Maharashtra Bandh: Protesters disrupt road traffic in Maharashtra over Maratha quota stir

Mumbai: Maratha agitators disrupted road traffic in some parts of Maharashtra today as part of their statewide protests over reservation demand, while Internet services were suspended in seven rural tehsils of Pune district to prevent rumour-mongering.

Despite an appeal from Maratha community leaders to observe a peaceful bandh, protesters blocked roads and burnt tyres in some places, a police official said. Two groups of protesters clashed when someone allegedly shouted slogans against Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at Kranti Chowk in Aurangabad district, a police official said.

According to him, a group led by Sena district chief Ambadas Danve objected to the slogans, following which members of both the sides beat up each other. “One person was injured in the incident but we brought the situation under control. We separated the two groups and dispersed their members,” the police official said.

Agitators attacked the gate and a cabin at the Pune district collector’s office and damaged some light bulbs in the premises, a police official said. Superintendent of Police Sandip Patil said Internet services were suspended in seven rural tehsils of Pune district to prevent rumour-mongering.

Protesters held a sit-in outside the residence of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar in Baramati tehsil of Pune, and were joined by his nephew Ajit Pawar in support of the Maratha community’s demand for reservation in government jobs and education.

Protesters halted buses and other vehicles on roads in Latur, Jalna, Solapur and Buldhana districts. They blocked the Madha-Shetfal road, which connects to National Highway No. 9 (Pune-Hyderabad) in Solapur district, officials said. Some agitators burnt tyres on roads in Jalna and Ahmednagar districts, a police official said.

Shiv Sena MLA from Kolhapur, Prakash Abitkar, who was denied permission to enter the Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai in support of the Maratha community’s quota demand, sat outside the gate of the legislature complex in protest. A call for band was given by Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella body of Maratha groups, but excluded Navi Mumbai, which had witnessed large-scale violence last month during protests by the community.

Amol Jadhavrao, a leader of Sakal Maratha Samaj, had said yesterday that they would hold a peaceful protest from 8 am to 6 pm today. Another Maratha faction, however, gave a call to hold a sit-in outside the Mumbai suburban district collector’s office.

The authorities had yesterday ordered closure of schools and colleges in some cities, including Pune, fearing violence. Though Navi Mumbai has been excluded from the bandh, the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) at Turbhe in the densely populated township decided to remain shut today.

Security was stepped up in Navi Mumbai, with deployment of city police personnel along with a company of the Rapid Action Force and the Reserve Police Force. The public transport buses and local trains were running normal in the town. Heavy security was deployed on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and Mumbai-Goa Highway near Kalamboli, a police official said.

Even though Maratha groups excluded essential services from the purview of the bandh, supply of vegetables was affected in some parts of the state, including Mumbai, APMC officials said. A vegetable seller in Mumbai’s Dadar area said the ‘bandh’ was not forced on them, but they had voluntarily shut down business for the day in support of the cause. Protesters took out silent marches in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar suburb and in the neighbouring Thane district.

A traffic department official said the number of vehicles on National Highway number four (Mumbai-Pune) and on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway was significantly less compared to other days. In Satara, all petrol pumps and vegetable markets were closed while all state transport busses were kept parked at the central bus stand.

Pro-reservation agitators have decided to take out a bike rally in Pune district today, while in in Latur, they blocked roads from midnight and disrupted traffic. There were similar protests in Nashik, Buldhana and Solapur districts where agitators blocked roads in some areas this morning, police officials said.

The state-run public transport services have been partially suspended in Osmanabad and Buldhana districts to avoid any damage as protesters had targeted buses in the previous round of agitation last month. The ‘bandh’ is being organised despite Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ assurance that his government was working on providing reservation to Marathas in government jobs and educational institutes, one that is legally sustainable.

Fadnavis had sought time till November to take steps with regard to the quota. Senior state minister Chandrakant Patil had yesterday said that “nothing can be done” on their demand till November 15. Marathas, a politically influential community that constitutes around 30 per cent of the state’s population, have been demanding 16 per cent reservation.

Community members had earlier taken out silent marches across the state to highlight their demands, prominent among them being that of reservation. The agitation, however, turned violent after a 27-year-old protester jumped to his death in Godavari River near Aurangabad on July 23. A number of places, especially Koparkhairane and Kalamboli in Navi Mumbai, had witnessed violence during the Maratha quota stir late last month.

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