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Landlock shadows science conclave

The heads of three of the world’s four high-energy synchrotrons are in town to discuss setting up the fifth in Bengal, but figuring out the complexities of particles is proving easier than breaking Mamata Banerjee’s land logjam.

Host Milan Kumar Sanyal, director of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, called the four-day 12th International Conference on Surface X-Ray and Neutron Scattering that started on Wednesday as the “first step towards capacity-building” for the proposed high-energy synchrotron.

But he admitted that the government’s hands-off policy on acquiring land was still a hurdle to keeping the Rs 5,500-crore science crown in the state.

Mamata has promised “all help” to the Saha Institute but hasn’t yet made land available for the project, which ideally requires over 100 acres within regular commuting distance of the airport along with uninterrupted power supply.

“I wrote to the chief minister a few times and I spoke to her (about land) when she visited the institute last. She promised all help but, unfortunately, there’s been little progress since,” Sanyal told Metro, which had first highlighted the problem on June 9.

While the Mamata government is mum on land, the department of atomic energy is considering other options. The buzz is that if the state government is unable to provide land, the institute can tap central institutions like IIT Kharagpur, Visva-Bharati and the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research at Kalyani.

Contender Chitradurga, in Karnataka, has infrastructure bottlenecks. “There is land at Chitradurga but the place does not have infrastructure,” said Srikumar Banerjee, a former chairman of the department of atomic energy.

Amid the uncertainty over its location, scientists assembled in Calcutta are discussing ways to collaborate in building what will be the world’s largest high-energy synchrotron, a storage ring of electrons that gives out intense light. Synchrotron radiation sources reveal information invaluable to research in diverse fields, from aviation to biological sciences.

Helmut Doschy from DESY, Germany, G.B. Stephenson of the Illinois-based Advanced Photon Source and Herald Reichert of ESRF, France, are among the distinguished names being hosted by the Saha Institute.

“We are getting partners from around the world. We want to build on their experience,” said Banerjee.