The Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission, a quasi-judicial body, has seen a series of resignations triggered by a request from the Eknath Shinde-led government.
The Shinde government has asked the commission to “ascertain existence of exceptional circumstances and or extraordinary situations in the context of Maratha community justifying exceeding of the limit of 50% reservation as laid down in the judgements of the Supreme Court.”
The Terms of Reference, attached to a letter by Shinde to the MSBCC Chairman on 13 November, are perceived by some Commission members as almost asking to gather data to justify quota for the Maratha community.
In just the past week, two out of the panel's nine members have stepped down, while another is considering resigning, all citing "growing interference" as their reason.
Balaji Killarikar, a former member, recently resigned due to what he perceived as the panel's "biased" and "agenda-driven" functioning.
Laxman Hake also resigned, attributing his decision to increasing government "interference".
Justice (retired) Chandralal Meshram, another member, has said that he is considering stepping down as well.
“We are not government servants. We are not supposed to work based on government orders. I have yet not made a decision, but yes, I am thinking about resigning. I will discuss with some seniors and take a call in the next two-three days," Meshram was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
During the 1 December commission meeting, the dissenting members objected to the sole focus on Maratha data collection, advocating instead for an all-encompassing community data collection, IE reported citing a fourth anonymous panel member.
“The government wants a report from the Commission on a pre-decided assumption that Marathas are backward. This is an independent commission, which will collect and analyse the data and only then a conclusion on the backwardness of the community will be drawn. How can the government ask the commission to give data to include a particular community into backward classes?” the member said.
The Terms of Reference (ToR) also aksed the committee to gather fresh quantifiable and other data, as well as "scrutinize and inspect the data and information collected in the past…for determining the social and educational backwardness of Maratha community and their inclusion in the last of backward classes, by applying the criteria and parameters determined as above”.
The fourth member highlighted that the Supreme Court did not accept the previous report on the Maratha community's backwardness by the commission under Justice (Retired) M G Gaikwad.
"It isn’t fair on the government’s part now to dictate to us what they want to hear,” he said.
In a letter dated 13 November to the Commission's Chairman, Chief Minister Shinde urged the panel to examine the request for inclusion of the Maratha community as a backward class.
Attached to his letter was a comprehensive 10-point Terms of Reference, tasking the panel with determining the criteria and parameters to ascertain social, educational and economic, backwardness and to define exceptional circumstances and or extraordinary situations to be applied for reservation benefits.
The protests led by Manoj Jarange Patil for Maratha reservation and the relentless pressure on the government from the community had forced it to entrust the task afresh to MSBCC.
However, another commission member suggested that the state was merely seeking the commission's approval to exceed the 50 per cent reservation limit.
He was referring to the situation that has arisen after the five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court had in May 2021 struck down Maratha reservation for having breached the 50 per cent ceiling as specified in the Indra Sawhney judgement in 1992.
In his resignation letter, Killarikar suggested that a thorough caste-based socio-economic study of Maharashtra state could help all societal segments understand their socio-economic standing.
He emphasised that it is crucial to provide the Maratha and other backward classes with authentic and reliable information information about their reservation claims and related demands, beyond the scope of vote politics.
State's opposition parties have persistently called on the government to collaborate with the central authority to increase the reservation limit beyond 50 per cent.
With BJP at the Centre, and in alliance with the NCP (Ajit Pawar faction) and Shiv Sena (Shinde faction) in Maharashtra, the state government has, for the first time, expressed willingness to jointly work with the Centre for granting reservation to Marathas.
Earlier, Devendra Fadnavis, the Deputy Chief Minister and the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stated that the government will study the Bihar caste survey procedure. But no one from the government talked about raising the 50 per cent reservation ceiling.
The Maratha agitation in Maharashtra led by social activist Manoj Jarange Patil forced the state government to speed up the process of granting OBC certificates to Marathas. It has led to protests from OBCs who have warned of agitation if their share of reservation is reduced.
The state government’s curative petition in the Supreme Court regarding Marathas reservation is pending and it needs the data on backwardness of Marathas in the state from the commission.
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