Known for his contribution towards breeding new crop varieties and one of the pioneers of the Green Revolution in the state, former Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) vice-chancellor and Padma Bhushan awardee Dr Khem Singh Gill passed away at a Ludhiana hospital Tuesday morning. He was 89.
Dr Gill was known as the ‘sage-scientist’ of Punjab. He was born on September 1, 1930, in a small village called Kalke in Moga district, and served as PAU V-C from 1990 to 1993. He is survived by a daughter and two sons.
Under his guidance, PAU developed more than 30 varieties of wheat, pearl millet and other crops, which made India self-sufficient in terms of food grains. The recommendation/release of WL 711 variety of wheat by Dr Gill and launch of semi-dwarf, high yielding varieties of wheat made Punjab the ‘wheat granary of India’, which produces 21 per cent of India’s wheat and 8.5 per cent of its rice.
Dr Gill studied agriculture sciences at Khalsa College, Amritsar, in 1949, and subsequently pursued a Masters in genetics and plant breeding in 1952. He was one of the nuclear staff when PAU was established in 1962. After doing his PhD from California, he returned to India in 1966 to take over as professor and head of PAU’s department of genetics at the Hisar campus. On May 25, 1968, Dr Gill was appointed the head of the department of plant breeding and became the right-hand man of Dr M S Randhawa, who played a major role in establishing agricultural research in India.
Dr Gill was the founding trustee of ‘The Kalgidhar Trust’. As director of the Akal Academies, he set up the first academy at Muktsar in 1993. This wave of setting up academies continued over the years, and today there are 117 Akal Academies in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. He remained the director of these academies till date.
PAU’s present V-C Dr Baldev Singh Dhillon described Dr Gill an illustrious human being, a dedicated agricultural researcher and an administrator par excellence. “He was one of the pillars of PAU. Such persons are rare in this world. He was a great scientist as well as teacher and his persona was larger than life. PAU and I will personally miss Dr Gill,” he said.
“A recipient of the Padma Bhushan, Dr Gill is credited with catalysing the Green Revolution in Punjab with his research in plant breeding. He devoted his life to the service of mankind,” he added.
Dr Gill founded the Crop Improvement Society of India and remained its president from 1974 to 1979 and patron till date. He was an adviser to Wheat and Triticale Research at the global level and on the board of trustees and programme committee of the CIMMYT, Mexico (1988-93), as well as senior vice-president of the International Triticale Association (1988-94). He evaluated the UNDP global project on sorghum and millets at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Hyderabad (1981) and on rice at the International Rice Research Institute, Philippines (1983).
Kirpal Singh Aulakh, former V-C of PAU, said, “I have the privilege and honour to start my professional career under his leadership as assistant plant pathologist (oilseeds) in 1968 and then plant pathologist (rice). He was not only a dynamic leader but a father figure for all his colleagues.”
PAU Registrar Dr RS Sidhu, officers, scientists and staff of the university paid tribute to Dr Gill. A condolence meeting was also held at PAU campus Tuesday.
Apart from the Padma Bhushan, Dr Gill was the recipient of countless other awards. PAU officials said his research was documented in hundreds of scientific papers, books and articles.