Eknath Shinde, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, has stated that the state government supports Maratha community reservation. Maratha quota campaigner Manoj Jarange-Patil had threatened to increase the protest if the Maratha community was not given the 'complete' quota. As the Maratha quota protests in Maharashtra heat up, the state administration has constituted a Committee of three former High Court judges to assist it in the legal struggle before the Supreme Court. In an order released on October 31, the Maharashtra government requested that those in charge issue new Kunbi caste certificates to Maratha community members who meet the requirements for the OBC category. All major parties in the state decided to support the Maharashtra administration led by Eknath Shinde in granting reservation to the community.
Who are the Marathas?
- The Marathas are a Maharashtra-based community of farmers and landowners who refer to themselves as "sons of the soil."
- The Marathas made up almost 33% of the population of the state of Maharashtra.
- Although the majority of Marathas speak Marathi, not everyone who speaks the language is a member of the Maratha group.
What is Maratha Reservation Demand?
- The first protest for Maratha reservation was staged in Mumbai in 1982, led by Mathadi Labour Union leader Annasaheb Patil.
- In 1997, the Maratha Mahasangh and the Maratha Seva Sangh launched a robust campaign for Maratha reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.
- In 2014, the then Prithviraj Chavan-led state government brought an ordinance pronouncing 16% reservation to Marathas in government jobs and education. This decision was based on Narayan Rane Committee recommendations,
- In 2016, a mass protest was started by Marathas under the Maratha Kranti Morcha and Sakal Maratha Samaj across the state.
- In November 2018, the government prepared the ground for the reservation of Marathas under the Socially and Educationally Backward Class Act, a specific provision.
- The Supreme Court invalidated Maharashtra's Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018, in 2021 for exceeding the 50% quota limit.
Protest by Manoj Jarange-Patil
- Manoj Jarange-Patil, an activist, has undertaken a fast-unto-death protest for Maratha reservation.
- He has been on an indefinite fast at a village in Jalna, which is the heart of Marathwada, since October 25.
- This has put pressure on the state administration ahead of the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
- Manoj Jarange's indefinite fast in support of quota for the Maratha community has led to episodes of violence mostly in the Marathwada area.
- But Jarange’s protest is different from the previous Maratha rallies held across Maharashtra between 2016 and 2017.
- While the Marathas in the past have demanded reservation for the community in government jobs and education, Jarange is demanding Kunbi caste certificates for Marathas so that they can be included into the OBC groups.
Existing reservation in Maharashtra
- Following the 2001 State Reservation Act, the overall reservation in the state is 52%.
- Quotas were established for Scheduled Caste (13%), Scheduled Tribes (7%), Other Backward Classes (19%), Special Backward Class (2%), Vimukta Jati (3%), Nomadic Tribe B (2.5%), Nomadic Tribe C-Dhangar (3.5%), and Nomadic Tribe D-Vanjari (2%).
- With the inclusion of the 12-13 percent Maratha quota, the state's overall reservation has increased to 64-65 percent.
- The state has also implemented the 10% EWS quota.
New Government Resolution(GR) of State Government
- The administration has been ordered to change the 2012 guidelines for providing caste certificates to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Nomadic Tribes, and OBCs in order to authenticate the evidentiary papers presented by 12 different departments of the Maharashtra government.
- It stated that authorities must follow the approach advised by the government-appointed Justice Sandeep Shinde (retired) committee for giving Kunbi caste certificates to Marathas in Marathwada.
- The GR also authorised the nomination of three retired judges — Justice Dilip Bhosale, Justice Maroti Gaikwad, and Justice Sandeep Shinde — to the government's advisory council. The council's chairperson will be Justice Bhosale.
- The State Backward Class Commission will be tasked with gathering new factual data to analyse the Maratha community's educational and social backwardness.
Legal Battle For Maratha Reservation
- In December 2018, a number of applications was filed in the Bombay High Court contesting the Maratha quota decision, claiming that it violated Supreme Court decisions stating that reservation should not exceed 50%.
- The HC affirmed the reservation for Marathas, but stipulated that instead of the current 16 percent reserve, the quota should be cut to 13 percent when giving jobs and 12 percent while granting educational assistance.
- The High Court judgment was followed by a major setback for the community in 2020, when appeals were filed against the verdict before the Supreme Court.
- In September 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the quota allocated to the Maratha group was illegal and breached the restrictions laid down in Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.
- The Supreme Court overturned the reservation clause for Marathas in May 2021.
