Chennai: The National Green Tribunal on Monday scrapped the Environmental Clearance (EC) for the India- based Neutrino Observatory (INO) Project in Theni district, thwarting the efforts of scientific community to set up the high end tunnel laboratory. However, green activists were elated at the interim order as they have been crying foul over the project proposed on the pristine Bodi hills, which serve as a water catchment and forest buffer zone.
Setting aside the EC obtained from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal ordered the INO Project team to file a fresh application for the clearance.
The court had taken into consideration two major loopholes in the Environmental Clearance. The INO project team had termed the project as category B of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2006, but followed the procedures of Category A for the clearance. The second setback has been the absence of a clearance from the National Board of Wild Life, as the project is proposed just 4.5 kms from Madikettan Shola National Park.
Under the EIA Notification, 2006, projects related to mining, inter-state activities and hydro tunnel formations are included under category A, mandating a clearance from the MoEFCC, only after conducting a public hearing and conducting an assessment with a credited agency.
Projects under category B, which are construction-based activities require a grant from the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority.
It is to be noted that the INO project team failed to conduct a public hearing and a proper study from a credited agency. The Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History had conducted an ecological impact study, which the tribunal declared as ‘unaccredited agency’
“The project at the West Bodi hills of Pottipuram village of Theni district, which involves blasting of hard rocks using explosives, is proposed at one km from the Tamil Nadu - Kerala border. It is a clear case of category A,” said the petitioner, Sundar Rajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal.
“The project involves the usage of explosives and is a threat to the highly sensitive ecology of the Western Ghats. Why did the INO Project team conduct a study if they believed it to be a category B project?” argued the Counsel of applicant. The counsel for the respondent, however, said that the prior EIA is for the precaution.
Nodal agency of the INO Project team: Indian Institute of Mathematical Studies
Project category: The tribunal ruled it to be a Category A of EIA, 2006, though the INO Project team termed it under Category B.
Procedure for a clearance: For category A projects, a proper study and a public hearing is necessary, before applying for an environmental clearance from MoEFCC. Clearance can be obtained from State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority without a study and public hearing for category B projects.
Loopholes of the case: Though it involves using explosives, INO project team termed as category B, but sought clearance from EoFCC. Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History did a study
What did the tribunal say?
The bench comprising Justice P.Jyothimani and expert member P.S. Rao said, “In the light of new facts during arguments, it will be appropriate to keep the EC in abeyance.”
What does the study say?
In their website, Salim Ali Centre had mentioned that the locality, in the circle of 5 Kilometres from the proposed project, is a haven to 517 species of plants, 232 species of ve rtebrates (14 species of amphibians, 27 reptiles, 137 birds and 54 mammals) and 59 species of butterflies. Several flora and fauna, endemic to the Peninsular India and Western Ghats are recorded too. “Nevertheless, none of these species are limited to the study area and are widely distributed elsewhere,” they stated.
Endangered species in the proposed site: Lion tailed macaque, Nilgiri Langur, Indian Gaur, Rock Python, Sambhar, Leopard, Sloth bear, Pied Horn bill, Peacock.