Tamil Nadu has made clear to the Supreme Court that it does not want the Indian Neutrino Observatory (INO) to be set up in a sensitive ecological zone in the Western Ghats at great cost to wildlife, biodiversity, and by ignoring the local opposition and public agitations to the project.
The State said the project would be a source of distress to the shy tigers and cause “enormous” irreversible damage to the already bogged down Western Ghats.
The affidavit filed by the State Environment Department, through advocate Joseph S. Aristotle, in the apex court shows that the State, starting with the district officer and right up to the Chief Minister, is against the project.
The Chief Minister had, in fact, met the Prime Minister in June 2021 with a request not to implement the project. A team led by Member of Parliament T.R. Balu had also met the Ministers of industries and forests, in September last year to convey the State’s stand against the project.
“The Western Ghats is considered a global biodiversity hotspot harbouring numerous endemic species of flora and fauna... The project in questions falls exactly on the hill slopes of this part of the Western Ghats, which align within it a significant tiger corridor, namely the Mathikettan-Periyar tiger corridor,” the State observed.
This corridor links the Periyar Tiger Reserve along the Kerala and Tamil Nadu borders and the Mathikettan Shola National Park, the State pointed out.
The proposed project area also ecologically links to the eastern habitats, where Srivilliputhur Meghamalai Tiger Reserve is located. It hosts tigers from this region and helps in genetic dispersal.
The least disturbance would have a huge impact on tiger movement. The area, the State explained, is a significant watershed and catchment zone for the rivers Sambhal and Kottakudi.
The affidavit explained that though the experiments in the observatory itself would be conducted a kilometre underground, massive blasting, activities like transportation, excavations and tunnelling among others, would jeopardise the ecological sustainability of the zone, deep in the Western Ghats.
The affidavit clarifies the State’s position in an appeal pending in the Supreme Court against the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) decision to uphold the environmental clearance, granted by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research for the construction of the INO.
The appeal filed by G. Sundarrajan alleged that the environmental clearance for the construction of the INO, “an underground laboratory in close proximity to the Western Ghats” would entail “large-scale blasting and tunnelling activities.” The project is proposed to be set up at Pottipuram village in Theni district in Tamil Nadu.