Voices growing against Punjab Agricultural University division to form horticulture varsity | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Voices growing against Punjab Agricultural University division to form horticulture varsity

Government sources revealed that university is a “dream project” of chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who wants to boost horticulture to help farmers diversify into fruits and vegetable, as growing only wheat and paddy is no longer viable.

punjab Updated: Jun 29, 2017 10:50 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Punjab Agricultural University
Punjab Agricultural University (HT File Photo)

The state government’s plan to carve out a university dedicated to horticulture from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) has led to voices of protest within and outside the PAU circles. Noted farm economist SS Johl has already expressed his displeasure, while top scientists and functionaries in the PAU too are unhappy with the “in-principle” decision.

“Why bifurcate PAU again?” asked a faculty member of PAU who did not want to be named for fear of persecution by the Congress government. “That will lead to its downfall.”

In the state budget on June 20, finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal made the announcement of the separate university with an initial outlay of Rs 1 crore. Government sources revealed that university is a “dream project” of chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who wants to boost horticulture to help farmers diversify into fruits and vegetable, as growing only wheat and paddy is no longer viable.

The blueprint is yet to be finalised. Additional chief secretary Himmat Singh, who has independent charge of the state’s horticulture department, said, “I can’t announce the deadline as to when the university will start functioning; we are at a nascent stage,” he said. Officials in the agriculture department said the government would pass an act before moving ahead.

Researchers and scientists, in fact, sought more autonomy and funds to beef up work on horticulture, and said government has been neglecting the PAU.

“Now is the time to consolidate, not bifurcate, because we don’t have resources. I feel research should be integrated and different departments related to one field need to be merged, such as agriculture, horticulture, soil conservation, hydrology. Same is case with the university,” said PS Rangi, a former professor at Punjabi University who is a consultant to the Punjab State Farmers’ Commission. “We create different bodies and then we end up not paying them,” he added. There are three departments for horticulture at PAU, said a senior functionary of the university.

“If bifurcated, PAU’s overall functioning will suffer,” said another functionary, who did not want to be named. He said funds announced in the budget for a new university were meagre.

Sources, however, told HT that after an act is passed, and subsequent appointment of a vice-chancellor and a registrar, the university would start functioning from PAU premises and later be shifted to an independent campus. So far, the government has not decided the location — proposals are for Ludhiana, Hoshiarpur, or Bathinda, with an extension campus for the adjacent towns of Abohar and Fazilka, where large areas are under kinnow cultivation.  

What about ICAR proposal?

In 2015, with intervention of the central government during the SAD-BJP regime in the state, Indian Council for Agricultural Research sanctioned a horticulture institute for Punjab and gave an initial budget of Rs 8.55 crore. The institute was planned to come up in Amritsar with an extension centre in Bathinda or Abohar. Sources said the plan was not followed up by the state. “If we are getting an institute funded by the Centre, it’s not wise to spend on a university,” said a PAU scientist. SS Johl, too, has underlined that “the most important, viable option to strengthen horticulture research in the state is to expedite the setting up of a Postgraduate Institute of Horticultural Research and Education (PGIHRE)... which has been approved by the ICAR”.

Not the first time

PAU was set up in 1962 to boost the Green Revolution, and was bifurcated in 1966 upon reorganisation of Punjab to form the state of Haryana. A part of PAU was shifted to Hisar to form Haryana Agricultural University. In 2005, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University was carved out of PAU.