Maratha activists held a 'jail bharo' protest in Mumbai on Wednesday, demanding immediate implementation of reservations in jobs and education for the community, even as the Maharashtra government decided to stand guarantor for loans to be disbursed to youth from the community under a scheme to extend financial assistance to backward communities.
Pro-quota groups led by the Maratha Kranti Morcha organised the 'jail bharo' agitation at Azad Maidan in south Mumbai while local groups in some parts of the state also held similar protests.
Rail and road traffic in the city wasn't affected by the Maratha community protest on Wednesday, an official said in Mumbai.
Adequate security arrangements have been made in the state in view of the ongoing protests, police said.
"We have lost confidence in Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his hollow assurances of offering reservation to Maratha community," said Kedar Shinde, a protester at Azad Maidan.
A group of Maratha community members also staged an agitation outside the residence of state Labour Minister Sambhaji Patil-Nilangekar in Latur district.
Protesters blocked a portion of the Pune-Solapur National Highway in north Solapur, police said. Protests were also held at Junnar in Pune district. Rallies were held in Shirur and Khed tehsils in Pune district.
Farmers from Hingoli district in Marathwada region, the hub of most of the aggressive protests, organised a bullock-cart march to demand quota for the community.
Meanwhile, the government decided to stand guarantor for loans to be disbursed to Maratha youth at the cabinet sub-committee chaired by Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil on Tuesday.
The committee has been set up to take steps for the welfare of the Maratha community, which has been agitating over its demand for reservation in government jobs and education.
The panel had received complaints that banks were not approving loans of people from the community and asking for counter-guarantee.
Over 10,000 applications are pending for approval, and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had earlier given an assurance that he will take up the issue with the State Level Bankers' Committee (SLBC).
During the meeting on Tuesday, the cabinet sub-committee decided that the government would stand guarantor for loans to be given to the Maratha youth under a scheme of the state-run Annabhau Sathe Financial Development Corporation, said an official release issued late on Tuesday night.
The scheme aims to improve the financial condition of backward communities by offering assistance for self-employment and other business ventures.
The M Phil and PhD research students from the community will also be given fellowships by the Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaja Research, Training and Human Development Institute (SARTHI), set up by the government in Pune.
The institute's mandate is to study social, financial and educational issues faced by Marathas, Kunbis and farmers in the state.
Patil said the government has decided to pay half of the fees of students including Marathas, whose family income is less than Rs 8 lakh per anum, for 608 professional courses.
Action would be taken against colleges which do not admit students by taking 50 per cent fees (as part of the fee-waiver scheme), he said.
A coaching centre to help the community students prepare for competitive exams will be set up in Pune.
The government will pay fees of students who seek guidance and training in other institutes, the cabinet sub-committee decided.
The Maratha community is around 30 per cent of the states 12 crore population. Since the last 10 days, their protests have turned violent.
Their demands include 50 per cent reservation in jobs and education, implementation of the capital punishment given to accused in the Kopardi rape case and amending the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to prevent its misuse.
So far six people have committed suicide in the state due to the ongoing agitation. A 35-year-old farm labourer was found hanging by a tree near his house in Beed district on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, eight demonstrators tried to set themselves on fire in Latur district, but police foiled their attempt.
Fadnavis had said last week that a special session of the Maharashtra legislature would be convened to pass 'a law or a resolution' for reservation to the Marathas.
He had appealed for peace in the state, rocked by violent protests over the quota issue, and announced withdrawal of certain cases against members of the community.