The Tamil Nadu government submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court claiming that the project in Theni will destroy the Western Ghats irreparably.
The Tamil Nadu government submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court on February 17, 2022, declaring that it will not allow the planned Indian Neutrino Observatory to be built at Bodi West Hills in Theni district.
According to the affidavit, the project would have an impact on the flora and wildlife of the Periyar Tiger Reserve and Mathikettan Shola National Park in the Western Ghats, which have a worldwide reputation for successful conservation.
Kerala and Tamil Nadu are also included in the planned location.
The affidavit was filed two days after the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) approved the project with a no-objection certificate (NoC).
The initiative, which was first proposed by the Institute of Mathematical Sciences and afterwards by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, has come to an end.
The project has been opposed by Tamil Nadu’s governing Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and its coalition partner Marumalarchi DMK.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs the nation in the center, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which governs Kerala, both firmly backed its adoption, claiming that it will benefit the country’s scientific research.
Poovulagin Nanbargal, a Chennai-based environmental group, has petitioned the Supreme Court to intervene and prevent the state government from approving the project.
The organization’s more than 13-year fight against the project, according to representatives, has come to a natural end with the affidavit.
“With the state government’s decision not to fight our request in the Supreme Court, the project with such high environmental costs will not be realized.” G Sundarrajan, who petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of Poovulagin Nanbargal, told this reporter, “We were able to develop a large-scale consensus in Tamil Nadu against the project, and that has compelled the state government to submit this strong affidavit.”
He claimed that following the affidavit, NTCA’s NoC had become invalid.
In the affidavit, Supriya Sahu, Tamil Nadu’s assistant chief secretary for environment, climate change, and forests, said that the planned project’s tunneling operation included blasting hard and composite rock in the Western Ghats.
Breaking rocks will need a massive amount of high-strength explosives, she warned. In addition, 600,000 cubic metres (m) of Charnockite rock will be excavated from the mountainous terrain as part of the tunneling project.
The project’s tunnel and cavern would be erected at a depth of 1,000 meters from a mountaintop. However, the building activity, trucks, and personnel necessary, as well as the piling up of construction debris in forest regions, would have a negative impact on conservation efforts, according to Sahu.
“At a depth of 1,000 meters, mountain rock would be under immense strain, with vertical tension exceeding 270 kilograms per square meter.” This will result in difficulties such as rock busting and roof collapse, according to the affidavit.
The Western Ghats, according to Sahu, must be protected because they are a worldwide biodiversity hotspot and a treasure trove of biological richness.
“In addition to enormous populations of elephants and tigers, the area is home to numerous unique species of flowering plants, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and invertebrates.” It’s also a major breeding ground for key cultivated plant species,’ she said.
The suggested location, according to Sahu, was part of the catchment area for many streamlets and created a watershed that supported livelihoods in five Tamil Nadu districts.
She also said that the project location was just 4.9 kilometers from Kerala’s Mathikettan Shola National Park, which was of great environmental significance. Many hill slopes in the vicinity serve as elephant and tiger corridors.
The planned project area connects Kerala’s Periyar Tiger Reserve with the Srivilliputhur Meghamalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. Wild species that utilize the corridor for seasonal migrations would be disturbed by quarrying and building activity, according to the document:
The smallest alteration to the environment would have a significant influence on tiger mobility. Tigers will avoid human presence and any other anthropogenic disruptions by moving through untouched regions of forest according to their biological behavior. Even a little vibration in the ground might cause significant disruption in the land’s movement pattern.
Following local protest, public agitation, and permanent harm to the region’s valuable fauna and rich biodiversity, the government chose to refuse the project authorization, according to Sahu.
Chief Minister MK Stalin, for his part, notified Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June of last year that the project would not be implemented.
The subterranean facility proposed for Pottipuram hamlet in Bodi West Hill, on the other hand, has been dubbed the most comprehensive fundamental science project in India by the Union government and project developers.
To detect atmospheric neutrinos, the subterranean laboratory proposed a 50-kiloton magnetised iron calorimeter detector.
The tunnels and lab caverns are part of a project concept that includes 26.825 hectares of revenue land above ground and 4.62 hectares of land underneath.
The project, according to Sahu, violates the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 and the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980. Originally, the project was to be built in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris area, but it was moved to Theni due to considerable popular opposition.
Former Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan has spoken out against the project, claiming that it would endanger the Periyar reserve and Mathikettan Shola national park, as well as the Western Ghats in general.