In Gujarat, a Rs 1000 Crore Package for Bright Students, Caste no Bar

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The Gujarat government has said it wants to povide a level playing field for meritorious students who feel marginalised. File photo of Chief Minister Anandiben Patel.

Ahmedabad:  Under pressure from the protesting Patels, the Gujarat government today announced a Rs 1000-crore special package for students that will be applicable to all castes. The only qualifying factors for the students will be merit and a low income.

The government's gesture is seen as an affirmative action that bypasses Hardik Patel's demand for quota for the influential Patels similar to the backward castes, or no quota for anyone at all.

"We want to provide a level playing field for meritorious students who feel marginalised," said government spokesman Nitin Patel. "This will also cover students who get admissions in engineering and medical streams... either 50 per cent of the course fee or maximum of 2 lakh per year assistance will be provided to them."

The package - which will be implemented from this year -- will cover every bright student whose parents have an annual income of less than Rs 4.5 lakh.  The money will be spent on scholarships, uniforms and free books, infrastructure and resources like hostel facilities and creation of additional seats in professional colleges.

The government has also announced five year age relaxation for all castes for applying for government jobs.

The government's announcement came this afternoon after Chief Minister Anandiben Patel and her ministers held a meeting with representatives of more than 200 organisations that represent all sections except the backward castes. Even some organisations representing the Patels participated.

Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Sangathan, however, stayed away from the meeting. A release from the organisation said, "This is like a lollypop which is nothing but extension of earlier schemes meant for Economically Backward Classes."

Soon after the announcement, fire crackers were burst at the BJP headquarters in Ahmedabad, with the party trying to pull back some of the control over its cadre it had lost following the Patel agitation for quota.

The Patels in New York -- who were backing the community here -- called off their plan to hold agitation during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit today.

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