Maratha Quota Stir: Should Marathas be included under the OBC quota?

Mumbai: Maratha organisations, under the umbrella of the Sakal Maratha Samaj, have successfully called for a bandh twice in the past three weeks, demanding reservation for the community in government jobs and educational institutions. But the issue has not been yet sorted out, as the ball is now in the court of the State Backward Class Commission (SBCC). Now, it is the responsibility of the state government to award reservation to the community. The morcha conveners are sticking to their demand to be included in the Other Backward Classes (OBC). The question is whether the government will do so, as such a move may raise the hackles of the OBCs, who constitute 40 per cent of the state’s population.

According to a survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) conducted in 2007 pegged the population of OBCs in the country at 40.94 per cent, that of Scheduled Castes (SC) at 19.59 per cent, Scheduled Tribes (STs) at 8.63 per cent and the remaining 30.80 per cent population belonging to other than these categories.

At present, the Constitution has given 15 per cent reservation quota to SCs and 7.5 per cent to STs, making the combined quota for these categories 22.5 percent. According to the recommendation of the Mandal Commission in 1980, the OBCs have given 27 per cent quota. Hence, the reservation percentage has been hiked to 49.5 per cent.

Virendra Pawar, coordinator of the Sakal Maratha Samaj said, Samaj has not left out its demand to include Marathas in the OBC category. “The government has no option other than to include us in OBCs. We are socially and economically backward and hence it is our right to get OBC status,” said Pawar. When asked if the move would create unrest among OBCs, Pawar said, “There is need to determine how many castes included in OBCs are really socio-economically backward. There is the example of the Vaishya-Wani community. I am not against Vaishya-Wanis, but several OBC categories must be examined to ensure other needy can be included, if the government does not want to exceed the quota limit of 50 per cent.”

Praveen Gaikwad, chief of the Maratha Kranti Morcha has a different view. Gaikwad advocated a separate category for Marathas, instead of including them under OBCs. “In Maharashtra, OBCs have a reservation quota of just 19 per cent, whereas the population of Marathas is almost double than the OBC quota. If we are included among the 19 per cent OBCs, it will be an injustice to them. Hence, the government should create two categories, OBC-A, to which all existing OBCs will be added, and OBC-B can include Marathas,” he said.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had recently assured the OBC community that their rights would be protected. On the other hand, Fadnavis has also assured the Marathas they will be given reservation without disturbing the existing quotas. The ball is in the court of SBCC. The Commission is expected to submit its report to the Bombay High Court by the end of November through the state government. Further, the Marathas’ and the government’s case depends on whether the court finds them entitled to reservation or not. If yes, then the question is how much reservation? If the court denies them reservation, there will be immense frustration in the community. If the court terms them backward, then the government will face the challenge of accommodating them within the Supreme Court-stipulated cap of 50 per cent.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that reservation could not exceed 50 per cent. However, there are states that have exceeded this 50 per cent limit and face litigation in the SC. In Tamil Nadu, the caste-based reservation stands at 69 per cent and applies to about 87 per cent of the population.

Prof Shrawan Deore, secretary of the Save OBC Reservation Committee said, “The government should accept the recommendation of Nachiappan Committee, which has suggested removing the cap of 50 per cent with a constitutional amendment.” If the BJP government opts for a constitutional amendment to accommodate Marathas, the opposition parties will face the danger of losing political relevance.

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