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Shinde govt adopts wait-and-watch over Maratha quota as Jarange Patil dials up heat

As pressure on the Eknath Shinde-led coalition government over the Maratha reservation demand mounts with the December 24 deadline given by activist Manoj Jarange Patil fast approaching, the government seems to be waiting for the Supreme Court order on the matter.

On Tuesday, speaking in the state Assembly during the ongoing winter session, CM Shinde said: “A window of opportunity is still open in the Supreme Court in the form of a curative petition filed by us.” He went on to provide details of the lawyers engaged on the matter before saying that his government was committed to pursue a legal battle and “find a lasting solution on Maratha reservation”.

The CM’s statement indicated that the government may not announce any measure to resolve the Maratha quota row on its own and would wait for the apex court’s direction on its curative plea.

This comes amidst growing pressure from the OBC community that does not want to cede reservation space for the dominant Marathas. Meanwhile, Patil has intensified the Maratha reservation demand.

Shinde’s statement also made it clear that the Shiv SenaBJP-NCP(Ajit Pawar) coalition at the helm would not look to alienate either communities whose support it has carefully cultivated over the years.

Festive offer

The first step in the legal route to resolve the Maratha quota row seems to be acquiring the data from the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC), which is looking at ascertaining the backwardness of Marathas.

The five-member committee under Justice (retired) Sandeep K Shinde is studying the procedure of giving Kunbi (OBC) certificates to Marathas, based on documents, including revenue records, from the Nizam period.

Shinde has said the committee has so far checked 1.73 crore records, where 11,530 Kunbi records were found. The state Cabinet has already accepted the first report of the panel.

There seems to be an understanding that the government cannot announce anything without “furnishing all the details that could substantiate” the reservation demand, a senior ruling government leader said.

The legal route is also being considered “to avoid the issues that had previously risen with the Maratha reservation”, says another leader within the ruling dispensation.

In 2018, the then BJP-Shiv Sena government led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had passed the Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) Act which was to provide 16% reservation to Marathas — separate from the OBC quota — in government educational institutions and jobs. The SEBC Act was based on the findings of MSBCC, which looked into the literacy rates and economic conditions of Marathas.

The Bombay High Court, hearing public interest litigations challenging the constitutional validity of the quota, said in 2021 that the quantum of the quota was not justifiable. It brought down the quantum to 12% and 13% in educational institutions and jobs respectively.

In May 2021, the SC quashed the government’s 2018 SEBC Act, ruling that it violated the 50% quota ceiling imposed on reservations (as it was 62% excluding the EWS quota). The court also raised questions on the social backwardness of Marathas.

The government has now filed a plea in the SC on October 13 this year, seeking a review of its May 2021 verdict. The SC has admitted the petition, although the date of hearing has not been given so far.

“The state government is now not worried about the quota ceiling,” says a leader of the ruling camp. He argues that there are nine other states which have breached the 50% threshold imposed by the SC.

The government also claims to be on a “firm footing” on the data front now. A legal department officer, requesting anonymity, said that “in 2021, the SC had rejected the Maratha reservation because there were flaws in documentation”.

A senior cabinet minister speaking to The Indian Express said they could explore restoring the earlier reservation as was guaranteed in 2018.

Meanwhile, expressing resentment over the Shinde government’s stand, Jarange Patil has warned that if it does not grant reservation to all Marathas by December 24, he will announce a fresh agitation on the issue on that day.

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

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