The development of a country involves not only economic progress but its contribution to the scientific community at large. The 20th century had witnessed the participation of India in experimental science, a privilege it exercised whilst working in the Kolar Gold mines. Today, with the approval of the Union Government, the ‘India-based Neutrino Observatory’, abbreviated as the INO, is ready to be set up in the midst of the Bodi West Hills of Tamil Nadu. The proposed underground laboratory will be studying the properties of the neutrino, which would be accompanied by research regarding black matter and double beta decay. It would be modelled after the existing neutrino labs in Japan, Italy and Canada. However, INO will be concentrating on the study of atmospheric neutrons that are naturally produced by the interaction of cosmic rays within the Earth’s atmosphere and would not involve any toxic or radioactive emissions. In addition, the approval of the construction of an Iron Calorimeter Detector (ICAL) which would be used to study the mass hierarchy of the different types of neutrino makes the plan a success in its nascent stage itself.
The approval of the establishment of the INO at an estimated cost of 1500 crores is a project that was initiated under the aegis of the Twelfth Five-year plan of the Government of India. The project has received support from the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Atomic Energy and the Government of Tamil Nadu. The main objective of the project is the determination of neutrino masses and mixing parameters. The reason for the laboratory being located underground is to utilise the special conditions existing therein. Dr. R.K. Sinha, Secretary of Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India believes that “This is the largest science project in India and is important for promoting scientific research using cutting edge of technology. There is tremendous potential of engaging science students across the country in basic research through this project”. Neutrinos are electrically neutral elementary particles and form a part of ‘leptons’, of which the electron is also a member. They are the most abundant particles in the universe after photons and were said to be created during the origin of the universe. The production of neutrinos can be through various means. Apart from being produced inside the sun and stars, cosmic radiations react with the earth’s atmosphere to produce neutrinos. Since they are present in abundance and are highly reactive, any experiment which involves the study of neutrinos must involve large detectors with suitable precautions taken, in order to prohibit unnecessary external stimuli from interfering with the project. The important fact known about neutrinos is that they have the ability to transform themselves as they travel, a phenomenon better known as ‘neutrino oscillation’. Thus, there is great potential in this field for discovering more information about neutrino behaviour.
Even though there have been environmental concerns regarding the project, the construction of the underground lab as well as the tunnel will not have any adverse impact on water or land resources in and around the proposed location. Accordingly, the project has already received approval from concerned Central and State governmental authorities.
Of recent, there were also a few questions raised regarding the INO environmental clearance for the project. However, a press release on 1st of July 2014 by Prof. N.K Mondal, Project Director, clarified that the INO project has absolutely nothing to do with nuclear power plants, nuclear fuel processing or nuclear waste management. The Neutrino Project is a basic science project intending to study the properties of ‘naturally occurring atmospheric’ neutrinos and is neither a weapons facility nor a disposal for nuclear waste. The General Secretary of the political party MDMK, Mr. Vaiko, has urged the people of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to oppose the project on grounds of threatening the safety of the environment and the livelihood of farmers. However, the Ministry of Environment and Forests gave its approval to the project on 1st June 2011 and the rumours of it being a unit for nuclear disposal are completely false as the laboratory will be used for studying neutrinos, thereby contributing to existing research in the field of neutrino physics. The environmental policy of the project is that firstly, during its normal operation phase, all efforts will be made by the scientists to minimize any disturbance, if caused to the community at large, during its construction. Secondly, apart from adhering to the relevant environmental laws (such as the Environment Protection Act, 1986), members of the project and the labourers will be trained in order to comply with the relevant environmental guidelines. Furthermore, the benefits of this Project are multifold. Not only will there be availability of employment for people with regard to the daily needs of the INO facility, but the possibilities of scientific outreach will be made available to students of colleges as well as research institutes of the country.
According to Article 48A of the Indian Constitution, which embodies one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, the State must strive to protect and improve environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. The clearances and precautionary measures taken by the project and the State are in tune with this Article. Moreover, as dutiful citizens of the country, it is indeed our responsibility to be concerned about the risks and hazards posed by any up-and-coming scientific project. However, the most important fact to be noted about the Neutrino Project is that the entire process, the relevant Frequently Asked Questions, the clearance documents and the press releases are electronically available to the public domain. The progress of the project is being updated by the host institute of the project, the ‘Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’. Thus, the high level of transparency as well as accountability, which is mandatory for innovative science research projects, ensures the absence of legal loopholes and sets a very high standard of performance for the project.
About the Author
Geetanjali R Kamat is currently pursuing her B.A LL.B. (Hons.) from National Law Institute University, Bhopal. Her hobbies include blogging, creative writing and sketching. She is passionate about writing research articles and papers on national and international legal issues that promote debate and discussion. Her other areas of interest lie in Constitutional Law and Criminal Law.