Mumbai: Cutting across party lines, ruling and opposition leaders in Maharashtra led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday hailed the Bombay High Court decision upholding the constitutional validity of quota granted to Marathas in government jobs and education.
The court upheld the constitutional validity of reservation for the Maratha community in government jobs and education, but said the quantum of quota should be reduced from the present 16% to 12% to 13%.
While leaders of the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance termed the verdict as "historic" and praised Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray, opposition Congress-NCP said credit for it goes to Maratha community members and not the saffron combine.
Speaking in the Legislative Assembly’s monsoon session, Fadnavis said it is a matter of happiness that the court has upheld his government's measure that will benefit community. He informed the Lower House about the ruling and thanked political parties and Maratha organisations for their support to the government over the issue.
Making a statement, Fadnavis said the quota law passed by the state legislature was challenged in the court, where it was heard for a long time. He said the court subsequently upheld the legislative competence of the legislature to formulate the Maratha quota law.
The HC has also endorsed the quantifiable data of the State Backward Class Commission (SBCC) based on which the Maratha community was declared socially and educationally backward and given quota in jobs and education, the CM said.
The court has upheld the extraordinary and exceptional circumstances mentioned in the SBCC report to provide quota to Marathas due to which the total reservation quantum in the state has crossed the 50% level, he said.
The chief minister said as per the quantifiable data, the court has said 12% reservations should be given to Marathas for education and 13% in jobs.
Revenue Minister and BJP leader Chandrakant Patil said it was for the first time after 1902 that the community got reservation that stood the test of law.
"The court has accepted that the Maratha community is backward. The court has accepted the backward commissions report. It has agreed that the quota can exceed 50 per cent limit in extraordinary cases, Patil told reporters. He said the PG medical course candidates may think that their quota will reduce by 4% following the decision.
"We will approach the high court and request it to protect the admissions done till now, he said and also thanked the opposition parties for helping unanimously pass the community’s quota bill.
Finance Minister and BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar also hailed the ruling.
On the court’s suggestion that the quantum of quota be reduced from 16% to 12% or 13%, Mungantiwar said the government will study the order and decide steps to ensure the existing level of reservation for Marathas in jobs and education is maintained.
"We are very happy that validity of the reservation stood test of the court. The government had put forth its side on the issue after studying everything. It is the position of the government that the reservation should be 16%. So, the government will study the order and take next course of action accordingly," Mungantiwar said.
The government will take all necessary steps to ensure 16% quota for the community, he said, when asked about whether the government will fight the case in Supreme Court in case the HC's order is challenged there.
Health Minister Eknath Shinde of the Shiv Sena termed the decision as "historic" and praised Fadnavis and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray for taking positive view of the community’s quota demand.
Environment Minister and Shiv Sena leader Ramdas Kadam seconded Mungantiwar.
"The reservation given by the previous government (of Congress-NCP) could not stand scrutiny of judiciary. But the high court has agreed to the validity of the quota our government has given. We are very happy," Kadam said.
On the court seeking reduction in the quota percentage, Kadam said the issue will be discussed with the chief minister.
Asked whether the HC decision will have a bearing on the BJP's prospects in the upcoming Assembly polls, Housing Minister and party leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said the government's measure was aimed at ensuring justice for the community and not to derive any political gain.
With this decision, the government's credibility will further strengthen among other communities, Vikhe Patil said.
"It was a very historic decision. The court's decision is a tribute to those who had laid their lives seeking the quota," Vikhe Patil said.
Another Maharashtra minister Vinod Tawde, a senior BJP leader, hit out at NCP president Sharad Pawar after the court’s order.
Tawde said the Maratha Mahasangh had in 1989 approached then Maharashtra Chief Minister Sharad Pawar seeking quota for the community.
"Janata Raja (as Pawar is called) didnt do it, but now Chief Minister Fadnavis has done it. The backward class commission’s hard work and the unity of Maratha community have paved way of development for the young Marathas.
BJP MLA Pravin Darekar heaped praises on Fadnavis for taking steps to grant quota to the community when the previous Congress-NCP government had "failed" to ensure the same.
Shiv Sena leader Narendra Patil dubbed Fadnavis "spunky" and extolled him for handling the massive silent marches taken out by Maratha community members in the last few years seeking reservation in jobs and education.
"We welcome the high court's decision. But none should try to claim credit for it. The real credit goes to young men of the community who had taken to streets seeking reservation,” Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Vijay Wadettiwar of the Congress said.
The Congress leader recalled Marathas had taken out massive silent marches in a democratic manner in support of their demand for quota.
Wadettiwar stressed it was the previous Congress-NCP government in the state that had laid foundation for the reservation.
"It (Congress-NCP government) only had initiated the process. Instead of patting its own back, the government should introspect. It hoodwinked Dhangars, still hasn't given it the quota as the community has demanded,” Wadettiwar said.
Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde of the NCP also said the court’s decision was a result of the unity of Marathas.
"The members of Maratha community will now have the benefit of quota in government jobs and education,” Munde said.
Senior NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal recalled the Maratha quota bill was passed by both the houses unanimously and expressed satisfaction that the measure stands validated even as the reservation given to OBCs remains unaffected.
"It is a very welcome thing that the Marathas have been given 12 per cent, 13 per cent quota without affecting the OBC quota. This will end disputes in the states (among communities). I am happy that the high court has upheld the grant of quota (to Marathas), Bhujbal said.
Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan also opined that the court’s decision comes in the wake of "sacrifices" made by Marathas as he observed 40 young men from the community laid their lives for it.
"The government should act speedily on the Dhangar and Muslim reservation demands too, Chavan said. In the Assembly, group leaders of the Shiv Sena, the NCP, the SP and the Congress congratulated the government over the HC ruling.