Taxi drivers in the city will need to have working knowledge of Marathi.
Even as the sons-of-the-soil agenda turned into a national controversy with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi jumping into the fray, the state cabinet on Wednesday passed the minutes of the previous cabinet decision reaffirming the 1989 amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act. This amendment makes ‘working knowledge’ of Marathi a prerequisite for taxi permits.
This would tilt 24,000 jobs as taxi drivers in favour of the Marathi manoos. North Indian taxi drivers seeking new permits to drive fleet or solo cabs will also have to learn Marathi.
This decision was confirmed even as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ministers like Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, Water Resources Minister Ajit Pawar and Rural Development Minister Jayant Patil attacked Chavan for changing his stance on the issue.
“Marathi is the language of the state. There is nothing wrong in saying that. It cannot be equated with any other local language. Is it a crime to say Gujarati is the state language of Gujarat? What’s so wrong if taxi drivers are expected to speak Marathi?’’ asked Bhujbal.
Last week, the cabinet had decided to revive 24,000 taxi permits allotted according to the 1989 rules. The Act stipulates that any person who has been a resident of Maharashtra for 15 years and has a working knowledge of Marathi and any other local language can avail the permit. The decision had become controversial and was called ‘discriminatory’ and ‘anti-migrant’.
Chavan then backtracked stating that working knowledge any other local language would also suffice. On Wednesday, NCP ministers rallied against Chavan saying there was no need to be “apologetic for making Marathi mandatory for taxi drivers’’. “The cabinet has only confirmed a 30-year-old law. There is nothing new in it,’’ Bhujbal said.
Another senior NCP leader told HT: “Chavan’s U-turn made us look foolish before all Maharashtrians.’’
Chavan’s party colleagues, Revenue Minister Narayan Rane and Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam, chided him. Some Congress ministers said the NCP was sounding like the Sena. Chavan stood his ground and prevented a full-blown discussion.
(With inputs from Sayli Udas-Mankikar)