The Indian Space Research Organisation is reportedly insisting that the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology should be in the Merchiston estate area near Ponmudi in Kerala.
If the IAS officers are trained at Mussorie, space scientists too should be trained at a high altitude location. Then, they should have a clear view of skies as astronomy is going to be one of the subjects of study. It has already declared that the Government land at the top of Ponmudi and the old helipad there are unsuitable for the purpose.
They claim that IIST is going to be the third Space Institute to be in the world. This does not appear to be true. (Here is a list of space institutes of the world.) Several of them have campuses in the cities and the plains. Though institutes such as Caltec have facilities on mountaintops for astronomical observations, their campuses are elsewhere. Why can’t the ISRO be satisfied with an observatory at a high altitude location and a campus on the plains?
The ISRO authorities have persuaded Achuthanandan to visit Ponmudi. The Chief Minister understood that it was any way going to work to his advantage. If the Government were to agree to their demand, he would be doing so after an on-the-spot study. If not, it would be another crusade against corruption and environmental degradation.
One of the points that the ISRO authorities was keen to point out to the visiting delegation was that the area cleared for the helipad was in the middle of the tea estate. They were silent about the fact that the estates at Ponmudi are surrounded by evergreen forests.
The Cabinet knows all about that and much more. Hence, the delay in taking a decision. While the Chief Minister is inclined to award the land to ISRO so that the Institute could be retained in Kerala, Forest Minister Binoy Viswam is a cat that fell into the hot water before.