IISc scraps Rs 2,000-crore accelerator project at C'Durga

IISc scraps Rs 2,000-crore accelerator project at C'Durga

IISc scraps Rs 2,000-crore accelerator project at C'Durga

In what could be termed as a setback for Chitradurga district and the State, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has dropped plans to construct a huge particle accelerator (similar to a circular tunnel) in Chitradurga at a cost of
Rs 2,000 crore.

The project had received in-principle approval. It was to be part of the 10,000-acre land parcel earmarked in Challakere, Chitradurga district, for Isro, BARC and DRDO, apart from IISc itself which is setting up a second campus there.

The facility was critical for particle physics research in India.  The elation with which the announcement of the synchrotron facility had been received a couple of years ago is now erased.

Apart from benefits to the vast field of materials sciences, the giant circular facility which was to be built over an area of 100 acres (making it one of the largest such particle facilities in India), it would have proved useful in developing better medical imaging equipment, aiding drug discovery and research, developing therapies to treat cancer and even help in understanding the reaction of  living cells to drugs etc.

Chitradurga district  though may not lose out on being the second largest science hub after Bangalore because the other facilities by Isro, BARC, DRDO may go on.

There is anxiety of course among officials about protests by locals who want to reclaim the fertile land acquired for science and space institutions.

The locals say that the land taken away is grazing land, vital for sheep rearing. Initially, they began protesting only against IISc, but now they have been opposing all other facilities too.

While IISc will continue with its plan to build the second campus there, the accelerator will not come up for now. Senior scientists say a major reason for dropping the plan was financial crunch.

“IISc runs on a budget of Rs 400-500 crore every year. Where can it bring Rs 2,000 crore from? Only if the Centre shows signs of wanting to fund the project, can it move forward.

The proposal has been hanging and we understand files have not yet moved. It appears there may be a financial crunch. Since we can’t do it on our own, we have dropped plans for the facility for now,” a senior officer said.

But what has also not impressed the IISc is the lack of planning at the Centre. “There aren’t even plans to go ahead with the project. It should be made clear whether it would or would not come up. But there seems to be no thinking of the sort. The accelerator is a national programme and IISc alone cannot undertake it. There has to be a diverse collaboration,” a scientist explained.

Other factors too impacted IISc’s thinking. There are a range of communities living around the land parcel, which say their grazing land has been taken away.

There have been protests by locals and NGOs. Scientists feel it would be difficult to build a massive scientific instrument without locals feeling positive
The giant accelerator also requires to be fairly isolated from immediate habitation.

Hi-tech experiments would be conducted inside the facility and would naturally require communities and residential habitats to be away. But here habitats are fairly close to the facility.
The project was announced at a time when industrialist Ratan Tata was taking interest in the research concerns at IISc as there were plans to make a grant to IISc on the occasion of its centenary celebrations.

Besides that, the project would have taken Chitradurga to the national and international stage with particle physics being the in-thing today.

CERN’s accelerator in Geneva is one of the largest in the world where particle physics experiments are undertaken. Chitradurga would have had some sort of interaction with CERN which would have lent it stature as a science hub in the making.

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