The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal on Monday suspended the Environmental Clearance (EC) granted to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) that was to come up in Theni and asked the project proponent to make a fresh application.
During the arguments, the Tribunal was informed that the Madhikettan Shola National Park in Idukki district of Kerala was just about 4.9 km from the proposed project site and the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border was just a kilometre away, making it a Category ‘A’ project.
The Bench comprising Justice P. Jyothimani and expert member P.S. Rao said: “In the light of new facts that have come to light during the arguments, it will be appropriate for us to keep the EC in abeyance.”
The MoEF had called it a Category ‘B’ project, for which an Environmental Impact Assessment is not necessary, but the department processed it as an additional measure, a source said.
However, under the guidelines laid down by the Ministry, any project that falls within 5 km from an inter-State boundary or within a notified national park or a sanctuary has to be considered a Category ‘A’ project that involves a number of processes before an EC is granted, the source said.
Since it was near a national park, the INO was also asked to get clearance from the National Board for Wildlife. Taking into account these new facts, the Bench disposed of the petition and asked the INO to make a fresh application.
“The claim is that the site is within 4.9 km of the Madhikettan Shola Natural Park. This is very close to the guideline limit of 5 km. So we have to verify that the project actually falls within this distance. If it does, we will surely get the clearance as instructed. We have no intention of flouting any rules,” said D. Indumathi, Spokesperson of the INO, Faculty at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
Sekhar Basu, Chairperson of the Department of Atomic Energy said that as he had not seen the judgment, he could not comment. He, however, added that if the INO cannot come up anywhere in India, the people would just lose in terms of science.
Dr. Basu also dismissed fears that there was a plan to store nuclear waste in the tunnels of the INO. “It is really a pity that such a fear exists, and it is a story without a basis,” he said.
Dr. Indumathi also said, “The judge has requested to conduct the case expeditiously. So we are hopeful that things will move quickly now.”