The Mumbai Police on Thursday denied Maratha reservations activist Manoj Jarange-Patil the permission to hold a protest and hunger strike at Azad Maidan in the city, The Indian Express reported.

Jarange-Patil began the Maratha Aarakshan Morcha, or the Maratha reservations march, to Mumbai from his village Antarwali Sarati in Jalna district on January 20. The march was to reach Mumbai’s Azad Maidan on Friday. The activist has said that he will begin his hunger strike from Friday.

The Maratha community’s long-standing demand for reservations in education and government jobs resurfaced last year with protests and hunger strikes by Jarange-Patil. The agitation has witnessed violence, suicides and the resignation of legislators.

However, on Thursday, the Mumbai Police issued a notice under Section 149 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that gives powers to the police to prevent cognisable offences.

The police said that the march, which has thousands of participants, could disrupt the city’s transport system.

“As per the high court, only 7,000 square metre area of Azad Maidan has been reserved for protest and its capacity is to accommodate 5,000 to 6,000 protestors, but if a large number of protestors come there, there will not be enough space for them to stop and there are no facilities to that extent,” the police said.

The police said that the remaining area of Azad Maidan comes under the school education and sports department, which has also denied permission to hold the rally at the venue in South Mumbai.

“If the protestors fail to follow these directives, it will be considered contempt of court,” the police said.

The police have suggested the International Corporation Park ground at Kharghar in Navi Mumbai, about 43 kms away, as an alternative venue for the protest, The Indian Express reported.

On Friday morning, Jarange-Patil and his supporters had reached the outskirts of Navi Mumbai.

The police notice came a day after the Bombay High Court refused to restrain Jarange-Patil from entering Mumbai. The court had instead directed the police to ensure that the protest would not cause any disturbance or inconvenience to the people in Mumbai.

Also read: Why caste divides Marathas as they rally for reservation

Maratha quota tussle

Jarange-Patil has demanded that all Marathas be identified as Kunbis under the Other Backward Classes category. Kunbis, a Maratha sub-caste, are members of a largely agrarian community with small land holdings and low incomes, spread across Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

The latest protest comes as the Maharashtra government failed to meet the December 24 deadline issued by the activist to pass a law ensuring reservations for the Marathas.

“The government gave us the word but is not keeping it,” the activist said on Wednesday, reported The Indian Express. “We gave seven months’ time to the government, but it failed to meet our demand. The government claims that it has found lakhs of Kunbi records but is doing nothing to issue caste certificates.”

He added: “The government has said that it will bring in a law for reservation but has done nothing. The OBC [Other Backward Classes] community is not asked to produce any records but the government wants Kunbi records from the Maratha community.”

Last month, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde announced that a special session of the state Assembly would be held in February to pass legislation to extend reservations to the Maratha community.

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