London, November 25 (ANI): The Indian government has rejected a site under Nilgiri hills at Singara in the state of Tamil Nadu for the construction of a neutrino laboratory, due to environmental issues.
The neutrino laboratory was expected to be the country's biggest physics projects.
According to a report in Nature News, the government has upheld conservationists' view that its construction would endanger wildlife in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR), an important tiger and elephant habitat.
The 6.8-billion rupee India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO) has been mired in environmental controversy since 2006, but physicists were hoping it would be resolved in their favour.
However, on November 20, Jairam Ramesh, India's minister of environment and forests, informed the scientists that they should not proceed at Singara.
Ramesh wrote that he was acting on a "large number of reports" received against the proposed site and the "very weighty reasons" put forward by Rajesh Gopal, head of forestry in his ministry.
Ramesh has suggested the project consider instead a site near Suruliyar, also in Tamil Nadu, that does not pose Singara-type problems.
"Everybody in the INO project is disappointed," said project spokesman Naba Mondal, a physicist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai.
Project scientists had already considered and rejected the potential site at Suruliyar because there were less available data on the characteristics of the rock that would need to be blasted out to create a cavern to host the neutrino detector.
"Preparing a new site means a further delay of one year to a project that has already lost four years due to environmental activism," he said.
Conservationists are pleased, however.
"We are indeed relieved," said Tarsh Thekaekara, coordinator of the NBR Alliance, the group that spearheaded the campaign against building the neutrino observatory at Singara.
The proposed Suruliyar site is also close to the Periyar tiger reserve, although not in a wildlife corridor as the Singara site is.
According to Thekaekara, environmentalists near Suruliyar may decide to challenge the new proposal.
"We only represent organizations in Nilgiri. It may happen that some of the members also active in Suruliyar will protest if there is a serious threat to nature," he said.
Mondal said that work at the new site will start only after all government clearances are in place. (ANI)