Large scale protests by the Maratha community demanding reservation flared in Maharashtra last month.
As Maharashtra reels under protests by the Marathas seeking affirmative action in government jobs and education, the state government has announced a reform that will extend benefits to poor students of the community.
Flanked by his cabinet colleagues Vinod Tawde, Chandrakant Patil, Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desailly, Maharashtra's chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced key reforms on college fees and hostel facilities that will now be extended to all economically backward class students (EBC) including Marathas.
All such EBC students from professional courses will be eligible for benefits like fee reimbursement in government and private colleges and the government estimates that the scheme will benefit 3 lakh students.
Earlier, only students from scheduled castes or scheduled tribes were eligible for 100 per cent reimbursement while it was 50 per cent for Other Backward class students.
The government has also decided to increase the upper limit for economically backward class to Rs 6 lakh per year.
Named after the Maratha king Shahu Maharaj who first gave reservations in his kingdom of Kolhapur, the government hopes the scheme can take some of the heat off it just ahead of the next big march by the Marathas planned in Kolhapur on Saturday.
"This is a merit-cum-means scheme. The government has allocated close to Rs 1,000 crore for this scheme which will be implemented this year itself," Mr Fadnavis said.
The government has also planned to pay up to Rs 30,000 as rent for the children of small and marginal farmers who want to pursue their education in urban centres away from home.
Claiming credit for the scheme, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said, "Uddhav Thackeray should get credit for this. He announced the need for this in the Sena Dussehra rally."
Former Chief Minister and Congress lawmaker Ashok Chavan said, "This is nothing but an attempt to save face by the government. We don't oppose the scheme announced today to give benefits to the EBCs but the government should still commit itself to giving reservations to Marathas."