Mumbai: The Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government has decided to table the Maratha quota bill on the penultimate day of the state legislature’s winter session on Thursday.

The bill providing quota to the Marathas as a “socially and educationally backward class" is likely to be passed unanimously in both Houses of the assembly, given that all political parties, including the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), are supporting the community’s demand.

The Fadnavis government is working to provide 16% reservation in education and government jobs to the Marathas by 30 November, the last day of the winter session.

The “action taken report" by the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes will also be presented before the state legislature, said a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and state minister, who was a member of the ministerial sub-committee set up by Fadnavis to study the commission’s report and thrash out a legally sustainable solution.

“We will bring in a bill tomorrow, which will seek to provide reservation to the Maratha community on the basis of the commission’s report. The government is committed to provide quota by the end of November, and we want to make it legally fool-proof, unlike the legislative measures carried out in the past which did not stand the legal test," he said, requesting anonymity.

On 15 November, when the commission had submitted its report to the state government, establishing that the Marathas, who account for 32-35% of the state’s population, are a socially and educationally backward community, Fadnavis had said that the government will complete the legal process by 1 December. The chief minister also said that Maharashtra will follow Tamil Nadu’s model to raise the quota percentage to 68% from the existing 52%.

The ministerial sub-committee held prolonged consultations with the state’s law and judiciary department, as well as the state’s advocate general, Aashutosh Kumbhakoni, besides constitutional experts, before finalizing the move, the minister added.

He recalled that an ordinance issued by the then Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government in September 2014, and an Act passed by the Fadnavis government in December 2014, had failed legal scrutiny of the Bombay high court.

“We cannot rule out legal challenges to this legislation also, but unlike the ordinance and the previous Act, this Act will stand on a more solid footing and it also has the backing of the commission’s report, which was not the case earlier," the minister said.

The Congress and NCP have, however, criticized the government for not tabling the commission’s report in the House, and claimed that the government was jeopardizing the legal sustainability of the Act.

Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan told the legislative assembly that Article 15 of the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes Act made it mandatory on the government to present every report and recommendation before both Houses of the legislature, along with the government’s action taken report.

Chavan also pointed out that the Bombay High Court, while striking down the ordinance issued by the Congress-NCP government in November 2014, had noted that “it cannot help noticing that the state government never placed Justice Bapat Commission report (an earlier commission to study the social and economic status of Marathas) on the floor of the state legislative assembly in spite of the mandate of Section 15 of the Maharashtra Backward Class Commission Act, 2005," nor did it place the Rane Committee report and, therefore, “did not allow the state legislative assembly to consider the issue of reservations".

“If you want to give a legally fool-proof quota to the Maratha community, you must present the full report of the commission before the House," Chavan added.

Countering the opposition view, Fadnavis said that 51 reports by various backward class commissions in Maharashtra were prepared through the years, but none of those were ever submitted before the legislature. “It is not mandatory to do so. The government is doing everything it can to provide legally sustainable quota to the Marathas and we are committed to do so by the end of this session. However, the opposition is bent on creating misgivings for political ends and we will fight this politically."

The CM also said that the Marathas will be given the 16% quota without disturbing existing reservations to the SCs, STs and OBCs, among others.

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