The Maharashtra Cabinet on Tuesday accepted a panel’s report that found over seven lakh Marathas eligible for the Kunbi caste certificates, amid renewed protests demanding reservations for the community in education and government jobs.

The Kunbis are a sub-caste within the Maratha community who are already classified as Other Backward Classes. The panel, led by retired High Court judge Sandeep Shinde, has so far examined 1.7 crore documents to decide on granting the Kunbi caste certificates, the chief minister’s office said on Tuesday. It is still examining the documents.

The community has demanded quotas in education and government jobs for decades, citing a decline in financial stability following agrarian distress. A series of massive protests were organised to press for the demand in 2017 and 2018.

These demands for the Maratha quota resurfaced in recent months with activist Manoj Jarange-Patil launching a fresh agitation for the cause in September. The fresh agitation has witnessed violence, suicides and the resignation of legislators in support of reservations.

In a statement on Tuesday, the chief minister’s office announced that the government has begun the process of issuing Kunbi certificates to Marathas.

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led Cabinet also ordered the state’s Other Backward Classes Commission to collect fresh empirical data to assess the educational and social backwardness of the Maratha community.

After an all-party meeting held on Wednesday to discuss the reservation demand, Shinde said it was decided that reservations should be given to the Maratha community without tampering with the quotas of other communities in Maharashtra.

“The all-party meeting also expressed its disappointment over the violent incidents reported in the last few days,” the chief minister said. “Such violent acts would be a blot on the Maratha community’s peaceful and disciplined agitation.”

He also urged Jarange-Patil to withdraw his hunger strike and give the government some time.

The activist, who has been on a fast since October 25, warned Shinde and his deputies Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar on Tuesday that he will stop drinking water from Wednesday if the government does not immediately grant reservations.

In 2018, under pressure, the Maharashtra government – then comprising the Bharatiya Janata Party and a united Shiv Sena – provided 16% reservations for the Marathas under the socially and educationally backward category.

However, the Supreme Court blocked the Maratha quota in 2021 citing the 50% cap on total reservations it had set in 1992. The court said that there were no “exceptional circumstances” or an “extraordinary situation” in Maharashtra for the state government to breach the limit.

Maharashtra currently offers 62% reservation in educational institutions and government jobs, including 10% for the economically weaker sections.

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