[Editorial Analysis] A quota for farmers

Mains Paper 3: Economy

Prelims level: EWS

Mains level: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment

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.

• The standard government response was, “look, we want to grant you reservations, but doing it entails breaching the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court in the 1992 Indra Sawhney judgment.

• It including within the 27 per cent OBC quota isn’t practical, since that would be at the expense of the communities already in the list.

What are the matters for concern?

• This zeal wasn’t evident when the demand for creating similar quotas came from dominant farming communities.

• At least 10 deaths were reported during the Patidar OBC quota stir in July-August 2015, while protests by the Jats in February 2016 claimed some 30 lives and practically paralysed Haryana for 10 days.

• While those, and the massive Maratha mook morchas (silent marches) in September-October 2016, did result in the respective state governments enacting laws making these communities eligible for reservations, they were all quashed by high courts.

• And there wasn’t any attempt at challenging the rulings by amending the Constitution itself (specifically Articles 15 and 16) to provide for additional quotas beyond 49.5 per cent.

• This links up to the second point, concerning the readiness to nullify Indra Sawhney via the Constitution amendment route when it comes to the EWS (read upper castes).

• The willingness to bend backwards in their case is extraordinary, given that the savarna demand, if at all, has largely been for scrapping caste-based reservations.

• Even the clamour for quotas for the “poor among upper castes” has been nowhere comparable to the movements by the dominant farming communities.

• A significant section of Brahmins, Banias and Rajputs may have voted NOTA (none-of-the-above) or even against the BJP in the recent Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan state elections.

What are its implications?

• 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”.

• A strong case can, indeed, be made that 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.

Way forward

• 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”.

• 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.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) The case of Romila Thapar v. Union of India concerns about:

A. Bhima-Koregaon

B. An offence under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code

C. Promotions of SC/ST in Govt. Jobs.

D. Reservation for OBCs

Correct Answer: A

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Unlike EWS, the Indian farmer also needs reservation. Validate this statement.

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