MoEF gives clearance to INO project

MoEF gives clearance to INO project

Objections from Tamil Nadu agency overruled

The Union ministry of environment and forest has overruled four objections raised by Tamil Nadu State Expert Appraisal Committee while granting environmental clearance to the Indian Neutrino Observatory (INO) as a "special case" with 51 conditions.

The nod from the green ministry came a year after the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) kept the previous environmental clearance "in abeyance because of the underground laboratory's proximity to the Mathikettan National Park" in Idukki, Kerala.

After the NGT's rejection in March 2017, the project was reviewed once again in November 2017 by the Tamil Nadu SEAC.

The state agency opined it could not appraise the INO proposal, because of "many technical features" and it should be handled by the Centre.

Two main objections cited by the TN body for its inability to clear the INO were blasting in hard, composite rock and excavation of six lakh cubic metres of Charnockite rock to create a deep underground tunnel and need for geo-technical studies to check the stability of the tunnel and cavern at a depth of 1,000 mt from the top of the mountain (Bodi hills).

The other two reasons for disapproval were Western Ghat biodiversity hotspot and the INO's possible impact on the Vaigai watershed area that provide water for drinking and agriculture.

After the TN agency pushed the ball to the Centre's court, the environment ministry reviewed the project in two meetings on January 25 and March 5, 2018.

The Centre's environment appraisal committee after "detailed deliberation" approved the Rs 300 crore construction plan of the INO under the 2006 Environment Impact Assessment notification of the government.

While non-governmental organisations claim they would challenge the MoEF approval on the ground of bypassing the rules, sources told DH no rules were violated for the project that follows 2006 EIA notification.

"There is no requirement for a public hearing or for an Environment Impact Assessment, both of which have been referred to by activists opposing the project," sources said.

In accordance with the NGT directive, the project proponent Tata Institute of Fundamental Research sought approval from National Board for Wildlife.

Once both documents come, TIFR will have to approach the TN Pollution Control Board for its approval before the construction activity can commence.

Approved by the Union cabinet in December 2014, the Rs 1,500 crore underground physics laboratory is way behind its original schedule as it would take minimum 5-8 years for the INO to be completed, once the construction starts.

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