We know that agrarian economy is in distress, it was because of this distress that 2018 was marked by numerous farmer protests.
The government has recently announced 10% reservation for economically backward upper castes. Now that economic condition is a ground for reservation, shouldn’t the farmers be eligible for it first?
Apart from the traditional castes that get reservation, army personnel and generations of freedom fighters too get reservations – and they deserve it. The country owes a lot to them.
But the country is also equally indebted to the farmers, they are the ones who feed us. So why don’t farmers get reservation? Here are some potential hiccups in its way.
What should be the basis of farmer reservation? Should it be the agricultural land a farmer holds, or should all the people that recognize themselves as farmers be eligible for it?
Not all farmers are poor. Some, a very small section of farmers are actually well off. Then there are farmers of medium and small land holding, these are the ones that really need help. If farmers are given reservation on economic basis, would it be right to give reservation to the large zamindars that are well off?
The people who own agricultural land are not the only ones who work on farms. Farmers, especially the ones with large and medium holding, often hire labourers who do most of the work. Even farmers with small land holding work as labourers in off season.
The second dilemma would be to which limit would one recognize agricultural workers. Just the land holders or farm labours as well? And these are not the only people associated with farming, numerous people are. Keeping a track of them all is a very difficult task.
Formal vs Informal Sector
Agriculture in India is still predominantly informal (undocumented), unlike the army. From sowing and cutting to supply chain management and distribution, numerous people are associated with farmers. Thus, as stated before, keeping a tab on all the people associated with agriculture is a very difficult task.
Also, being in informal sector means people are not documented. Any and everyone who is occupationally undocumented can claim to be a farmer.
Caste vs Class
Reservation is usually caste based because caste is deemed to be birth based, thus it is immovable. Since people have no control over it, the state tries to help them through affirmative action i.e. through reservation.
On the other hand, farming is a profession and farmer is a class. Class has economic basis and is thus movable. People can opt out of it anytime.
Also, farming is as much a profession of the land holders as it is of the farm labourers. They are given little money, no recognition and are exploited. They are pauperized. The landholders take up all the profit, if any.
Incidentally, the farm labourers are usually of the reserved castes (SC or ST). I think this is the reason why farmers have not been given reservations till now.
What should the farmers get?
I do not think reservation is something that the farmers require. Reservation is not a healthy practice, it gives rise to unhealthy competition in the society. The worst aspect of reservation is that it increases hatred against the reserved.
What farmers need is one such Agricultural Policy that can make farming profitable. They don’t need market distorting subsidies or MSPs, but tangible infrastructure development like roads, markets and cold storages.
The government should develop agricultural colleges where students can learn methods of better farming.
Along with better policy formulation and implementation, the government should encourage development of allied agricultural activities like horticulture, animal husbandry and dairy produce, bee keeping, aquaculture and the likes of it.
Reservation is not the answer to farmer distress, the government needs to make systemic changes in its deeply flawed policies. Reservation can give short term benefits, not to the farmers but to the political party that will pass it. While a sustainable long term policy will save the farmers in real sense.
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