Govt. forms panel for neutrino project

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After maintaining silence for over five years with regard to the proposed the Neutrino Observatory (INO) project, the State government has decided to form an expert technical committee to explore the project anew.

The committee will comprise members with expertise in Nuclear Physics, Atomic Chemistry, Hydrogeology, Forestry and Bio-diversity, Seismic Studies and Environmental Science and Engineering, and would go into the project de novo, considering the grounds on which it is being challenged. The committee will submit its report in three months.

“The government has come up with an expert committee and the names of its members will be submitted to the National Green Tribunal — Southern Bench, when the case comes up for hearing on March 10,” said a Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) official.

The TNPCB had, last October, requested the State government to constitute the panel and take its recommendations into account with regard to the proposed neutrino project near Bodi West hills in Theni district.

The INO is a multi-institutional effort aimed at building a world-class underground laboratory with a rock cover of approximately 1,200m for non-accelerator based high energy and nuclear physics research in the country.

Initially, the INO was proposed to come up on the fringes of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, but the State government refused permission for it as locals and environmentalists were opposed to the site. Subsequently, the INO team thought of a site at Cumbum hills but by then, the Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary had been notified. Afterwards, the INO scientists zeroed in on Bodi Hills.

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests issued clearance to the project in 2011 and the Tamil Nadu government had diverted about 32 acres of land for the project. But shortly after, the project was put on hibernation. “The State government was wary as the Mullaperiyar dam is located about 90 km south of the proposed site, and the project involves tunnelling through mountain rocks up to 1,200 metres,” said a retired official in the know.

“Already, many political parties are against the neutrino project. It could become politically volatile as former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, who leads a faction of the AIADMK, represents the Bodi constituency,” he said.

Now that the committee has been asked to give its report in three months, it looks like the State government is fasttracking the project. “No official order has been passed till now. It depends on the NGT, to which the list will be submitted on March 10,” said a senior official.

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