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Cong cruises on Raj road - Marathi mandatory for Mumbai cabbies

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 21.01.10
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Mumbai, Jan. 20: The Ashok Chavan government today took a leaf out of Raj Thackeray’s book by making it mandatory for cabbies seeking new taxi permits to be domiciled in Maharashtra for 15 years and to have the ability to read, write and speak Marathi.

The decision, certain to rattle north Indian migrants, many of whom drive taxis to earn a living, comes two days after Raj, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief, had made this very demand at a public function in Thane.

Raj has been spearheading a campaign against north Indian migrants in Maharashtra which fetched his three-year-old party handsome rewards — a total of 13 seats — in the Assembly elections in October.

A government spokesperson said 24,000 expired taxi permits would be renewed for Mumbai city and its suburbs which would generate an additional revenue of Rs 240 crore. Each permit will cost Rs 1 lakh.

“All expired permits will not be renewed at once, but 4,000 of them would be renewed each year. Affected people and women would be given preference in the renewal process. It is mandatory for a person taking a new permit that he or she should be a resident of Maharashtra for a continuous period of 15 years, and should be able to read, write, and speak Marathi,” the spokesperson said.

The “mandatory Marathi” decision set alarm bells ringing among taxi drivers in Mumbai, which has an increasing presence of Hindi-speaking migrants from north Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Haryana.

The Congress, which is in power in Maharashtra in alliance with the NCP, could find the decision tough to defend among the people in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where it is trying to make a comeback.

The Mumbai Taximen’s Union, which controls the majority of 55,000 taxis, termed the move “undemocratic”.

Union general secretary A.L. Quadros said: “This is undemocratic and unacceptable. There should not be any discrimination in a cosmopolitan city. Denying permits to taxi drivers on the condition that they should know Marathi is denying them their rights. We are seeking legal opinion. We will take it to the people’s court.”

The MNS termed the decision a “victory” for Raj’s policies. “We have been demanding this for the last two years. It is a victory for Rajsaheb’s vision. Though belated, the government has made the announcement eyeing the civic and local bodies elections across the state over the next two years,” MNS vice-president Vageesh Saraswat said.

Till the mid-1980s, the big-hearted Sikh was a stereotype for Mumbai cabbies, but as profit margins waned, the migrants from Uttar Pradesh became the dominant force.

A majority of them hail from Pratapgarh district of Uttar Pradesh followed by Varanasi, Allahabad, and Jaunpur. Others are from Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab and southern states like Andhra Pradesh.

State transport commissioner Dilip Jadhav pointed to the rulebook to defend the decision.

“There is a provision in sub-section 8 (24) of the Motor Vehicle Rules that the permit holder should be domiciled in Maharashtra, and that he should be able to converse in Marathi. How else will you communicate with your taxi driver? So this is not a new provision we have implemented,” he said.

New taxis would be fitted with GPS/GPRS facilities, radio phones, air-conditioning, electronic meters with printers and would run on CNG. Call centres and back office would also be established.

“The aim is to provide a modern, reliable and comfortable taxi service. Moreover, these would be environment friendly,” the government spokesperson said.