Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Friday announced a slew of welfare measures for the Maratha community that has been agitating for months demanding reservations in jobs and education, but ruled out a review or dilution of the atrocities act — another of the community’s demands.
Replying to a debate in the state Assembly, Fadnavis blamed the Opposition for failing to ensure reservation for the community when it was in power. He insisted the state had presented evidence to the Bombay high court to support the cause of reservation, but also categorically ruled out any dilution of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
“Necessity of the law cannot be denied,” he said, and added that as there have been allegations of misuse of the atrocities act, a panel of legislators, with 40% from the SC and ST communities, will study these claims.
Fadnavis said the government will set up hostels for Maratha students in every district and an institute to conduct research in education and social issues for the welfare of Maratha youth.
To make agriculture profitable — 65% of the community still depend on it — the state will invest in mechanisation and schemes for farmers. “Our productivity is low, except for sugarcane. We will invest in infrastructure and mechanisation.” The Annasaheb Patil Corporation for Economically Backward has been given Rs200 crore to provide capital and skill to Maratha entrepreneurs.
The CM, however, ruled out reservations for the Muslim community, saying his government did not favour reservation on the basis of religion.
Fadnavis’ announcements follow the state-wide movement by members of the community, which has planned a massive protest rally on December 14 at Nagpur, where the winter session of the State Legislature is in progress.
During his reply, Fadnavis repeatedly pointed out how Opposition parties ruling Maharashtra for more than five decades since the formation of the state never bothered about Maratha reservation until 2014, when they lost 42 of the 48 parliamentary constituencies.
The Opposition was not taking the issue seriously, the CM said, and asked why the Congress-NCP government had appointed Raosaheb Kasbe, a leading scholar on Ambedkar and Dalit movements, as a member on the Bapat Commission (the state panel that considered Maratha reservation) just two months before the decision on Maratha reservation. Kasbe had voted against granting reservation. “Why was he appointed just two months before the commission was to make a decision? There should be a probe into this,” Fadnavis said.
Fadnavis also said the Maratha community had the benefit of reservations until 1965, when it was withdrawn without reason. Even when the Mandal Commission, which gave reservations to Other Backward Classes, did not recommend reservation for Marathas, the state did not contest it.
After the 2014 Lok Sabha elections defeat, the then Congress-NCP government in the state hurriedly issued an ordinance instead of getting a law enacted by the State Legislature which would have been a strong base, he said.
He said the government is building a strong case for reservation with solid evidence — 2,700 pages with references to the economic and social backwardness of the community since the era of King Shivaji, mentions by various scholars in their works, reference to the community’s condition in different works of literature and comprehensive data on the current representation of Marathas in government jobs.
The Pune-based Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, one of the country’s oldest, was asked to conduct research to present scientific evidence of economic backwardness. The government has also prepared a battery of eminent legal experts led by Harish Salve as special counsel. The CM alleged some people were trying to put two communities against each other. “But most of us don’t’ want any such situation in our state which has history of progressive politics,” he said.