Rural Distress, Farmer Suicides, Drought Measures

[OP-ED SNAP] A quota for farmers

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Social Justice| Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basics aspects of reservation, Indra Sawhney case .

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues affecting the agrarian community wrt to 10 per cent reservation entitled to EWS category, in a brief manner.


 

Context

  • The last few years have seen the so-called dominant farming communities — especially the Jats, Marathas, Patidars and Kapus — mount violent agitations demanding quotas in government jobs and higher educational institutions, whether under the OBC (Other Backward Class) or any specially created category.
  • In all these instances, the standard government response was that it want to grant them reservations, but doing it entails breaching the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court in the 1992 Indra Sawhney judgment.
  • Further, including them within the 27 per cent OBC quota isn’t practical, since that would be at the expense of the communities already in the list.

Things have changed with EWS quota

However, this feeble narrative has undergone a sudden transformation now, with the Narendra Modi government introducing and passing in Parliament a Constitution amendment bill that creates a new economically weaker sections of citizens (EWS) category entitled to 10 per cent reservation, over and above the 15 per cent for Scheduled Castes, 7.5 per cent for Scheduled Tribes and 27 per cent for OBC.

Agrarian community, the sufferers

  • In today’s setting, where the centre of power has shifted inexorably from “Bharat” to “India”, the Jat or Maratha farmer’s son/daughter stands no chance against the urban Brahmin or Bania’s children, even of relatively poor/lower middle class background.
  • Living in big towns and cities brings certain advantages — better schooling, exposure to English and knowledge of the outside world — that those primarily brought up on farms and village communities cannot derive.
  • Rural people in India suffer from an overall social disadvantage vis-à-vis those residing in cities. This holds true even more in a globalised milieu, where agriculture isn’t as paying and nor is land the source of power it once was.
  • According to the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission, 76.86 per cent of Maratha families are engaged in agriculture for their livelihoods, with hardly 7.5 per cent of the community — which has a roughly 30 per cent share of the state’s population — possessing undergraduate or technical/professional qualifications.
  • The quota agitations by the dominant agrarian communities have not really been as much for public sector jobs, as for admission to government educational institutions.

Challenges in EWS quota

  • In all probability, the 10 per cent EWS quota will be overwhelmingly cornered by urban upper castes.
  • The government’s reported proposal to set the “creamy layer” for reservation eligibility at below five acres of land ownership for farming families — as against a Rs 8 lakh yearly income cut-off for others — isn’t going to help either.
  • The annual profits from growing a double crop of paddy and wheat even in a state like Haryana, where there is assured irrigation and minimum support price-based procurement, would not exceed Rs 50,000-60,000 per acre.
  • It translates into a yearly income of Rs 2.5-3 lakh for five acres. This is obviously lower for farmers with similar holdings in rainfed areas. These will, at any rate, be below the Rs 8 lakh “creamy layer” cut-off applicable for the non-farming EWS category that is predominantly savarna and urban-based.

Way Forward

  • It would have made far more sense — economically, legally, politically, morally and in the spirit of the Constitution — to have limited the 10 per cent EWS reservation to only those with farming or rural backgrounds.
  • As P S Krishnan has rightly pointed out, reservations were envisaged by our Constitution makers not to deal with “inequities against individuals”, but “deprivations imposed on certain social classes as a whole”.
  • Farmers today need support not just for remaining in agriculture, but also to enable exit by some in order to make holdings viable. This is a “group/sector” and not “individual poor” need.
  • The Indra Sawhney judgement allowed the 50 per cent limit quota limit to be exceeded in “certain extraordinary situations”, where a “special case [can] be made out”. Individual cases of poverty among urban savarnas do not represent an extraordinary situation, whereas creating a 10 per cent EWS category restricted only to farming/rural families not covered under the existing reservation provisions can be made out as a prudent response to the current crisis facing Indian agriculture.
  • Extending reservations to the children of all agriculturalists cultivating, say, up to 10 acres of irrigated and 20 acres of un-irrigated land would benefit not just numerically large communities such as the Marathas or Jats. There are many farmers who are Rajputs, Brahmins and upper caste Muslims as well.
  • Also, it is easier to fudge incomes than to prove one’s farming credentials that can come only with land ownership or kisan credit card documents.
Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments