By Dr. Parvaiz Ahmed Reshi
Historical background of the establishment of SKUAST
Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Kashmir(SKUAST), an agricultural university located in Srinagar with its main campus in Shalimar has multiple campuses, colleges, research and extension centres across the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh regions of the state to cater to the needs of the region regarding human resources development, research and extension. The university was founded in 1982 by an Act passed by the State Legislature of Jammu and Kashmir named after Kashmir’s famous leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who is popularly known as Sher-e-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir). The name given to the university was “Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology” (SKUAST).
Initially, the university had jurisdiction over the entire State of Jammu & Kashmir with its headquarters at Shalimar, Srinagar. When the SKUAST Act came in force, the agricultural education, research and extension training units were transferred to SKUAST from various development departments viz; Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Sheep Husbandry and Sericulture of Jammu & Kashmir State.
Bifurcation of SKUAST and creation of SKUAST-K & SKUAST-J:
Realizing that Jammu area needs additional attention and region specific agricultural research, in 1998-99 for being climatically and geographically a distinct region, the territorial jurisdiction of the University was redefined by amending the SKUAST Act 1982 under which a separate agricultural University was established for the Jammu Division and named as Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Jammu (SKUAST-J) with its territorial jurisdiction extended to the entire Jammu Division. The parent University was renamed as Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST-K)
Inception and proposal of Horticulture University:
Horticulture is the backbone of the state’s economy contributing substantially to our economy and employing over seven lakh families directly and indirectly. According to one estimate, Horticulture and Animal Husbandry contribute equally to the state economy. The central government last week announced establishment of a new horticulture university for the valley and remained undecided regarding establishment of Veterinary University in the Valley-though the proposal is under the consideration of the Government and is in demand since two decades.
Reaction and concerns of Scientists to the announcement:
Irrespective of the fields scientists belong to-agriculture, veterinary, fisheries, sericulture, horticulture, forestry and allied fields- all unequivocally welcomed the announcement. According to General Secretary, SKUAST Scientists and Teachers Association (SSTA), SKUAST-K ‘it was a dream come true and we whole heartedly welcome and thank the union and state Government for the move” adding “we hope the announcement will be implemented on ground”
Amid celebrations, some locals and political workers of Wadura and some scientists posted in Faculty of Agriculture, SKUAST-K , came up with advertisements in different newspapers welcoming and praising Chief Minister and Horticulture Minister, J&K state for announcing and proposing establishment of Horticulture University in village Wadura of Baramula district in the Faculty of Agriculture, Wadura, SKUAST-Kashmir (though nothing was official about the location of establishment of the university). This created a lot of confusion and an anarchic situation among the masses particularly scientists, non-teaching employees and students of SKUAST-K and evoked prompt reactions from the Scientists Association of SKUAST-K who openly and categorically downplayed and denounced the proposal. As per Greater Kashmir news item dated: 20-7-2017, “Scientists, staff oppose conversion of SKUAST-K, Wadura campus into horticulture university, Appeal Govt to search for separate land; proposed decision will impede on agri research, education in Kashmir”, criticising and cautioning government not go with the proposal of dividing, disintegrating and bifurcating of SKUAST-K by snatching its important Faculty viz FOA, Wadura by converting it into Horticulture University. Again as per news item that appeared in Kashmir Reader and Rising Kashmir, dated: 16-7-2017 and 18-6- 2017 respectively, “Horticulture University welcome but not at the cost of SKUAST-Kashmir”, where SSTA categorically opposed the proposal of bifurcating and snatching away FAO, Wadura from SKUAST-K.
In the statement, scientists have pledged to cooperate with the Government in establishing the new university with protection of the assets, land, resources and faculties of SKUAST-K on priority. Scientists argue that “Land is the primary requirement for an agriculture university for experimentation, cropping and laboratories and if Wadura campus is snatched from the SKUAST-K, it cannot conduct the agriculture education and research and it will have direct impact on the food security of state if the Government goes ahead with the proposal”.
Scientists further say that, “in this 1600-kanal (Wadura) campus experiments on the main crops like paddy, maize, pulses and so on are being carried; besides it houses main laboratories and Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate in agriculture courses is conducted there.” Scientists suggest the government to search for separate land for the proposed university without questioning the Governments decision of location. There is ample land available in Zainapora, Palhalanpattan, Anantnag, Kulgam, Chogul area of Kupwara district and likewise in other areas of the valley.
Considering suitability, climatic conditions, topographical location of the valley and contribution of Horticulture and Animal Husbandry in the state economy coupled with its penetration power in this agrarian based economy of Kashmir, a horticulture and Veterinary University is desperately needed but it should not meet the fate of Central University that even after being established in 2009 proved only a rehabilitation centre for a few professors at the cost of Kashmir university. Central University, till date, exists in name only. It operates from some remote, rented buildings in Srinagar at the disadvantage of state and students in particular. Personally speaking, I favour and aspire for a horticulture university but let the Government, locals of Wadura and those few number of scientist who want SKUAST to be soulless by getting away with FOA, Wadura for some unknown interests help SKUAST-K to grow further. We have many challenges to counter and namesake universities serve no purpose.
—The author is a scientist at the SKUAST (K). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are personal.