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How an agricultural fair that attracted Eisenhower and the Queen gave rise to Delhi’s Shivaji College - Energy And Water Development Corp

How an agricultural fair that attracted Eisenhower and the Queen gave rise to Delhi’s Shivaji College

As a new student at Shivaji College about 50 years ago, Rajbir Solanki (70) remembers being surprised to find some books in the library carrying the name ‘World Agricultural Fair Memorial Shivaji College’. Intrigued, he asked his teachers about it, and was informed that this was the original name of his college, built in memory of an international agricultural fair held in Delhi in 1960.

“This event was held in the village of Najafgarh and eminent personalities from across the world came to attend it,” said Solanki, who retired as Vice-Chancellor of Chaudhary Devi Lal University in Sirsa, Haryana. At the end of the 92-day exhibition, the then Minister of Agriculture, Panjabrao Deshmukh, announced his decision to build an agriculture university in the same village.

The fair that marked the beginning of the first college in rural Delhi lies lost in the pages of history. It was held between December 11, 1959, and March 11, 1960, and was inaugurated by President Rajendra Prasad along with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the US President Dwight D Eisenhower. Other international personalities to have visited the fair included President of USSR Nikita Khrushchev and Queen Elizabeth II.

An article in the January 1960 edition of The Economic Weekly Annual noted that within a month of it being inaugurated, the fair had attracted a million visitors and “may well attract another million in the remaining month of its scheduled existence”. The objective, as mentioned in its prospectus, was “to afford Indian farmers an opportunity to view Indian agriculture in the context of world agricultural improvements”.

Among the star attractions, as the Economic Weekly article stated, were the pavilions of the USA, USSR and China. Describing the pavilion of the USSR, it noted: “One enters and is confronted by the Sputniks and a statement of Russia being a mighty industrial power. In sharp contrast with the US pavilion, one is able to see apples, tomatoes etc, in place of cans carrying luscious labels”.

After the fair ended, the remaining funds were used to build a college in Matiala village close to Najafgarh in 1961. “The whole idea was to disseminate education to the rural population of Matiala,” said Dr Tejbir Singh Rana, who is professor of geography in Shivaji College. The college started out in a humble primary school building with hardly 45 students. Rana explained that the original idea was to focus on agricultural education, but sadly that could never happen.

B S Sidhu who had joined the college as professor of Economics when it started in 1961, said that despite it being built for the rural population, most of the students were from nearby urban areas. “Deshmukh had bigger plans and even acquired 100 acres of land to expand it. Unfortunately, he died soon after and not much effort was put in fulfilling his plans,” said Sidhu.

Within a few years, the college was shifted out of Matiala village. “Water scarcity was a big problem in the village at the time,” said Rana. He recalled an incident of a child passing away after being trampled upon by the horse cart carrying water to the college.

In 1967, the college shifted to a building of a government school in Karampura in West Delhi. This was the period when it was brought under the University of Delhi and renamed Shivaji College. Dharampal Maan (71), who had joined the Karampura campus of the college as a student of BA Programme in 1968, said that during his time, the college’s wrestling team was especially popular. “They would win almost every inter-college wrestling match,” he said.

In 1976, Shivaji College shifted premises once again. Now it came up in Rajouri Garden where it continues to exist till date. “Now it is a completely urbanised college. Its purpose of spreading education in rural areas stood defeated,” said Rana.

“Delhi has grown on village land. Rural Delhi has been giving away land for the development of the city, but hardly anything is done for the empowerment and infrastructural development of these villages,” said Paras Tyagi, a public policy expert who co-founded Centre for Youth Culture Law and Environment (CYCLE) to enhance the quality of life in Delhi’s villages. He said that since the time Shivaji College was shifted, only four colleges have come up in rural parts of Delhi. “Every year, the Delhi government promises colleges and other technical institutions for the villages, but nothing happens,” said Tyagi.

Today, Shivaji College caters to around 3,800 students and boasts of 18 departments with 26 subjects. Agriculture, however, is not among them, and the memory of the agricultural fair that gave birth to the college is largely forgotten.

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