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In the midst of a raging controversy over ban on sale of meat in Mumbai in view of a Jain festival, Maharashtra government has taken another step which could ruffle many feathers.
In a controversial move, the BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra has decided that
autorickshaw permits in future will be issued to only those who can speak Marathi language.
Transport Minister Diwakar Raote, a Shiv Sena member in Devendra Fadnavis Ministry, on Tuesday said the government had decided to issue quite a large number of autorickshaw permits and the only conditions for applicants is that they should speak Marathi and should be residents of respective localities for 15 years.
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Opposition Congress and NCP were quick to slam the decision accusing Sena and BJP of whipping up the sons-of-the-soil sentiment for making gains in Mumbai civic polls due in early 2017.
This move by the state government has the potential to stir up a hornet's nest, for there are thousands of migrants in Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai, from north Indian states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh who make a living by driving taxis and auto-rickshaws in India's financial capital.
They will be the ones getting the short end of Maharashtra government's stick.
"As a Diwali gift to the people, the government will issue 1 lakh fresh auto permits in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (which includes parts of adjoining districts) and 25 per cent of the existing number of autos in other parts of the State," Raote told reporters.
"In 1997, the then government had stopped issuing fresh auto permits. But in the last 15 years, the population of the state has increased rapidly and we think at least one lakh fresh permits need to be issued in MMR region alone," he said.
"The only conditions the applicant must be able to fulfil are - he should speak Marathi and be a resident of (respective) locality for at least 15 years," he added.
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The Minister made it clear those who do not fulfil these two conditions would not be issued permits. Criticising the Marathi string attached to decision, Congress and NCP leaders said BJP and Shiv Sena were once again raking up `Marathi Manoos' (sons of the soil) issue in
view of coming Mumbai civic elections (slated in early 2017).
Congress said the maximum a government can do is to ensure an autodriver knows the topography of the city.
"Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city where people of all faiths and other states stay. In such an environment, there cannot be any discrimination in the name of language. The government can ensure a driver knows the topography of the city but cannot discriminate," Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam said.
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NCP leader Sachin Ahir said the decision makes it seem that those running the government are "extremists".
"They are simply raking up Marathi manoos issue ahead of Mumbai civic body elections. When I was Transport Minister, we only expected people to know various languages, including Marathi, but never imposed rules on them. It seems this government is being run by extremists," he said.
(With Inputs From PTI)