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LAHORE: The Punjab agriculture department has finally notified search committee(s) for the selection of vice chancellors for two agriculture universities – the posts lying vacant for the past several months.

The government had finalised the members of the search committee(s) for Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi, and University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, over a month ago but did not notify immediately fearing that the committees’ constitution may not violate the law and spirit of Lahore High Court division bench judgment.

After having second thoughts in different meetings called in connection with the issue, the Punjab government stood to its stance and separately notified the [search] committee(s) for both agriculture universities.

The committee(s) members are: LUMS Pro-Chancellor Syed Babar Ali (convener), IT University’s School of Social Sciences dean Dr Akmal Hussain, PDSCEA vice chairman Dr Zafar Iqbal Qureshi, LUMS’ Dr Ali Cheema and Punjab agriculture department secretary, who will also act as secretary to the committee. These committees will stand valid for a term of two years.

Official says earlier search body is void after LHC verdict

According to terms of reference, the search committees shall follow procedure and criteria to be determined by the government and recommend a panel of three persons to the government for the final selection of a vice chancellor.

Sources say the search committees have been notified in the presence of a four-member Search Committee led by LUMS Pro-Chancellor Syed Babar Ali that has two-year term till June 30, 2018.

The chief minister had constituted a four-member Search Committee for a term of two years on June 30 last year. Besides Syed Babar Ali, the committee has Punjab Curriculum and textbook Board Chairman retired Lt Gen Muhammad Akram as member, while minister and secretary agriculture are the ex-officio members.

Responding to the argument, a senior official at the chief minister’s secretariat said the earlier Search Committee of [June 30] was for all agriculture universities across Punjab but it became void after the LHC decision since it decided that separate search committees be notified for each and every university.

Besides separate notifications, it may be mentioned, the LHC division bench headed by Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah had also required the government “to form search committees for specialised universities e.g., information technology, computer science, medical/health, agriculture, women, and general, having members with requisite skill and expertise in the relevant area”.

Wondering why had the chief minister not recommended any expert in the agriculture sector, but two economists, to be co-opted by the Search Committee, sources said the new search panels were against the spirit of the LHC judgment.

The officials at the chief minister’s secretariat, however, said Prof Dr Akmal Hussain is a well-known academic and an important member of the Punjab Agriculture Commission. They said Prof Hussain also authored reports on small farmers, which could guide future policy formulation in the agriculture sector.

The [senior] official said the other members of the committee are also persons of eminence, who may be helpful in identifying the best possible persons to head the agriculture university in the days to come.

While delays and mishandling in the matter of appointment of vice chancellors well in time has already damaged the working of both universities, sources said the search committees’ members approved by the chief minister might land the government in a string of litigation again taking a plea that the committee members were not approved by the Punjab cabinet because as per Supreme Court judgement, government means “chief minister and cabinet”. The official, however, did not reply.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2017

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