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HC plea against Maratha quota

Mumbai, June 27: A PIL was filed today against reservation for Marathas, two days after the poll-bound Congress-NCP government’s decision, with the petitioner saying it violated a 50 per cent Supreme Court cap and arguing the group wasn’t backward.

Journalist-turned-RTI activist Ketan Tirodkar’s plea in Bombay High Court challenges the 16 per cent reservation for Marathas in jobs and educational institutions as a “socially and educationally backward” class”. Another 5 per cent quota was earmarked for 50 backward Muslim groups, taking the total reservation in Maharashtra to 73 per cent.

The plea came a day after NCP boss Sharad Pawar — himself a Maratha — said there was nothing wrong if the decision benefited the ruling alliance in the Assembly polls to be held in a few months.

“What is wrong if the decision benefits us in elections? We are not a gang of sadhus and saints,” Pawar said at Karad in western Maharashtra when asked about the reservations. “The demand was an old one. The decision has not been taken keeping in mind the potential political benefit. However, it is good if there is a benefit,” the NCP chief added.

In his plea, Tirodkar cited a 1993 Supreme Court ruling that reservations shouldn’t exceed 50 per cent and questioned the grounds for the Maratha quota.

He argued that Marathas were not a caste but a linguistic group originating from the term Marathi. “The Marathi-speaking population of this state, whose mother tongue is Marathi, are called Marathas. There is no caste, creed or community that seeks to identify itself by owing allegiance to Marathi language as the mother tongue. It is like the Hindi-speaking populace of Uttar Pradesh seeking reservation (with) Hindi being the national language,” Tirodkar said in the petition.

He also contended that the group was not “socially and educational backward” and pointed to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan (Congress) and his deputy Ajit Pawar (NCP), both Marathas, as examples.

He referred to others too, among them education barons D.Y. Patil and Patangrao Kadam of the Congress. Patil is Bihar governor. Kadam is a Maharashtra minister.

According to Tirodkar’s plea, 85 per cent of Maharashtra’s sugar factories and 75 per cent of its land belongs to Marathas, who also control 72 per cent of the state’s co-operative institutions. Around 55 per cent of the over 2,000 MLAs elected from 1962 to 2004 were Marathas, Tirodkar added. His petition is scheduled to come up for hearing before a high court bench of Justices Abhay Oka and A.S. Chandurkar on Monday.

The Maratha and Muslim quotas cleared on Wednesday were over and above the 52 per cent reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs.

Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had said his government would defend the decision in courts and claimed _“quantifiable”data and surveys to back the measure. NCP, the junior partner in the Congress-headed ruling coalition, had promised the Maratha and Muslim reservations in its manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections.