Mumbai: The Maharashtra government on Thursday moved to address the grievances of students from the Maratha community, as well as those from non-Scheduled Caste, non-Scheduled Tribe and non-Other Backward Class sections.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that all such students of professional courses in government-run, aided and private colleges with an annual family income up to Rs6 lakh would be entitled to receive reimbursement of 50% of their tuition fees from the government.

All SC, ST and OBC students already get this 50% reimbursement of fees, Fadnavis pointed out.

The government is now extending the same benefit to other students with the income threshold of Rs6 lakh per annum. The scheme would be named after Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, one of the icons of the Maratha community.

Fadnavis said only students who score at least 60% in the entrance examination to professional courses would be entitled to this facility. But for students with income up to Rs2.5 lakh per annum, the 60% criterion will not be applicable, he clarified.

Fadnavis said the decision would help 35,000 students of government-run and aided colleges and 300,000 students of private colleges.

Giving the rationale for the step, he said that the cost of education, especially professional courses like engineering, medical science and architecture, was proving to be a deterrent for thousands of students who belong to castes that do not enjoy the reimbursement benefit that SC, ST and OBC students get.

“Unaffordable education is one of the genuine complaints being raised by the Maratha community through its peaceful protest march. The decision to bear 50% of the fees is aimed at investing in the future of students from the Maratha caste and other castes or communities, including Muslims, who will in turn help the state create a large human resource pool," Fadnavis said.

The cabinet on Thursday also decided to start a scheme for students of professional courses at government and private colleges who are wards of marginal farmers and registered labourers. Under this scheme, named after renowned farm leader Punjabrao Deshmukh, another Maratha icon, wards of marginal farmers with landholdings of up to 2.5 acres and registered labourers would be given cash assistance of Rs30,000 each for accommodation in a big city and Rs20,000 each for accommodation facility at the district level.

“Cost of education and accommodation have both become major handicaps for students who are poor and do not get help from the government under any subsidy or affirmative action programme. So, we have decided to start implementing these two schemes immediately and in the current financial year, have allocated Rs1,000 crore to bear the cost of reimbursement," Fadnavis said.

For students of government medical colleges with income up to Rs6 lakh per annum, the government will bear the cost of interest on educational loans under an interest subvention scheme, Fadnavis said. “This scheme is for those students who have got admission to government medical colleges on merit and have to take educational loan to pay their fees. The government will bear the cost of interest," he added.

Extending these benefits to eligible students of private professional colleges, Fadnavis said these colleges would have to get their accreditation within two years. Also, such private colleges would have to ensure at least 50% placement of their students, he said, adding that the government would make this a mandatory requirement in a gradual manner.

Fadnavis, who is only the second Brahmin chief minister of Maharashtra after the Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi, made sure he was flanked by his Maratha colleagues from the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena when he made the announcements, apparently to reach out to the Maratha community.

The BJP’s Maratha ministers, Chandrakant Patil and Vinod Tawde, and the Shiv Sena’s Subhash Desai and Eknath Shinde joined Fadnavis at the press conference.

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