New Delhi: Union Minister for Environment and
Forests Jairam Ramesh has asked the National Tiger
Conservation Authority (NTCA) to assess the ecological impact
of the Rs 900 crore Neutrino Observatory (INO), the country`s
most ambitious mega science project.
The project, proposed to be set up deep under the
Mudumalai Tiger Reserve at Masinagudi in Tamil Nadu, has run
into rough weather with the state forest department raising
objections over its location citing that it is a prime
elephant and tiger habitat.
"There have been a severe opposition from green lobby
regarding the chosen site which is a buffer zone of the
Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
"As the proposed project threatens the flora and fauna of
the fragile ecosystem, the Minister has asked NTCA member
secretary Rajesh Gopal to study the implications and submit a
report," sources told a news agency.
Gopal will soon visit the reserve to survey the impact of
the project on the wildlife in the region, they said, adding
"further action will be taken depending on the report".
The INO, planned to be built a kilometre under the
surface, will be connected to the outside world by a 2 km-long
tunnel. It would be funded by the Department of Atomic Energy,
the department of science and technology and the UGC.
Neutrinos are one of the fundamental particles which make
up the universe. They are also one of the least understood.
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.
However, their efforts have evoked a stiff resistance
from wildlife experts and environmentalists, who pointed out
that the region is home to 15 threatened species and no
assessment has been done on the impact of the project on them.
They also argue that the tunnel portal is less than one
km from the boundary of the Mudumalai Critical Tiger Habitat.
As per the Supreme Court Order any project within 10km require
special consideration by the National Board for Wildlife.
"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," Belinda Wright,
Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) said.
The project involves tunnelling to the tune of 2,25,000
cubic metres or 630,000 tonnes of debris. The construction
material to be brought to the site via 35 kilometres of roads
through both the Mudumalai and Bandipur Tiger Reserves will
cause a lot of disturbance to the region, A C Soundararajan of
Nilgiri Wildlife and Environmental Association said.