The Rs 1,500 crore project was given nod by the Union Environment Ministry in 2015 and the field studies were on at Bodi west hills, where the site to develop the observatory had been finalised. However, the conservationists have termed the project as a threat to the fragile ecosystem of Megamalai wildlife sanctuary.
“The project involves setting up infrastructure and tunnelling the hillocks coming under the reserve forest. Further, the adjacent Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuary is located close to the proposed site any major construction activity will be a death knell to the local wildlife population,” opined conservation scientist Dr A Kumaraguru of Biodiversity Conservation Foundation. The entire Bodi and Megamalai hills are known for their grizzled squirrels and Nilgiri Tahr, both are critically endangered animals’ endemic to hilly terrains. Any man-made activity in the pristine Bodi hills will change the local vegetation which is nourished with fruit and nut bearing trees engaging wild squirrels. This type of vegetation is unique for large squirrels and deer population, Kumaraguru explained demanding the scrapping of Neutrino project in Theni.
The proposal dates back to the days of Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, where initially Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary was selected to house the observatory. Both Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa were not keen on this project mooted by the Centre and that’s the reason the project is pending since 2009, admitted a senior forest department official who has served as a DFO in Theni. The Tamil Nadu forest department initially opposed the project in Theni,
Apart from environmental clearances, the project requires Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) clearances as national parks and tiger reserves are located close to Bodi hills.