Neutrino Observatory in Tamil Nadu Runs into Fresh Trouble, Falls in Tiger Corridor

Reported by

Land Conflict Watch

Last updated on

September 3, 2021

Location of Conflict

Pottipuram

Theni

Reason or Cause of Conflict

Other Kind of Infrastructure

Observatory

(

)

People Affected by Conflict

9249

Land Area Affected (in Hectares)

31

ha

Starting Year

2002

State

Tamil Nadu

Sector

Infrastructure

Nearly two decades after it was proposed, the Indiabased Neutrino Observatory (INO) project the most expensive basic science experiment proposed in the country at an estimated cost of INR 1,500 crore is yet to take off.  After overcoming a series of litigations, the INO project seemed to have overcome its hurdles in December 2020 when the Union government notified an area of zero to one kilometre around the boundary of the Mathikettan Shola National Park in Kerala as an ecosensitive zone (ESZ), effectively placing the INO project site at Pottipuram panchayat in Tamil Nadus Theni district outside the ESZ. The national park is located near the Tamil NaduKerala border. But the project has now met with another bottleneck. During a meeting on February 17, 2021, the Tamil Nadu forest department reportedly informed the Department of Atomic Energy, the funding agency, that the project site falls in the MathikettanPeriyar tiger corridor. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the project proponent and one among the consortium of 21 institutes involved in the project, was then required to apply for wildlife clearance, which is yet to be examined by the State Board for Wild Life. Speaking to LCW, Chief Wildlife Warden Shekhar Kumar Niraj confirmed that the project site falls in the tiger corridor. This brings the state and national boards for wildlife into the picture. Based on their recommendations and the existing laws and policies, the environment ministry will decide on the future course of action. Meanwhile, INO Project Director Gobinda Majumder, in a press release, said that the project would not affect the tiger corridor as the tunnel would be constructed several metres underground. The surface facilities are purely restricted to the 26.82 hectares of revenue land, and they lie completely outside the adjoining reserve forest. Of the 4.62 hectares of underground construction, it is clarified that the tunnel entrance (portal) begins in the revenue land and the horizontal tunnel gets several metres deep before it enters the forest land, he explained.  D. Indumathi of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, who is also a member of the INO Scientific Management Board, told LCW that not even an inch of the tiger corridor would be occupied as the portal to enter the tunnel would start well outside the corridor on government land.  Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, who has always opposed the project, submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 17, 2021, listing a number of demands, including the scrapping of the project. Earlier in 2019, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), an alliance partner of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, had launched a campaign against the project. Stalin, who was then the Leader of Opposition, had flagged off a protest rally of the MDMK. The residents of Pottipuram panchayat have expressed fear that they would be alienated from the pastoral lands and Ambarappar hill, which they consider their deity. They have also raised concerns about the project utilising 3.5 lakh litres of water per day from the Mullaperiyar Dam. Responding to the grievances, Dr. Indumathi had said that the rights of the community outside the fenced land would not be taken away. The water required for the project accounts for just 0.00002 per cent of the annual flow of the Mullaperiyar river, which is equivalent to the demand of 150 families, she further told LCW. The villagers also fear "radiation leaks" from neutrinos. The INO project was granted environmental clearance in March 2018. 

Demand/Contention of the Affected Community

Opposition against environmental degradation, Demand to retain/protect access to common land/resources

Region Classification

Rural

Type of Land

Common

Type of Common Land

Forest and Non-Forest

Total investment involved (in Crores):

1500

Type of investment:

Cost of Project

Year of Estimation

2014

Has the Conflict Ended?

No

When did it end?

NA

Why did the conflict end?

Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict

Forest and Scheduled Area Governance Laws, Other, Environmental Laws

Legislations/Policies Involved

  1. Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006

    Activity 8(a), Category B [Building and construction of projects]

  2. Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

    Section 2 [Restriction on the state government for dereservation of forests or use of forestland for non-forest purpose]

  3. Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972

    Section 38 O(1)(g) [Ensuring that the tiger reserves and areas linking one protected area or tiger reserve with another protected area or tiger reserve are not diverted for ecologically unsustainable uses, except in public interest and with the approval of the National Board for Wild Life and on the advice of the National Tiger Conservation Authority]

Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute

What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community? What was the decision of the concerned government department?

Yes

Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:

Violation of environmental laws

Legal Status:

In Court

Status of Case In Court

Disposed

Whether any adjudicatory body was approached

Yes

Name of the adjudicatory body

National Green Tribunal, New Delhi

Name(s) of the Court(s)

National Green Tribunal, New Delhi

Case Number

Appeal no. 60 of 2018 (M.A. no. 635 of 2018)

Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:

Whether criminal law was used against protestors

Official name of the criminal law. Did the case reach trial?

Reported Details of the Violation:

Date of Violation

Location of Violation

Nature of Protest

Public campaign, Self-immolation, Complaints, petitions, memorandums to officials , Development of a network or collective action

Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:

Forest Department, Department of Atomic Energy, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Department of Science and Technology

PSUs Involved in the Conflict:

Aligarh Muslim University, Banaras Hindu University, Central University of Karnataka, Delhi University, Harish Chandra Research Institute, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Institute of Physics, Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Jammu University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Lucknow University, Panjab University, Physical Research Laboratory, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Tezpur University, University of Calcutta, University of Calicut, University of Hyderabad, University of Kashmir, University of Mysore, Utkal University, Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre

Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?

Yes

Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached

Speaking to LCW, Chief Wildlife Warden Shekhar Kumar Niraj confirmed that the project site falls in the tiger corridor. “This brings the state and national boards for wildlife into the picture. Based on their recommendations and the existing laws and policies, the environment ministry will decide on the future course of action.”

Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?

No

Name, Designation and Comment of Corporate Authorities Approached

Other Parties Involved in the Conflict:

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

Resources Related to Conflict

  • News Articles Related to the Conflict:
  • Documents Related to the Conflict:
  • Links Related to the Conflict:
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Updated By

Edited By

Land Conflict Watch
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