The Maharashtra government on Tuesday carried out a massive reach out to the Dhangar community by announcing the roll out of 22 schemes for the benefit of the community.
The Dhangars are a shepherd community who live mostly in Western Maharashtra and Marathwada. The population of the community is estimated to be around 1 crore — or about 9 per cent of Maharashtra’s roughly 11.25 crore population. They play a significant role in elections to four of the state’s 48 Lok Sabha seats (Baramati, Madha, Solapur and Satara), and about 30-35 of the 288 seats in the state Assembly.
Ahead of the elections to the Lok Sabha and the state Assembly in 2014, the ruling BJP had promised the Dhangars that they would be put on the list of STs. The delay in their inclusion into the list has generated angst amongst the community and the outreach by the state government is seen as an attempt to pacify the community before state elections, which are expected to be held in October this year.
In the additional Budget announced Tuesday, Maharashtra Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said the government intends to implement 22 schemes for the development of the Dhangar community in the lines of the Tribal community.
The government has proposed to make land available for sheep husbandry for landless Dhangar families or insurance for sheep and financial assistance for purchase of land.
The government has also proposed a slew of measures for Dhangar students, including admissions in renowned English medium schools and scholarship schemes for foreign education.
The Budget also speaks about constructing 10,000 homes in an attempt to bring the Dhangar community into the mainstream.
Mungantiwar said a total of Rs 1,000 crore will be earmarked for the various schemes and clarified that the provisions will be met from the general scheme and will not be taken from the funds reserved for tribals.
The Budget has also made provisions for the OBC community with an amount of Rs 200 crore being made available to the Maharashtra State Other Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation. The Budget also speaks about starting 36 hostels for OBC students, for which Rs 200 crore has been earmarked. A special scholarship scheme for 2.20 lakh girls students from the OBC category has also been announced, in which Rs 60 per month will be given to girls studying in standard 5 to 7 and Rs 100 for girls studying in Classes 8 to 10.
Over the past two decades, almost all parties in Maharashtra — including the Congress, NCP, and BJP — have supported the inclusion of Dhangars in the ST category. All the parties, however, have balked at the prospect of dealing with STs, who are strongly opposed to any attempt at dilution of their quota by the inclusion of a large community like the Dhangars. ST MPs and MLAs from all parties have made it clear that the inclusion of the Dhangars would be acceptable only if the overall ST quota is increased.
In March, the state government had constituted a cabinet sub-committee to discuss the various demands of the Dhangar community. The state government had then decided to extend all schemes of the Tribal Welfare Department to Dhangars till a decision on their reservation is taken.
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