The former agriculture commissioner of India and Padam Shri and Padam Bhushan awardee Dr Gurcharan Singh Kalkat passed away at PGIMER Chandigarh Saturday. He was 92. The founding chairman of Punjab State Farmers Commission, it was under Kalkat’s leadership as the director of agriculture, Punjab, and later as the agriculture commissioner of India, that the country witnessed ‘Green Revolution’ and India became self-sufficient in food grain production. He was also the former vice-chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University (Ludhiana) from 1998-2001.
Known for his contribution during the Green Revolution era which led to a boom in the production of wheat and rice in the country, with Punjab leading the chart, not many know that Kalkat’s plans for the farmers of the state went beyond that. Infact, he was the one who even ushered a soybean revolution and also introduced banana cultivation for Punjab.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Dr Baldev Singh Dhillon, vice-chancellor PAU said, “We know him for wheat and rice, but he always thought out of the box. He was not a normal wheat and rice scientist. He was way beyond that. He introduced soybean cultivation in Punjab, though it wasn’t commercially successful. Then he took soybean varieties from Punjab to Madhya Pradesh where they were immensely successful commercially as well. Despite sitting on political posts, he was never diplomatic, but always spoke his heart for benefit of farmers even if it was politically incorrect. He was never afraid of failures. He experimented and tried to venture in something new even if it failed.”
Banana cultivation in Punjab was also Kalkat’s brainchild and one among his many efforts to help the farmers in Punjab earn better. “Due to many reasons like climate and less awareness, bananas in Punjab could not succeed but his idea behind it was to make farmers earn better. Once we were in dire need of funds to send PAU scientists to the US for training, he helped us in getting them from the government,” said Dr Manjit Singh Kang, former vice chancellor, PAU to The Indian Express.
It was under Kalkat that the Punjab State Farmers’ Commission took shape and he became the first chairman of the body in 2005 during the Congress rule.
Later, in 2007, when SAD-BJP government led by Parkash Singh Badal as chief minister was in power, he offered to resign, but Badal did not accept his resignation. “Badal saab did not let him resign. He asked him to continue. He was even ready to resign in the second tenure of SAD-BJP regime, but again he wasn’t allowed to do so. He was always a bridge between government and farmers, the one who did not hesitate in speaking against the government for their benefit,” said a senior PAU official.
In 2017, Kalkat resigned after Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh was sworn in. “This time he wasn’t keeping well and expressed that he wants to get relieved from the responsibility,” he added.
Born in Hoshiarpur’s Sahora village, Kalkat undertook various assignments at the international level, working as senior agriculturist with the World Bank. Posted at Washington DC, he worked for countries like Nigeria and Ghana. He introduced shallow tubewells and handpumps for them to make irrigation and drinking water accessible. He also worked for World Bank in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Nepal.
He did his schooling from Montgomery district (Sahiwal) now in Pakistan and graduation in agriculture from Punjab Agriculture College, Lyallpur, in 1947. After his Masters in Agriculture in 1956 from the Punjab University, Solan, he joined the Ohio State University, USA, in January 1957 and completed his Ph.D in Agricultural Zoology Entomology in 1958.
Dr SS Johl, Padma Bhushan and renowned food economist told The Indian Express, “Today, I have lost a very good friend and adviser in my life. He was one such person who lived his life for betterment of farmers. It was his forte to put across his point politely even if it was against the government. He was not allowed to resign as Punjab Farmers Commission chairman by former CM Badal even as he offered to do so.”
It was under his chairmanship that the commission got studies conducted on serious issues such as rural suicides, flow of credit and indebtedness of farmers; rural education and fall in water table in central Punjab.
The National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) chairman his communication to Kalkat in 2015, during Golden Jubilee celebrations of Green Revolution stated, “The deliberations recalled your contributions that turned the country from food shortage to self-sufficiency. I would like to once again thank you for the leadership provided by you during the Green Revolution in the country and guidance over the years.”