After holding its victory in the recent urban local body polls across Maharashtra as evidence of people’s support for demonetisation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government Monday subtly invoked a caste card ahead of polls in rural belts across the state. Reaching out to the various backward classes in Maharashtra, the Devendra Fadnavis-led Cabinet cleared a proposal for the formation of an exclusive department for the welfare of Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The new department, which is proposed to be fully functional from April 1, 2017, will have its own budgetary provisions. It would be responsible for various welfare schemes for OBCs, nomadic tribes (castes falling in the Vimukta Jaati, Bhatkya Jamati category), and special backward classes. At present, these schemes are implemented by the state’s Social Justice department. Fadnavis said, “There was a long-standing demand for carving out a separate department for the OBCs.”
Elections in 26 out of the 34 zilla parishads in the state are scheduled in February next year. The model code of conduct for the ensuing polls is expected to kick in around the first half of January. A senior party minister conceded that the distress due to demonetisation was more pronounced in rural belts.
The backward classes make up for about 33 per cent of the state’s population. The government’s outreach also comes at a time when some voices of dissent have come from the section over the demand from the dominant Maratha community for reservations in jobs and education from the OBC quota.
The Cabinet also announced enhancement of grants allotted to the Scheduled Castes and neo-Buddhists for building houses in rural belts. The government also doled out fresh sops for farmers on Monday. A Cabinet sub-committee, headed by Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil, extended compensation to cotton and soyabean farmers across 30,000 villages who had suffered crop damages in the drought of 2015. “The compensation will be provided to all those farmers who have not been compensated for under the crop insurance scheme,” said Patil.
The beneficiaries include 15,000 villages in Marathwada, which was the only belt where the party did not come on top in the recent urban area polls. The other beneficiaries are from 11,000 villages in Vidarbha, and 4,000 villages in North Maharashtra. “The state will pay a total compensation of Rs 1,300 crore to these beneficiaries,” said Patil.
On similar lines, the government has also accepted the proposal to provide another Rs 400 crore in compensation to farmers in Solapur (West Maharashtra) and Ahmednagar (North Maharashtra) for rabi crop losses in 2015. Further, the sub-committee also decided to offer compensation to farmers whose kharif crop was damaged due to unseasonal rains in 2016. “The benefit would be extended to those with crop insurance in all the three categories of compensation,” said Patil.
The government has said that about 50 lakh farmers would benefit from these steps. The compensation packages come at a time when a section of farmers have taken to the streets protesting the “loss of income” due to demonetisation.