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Horticulture Graduates, Masters Protest Discrimination, Seek Policymaker Attention

by Aqib Nazir

SRINAGAR: The Horticulture graduates and post-graduates at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) Kashmir are on a protest for last 15 days against, what they allege, the government’s failure in creating a single job in the sectors they are supposed to cater to.

The Horticulture graduates and post-graduates at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) Kashmir are on a protest for the last 15 days. KL Image

They allege they stand rendered jobless since the inception of the BSC Horticulture Degree Programme in 2007. The degree was introduced in 2007 but till date, not a single recruitment was made.

“First batch completed its degree in 2011, but till now not a single student was recruited in the Horticulture sector,’’ said Aamir Bashir, a Research Scholar at SKUAST-K. “We have been talking to everyone from Directorate of Horticulture to Agriculture ministry. No one paid any heed in a couple of years.”

There are almost 550 graduates and 600 students on rolls in various streams of horticulture. Out of 550 students, not a single person was recruited.

This crisis has led around 300 students including undergraduates, postgraduates, PhD students and post-doctorates to sit on a silent protest.

The Vice-chancellor SKUAST-K, Prof Mushtaq Ahmad said the University, at its level, cannot do anything. “We have made a committee to look into this matter, but it’s not in our domain and students have called of their strike after two days,” he said.

Students, however, said they have been on protest since February 15.

Abdul Waheed Wani, a research scholar from Narbal, said that he bagged a gold medal in BSc Horticulture, MSc Horticulture and also in PhD, but all got in vain.

“I belong to a middle-class family, and I would have not completed my studies I had not lifted a hefty education loan from the bank and still did not repay them back because I am still unemployed. I do field visits in private orchards to earn some penny,” Wani claimed. “I have two sisters and one brother but I am not earning enough to make their marriage possible.”

Some of them have attempted getting into areas where they can manage some income. One scholar, who is also a batch topper turned painter.

“I completed my BSc in 2015 and then MSc and after that I recently completed my PhD in plant pathology,” Irfan Ahmad said. “I had recently married but we are not thinking to extend our family because I don’t earn enough by painting.”

Besides, the students alleged that there are not enough scholarships for PhD students and because of that hundreds of students have landed in debts.

Aamir Bashir said: “There are around 600 students who have raised loans to study due to lack of scholarships in SKUAST-K. We are not even eligible for a Junior Research fellowship (JRF). For PhD, we get 1500 per month, for MSc 1200 per month and for BSc 700 per month, and it’s not given to every student.”

Junaid Rasool (name changed on a request) said that his studies have ruined his life. “When I joined SKUAST-K, I was hoping to get a good job after my graduation. My parents shifted from a Baramulla village to Srinagar because of me. We don’t have a proper house. We are living on rent in Srinagar. My parents had collected the money for our new house but they invested all got in my education. After completing my PhD, I still don’t have any job. I lost everything, I am suffering from depression. I visit a psychiatrist on a weekly bases.”

The Horticulture planning and marketing department was established in 1972. Since then in 47 years there are only 36 gazetted posts were advertised – 60% were recruited in the open category and 40% were are recruited via promotion.

The immediate demands of students are that Jammu and Kashmir Services Selection Board (JKSSB) recently advertised some 345 posts for the horticulture sector with “faulty” eligibility criteria.

The recruiting agency has given preference to Basic Horticulture Training (BHT) diploma holders over BSc Horticulture degree holders. It is only a one-year-long diploma course while BSc Horticulture is a four-year degree programme wherein course work is done for three years and a one-year internship programme.

For Horticulture Development Officer (HDO) position, the students alleged that the current eligibility is MSc Horticulture which is sheer injustice with horticulture graduates. The recruiting agency has given entry at the eligibility level to agriculture graduates and post-graduates. This position is exclusively for horticulture graduates and masters.

The agitating students alleged that the Department of Horticulture had proposed the Rehbar-e-Baghbani Scheme for engagement of Horticulture professionals under the notification DHK/ADM/NG/596/5703-22 Date: 31-07-2018. For unknown reasons, the draft policy has not been finalized.

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