has no bearing on conservation,” Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) said.
The project involves tunnelling to the tune of 2,25,000 cubic metres or 630,000 tonnes of debris. The construction material to be brought to the site via 35 kilometres of roads through both the Mudumalai and Bandipur Tiger Reserves will cause a lot of disturbance to the region, A C Soundararajan of Nilgiri Wildlife and Environmental Association said.