A sorry lack of will

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By Yambem laba
HEADQUARTERED in Imphal, the Central Agricultural University was established in 1993, with then Union minister for agriculture Balram Jhakar laying the foundation. In its earlier avatar it was known as Manipur Agriculture College but then New Delhi saw fit to expand its scope and reach and converted it into a Central university encompassing the entire North-east region with the passing of the Central Agricultural University Act.

Theoretically speaking, it was meant to be the engine of growth in agriculture and allied fields to put the region on par with those states that had benefited earlier from the Green Revolution, like Punjab and Haryana, both of which have institutions of this nature in Ludhiana and Hissar, respectively. With the advent of the College of Agriculture, six other institutions came up in other North-east states, namely the College of Fishery in Tripura, College of Veterinary Sciences in Mizoram, College of Postgraduate Studies in Shillong, College of Home Sciences in Tura (Meghalaya), College of Agricultural Engineering and Post-Harvest Technology in Sikkim, and the College of Horticulture and Forestry in Arunachal Pradesh.

However, that all has not been going well for this Imphal-based university some 19 years down the line is most apparent. According to Professor N Dhaneshwar Singh, president of the Central Agricultural University Teachers’ and Scientists’ Association, the root of the problem lies in the presence of an “absentee vice-chancellor” in the person of Professor SN Puri. Dhaneshwar Singh says he has to revert to utilising the RTI Act to find the number of days Puri attended office at Imphal. According to the reply given under the provisions of the RTI Act, the vice-chancellor sat for only 75 days between 1 August 2011 and 1 August 2012. Singh said that this was in spite of the fact that, as per the university statute, Puri ought to have had at least 80 per cent attendance. All this had resulted in ad hocism in the running of the university and its affiliated institutions.

To begin with, none of the seven colleges has a proper dean to oversee matters and save for colleges in Meghalaya and Sikkim, the rest are being run on an in-charge basis. The most glaring example of ad hocism is Naorem Iboton Singh, who has been occupying the dean’s office at the College of Agricultural Sciences for the last 12 years. The post is mandated for five years only and Iboton Singh is said to have been successful in scuttling interviews for selecting a dean on a permanent basis — first in 2009 and again very recently.

“Iboton raj” is resonantly visible. Sources say he has employed more that 150 on a contract basis, promising they will be made full-time employees in the near future. The rake-in money, according to a conservative estimate, is Rs 2 lakh per employee, which amounts to Rs 3 crore — enough to prop up his wife as a candidate during the last assembly elections in Manipur, where every candidate spends a minimum Rs 1-2 crore. That apart, Iboton Singh has allegedly purchased four cars and had his son supply computers and peripherals to the college worth more than Rs 1 crore. He is a fit case for a CBI probe, according to a university official, who adds that “let us see if the V-C can continue to protect him then”.

Dhaneswar was very critical of the manner in which Iboton Singh manipulated the appointment of a person of his choice as director of Extension Education by amending the recruitment rules. Only one with an agricultural or allied sciences degree can be appointed to the post, but “allied sciences” was replaced with “basic science” and so a person with a zoology background was accommodated.

All this apart, the fact remains that the Central Agricultural University has not been able to take possession of 287 acres adjoining its premises that was gifted by the Manipur government and now operates with its original 44 acres. There is also an acute shortage of buildings as the college is yet to complete construction work that was initially allocated in the 10th  Plan, whereas construction has almost been completed in the rest of the six institutions. Again, all construction work has been the sole responsibility of an 80-year-old AK Gupta since inception and whatever had been done so far has been without any supervision by a competent authority.

When The Statesman contacted 68-year-old Professor Subhas Narsinha Puri, who also officiates as the president of the Indian Universities Association, on one of his rare visits to Imphal recently, he admitted that he had not been present in Imphal as desired but added that since he had to look after the six other colleges as well he had to keep “circulating”.

On the appointment of a dean on a regular basis, he asserted proper selection in this regard on a regular basis would be done “this month”. On the land acquisition issue, he said the university had not been able to take possession as some encroachers had taken a stay order from the High Court, but he was hopeful it will be vacated soon. On the role of the Central Agricultural University in India’s Look East Policy, he was hopeful that with new technology developed at the Sikkim college pineapple could now be converted to powder form and so the problem of transportation could be solved. He was also hopeful that the entire North-east region could be converted into a grain house of Basmati rice, which had a high demand in the Southeast Asian region. Plans were afoot, he said, to utilise the paddy fields that normally lie fallow after harvest in the winter by planting mustard. On the non-completion of buildings, he admitted that Engineering Project of India, Ltd, a public sector undertaking, had been reluctant to set foot in Manipur, obviously because of interference by non-state actors.

According to M Premjit Singh, director of Extension Education, the university’s attempt to reach out to farmers had been successful as “Tampha Phou” — a hybrid, high-yielding yet tasty paddy variety developed at the Imphal centre — had now been distributed across Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. Plans were afoot, he said, to plant mustard seeds in 1,000 hectares in Manipur this winter, whereby each farmer could earn about Rs 24,000 as a profit. He added that cashew cultivation and propagation of Khasi mandarin oranges, among the best in the country, was also on the cards.

However, according to Joykumar Meitei Laishram, head of the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics – he was trained in the Moscow Academy of Sciences, as also in the USA and Israel—the Central Agricultural University was not just meant for academic pursuits. It was “a live university” meant to propel the region’s agricultural growth and if it had not been successful so far then it was because of the lack of will on the part of the authorities. He said it attracted students from not only the region but also others from as far off as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

All said and done, the Central Agricultural University, unlike the IIT in Guwahati or the North Eastern Regional Institute of Science and Technology in Itanagar, has not been in the news very often but it has a bigger and deeper role to play in the overall development of the North-east. The only thing apparently lacking seems to be the will to translate these aims into action.

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