Mumbai: Through a charter of 12 demands, the Maharashtra government has placed several quota-related issues, which could potentially snowball into mass agitations, before the Narendra Modi government. This included urging the central government to implement certain constitutional amendments to relax the 50 per cent cap on reservations.
The demands were put forth by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Cabinet Minister Ashok Chavan before Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting in Delhi Tuesday. The ministers were representing the three parties of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government — Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress respectively.
The list included issues such as restoring reservation for the Maratha community that the Supreme Court had scrapped last month, paving the way for reservations in promotions to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes by having a national policy on it and giving political reservations to the Other Backward Classes in local body elections, which was also struck down by the top court in March.
The MVA government has been fearing agitations by the BJP, leaders of these communities as well as its own constituent members, on all three of these issues.
For instance, on the Maratha quota, BJP leaders have been touring Maharashtra, interacting with local Maratha leaders and prodding them to act against the ruling government. Rajya Sabha MP Sambhaji Raje has already called for protests from 16 June.
The BJP has also been attacking the Thackeray-led government on the OBC issue, demanding the restoration of reservations in local body elections. NCP Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, an OBC community leader, has also threatened to agitate on the matter but with the Centre as his target.
Meanwhile, the MVA is facing internal pressure from the Congress on the issue of 33 per cent reservations for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in promotions.
The reservation was first introduced in 2004 but the Bombay High Court scrapped it in 2017. Since then, a case has been pending in the Supreme Court.
Last month, the Maharashtra government had issued a government resolution to scrap this quota, only to stay the order later because it upset the Congress.
“All three of us are satisfied with the meeting. There was no political agenda in our meeting. We are grateful to PM Modi for having heard out all the issues and promising to look into them, and seek more information from his administration. I hope that these issues are positively resolved,” Thackeray told reporters after the 90-minute meeting.
Thackeray also had a one-on-one meeting with Modi. On this, the chief minister said: “We may not be in power together, but that does not mean our relations are broken.”
‘Centre should take decision on Maratha quota while it has the right’
The Marathas, who comprise about 32 per cent of Maharashtra’s population, have been demanding reservation for several years.
The Maharashtra legislature unanimously passed the Maratha quota law on 30 November 2018, when BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis was CM, granting the community a 12 per cent reservation in education and 13 per cent in government jobs.
However, the Supreme Court last month declared the reservation as “unconstitutional”, stating that there were no exceptional circumstances to breach the 50 per cent cap on reservations.
After the Supreme Court’s judgment, MVA leaders have maintained that the Centre should take a call on the Maratha quota, citing the court’s reference to the 102nd Constitutional amendment.
The court had ruled that after the 102nd amendment, which gives constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes, states, in fact, do not have the power to identify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs).
The MVA claims that the amendment has taken away the states’ right to implement reservations and declare communities as backward.
The BJP, meanwhile, insists that this does not take away the onus from the MVA, as the Centre has argued in court that the amendment does not limit states’ power to list castes as backward.
Congress’ Chavan told reporters: “The Centre has made an argument in court that will eventually give the states the right to implement reservations. But, simply giving states this right will not help as long as the 50 per cent cap on reservations exists. So, this should be relaxed by way of a constitutional amendment.”
“The state government will anyway file a review petition in the Supreme Court over its Maratha quota ruling. But till such a time that the Centre has the right to grant reservations under the 102nd Constitutional amendment, it should take the steps for a Maratha quota,” he added.
The MVA delegation also argued that relaxing the 50 per cent limit on reservations will also help pave the way for an OBC quota in local body elections, which is a national issue.
Other political demands of MVA govt
The MVA’s charter of demands also included two politically sensitive items — land for a Metro car depot at Kanjurmarg and the governor’s approval for nominations to Maharashtra Legislative Council (MLC) seats. Both these issues have been bones of contention between the Thackeray-led government and the Centre.
Last year, the Maharashtra government decided to shift a car depot, for the key Colaba-Bandra-Seepz metro, from the ecologically-sensitive Aarey Colony to a plot in Kanjurmarg, which the Modi government later laid claim on.
The location of the car shed had been a sore point between the BJP and Shiv Sena even when they were in power together.
While the Shiv Sena wanted the car shed to be moved following vociferous protests by activists and environment lovers in Mumbai, the BJP, under former CM Fadnavis, insisted on going ahead with Aarey Colony, citing time and cost overruns.
With several claimants on the Kanjurmarg land besides the state and the Centre, the matter is currently pending in the Bombay High Court.
“We requested the PM to find an amicable solution to the stalemate over the Kanjurmarg land so that work on the Metro line is not delayed,” Thackeray said after the meeting.
The delegation also asked Modi to direct Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, with whom the state government has locked horns on many occasions, to approve its list of 12 persons nominated as MLCs.
Deputy CM Pawar said, “There is unanimity on this in the MVA. We have taken a cabinet decision and recommended it to the governor eight months ago, following all the rules. The PM should give directions to the governor to approve the list.”
The MVA government’s other demands included the release of pending Goods and Services Tax dues amounting to Rs 24,306 crore, release of funds under the 14th Finance Commission, change of norms to grant relief in case of cyclones and approval of a bulk drug (key ingredient of a drug or medicine) park in Maharashtra, among others.
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