Termites infest JNU lab closed due to COVID, destroy rare research samples, say students

Most parts of the lab, along with the equipment and the samples that the researchers had collected were destroyed, after being exposed to seepage and termite infestation
The JNU lab (Pic: Twitter/ Aishe Ghosh)
The JNU lab (Pic: Twitter/ Aishe Ghosh)

Elora, a PhD scholar in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, tells us about the day at the end of November when she entered the university's TL/OSL (thermo luminescence/optically stimulated luminescence) lab, after an eight-month-long hiatus. However, little did she know that she was in for a shocker. The sight was devastating, she says. Most parts of the lab, along with the equipment and the samples that the researchers had collected were destroyed, after being exposed to seepage and termite infestation.

The lab, which was set up as part of a consortium of four universities — Jammu University, Sikkim University, Kashmir University and JNU was used by the PhD students of the Centre for the Study of Regional Development (CSRD) of the School of Social Sciences. "Pretty much all of my research work is destroyed here. I had been collecting these samples since 2015. It took us a lot of effort to collect these. There were samples from various regions including Lahaul, Ladakh, Sikkim and the Gangetic planes," she says. Elora adds that the field trips were quite dangerous, expensive and time-consuming and collecting the lost samples again will be next to impossible. "Apart from that, we had made huge investments here. All that is lost now," she says.

Rusty surface in the lab (Pic: Twitter/ Aishe Ghosh)

Elora says that the lab, which is one of the only 12 of its kind in the country, also had samples from universities across the world. "It was initially funded by the Department of Science and Technology. "Within four years of its establishment, the lab had started giving some good results. However, the previous occupants of the building hadn't moved their equipment from the terrace and during the lockdown, this caused seepage in the building, which led to termite infestation," she says.

Ishita Manna, a fifth-year PhD scholar also had to face similar issues. Someone who is preparing to submit her thesis in June, Ishita says that this has badly affected the quality of her research. "We foresaw this happening and had written letters to the administration continuously seeking a solution," she says. "However, when I saw the lab last Saturday, I was shocked. I tried cleaning it up, but the damage was beyond repair," she says.

Elora is a day scholar who lives close to the university, while Ishita had returned to Delhi in the beginning of September and was living outside the campus, given that the students aren't permitted to enter the premises. "We have been fighting continuously to let us enter the lab," says Elora. "Had they done that earlier, I could have saved our research work and samples," she says.

The JNU Students' Union, which condemned the state of the laboratory, also said that the entire vicinity of the lab has become contaminated with radioactive waste and has become unsafe to visit. "In light of the above situation, the JNUSU demands that the JNU administration immediately acknowledge its mismanagement and take immediate steps to provide all necessary assistance to the affected students. We appeal to the Department of Science and Technology which funds the lab, to enquire into the matter and raise it up with the JNU administration," they said in a statement. "We also appeal to the UGC and the MoE to immediately set up an inquiry committee to investigate this apathy and deliberate mismanagement," it said.

The researchers have now written letters to the Vice-Chancellor and two of the rectors, seeking proper action. "We demand the speedy removal of the scrap and initiation of the renovation of the lab. We need the lab back in place as soon as possible without any delay. We hereby wish to inform you, if the scrap is not taken away in the next two days we will take the work up on our own as clearly none from the administration have any care for health and hard work invested by students of our Centre," reads their letter.

An email sent to the JNU administration seeking a comment did not elicit a response. This copy will be updated once they respond.

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