MUMBAI: The Shiv Sena has defended senior party leader and Transport Minister Diwakar Raote's recent announcement that new autorickshaw permits will be issued only to drivers who speak Marathi, saying it was an old law which he had sought just to apply.
The party also tried to link the issue with the upcoming Bihar Assembly polls as it charged that "those who have sidelined development and are harping on the auto permits issue are responsible for making Bihar a backward state".
"There is no need for us to give figures of how many of the auto and taxi drivers in Mumbai are Marathi and how many are outsiders. Nobody has issued 'fatwa' (diktat) that those who are outsiders should leave," Sena said in an editorial in its mouthpiece, 'Saamana'.
"What is wrong in saying that it is essential that auto and taxi drivers here know Marathi," the editorial said, adding, "There is a one-sided criticism of Raote for the decision." The article went on to add that it "is an old law that local language is mandatory for drivers. However, it was not being implemented".
"What wrong has Raote done by implementing it," the Sena said. "We are of the view that elections in Bihar should be fought on the development agenda. However, those who have sidelined development and are harping on the auto permits issue are responsible for making Bihar a backward state," it said.
Maharashtra government's recent decision to issue one lakh new permits for autorickshaw drivers has come with a rider. The applicant must speak fluent Marathi. Raote said permits will not be issued unless the driver proves his Marathi skills. The condition is applicable to another 1.5 lakh permits as well which need to be renewed.
"It is necessary for any auto driver in Maharashtra to know Marathi and to know it very well. How else can he communicate with passengers? It is important for the driver who works here to know Marathi," Raote had said.
Maharashtra will be issuing one lakh new auto permits this year, after a gap of almost 18 years. The government has also decided to renew the licences of around 1.40 lakh autos, which are presently running illegally on the streets.
Opposition Congress and NCP have slammed the Marathi mandatory decision, accusing Sena and alliance partner BJP of whipping up the sons-of-the-soil sentiment for making gains in the Mumbai civic polls, which are due in early 2017.