Sharad Pawar proposes reservation for special ‘category of farmers’

Mumbai: In a politically significant move, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Tuesday proposed the creation of a special “category of farmers” who he said should be given reservation.

Pawar qualified his statement by saying that if such a category were to be created, only farmers who are “socially, economically and educationally backward” should be given the benefit of reservation.

Addressing a press conference in Mumbai, Pawar said in his opening statements he would raise the issue at the Union government level. However, when asked by reporters if he planned to make a formal demand to this effect, Pawar said it was only “a suggestion” some “experts” had made as a legal solution to the issue of caste-based reservation.

“I was talking to some experts about the issue of reservation and they suggested that if a category of farmers is created for reservation, it would encompass people from several castes on the basis of their social, economic, and educational backwardness. These experts also think that unlike the category of caste-based reservation, this category of farmers would stand legal scrutiny because farming is a profession,” the NCP chief said. He added that he had not gone “deeply into the legal aspects of this suggestion but the experts think this could stand legal scrutiny.”

Pawar pointed out that the quota for the Maratha community given by the erstwhile Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra in September 2014 was struck down by the Bombay high court.

Later, the Devendra Fadnavis government too made a law granting quota to the Marathas but even this Act was stayed by the Bombay HC. The Maharashtra government has joined a bunch of other petitioners who have demanded quota for the Marathas in the high court.

“The experts have told me that creating a category of farmers can be a good and sound means to achieve reservation for the socially, economically and educationally backward. This could even include poor Brahmin farmers as well since it won’t be caste-based,” he said, in reply to a question.

Pawar, whose party has backed quota for the Marathas, the community which supported the NCP for long but started moving towards the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 90s, rationalized creation of a new category of farmers on economic grounds. “Farming has not remained profitable for a large majority of farmers in the country. In India, 82% of farmers belong to the category of small and marginal farmers who hold not more than 2 hectares. In Maharashtra, nearly 72% of these small and marginal farmers do not have the facility of assured water and irrigation. So there is no assurance of water and there is less land holding. In this dire situation, the farmers resort to suicides. So if a category of farmers is created and given reservation, that should solve the problems of these farmers,” he said.

The NCP chief said he was not limiting his suggestion to the farmers of the Maratha community only. “All those who are associated with the vocation of farming and who are backward on social, economic, and educational parameters should get this reservation which I broadly define as reservation on economic grounds,” Pawar said. He also added that any new quota or category must not affect the “constitutionally guaranteed reservations given to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes.

He said the Vasundhara Raje government in Rajasthan had given reservation to the Jats, predominantly a farming community. He also pointed out that caste-based reservations had reached up to 69% in Tamil Nadu, much above the 50% ceiling put by the Supreme Court.

Pawar said he was making this statement in the context of a controversy created by a “wrong interpretation” of his reply to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray in a live public interview on 21 February.

Pawar had supported reservation on economic grounds as against caste grounds. He said “the knowledgeable people in Maharashtra” knew his position on the issue of reservations. “I was at the helm of affairs in Maharashtra in 1992 when Maharashtra became the first state to implement the Mandal Aayog recommendations. It was my government in Maharashtra which gave 33% reservation to women in local bodies. I have been consistent on the issue of reservation,” he said.livemint