With Maratha outfits planning to intensify protests from Wednesday, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis spelt out his government’s commitment to grant reservation to the community and hit out at his opponents’ suggestion that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led administration was delaying the process.

“Some people have suggested that we issue an ordinance for reservation. We can do that, but such an ordinance will not last even a single day in the courts. Our government is working towards a reservation that can withstand legal scrutiny and get implemented. For that we have to follow a specific legal procedure as laid down by the apex court in its 1992 order,’’ said Fadnavis.

The CM was speaking at the Mumbai launch of a book on Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj (son of Maratha king Shahu Maharaj), published by the state’s directorate of archives.

The protests were largely calm on Tuesday, with 500 police personnel deployed in Chakan, near Pune, which bore the brunt of the violence on July 30.

Maratha groups announced sit-in protests outside the residences of lawmakers all across the state as well as one at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan from tomorrow.

On Tuesday, one protestor in Beed district, Abhijit Deshmukh, 35, hanged himself and left suicide note in which he said debt and the delay in granting reservation to Marathas had led him to take this extreme step. Deshmukh is the fifth person to commit suicide in solidarity with the Maratha protests since July 23.

“What is going on in the state today is deeply disturbing,” Fadnavis said of the ongoing agitation. “If we look at reservations only from an emotive angle, then we will succeed only in fanning anger in the community. But, if we have to ensure reservation to the community, then we must understand its legal aspects. Our stance is that reservation must sustain and be legally sound,” he said.

According to a 1992 Supreme Court order, if reservation quota are to be hiked over 50% per cent, “extraordinary circumstances and evidence of social backwardness” of the community must be shown by appointing a backward class commission. Fadnavis said his government had set up a backward class commission to get this evidence and to ensure reservation was granted to the community.

Previously, in 2014, the Nationalist Congress Party and Congress government had granted the Maratha community 16% reservation, but this was struck by Bombay high court (HC) and no relief was granted by the Supreme Court. The matter is now with the HC, which is waiting for the Backward Class Commission’s submission.

Maharashtra currently has 52% per cent reservation for various categories including other backward classes, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in education and government jobs. Fadnavis made it clear that any reservation to the Maratha community would not impact the existing quota, but a separate law would be enacted in a special session of the state legislature after the commission submits its report. Maratha groups allege the process has been delayed.

The Marathas represents 32% of the population and have been socially and politically dominant in Maharashtra. As many as 10 out of 16 chief ministers of the state were Marathas. However, a section of the community is made up of peasants, who have been victims of the ongoing agrarian crisis in Maharashtra.

On Tuesday, Maratha outfits announced statewide sit-in agitations at prominent places in all districts and outside residences of lawmakers from Wednesday. “Community members will meet their respective legislators and members of Parliament with the memorandum related to our demands with request to raise the issues in their respective houses. They will stage sit-in for couple of hours outside the houses of the lawmakers. The sit-in outside the houses of the lawmakers will go on for eight days,” said Shantaram Kunjir, one of the coordinators of Maratha Kranti Morcha (MKM), the umbrella body representing various Maratha outfits.

In Mumbai, Maratha groups will stage a sit-in protest at Azad Maidan. On August 9, a Maratha Kranti Janandolan will take place in which protesters will take to the streets with their cattle and farming devices. A non-cooperation movement has also been announced in which Marathas are being urged to not pay utility bills and taxes, including agriculture and property taxes, from August 9.

“We have been getting various assurances from the government, but they were never met earlier. So, how can we trust the government, which wants us to withdraw the protest? The violence during the protests over last few days is also the result of the mishandling of unrest by the government and the police,” said Sanjeev Bhor, another coordinator representing MKM.

Meanwhile, the cabinet sub-committee on Maratha reservation, led by revenue minister Chandrakant Patil met on Tuesday evening and announced the setting up of district level committees led by collectors to review and speed up the implementation of several schemes – like freeship for students and loans for entrepreneurs – announced for the Maratha community last year.

“The collectors will be asked to collaborate with senior district level officials, public representatives to ensure that schemes announced for the community get implemented speedily. This district level meeting will be held every fortnight,’’ said a minister and member of this committee.

The minister added that it was also decided that in the long run, all schemes currently implemented for OBC students should be made accessible to the Maratha community. Further, vacant government buildings will be turned into hostels for Maratha youths, he added.

First Published: Aug 01, 2018 00:39 IST

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