Bombay High Court(HC) Rule in 2019
- The Bombay High Court bench of Justices Ranjit V More and Bharati H Dangre confirmed the constitutionality of the Maratha quota under the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, in June 2019.
- The HC ruling stated that the 16 per cent quota granted by the state was not ‘justifiable’.
- It also reduced the 16% quota to 12% in education and 13% in government jobs, as recommended by the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission.
- The HC said that the reserve ceiling should not exceed 50%. However, in exceptional circumstances, this restriction can be exceeded if measurable data demonstrating backwardness is made available.
What is an ‘Extraordinary situation’ as per HC?
- For decades, the inability to recognise Maratha groups as backward has driven them into social and educational backwardness.
- Thus, the High Court adds that this is an exceptional scenario in which the State was forced to consider them as a different group.
Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) Recommendations
- The High Court relied substantially on the recommendations of the 11-member Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC), which was chaired by retired Justice G M Gaikwad.
- In terms of socio economic backwardness, the Commission found that around 76.86% of Maratha families rely on agriculture and agricultural labor for a living.
- Furthermore, the survey stated that between 2013 and 2018, a total of 2,152 (23.56%) Maratha farmers committed suicides.
- In terms of educational backwardness, it was discovered that 13.42% of Marathas are illiterate, with 35.31% receiving primary education.
Indra Sawhney (Mandal) judgment
- The Indra Sawhney versus Union of India case, also known as the Mandal Commission case, was a watershed moment in Indian legal history.
- The Supreme Court affirmed the notion of reservation for socially and economically disadvantaged groups, underlining the relevance of such reservations in attaining social justice and upliftment.
- The Supreme Court overturned the Government notice reserving 10% of government employment for economically disadvantaged sections among the upper castes in the Indra Sawhney case, but retaining the 27% quota for lower castes.
- The court supported the government order, ruling that caste was an appropriate indication of backwardness.
- Thus, reservations for OBCs in central government positions were eventually implemented in 1992.
Recent step by the Maharashtra government
- In response to Jarange-Patil's protest, the state of Maharashtra established a five-person committee on September 7th 2023, headed by retired judge Sandeep K. Shinde.
- The committee aims to examine the process of awarding Kunbi (OBC) certificates to Marathas.
- The Bombay High Court's Nagpur bench dismissed an appeal challenging the panel's creation.
- Chief Minister Eknath Shinde later stated that the first report of the panel was accepted by the state Cabinet.
- According to CM Shinde, the state would shortly file a curative plea at the Supreme Court.
- Kunbis is an agricultural community which are classified as Other Backward Classes (OBC) in Maharashtra and are eligible for quota in education and government posts.
- Chief Minister Eknath Shinde stated that a government-appointed commission examined 1.72 crore old papers including references to the Kunbi tribe.
- The Marathas have been pursuing Kunbi caste certificates, which will allow them to be included in the OBC category for reservation.
Why are Maratha quota protesters angry against Maratha politicians?
- Protesters are outraged against seasoned politicians from the Maratha community from all parties.
- There has been a total gap between Maratha leadership and the community's people.
- The Maratha community has maintained its importance in state politics over the years, maintaining its share of power.
- If Maharashtra has had more than 60% Marathas as chief ministers, the community has a fair representation in the cabinet or state assembly.
- The masses are rejecting leadership with unrest as Maratha young discover they have been duped by their own leaders.
- On the economic front, Marathas are a divided group, with the lowest in the hierarchy being landless or marginal farmers, with most of them coming from the Marathwada area.
- Manoj Jarange Patil, who has emerged as a major face of the Maratha agitation, symbolizes the community's non-establishment class and has support from millennials with no social or political experience.
Will Kunbi Caste Certificate Solve The Issue?
- The Maharashtra government declared that it will issue Kunbi caste certificates to those Marathas from Marathwada who have Nizam-era paperwork confirming their Kunbi status.
- From October 31, the Maharashtra Revenue Department has begun distributing Kunbi certificates to Maratha community members who have acceptable documentation.
- The Kunbi community in the state is involved with agriculture-related occupations and is classified as OBC.
- Giving Marathas Kunbi caste certificates would imply that Marathas would be counted as part of the Kunbi community and, if granted OBC status, would benefit from the quota granted to the OBC category.
- The inclusion of Marathas in the OBC category for reservation privileges has been resisted by the other OBC communities.
- While Marathas make up 32% of the state's population, OBCs make up 52% and are divided into 382 castes.