The BJP-Shiv Sena coalition government in Maharashtra has decided to issue one lakh fresh auto rickshaw permits in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and additional permits in the rest of the state, but has also laid down two major conditions.
The new permits will be issued only to those applicants who can speak Marathi and have been residents of their respective localities for a minimum of 15 years.
The permits were last issued in 1997.
"As a Diwali gift to the people, the government will issue 1 lakh fresh auto permits in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (which includes parts of adjoining districts) and 25 per cent of the existing number of autos in other parts of the State," Shiv Sena leader and transport minister Diwakar Raote told reporters, according to PTI.
"The only conditions the applicant must be able to fulfil are - he should speak Marathi and be a resident of (respective) locality for at least 15 years," he added.
The decision has been criticised by opposition parties, including the Congress and the NCP for "discrimination in the name of language". The Congress said that the government could have instead ensured that all auto rickshaw drivers are aware of the topography of the region.
"Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city where people of all faiths and other states stay. In such an environment, there cannot be any discrimination in the name of language. The government can ensure a driver knows the topography of the city but cannot discriminate," Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam said.
On the other hand, NCP leader Sachin Ahir called the ruling party leaders "extremists". The NCP also claimed that the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra is trying to bring up the Marathi Manoos (sons of the soil) issue in the wake of the upcoming Mumbai civc polls, scheduled in early 2017.
"They are simply raking up Marathi manoos issue ahead of Mumbai civic body elections. When I was Transport Minister, we only expected people to know various languages, including Marathi, but never imposed rules on them. It seems this government is being run by extremists," Ahir said.