Does Punjab need a separate horticultural university to promote horticulture?. Internationally renowned agricultural scientists of the caliber of Dr G S Khush a renowned rice breeder of the world and Dr. B S Ahluwalia who has served in the International Atomic Energy Authority Vieanna (Austria) and FAO for more than thirty years and the leading agricultural scientists of the country have outrightly rejected the idea of having a separate horticultural university in Punjab. They have strongly opposed any further cutting of any limb of the Punjab Agricultural University which has helped the country in wiping out the food deficit of the country. They maintain that Punjab Agricultural University has not only made India surplus in foodgrains, it has also led the country in allied disciplines like dairy development, beekeeping and mushroom growth.
KS Chawla Dr. Khush and Dr. Ahluwalia who are both alumni of PAU described the idea of having a separate horticultural university as foolish and emphasized that there was need to strengthen the research programmes of the PAU including the development of fruit crops.
PAU which was setup in 1962 as the second agricultural university in the country has created a niche in the international arena for its achievements in the field of agriculture. It is well recognized all over the world. PAU was setup on the pattern of Land grant colleges of Ohio State University of USA. Teaching, research and extension education are integral part of the curriculum of the university. Strong foundations of the university were laid by two first vice chancellors namely P N Thapar and Dr. M S Randhawa – both retired ICS officers and they had dedicated bunch of scientists who were instrumental in developing the new technologies and the enterprising farmers of Punjab adopted these technologies and the new wheat and rice varieties which were developed with the collaboration of the international institutes of Mexico and International Rice Research Institute of Manila. Thus Punjab became the leader in ushering in ‘Green Revolution’ in the country.
As the Punjab farmers adopted the wheat-rice pattern of agriculture, they had bumper crops. But at the same time, there was erosion of the natural resources like water. In view of this development, the scientists of the PAU also paid the desired attention to the development of horticulture and vegetables, pulses and oilseeds to diversify the agricultural pattern. Due to the efforts of the PAU scientists, the Punjab state has witnessed spurt in the production of fruits and vegetables. Both horticulture and vegetable departments were strengthened by the authorities.
The idea of having a separate horticultural university in Punjab has been floated by a senior bureaucrat of the Punjab who is close to the Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. This very bureaucrat had close proximity with the chief minister in his first term as chief minister in 2002-2007 and had setup a number of development councils like citriculture, vitriculture, Punjab agrojuice and organic farming.
But none of these councils made much impact on the agricultural development or diversification of the cropping pattern. With the installation of the SAD-BJP Government in Punjab in 2007, these councils did not work well and the succeeding government allegedly found some irregularities and instituted enquiries into the functioning of these councils. Even prosecution was launched against some officers involved in these councils. One officer was even convicted. This bureaucrat managed to go scot free.
Surprisingly with the installation of Captain Amarinder Singh, this officer has again appeared on the scene and immediately presented a proposal to the chief minister for the establishment of a separate horticulture university within the campus of Punjab Agricultural University at Ludhiana which has been vehemently opposed by the faculty and staff of the PAU and other leading scientists of the state and country.
Following this opposition, the chief minister has give a statement that horticultural university would not be setup at Ludhiana but it would be established at Abohar and PAU would act as its mentor. PAU has its Regional Research Station at Abohar spread over in an area of 200 acres where research on kinnow, plum, guava and other fruits is being undertaken. The agricultural scientists have even not approved of the Abohar venue of the new university. The establishment of the horticultural university would lead to duplication as PAU Ludhiana campus has three well laid out departments of horticulture, vegetables and floriculture which are looking after the research work.
According to PAU Director Research Dr. Navtej Bains, technology for the development of horticultural crops and vegetables is available and PAU is known for its contribution not only in India but at the international level. It has given many new technologies in horticulture and best example is the development of less seeded kinnow (Punjab Kinnow lo) which is likely to have large impact as kinnow covers almost two third (about 50,000 hectare) in Punjab. Much needed diversification of kinnow has been achieved with the release of Daisy variety of mandarins whose fruit become available earlier than kinnow thus extending the fruit season. PAU provided more than three and a half lakh nursery plants for fruits season to the farmers during 2016-17. Similarly more than 1000 quintals of vegetable seeds, about 75,000 kitchen garden kits, 12,000 quintals of potato seed was also provided during 2016-2017.
Fruits and vegetables are highly perishable in nature and their wastage account for 15-30 percent of the total production. There is need to have strong processing facilities and cold chambers for the preservation of the same.
Dr. Bains says that PAU is responding to the challenges by developing new processing technologies and their commercialization through MOUs. The Food Industry Centre at PAU, Ludhiana and research station Bathinda are proving a useful conduit in processing technology. The Punjab Agricultural University scientists maintain that at present under the BSc (hons) programme both agriculture and horticulture are taught to the students and if the state government wants to give emphasis on horticulture separate courses for horticulture can be started. If the new university is established at Abohar, the students will be deprived of learning of subjects like agronomy, entomology, soil sciences and other allied subjects. The Punjab state is already facing huge financial crisis and cannot afford to have a separate university and spend crores of rupees when the coffers are empty.
The Union Agriculture Ministry and the ICAR have allotted the Postgraduate Institute of Horticulture Research and Education at Amritsar since 2015 and this will be a centrally funded institute. This will have postgraduate programme in horticulture but the SAD-BJP Government did not bother about it at all. 100 acres of land for this institute is already available at Attari and 50 acres at Abohar. Badals did not take much interest because they wanted this institute to come up at Bathinda just as they had managed to get AIIMS shifted from Kapurthala to Bathinda.
Radha Mohan Singh, Union Agriculture Minister in a letter to the Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh dated may 23, 2017 has reminded that Government of Punjab has agreed vide its letter Nos ACS(D)-2015/3602 dated 5-8-2015-agri4(2)1364 dated 6-4-2016 to provide 100 acres of farm of Department of Horticulture located at Attari and 50 acres at Abohar alongwith 9 acres of panchayat land of village Chhidan with widened approach road connecting to G T Road respectively to Department of Agricultural Research and Education/Indian Council of Agricultural Research. ‘However the said land is yet to be transferred to DARE/ICAR by the Punjab Government. DARE/ICAR has completed all the formalities to open this institute in this financial year itself-2017-18 and process of EFC is at the final stage’.
He has further written, ‘I, therefore invite your attention on the matter so that the transfer of the above land could be done at the earliest. This will enable us to take further necessary action in this regard’.
The scientists are unable to understand why the state government is not responding to the Central Government for the establishment of such an prestigious institute in Punjab.
The Punjab Agricultural University has won best agricultural university of the country awards in 1995, 2011 and lately the PAU has been honoured by Indian Society of Plant Genetics Research in 2017 for developing landmark varieties since its inception.
Dr. B S Dhillon, vice-chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University has suggested to the state government to setup a centre of excellence for development of horticulture at Khanauri farm of the Government where potato seed is raised. This research centre was in shambles and it was put to development work by Kahan Singh Pannu who served as secretary agriculture of Punjab Government for some time. The scientific fraternity wants the state government to just forget the idea of having a separate horticultural university.
Dr. Manjit Singh Kang former vice-chancellor PAU opposing the establishment of new university says there is no other alternative except to setup a centre of excellence at the PAU campus. I fail to understand the term of ‘PAU will act’ as mentor of horticultural university. Will it be ‘margdarshan’ like L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP, he remarked jokingly.
K S Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
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