The National Green Tribunal (NGT) upheld the environmental clearance granted to the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), a major research facility proposed in Theni district of Tamil Nadu.
While this removes all current legal hurdles in building the facility, there are still other obstacles to be overcome before work can begin on this project, which has been in planning since 2001.
What are Neutrinos?
- These are extremely tiny elementary particles that are omnipresent in universe but very difficult to detect because they pass seamlessly through all kinds of matter.
- Neutrinos carry no electric charge.
- Predicted in 1931, neutrinos were detected for the first time in 1959, and are now considered to be the second most abundant particle in the universe — after the photon, or light particle.
- Groups in many countries are carrying out research on neutrinos, believed to hold important clues to some of the basic questions on the universe.
- Research on neutrinos has led to award of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1988, 1995, 2002 and 2015.
INO: Obstacles and delays
- The INO promises to be a one-of-its-kind facility to detect and study neutrinos. Once built, INO would be the biggest research facility in India.
- The underground laboratory will be located nearly 5 km below the Earth’s surface, where a giant neutrino detector is to be placed.
- The laboratory will consist of a cavern of size 132 m × 26 m × 20 m and with several small rooms, and will be accessed by a tunnel nearly 2 km long and 7.5 m wide.
- The project has been mired in all kinds of trouble — litigation, public protests, opposition from NGOs and political parties, besides government apathy.
- It has had to move locations once, because the nearby Mudhumalai National Park had been declared a tiger reserve during the same time.
- Environmental clearance granted in 2011 for the second site, too, was put in abeyance by the NGT because the project was within 5 km of the Mathikettan Shola National Park in Idukki.
- Fresh environmental clearance was given last March by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forest.
- The result of all these obstacles has been that work, originally scheduled to start in 2012, is yet to take off.
- The original timeline had envisaged experimental work starting from 2017, later advanced to 2020. It is now unlikely to begin before 2025, even if construction starts next year. Construction of the underground facility would take at least five years.
- The project cost, too, likely to escalate. The Union government had, in 2015, approved a budget of Rs 1,583 crore for the project. That budget was based on cost assessments done in 2012. It is estimated the project would now cost at least 25% more than that amount.
Political and bureaucratic hurdles are causing delay to one of the most significant project. Such delays will not only increase the economic cost but also leave India behind in the modern technological research race. To harness the immense talent in India, infrastructure is one of the most important pillars.