Under fire for his government's decision to give licenses only to those taxi drivers who know Marathi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan on Thursday backtracked, saying cab drivers should know any local language including Hindi and Gujarati.
In a Raj Thackeray-type move, the Congress-NCP government yesterday decided to give new taxi licenses to only those persons who are well versed in Marathi and have resided in the state for at least 15 years. The government had, however, clarified that existing taxi drivers, who hold a valid license, would not be affected by the decision.
Chavan said, "Cabinet has gone by the Maharashtra Motor vehicles rules which were framed in 1989. As per that rule, for a person to have a permit, 15 years of domicile is compulsory. And the second rule says that for a taxi badge for a driver, working knowledge of local language is necessary. The local language can be Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati..It can include anything...The knowledge of the local language is necessary."
Taxi drivers can get a taxi permit if they know how to speak the local language such as Marathi, Gujarati, he said.
The Bombay Taximen's association, the oldest in the city, had condemned the decision with its secretary A L Quadros saying it was unacceptable and politically motivated.
A sizeable section of over two lakh taxi drivers in Mumbai comprise migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand. About 4,000 new taxi permits are given each year.
MNS chief Raj Thackeray had been in the forefront of an anti-migrant campaign in the state last year and had come in for severe criticism from several political parties.
The government's move is being seen as an attempt to woo the youth in the run up to the civic polls and counter the MNS.
Terming the decision as "unconstitutional", RJD Chief Lalu Prasad asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ensure that it is revoked.
However, Congress sought to downplay the controversy, saying the move was simply reinforcing an old provision in the Motor Vehicles Rule.