Mumbai: Raising a question mark over the quality of education and research at four agriculture universities in Maharashtra, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) has put on hold their accreditation.
At its review meeting on 28 March, the ICAR’s National Agriculture Education Accreditation Board refused to give accreditation to Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth in Rahuri, Pune; Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth in Akola in Vidarbha; Vasantrao Naik Marathwada Krishi Vidyapeeth in Parbhani; and Balasaheb Sawant Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth.
The recorded proceedings of the Board meeting, put out on the ICAR website, cite ‘vacant faculty positions across agriculture colleges in the state and involvement of faculty in managing the academic affairs of private agriculture colleges’ as the factors for putting the accreditation on hold.
The ICAR has also said that the existing faculty strength at these universities is not sufficient to provide quality agriculture education and research. The accreditation board points out that these four universities “have a large number of affiliated private agriculture colleges and every year this number is increasing further.”
Dr Vilas Bhale, associate dean at the Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth, confirmed the ICAR decision.
“This would affect the universities in two major ways. One, the universities get about 20% students from the ICAR who are of high quality and their stint here helps us improve the quality of research and education. The in-house students benefit a great deal from the ICAR recruits. Two, the universities won’t be getting the ICAR grants for different academic and research programmes,” Dr Bhale said.
But he insisted that the decision won’t affect the day-to-day running of the universities nor would it interfere with the academic session this year.
“The ICAR has also kept the window open for us to resolve the issues so that accreditation could be re-considered,” he said.
Each university gets about Rs.6 crore to Rs.7 crore every year from the ICAR if it is accredited.
Farm sector experts in Maharashtra, especially those representing farmers, have for long been critical of the agriculture universities for their ‘failure’ to address the state’s chronic farm crisis.
Vijay Jawandhia, Wardha-based farmer and farm activist, welcomed the ICAR decision saying it “revealed the truth about the agriculture universities and colleges in Maharashtra”.
Jawandhia said the universities have failed to deliver on the objectives they were set up for. “These are all white elephants. They have not provided solutions to a host of agrarian crises that have crippled the farm sector in Maharashtra. The universities were originally set up to carry out quality research on their thousands of acres of farms, develop varieties of quality seeds, and sell them to farmers at subsidized costs. The proceeds from sale of seeds and technology could have been used to run the universities. But this has not happened,” Jawandhia said.
Dr Shrikant Kakde, Director of Maharashtra Council of Agriculture Education and Research, said the ICAR might have taken a dim view of the quality of research at Maharashtra agriculture universities because of the drop in the number of scientists.
“The accreditation board reviewed the quantity of research done at the universities which is not substantial for two reasons. One, there have not been new faculty recruitments in the least 8 to 10 years which has resulted in faculty deficit of about 40%. The existing senior faculty has to be deployed for inspection and invigilation at private agriculture colleges,” Dr Kakde said.
A senior professor at the Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth, who did not wish to be named, said the political establishment in Maharashtra had “liberally” given consent to private agriculture colleges.
“Most of these colleges are run by politicians themselves or by their proxies.
Universities have been forced to get as many colleges affiliated so that their academic affairs are run and managed by the senior staff who get paid by the government and so the colleges make a huge saving,” the professor said.
He said if a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) is filed against private agriculture colleges most of the 156 colleges could be de-recognized for a number of violations.
Dr Kakde said the universities were limiting their association with the colleges.
“Still it cannot be said that all private colleges are being run well. In 1999 when the government introduced a policy change to facilitate establishment of private agriculture colleges in Maharashtra, the intention was to extend the benefits of agriculture education to those who demanded it. The government also figured out that the public private partnership model to establish an agriculture college was not feasible,” Kakde said.