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Explained: Marathas, quota demand, and community’s importance in state politics

Who are the Marathas, and what is the role this community plays in Maharashtra politics?

Written by Zeeshan Shaikh | Mumbai |
Updated: June 29, 2019 2:41:42 pm
Explained: Marathas, quota demand, and community’s import in state politics People celebrate outside the Bombay High Court on Thursday. (Express Photo/Ganesh Shirsekar)

The Bombay High Court upheld the constitutional validity of reservation for the Maratha community in education and government jobs in Maharashtra on Thursday, but directed that it be slashed from the present 16 per cent to 12 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

Cutting across party lines, leaders from the ruling and opposition parties have hailed the High Court verdict. But who are the Marathas, and what is the role this community plays in Maharashtra politics?

Who are the Marathas?

They are a Marathi-speaking, politically dominant community in Maharashtra. They make up about one-third of the population of the state. Historically, they have been identified as a “warrior” caste with large land-holdings. Since the formation of Maharashtra state in 1960, of its 18 chief ministers, 11 have been from the Maratha community. While division of land and agrarian problems over the years have led to a decline of prosperity among middle class and lower middle class Marathas, the community still plays an important role in the rural economy.

History of Maratha Quota

The demand for Maratha reservation was first mooted in the 1980s. In 1992, the Maratha Mahasangh had made a representation to the state government to provide reservation to the community. The NCP was the first party that had promised to provide reservation to the community in its 2009 election manifesto. In July 2014, the Congress-NCP government had brought in an ordinance for 16 per cent Maratha quota, but it failed the legal test. The subsequent BJP government in December 2014 came out with an Act to provide reservation for the community but the proposal also did not stand the scrutiny of the court.

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After largescale protests by the Marathas in November 2018, the state legislature again passed an Act proposing 16 per cent reservation in education and government jobs for the community, declared as socially and educationally backward class by the government. The Maharashtra State Reservations (of seats for admissions in educational institutions in the state and for appointments in the public service and posts under the state) for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act 2018 was then challenged in the Bombay High Court, terming it as violative of the Supreme Court order that reservations in any state cannot exceed 50 per cent.

READ | Maratha quota verdict: CM Devendra Fadnavis likely to benefit

What is the existing quantum of reservation in Maharashtra?

A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court had ruled that total reservation for backward classes could not go beyond the 50 per cent mark. Maharashtra is one of the few states which is an exception to the rule. Following the 2001 State Reservation Act, the the total reservation in the state is 52 per cent, out of which, the larger quotas are for SC (13%), ST (7%) and OBC (19%), with the rest going to Special Backward Class (2%) Vimukti Jati (3%), Nomadic Tribe (B) (2.5%), Nomadic Tribe (C) (Dhangar) (3.5%) and Nomadic Tribe (D) (Vanjari) (2%). The quotas given to the various Nomadic Tribes and Special Backward Classes, in fact, have been carved out of the total OBC quota. The addition of the 12-13 per cent Maratha quota will take the total reservation in the state to 64-65 per cent.

What did the court say?

The court relied on the findings of the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) headed by its chairman, retired Justice G M Gaikwad. The committee, in its 1,000-page report, had said that the Maratha community is socially, economically and educationally backward. The MSBCC surveyed 45,000 families from two villages from each of the 355 talukas with more than 50 per cent Maratha population. It found 37.28 per cent of Marathas living below the poverty line.

The bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Bharati H Dangre on Thursday said that it was aware of SC’s 50 per cent cap, however, in exceptional circumstances, the ceiling can be exceeded. It added that in this case, it agreed with the commission’s findings that there are extraordinary and exceptional circumstances, based on quantifiable data. The court has, however, said that 16 per cent reservation is not justifiable and reservation should not exceed 13 per cent in employment and 12 per cent in education.

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