Dr. Puri: “North-eastern students are bright”

Dr. S.N. Puri, Vice Chancellor, Central Agricultural University, Iroisemba, Imphal shares the strengths and weaknesses of his university located at the hilly area of north-east. He highlights the difficulties north eastern schools and colleges suffer in the today’s context. Puri says, “There is no adequate facilities in school level education as you could hardly find teachers to teach core subjects.”

Q. You are located at geo-political sensitive area, where you are admitting students from remote areas of 6 north-eastern states. Give us a snapshot of the composition.
A. Most of the students coming to our university are scheduled tribes. We have about 54% boys and 46% girls in our university. Barring our university, there is no educational institute imparting agricultural education in the hilly areas of North-east. This kind of mountainous area where more than 75% of area is under forest cultivation is not available anywhere in the country. The tribal population speaks more than 150 languages. They are all deprived people they don’t have access to higher agricultural education.

Q. What’s the strength of north-east students? 
A. The North-eastern students are very brilliant. It’s just that they need proper support and guidance. Our university has proven their potential. Last year, through ICAR entrance test, about 137 students from my university got selection for admission for post graduation education across the country. In 2010-11, on the basis of performance of the students my university came second best in the country. We are in the process of adding required infrastructure so that north-eastern students should not feel that they are deprived of anything.

Q. How will you assess the learning capabilities of students coming from remote corner?  
A. Most of the students who come we noticed that they have not got adequate facilities’ in school level education. Most of the junior colleges, you find hardly teachers available to teach necessary subjects like maths, science, English. So we identify those students and conduct tutorial classes for them. Another problem we often find is that students come from their respective regional medium. There is a misconception that north eastern students English is good because of missionaries and other institutes. In reality, it is not the case. We have to take extra care of those students to come up that level of English. 

Q. Higher educational accessibility is rated low in north eastern regions. Why? How do you cope stress? 
A. Nobody wants to come to north-east to teach. All senior level faculties, heads of the department criticize coming down to this part of the country. The main reason is that faculty is getting universal scale by remaining in their own place, so why to make any effort? There is no great facility offered to them. Even the health facility is marginal. If they have to travel to their natives during emergency, then the travel cost is also very high. To add on there is no great educational facilities’ available for their children. So their families are not much interested. Those who come here they face a lot of issue tackling regional language. They feel suffocated to move freely around the region.  

The situation can be improved if they are given extra package. The LTCs which the government is giving once year of they can give twice, then may be some people might prepare to come. Those who have come here are doing good work. I have hired some retired people from other universities because the age limit for recruitment is 65 years. I am also getting good response from those who are working at the junior level. About 50 students who went for PG are not doing PhD. So within two years span I will get qualified MSc, PhDs who will come back to their university to teach. 
Q. What’s missing in agricultural curriculum?   
A. We should have good fellowship programme in agricultural education. We are hardly getting 1 or 2 fellowships. So we should try to enhance the number of fellowships for MSc and PhD students so that they can be retained in the higher agricultural education. The initiative taken by ICAR in the recent year on experiential learning has start showing good impact. When we speak to stakeholder i.e industries employing our graduates feel that graduates lack practical field knowledge.

Q. Owing to the fact that India is emerging as a knowledge-economy where do you think it has considerable advantage? Which area needs utmost attention?
A. We are producing lot but our processing of food is very low. The technical manpower coming from agricultural universities is not catering well to that sector. Therefore we have to concentrate to develop trained manpower in the area of food technology and food processing. Secondly from the international marketing point of view, we must protect the cultivation for export of Indian commodities outside like fruits and flowers. For this we need to have good packaging and marketing research. Third important area is medicinal plant; we have a very huge biodiversity. The presence of Indian product is very less as compared to China or any others. In order to make Indian agricultural practical, accessible to farming community we have to move into mechanization of farms. It becomes tough for farmers to do skill labour for agricultural operations. Since our farms are very small in size, so we cannot simply copy the machines created in developed countries which have large farms. So we should concentrate more on agricultural engineering which are lighter in size, power consumption is less. In north east, big tractors cannot go to hills so we have to make adaptive technology.

Q.What’s your research vision for your university? 
A. My University should concentrate on biodiversity conservation exercise because North-east has got such a huge germ plasm available in different areas which is being maintained by farmers over generations. Only small part of it has been documented or included in the national collections. My university should preserve it and we should become real source of germ plasm both in terms of animals, plants, fishes and other microborial organism.

Our region is not self sufficient in the daily requirements of egg, fish, chicken and rice. We would like to concentrate on these issues immediately. Our people prefer sticky rice, so we want to develop hybrid rice incorporating good properties. In the north eastern states, the state governments do not have regulated seed production programme. Therefore farmers are depended on commercial organizations who do not reach well to these areas. Unfortunately, farmers are using traditional seeds. In a participatory mode, we should provide developed modified varieties of seeds which are in the market.

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