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Land deadline met but not distance

- Synchrotron slipping away as govt offers far-flung sites

The Mamata Banerjee government has offered land in Bankura, Purulia or Birbhum for a Rs 6,000-crore synchrotron project that Bengal would lose if the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics cannot find a 100-acre plot within 50km of Calcutta.

The director of the Saha institute, Milan K. Sanyal, received a letter last week that said the government could at best provide land not less than a four-hour drive from the city.

Land reforms commissioner R.D. Meena, who is also the principal secretary of the land and land reforms department, asked the institute to take its pick from three districts whose headquarters are 174km (Bankura), 186km (Birbhum) and 250km (Purulia) from Calcutta.

The land offer has come within the deadline set by the Saha institute but the choices given have almost killed the possibility of the synchrotron coming up in Bengal. “There is no way a synchrotron centre can come up in these districts,” a source in the institute said.

According to him, Delhi was keen on handing the project to the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore. “The state’s bargaining power had already declined once Trinamul pulled out of the UPA. There are several eager contenders for the prized project and Delhi doesn’t want to wait any longer for the state government to provide the parcel of land a science centre of this stature requires,” the source said.

The Saha institute had sent a reminder to the Mamata government in June about time running out for Bengal. In several letters addressed to the chief minister, the authorities iterated that they were looking for land near the city to enable top scientists, many of them visitors from abroad, to work on the project.

A plot in Rajarhat would have been ideal but the Saha institute agreed to look beyond the city once it became clear that Hidco wasn’t going to provide one. The next option is Kalyani in Nadia, around 47km from the city and close to insititutions such as the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research and the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics.

“We suggested Kalyani after learning that 100 acres of contiguous land are available there. But these three districts are so far away,” director Sanyal said.

Meena was unavailable for comment but sources said encroachment was one of the reasons why the proposal to allot available land in Kalyani hadn’t worked out so far.

Officially, the Saha institute hasn’t given up yet. “I am still positive about getting a parcel of land within 40-50km of Calcutta,” Sanyal said.

According to scientists, the proposed synchrotron centre would be worth the trouble of finding land, providing a fillip to research on advanced material development, particularly in energy and disease biology.

A synchrotron centre is a storage ring of electrons moving at very high velocity and energy that gives out intense light, from infrared to X-ray. Synchrotron radiation sources reveal information invaluable in numerous fields of research.

The Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, had pitched itself as the frontrunner for the project but the Planning Commission chose the Calcutta institute, founded by the physicist Meghnad Saha.

While the land and land reforms department, which functions under Mamata, has suggested Bankura, Birbhum and Purulia, Trinamul MP Saugata Roy said any potential plot must be close to the airport.