Several soil samples stored in a one-of-its-kind laboratory in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which tracks change by studying minerals, have been ruined allegedly due to a termite infestation in the building. The insects have also eaten away the door of a radioactive room in the lab. The TL/OSL lab (thermo luminescence/optically stimulated luminescence), which is used by PhD students of the Centre for the Study of Regional Development (CSRD), is one of only 12 labs in the country and the only one in Delhi. It has been operational since January 2016.
Ishita Manna, a PhD student who is working on ‘paleo-environment reconstruction in Beas Kund’, said it is a “dark lab” with red LED lights, as exposure to light can ruin the samples.
Manna said she found out about the infestation when she entered the lab on Saturday.
“My soil samples are gone, but luckily my rock samples, which was my alternative, are still safe. Soil samples would have given me the accurate date… Now I can’t get soil samples since roads (to Beas Kund) are blocked by snow,” she added.
Manna said three students were working in the lab under their supervisor Milap Chand Sharma before JNU sent them home due to the pandemic.
“There was a lot of junk on our terrace and inside the lab which they refused to remove despite our supervisor repeatedly writing to the authorities. Since they sent us away in March, there has been no upkeep as we only looked after it. So in these eight months, termites have eaten away our samples,” she claimed.
Sharma alleged “total negligence” by the administration, pointing to chairs, documents, gas and tree branches, among other things, on the lab’s terrace. “During monsoon, moisture must have got trapped and because of seepage, termites have infested. I have been writing to the administration for years to ask them to remove this, but it hasn’t been done. We are yet to operate the machines to see if they work,” he said.
Repeated calls and texts to all three Rectors, and the Registrar did not elicit any response.