The Maharashtra Government has ignited a new controversy over auto permits. On 15th September 2015, Maharashtra’s Transport Minister Diwakar Raote announced that the government will issue 1 lakh auto permits in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region during Diwali. As mentioned in On Manorama, in 1997, the then government had stopped issuing fresh auto permits. This announcement was expected to create many new opportunities, however, it also brought disappointment to many faces as it had a clause which said that the rickshaw permits would be given only to those who can speak Marathi.
Diwakar Raote defended the decision by saying
The permits would be given regardless of caste, creed or religion to those who have a domicile certificate. So anyone who fulfills this criteria can apply and get the permit. However, the driver needs to know Marathi. If you have lived for 15 years in the state, then it is a reasonable expectation that you would know at least a little bit of the language
The general secretary of the Mumbai Rickshaw Men Union, Thampi Kurien, has expressed no objection to the clause. As published in the news, when asked by the media, he said that it is not a new rule. It is an old rule under the Motor Vehicles Act that drivers involved in public service should know how to speak Marathi. He also added that 15 years of domicile is good enough for someone to know Marathi.
In fact, the Manual of the Motor Vehicles Department of Maharashtra, reads:
— Dhaval Patel (@dhaval241086) September 16, 2015
Political battles and gimmicks played on the basis of Marathi and Non-Marathi discrimination is not a new thing in Maharashtra. Mumbai is a cultural hub, it invites millions of people from different regions pursuing different faiths, but the cosmopolitan city has often been treated as a victim of regional politics.
Not surprisingly, the Congress-led opposition, which agreed-upon a similar discriminatory is actively criticizing it as a discriminatory policy. In January 2014, under the then Congress-led government an advertisement was floated for the distribution of Auto rickshaw permits. The advertisement mentioned similar clauses of language and domicile.
The then Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan was heavily criticized for declaring that new taxi licenses will only be given to those who are fluent in Marathi and have resided in the state for at least 15 years. Then the same party, which is talking about regional harmony and cultural brotherhood, which is calling this decision ‘anti-constitutional’ and ‘illegal’, advocated that:
The Cabinet has gone by the Maharashtra Motor Vehicles rules, which were framed in 1989. As per that rule, for a person to have a (taxi) permit, 15 years of domicile is compulsory
The sad part of the politics is that when Congress advocated for such restrictions, BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi and Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan stood against it, and called it a conspiracy against Hindi-speaking population of Mumbai. Today, the political scenario has flipped. The then opposition is now in the power, the then government is now in the opposition, but the political games remain the same.
Mumbai has been providing food and shelter to lots of non-Marathi people, especially many from the lower economic strata of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The city is bearing more than its threshold, but then, if we keep talking about cultural and lingual restrictions instead of building new economic hubs, we will never be able to find solutions.