A special session of the Maharashtra legislature would be convened to pass "a law or a resolution" regarding reservation for the Marathas, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said on Saturday as political parties pledged support for a quota in jobs for the influential community.
Fadnavis appealed for peace in the state, rocked by violent protests over the quota issue this week, and announced withdrawal of certain cases against the members of the community, seeking a 16-per cent reservation in government jobs and education.
Speaking to reporters after chairing an all-party meeting on the quota issue, Fadnavis said the special session of the House would be called after the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission submitted its report to the state government.
The commission, headed by Justice (retired) M G Gaikwad, is carrying out a survey to ascertain the economic and social backwardness prevailing among the Marathas, a land-owning community that constitutes 30 per cent of the state's population.
The panel is expected to submit its report in four months.
"We will pass a law or a resolution in the legislature, based on the recommendation of the commission, to fulfil a Constitutional requirement. The government has already requested the commission to complete its survey on the economic and social backwardness of the community at the earliest," Fadnavis said, adding that there was no delay on the part of the government.
He said the government would also try to rectify the lacunae in the earlier law (passed during the Congress-NCP rule) that granted reservations to the Maratha community and which was stayed by the Bombay High Court.
Fadnavis said police cases registered against the quota agitators, except those related to serious offences like assault on police personnel, violence and arson, would be withdrawn.
The chief minister, who also holds the Home portfolio, said the director general of police was directed to look into the matter and review the cases.
"The grievances of the Maratha community can be addressed through deliberations on the judicial and legislative platforms. Nothing can be achieved by resorting to violence," he said.
The BJP leaded added that the 57 "mook morchas" (silent protests) taken out by the community across the state in the past in support of the quota demand were hailed as a model form of protest.
He assured the Maratha community that a mega recruitment drive would be carried out to fill up government posts and this would be done by ensuring that the existing quota for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes was not affected.
A fee-waiver scheme in professional courses for the students of economically backward classes, including those from the community, would be strictly implemented, the chief minister said.
"If a college does not admit Maratha students by charging 50 per cent fees (as part of the fee-waiver scheme), it would be de-recognised. We are willing to talk to the colleges if they have any difficulties," he added.
"The government will take up with the State Level Banking Committee (SLBC) the complaints that the banks are asking for collateral security for granting financial assistance to those from the backward communities under a scheme of the Annabhau Sathe Development Corporation," the chief minister said.
He informed that construction of hostels for Maratha students was nearing completion in Pune and Kolhapur, while eight more such facilities were being built in other districts.
Meanwhile, a joint statement of all the political parties, released after the meeting, appealed to the community to maintain peace. It was signed by Assembly Speaker Haribhau Bagde, Council Chairman Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar and leaders of all other political parties.
Against the backdrop of some agitators trying to end their lives during the quota stir, the statement urged the protesters not to resort to such acts.
"There is a consensus among the political class regarding reservation to the Marathas. The government will take the necessary steps and the opposition parties will fully cooperate in all endeavours," the statement said.
"It was decided to appeal to the State Backward Class Commission to submit its report at the earliest. And to fulfil the Constitutional requirement, a special session (of the legislature) would be convened," it added.
Opposition leaders such as Ajit Pawar, Chhagan Bhujbal, Dhananjay Munde of the NCP and the Congress's Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil stated that the all-party meeting should have been convened earlier.
Pawar said the opposition leaders would approach the commission with a request to submit its report at the earliest.
A large part of Maharashtra, including Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and the Marathwada region, saw widespread violence during the protests by the Maratha community this week.
Half a dozen MLAs from different political parties have announced their resignation to express solidarity with the community.
Meanwhile, members of Sakal Maratha Samaj refused to hold negotiations with the government. Speaking to reporters, they demanded the resignation of CM Fadnavis and minister Chandrakanth Patil. They also demanded compensation of Rs 50 lakh for families of the deceases. The members also urged government to take stringent action against police officers who charged batons at women. They also threatened to launch a 'jail bharo andolan' from August 1 if their demands are not met.
The wave of protests by Maratha groups has put the Fadnavis government in a tight spot. While the BJP has been stressing that the state government is committed to honour the demands of the Maratha community, the Opposition has accused CM Fadnavis doing nothing and letting the situation go out of control.
State BJP chief Raosaheb Danve asserted that the government was serious over fulfilling the demands of the Maratha community and it had already passed an ordinance regarding it. "However, the court had put a stay on the government's decision. We will submit the report of the state Backward Classes Commission to the court and request it to decide on the issue soon," Danve said.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna has questioned both state and central government over the issue. It accused both the Fadnavis and Modi governments of ignoring the demands out up by the Maratha community.
"Why can't CM Fadnavis go to Delhi, meet the Prime Minister and find a solution to the Maratha reservation issue. PM Modi he is not interested in matters related to the state and the country as he is often not in Delhi. To crush protests has become the policy of the government," Saamna said in its editorial.
The Marathas, a politically influential community that constitutes around 30 per cent of the state's population, have been demanding 16 per cent reservation. The community has been taking out protest marches across the state to highlight their demands, prominent among them being that of reservation.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Saturday said that reservations for the Maratha community could be brought about with an amendment in the Constitution.
The veteran leader added that he could hold a dialogue with the Opposition parties to seek support for the amendment if the Union government showed its willingness.
Speaking at a press conference in Kolhapur, Pawar said, "Giving reservations to the Maratha community is possible by bringing about necessary amendment to the Constitution."
"If the Centre is willing, then I can speak to opposition parties to support such an amendment," he added.
When the NCP was in power, it had taken a decision to grant reservations to Marathas but the courts rejected it, he said.
Pawar also hit out at Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil and warned them to not add fuel to the fire by claiming that some people were out to disturb the peace in the state in the garb of Maratha stir.
"If Fadnavis or Patil have recordings of people talking about creating disturbances and riots (in the garb of Maratha reservation stir), then they should make these recordings public," Pawar said.
Patil had on Friday claimed that the government had an audio clip in which some "big leaders" were allegedly conspiring to let loose snakes amid the devotees gathered at Pandharpur on July 23. Fadnavis had made the same allegation earlier.
Attacking Patil further, Pawar said that the minister should be "responsible while criticising" him.
"Patil should remember that I successfully contested general elections 14 times. He has not faced a single general poll so far," he said.
The NCP leader also visited the Dasara Chowk here where Maratha community representatives are on an indefinite protest demanding reservations for the community.