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With an eye on assembly elections after severe drubbing in Lok Sabha polls, the Congress-NCP government today approved 16 per cent reservation for Marathas and five per cent for Muslims in government jobs and education institutions.
With the additional 21 per cent quotas for the politically influential Maratha community and Muslims cleared by the Cabinet today, reservation in jobs and educational institutions in Maharashtra will go up to 73 per cent.
"Maratha community is being treated as educationally and socially backward and 16 per cent quota has been fixed for them. The quota for Muslims is not religion-based but on the criterion of social and economic backwardness," Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.
He said the provision would come into effect "immediately" and would not impinge upon the existing 52 per cent quotas for various other sections.
Replying to a volley of questions about whether the new quota would stand legal scrutiny in view of the Supreme Court judgements of 50 per cent cap on reservations, Chavan said,"If anyone approaches the court we will explain our stance."
Rubbishing that fresh quota were aimed at wooing Maratha and Muslim voters following the poll debacle, he said," The process for this started in 2004. There have been recommendations of Sachar Committee and Rangnath Mishra Commission on social, educational and economic backwardness of Muslims."
Reservation already exists among OBCs for a section of Marathas known as Kunbis. Maratha Kunbis, who are largely agriculturists, constitute 31.5 per cent of the total Maratha population and have a large presence in Vidarbha and Konkan.
A section of the ruling alliance had been demanding reservation for Marathas and Muslims and the move gathered momentum after the Lok Sabha poll defeat when Congress-NCP's joint tally plunged to an all-time low of six seats.
Opposition alliance 'Mahayuti' that included BJP, Shiv Sena and three other smaller parties clinched 42 of state's 48 seats.
A cabinet sub-committee headed by Industries Minister Narayan Rane had submitted its report to the government earlier this year in which it had recommended 20 per cent reservation for Marathas in government jobs and educational institutions.
Some leaders of Maratha community had insisted on a decision on the contentious issue before the assembly polls.
Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, descendant of Maratha king Shivaji who heads Maratha Aarakshan Mahamorcha, an umbrella group of 23 organisations demanding reservation, had even issued an ultimatum to the state