Instrumental in connecting farmers to new researches and taking feedback from the fields, the Farm Advisory Service Scheme (FASS) centres in the state, run by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), will soon be history owing to lack of infrastructure.
These centres have been functioning in Amritsar, Bathinda, Faridkot, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Patiala, Rupnagar and Sangrur districts.
The PAU, on August 27, notified the merger of these centres into the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) running across the state under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and has decided to utilise the KVK sources to carry out the activities of these centres. The PAU had given the go-ahead to the merger in the board of management (BOM) meeting in June.
But there has been resentment in the faculty posted at these centres over the move as the mandate of both the schemes is "different". KVKs hold trial of new seeds in their own fields besides training farmers and other stakeholders, while the FASS centres monitor the success of any new research from the fields of farmers and give it to the PAU. The problems farmers face in the fields are reported by FASS workers, hence the experts term them as "eyes and ears of the PAU".
The move gives the impression that farmer advisory services are being diluted because of lack of funds, whereas the state government has doubled the university grant over the past two years.
According to the notification, vice-chancellor Dr BS Dhillon, who is said to be behind the move, had claimed that it was not a merger but was an effort to streamline the extension system.
The university reportedly did not deliberate the issue with the ICAR, whose nominee Dr KK Singh was not present at the BOM meeting in which the merger was passed.
The move seems to have been taken in haste, as after receiving the agenda of the meeting from the PAU registrar via e-mail, the ICAR nominee strongly objected to the move. In the mail, the ICAR nominee said, "The view of the DDG (extension), ICAR, was taken and as such the merger is not feasible."
When it started
In 2012, the V-C constituted a committee of experts headed by former PAU director extension Dr Amrik Singh Sandhu, which studied the functioning of the KVKs and FASS centres and said the poor facilities were hitting the purpose of the FASS centres and there was a need to strengthen these. The committee did not recommend merging these centres with KVKs, and rather suggested ways to strengthen the centres.
The PAU Teachers' Association (PAUTA) had strongly objected to the move. Former PAUTA president Dr Mukesh Syag had taken up the objection at the BOM meeting in June. PAUTA president Dr Harmeet Kingra was not available for comment.
"The mandates of FASS centres and KVKs are different. Since half of the KVKs are located away from FASS centres that are based in the district headquarters, because of resentment in staff over shifting to remote areas and working under KVK's ICAR scientists, the merger should not be done," the PAUTA had said.
In 2008, a similar attempt was made, but had to be shelved because of practical problems and the overall resentment.
The vice-chancellor was not available for comment. Extension education director Dr MS Gill said it was not a "merger" but the services of both the centres were being brought under one roof. They would work independently, he added.