The environmental clearance to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) project at Bodi West Hills near Pottipuram in Tamil Nadu is alarming due to the environmental damage it may induce to the rich biodiversity of the Western Ghats. The earlier identified sites for INO at Darjeeling and in Singara inside the Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary were dropped due to environmental concerns. The present site beneath the Mathikettan Shola National Park also poses a severe threat to the ecology of the area, but with much more severity. The Western Ghats are more ecologically sensitive. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the eight hottest hot spots of biological diversity in the world. It is true that the study of neutrinos is very important in going beyond the standard model of particle physics. Indians were pioneers in neutrino physics and many breakthroughs were made in the neutrino observation facility at the Kolar gold fields in 1960s. Later, many observatories from around the world gave much more interesting details about the conspicuous nature of neutrino. The proposed INO will be a state-of-the-art facility that may provide new insights. However, the Mathikettan
Shola National Park is strictly reserved for the betterment of the wildlife and biodiversity, and where activities like forestry, poaching and hunting are prohibited. Besides tigers, panthers, flying squirrels, it houses several rare species of medicinal plants and is the only place where some of the unique rhododendrons are seen. The cavern of the observatory would be 1.5 km-long and the equipments will be housed at a bigger space of 26-30 m. It requires continuous blasting for years to make such a cavern and 600,000 cubic metres of rock will have to be removed. Besides, the proposed observatory is very near to Kerala's most important dams and hydel projects. Wild animals may enter the nearby residential areas due to the blasting of rocks and the rare plants may vanish. Several seismic incidents have also been reported in this area. There is also a possibility of roof collapse which may damage the structure of the hill and result in a gap in the Ghats which will damage the whole ecosystem of Idukki and adjoining areas. This gap could also affect the weather pattern of Idukki and make it warmer. These details are based on the personal visits to the area and the studies conducted thereafter.
RAJAGOPAL KAMATH KOTTAYAM, KERALA