All set for his second term as the vice-chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Dr B S Dhillon in an exclusive interview with The Indian Express talks about the rapport between the PAU and the state government, farmer suicides in Punjab, GM crops and research exchange with Pakistan. Excerpts:
Q. Recently, the PAU was ranked number one by Indian Citation Index, New Delhi in a country-wide survey. But the ranking was based on maximum research papers published by PAU scientists. How are research papers going to help in bringing about change in agriculture trends on the ground?
A. It is right that research of PAU is on two levels: one is published papers and other is work in fields. The scientists need to have complete understanding and awareness on what is happening with farmers on ground and luckily, PAU scientists are conscious and hardworking. Research is a continuous process and no doubt, it is a long process to implement publications at ground level.
Q. Do you recommend research in genetically modified crops?
A. Yes, I strongly recommend it. If we talk of Bt cotton, 99% of cotton in other countries are having Bt now. We are zero compared to them. Even in Pakistan, huge area is being covered under Bt cotton then why we cannot even work on it? If we will start experimenting now, only then after 7-8 years we will get something worthy. Implementing research results and forming policies is purely the decision of government but we should not be stopped from doing research.
Q. You are an internationally-renowned maize breeder. At the same time, in the last four years of your tenure, PAU has not come up with any breakthrough in maize cultivation.
A. PAU is a leading institution and we were the first varsity to give an early maturing maize variety. However, I agree that due to staff crunch, now we are facing difficulty in developing seeds of maize as it is a long process.
Q. Farmers are committing suicide in Punjab, maize and pulses are not being procured. How can they adopt diversification?
A. Punjab is caught in a vicious paddy-wheat cycle. It is difficult to come out of it but we need to understand that government cannot procure everything from potatoes to turmeric. In the 1970s, we needed to feed the country and wheat/rice procurement started but if it starts procuring maize how will they finish the stocks?
Q. But then, what according to you is the reason for the farmer suicides in Punjab?
A. The agriculture cost has increased to such a level that farmers cannot afford it. Even my brothers are farmers, they also need good clothes and a lifestyle like me. Farmers are facing crisis but also Punjabis spend too much, our demands and expenditures are also increasing. Take example of lavish weddings. Even if groom has two cars, the bride’s family will give one more as dowry. In Punjab, we spend more than we can afford but definitely farmers are in trouble because of decreasing profits.
Q. But if there is no MSP for other crops, then why should farmers adopt diversification?
A. Farmers should think about their coming generations if they want to leave any water and soil resources for them or not though I do not agree that soil health is deteriorating except that there is micro-nutrient deficiency and problem of stubble burning.
Q. Students say that quality of teaching is reducing at PAU and teachers are using old notes.
A. If it is true, it is really bad. CCTV cameras are being installed in all lecture rooms in two months and then deans will be able to monitor.
Q. How will you describe your first term?
A. It was challenging and difficult. When I joined, there were too many problems – extreme financial crunch and lot of arrears were pending to be paid. In Gurdaspur, we have 90 acres land and it was all covered with grass. Then we were hooting about latest technologies and recommending laser leveling to farmers whereas in our own PAU farmers it was nowhere. Be it tensiometer, leaf color chart or laser leveling was not being used in our own farms.
Q. Are you prepared for the second term?
A. Yes, I am. Although 3-4 months back I was not, I had different plans.
Q. Is the PAU spokesperson of the government? Does varsity always have to agree with the govt?
A. No, we are not spokesperson of any government be it SAD-BJP, Congress or any other. Wherever it is wrong, we have the full right to point out. We are sharing a good rapport with this SAD-BJP government but PAU is an independent varsity.
For example, I am unable to understand as to why farmer suicides are increasing in Punjab. Farmers in Rajasthan are poorer than us still suicides are increasing here. It is because the inputs cost is increasing whereas profits are decreasing. Yield is also decreasing and there is no increase in MSP of crops. Government needs to realize that agriculture is not an easy job. Even climate change is affecting farmers the most. The industries work in closed areas and they modify the environment as per their needs but it is the farmer who bears the brunt – be it increasing temperatures or untimely rains.
Q. What has SAD-BJP government done for PAU in 8 years?
A. Our budget has been increased from Rs 183 crore to 300 crore. I am proud of PAU’s wheat and paddy breeding departments. We have come out with maximum new varieties.
Q. But wheat varieties of IARI Delhi and Haryana varsity are dominating Punjab fields not PAU..
A. IARI has 40 wheat scientists, we have only 14. Haryana varsity is working very hard. They also have resources so we cannot always expect PAU to be on the top.
Q. Punjab CM recently asked for report on drip irrigation in Punjab. Your comments?
A. Badal saab was in Maharashtra and he noticed that they have large areas under drip irrigation for sugarcane. I told him that PAU is also working on it. PM Narendra Modi talks about whole country but Punjab never had problems of irrigation. We are way ahead than other states. The production which others have achieved now, we had in 1970. But certainly drip is very important for saving water.
Q. What are the research projects with Pakistan? Are they doing better?
A. All projects with Pakistan need government nod but they have surged ahead in BT cotton and their maize yield has increased drastically but when it comes to wheat and paddy, we are still ahead.