‘Project tunnels not to reach State’s territory’

No direct study has been done on the possible ecological impact in Idukki from the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project as “no surface activity/construction is envisaged in the area [district],” says the rapid Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the project.

P.A. Aziz, Director of the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), who led the assessment, says Kerala has been excluded from the study as the project map provided shows its tunnels not reaching the State’s territory.

As the major project work will take place underground, at a depth of one kilometre, the ecosystem of the region is unlikely to be affected, he says.

SACON relied on secondary data for assessing the impact in the Kerala part.

The western part of the study area falls under the jurisdiction of the Kerala Forest Department.

The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, one of the participating agencies of the project, obtained permission to study the protected areas from the Tamil Nadu department, and no field survey, specifically intended to collect information for the present project, has been carried out in the Kerala part, it says.

The EIA “focused on a circular area falling within a 5-km radial distance from the site of the portal to the underground laboratories.”

P.P. Nikhil Raj and M. Murugesan, scientists of the centre, were in the team. Field surveys were conducted from January to June in 2010 “adopting standard methods to identify and document the ecological/ biological components.”

Though several endemic and endangered flora and fauna are found in the project area, the report says none of it is restricted to the area and all are widely distributed. Blasting, muck dumping and clearing the vegetation will have an impact on the local environment. However, as wildlife is rarely reported in the area, the impact on animals will be negligible. Proper work plan and debris and waste disposal, optimal blasting, controlled vehicular movement and limiting the number of workers residing on the project site may help reduce the impact, it suggests.

The project site “abutted on the western side by the High Ranges of the southern Western Ghats.” The major townships around the site are Bodinayakkanur on the north, Theni on the north-east, Chinnamannur on the south-east and Cumbum on the south. Pottipuram village is connected to the nearby townships by road.

Clearance

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forest cleared the project proposed at the Bodi West Hills reserve forest on condition that no tree should be cut. Nor should the forest cover be damaged.

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