Whitefly surveillance in Punjab’s cotton belt: PAU students protest duties as ‘scouts’https://indianexpress.com/article/india/whitefly-surveillance-in-punjabs-cotton-belt-pau-students-protest-duties-as-scouts-5199550/

Whitefly surveillance in Punjab’s cotton belt: PAU students protest duties as ‘scouts’

High drama was witnessed Thursday at PAU campus as the students of B.Sc (agriculture) protested against the authorities. The students alleged that Punjab government is trying to make them ‘scouts’ and for this their course itinerary has also been compromised.

Whitefly surveillance in Punjab’s cotton belt: PAU students protest duties as ‘scouts’
Students also alleged that since more than 500 posts of agriculture development officers (ADOs) are lying vacant and most of them are in cotton belt, they are being asked to do this work. (File Photo)

This year the agriculture department of Punjab has decided to hire students of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) Ludhiana for whitefly surveillance in cotton growing belt in Malwa districts of the state. Till last year, the job was being done by scouts which were hired for Rs 5,000-6,000 a month. The department however has also proposed to pay Rs 10,000 a month to PAU students.

But the students are reluctant to join their duties.

High drama was witnessed Thursday at PAU campus as the students of B.Sc (agriculture) protested against the authorities. The students alleged that Punjab government is trying to make them ‘scouts’ and for this their course itinerary has also been compromised. Students from sixth semester of B.Sc (Agriculture) gathered in front of Pal Auditorium and raised slogans. They also refused to fill their elective subject forms for the next semester and did not appear for an exam Thursday.

Speaking to The Indian Express, a student said, “Our seventh semester begins next week and as per course itinerary, eighth semester is for practical training and seventh is for theory. But just to please the government, students have been ordered to join as scouts from June 4 and stay in cotton belt for four months till September.”

“They did not even let us give exam today after we refused to join. We are around 160 students and have been given duties in districts as far as Fazilka, Muktsar, Mansa etc. Even girls have been asked to arrange accommodation at their own and stay there for four months,” said another student.

Students also alleged that since more than 500 posts of agriculture development officers (ADOs) are lying vacant and most of them are in cotton belt, they are being asked to do this work. “It is primarily a job of ADOs to head such surveys but posts are lying vacant,” said a student.

Refuting allegations, Dr SS Kukal, dean, college of agriculture PAU, speaking to The Indian Express said, “Rural area work experience is a part of their course and they have to join this training in cotton belt. Yes, we have interchanged itinerary of seventh and eighth semester because of crop timing of cotton. Agriculture department has given an excellent opportunity to PAU students and they should grab it. They will learn a lot. We will help them in getting accommodation. A separate experiential learning programme which is held in the campus every year shall also continue in batches. But this training in cotton belt is compulsory and they have to join.”

He claimed that no one stopped students from giving exam on Thursday and they themselves did not appear.

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JS Bains, director agriculture Punjab said, “The recruitment of 140 ADOs against vacant posts will be cleared soon. Till last year, we were hiring scouts for 5,000-6,000 a month for whitefly survey. This year we decided to give an opportunity to PAU students for 10,000 a month so that they can get practical exposure. Their V-C agreed. From our side, it is not compulsory. If they are unwilling to join, we will hire students from other varsities and government schools.”