The Maharashtra government will give away one lakh new autorickshaw permits for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), but only to those applicants who speak Marathi, transport minister Diwakar Raote said on Tuesday.
While announcing the decision, Raote, a senior Shiv Sena leader, made it clear the applicant must speak Marathi and should have a domicile certificate, to show he has been a resident of the state for the past 15 years. “New permits will be issued by November and applicants must submit a domicile certificate. They should speak Marathi. Those who don’t know the language will not get a permit,” said Raote.
Although the rule that the permit holder should know the local language always existed, it was rarely followed. Raote, however, said he will ensure the rule is followed diligently. “This is like meat ban. The rule existed, but was never followed. Suddenly, the government became serious about its implementation,” said a transport official, who did not wish to be named.
Raote, the former mayor of Mumbai and a hard-core Sainik, has always insisted on the use of Marathi in the government. During the tenure of the Congress-NCP government, he had once forcibly removed a nameplate put up outside the state chief secretary’s office because it was not in Marathi.
The Opposition parties have criticised the move. “It is a politically motivated move to consolidate Marathi votes for the upcoming civic elections. We condemn it and demand such a policy should be withdrawn. We will not tolerate divisive politics on the basis of language, caste and creed,” said Sanjay Nirupam, Mumbai Congress chief.
Sachin Ahir, Mumbai NCP chief, said, “It is true the applicants should have knowledge of the local language, but the state cannot deny permits only because someone doesn’t know Marathi.”
Trade union leaders termed the condition acceptable. “Knowing the local language and submitting domicile certificate are mandatory under the motor vehicle rules and a majority of drivers have accepted these conditions,” said Thampy Kurian, general secretary of Mumbai Rickshawmen’s union.
Shashank Rao, general secretary of the Mumbai Autorickshawmen’s Union, said these conditions are not new.
Raote has also given old permit holders time till from October 1-30 to renew their expired autorickshaw permits by paying a penalty of up to Rs 20,000.