Animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi has slammed the government’s proposal to construct a Rs. 900 crore Neutrino Observatory in Mudumalai sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, saying it would destroy the region’s flora and fauna.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP voiced concern over the location of the science project on the buffer zone of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which, she said, was a “prime elephant and tiger habitat.”

Ms. Maneka, who had been recently nominated as the member of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), told PTI that the “project is an ill-conceived idea just to keep some of the retired scientists busy.”

But those backing the project are not looking at the environmental destruction it would cause in the long-term, she added.

The NTCA, in its recent meeting chaired by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, had strongly opposed the INO, planned to be built a km under the surface and to be funded by the Department of Atomic Energy, the Department of Science and Technology and the UGC.

“NTCA member secretary Ramesh Gopal will soon visit the proposed site which is home to 15 threatened species. But we would ensure that it does not come up at whatever cost,” she said.

After surveying the impact of the project on the wildlife in the region, Mr. Gopal will submit the report to the ministry.

Neutrinos are one of the fundamental particles which make up the universe. 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.

Tiger expert, Belinda Wright, said the tunnel portal is less than one km from the boundary of the Mudumalai Critical Tiger Habitat.

“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,” she said