Playing the quota card in the run-up to the State Assembly polls, the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra declared on Friday that it will clear 20 per cent reservations for the Maratha community. An announcement is expected after June 20.

At present, the community has 52 per cent reservation in jobs and education. This will raise the quota limit to 72 per cent. “We have decided to give 20 per reservations to the Maratha caste. This will be cleared by the State Cabinet after June 20th when the Code of Conduct for State council elections ends,” said Industries Minister Narayan Rane.

The Marathas are a dominant caste in the State, comprising roughly 30 per cent of the population. The community wields massive political clout. The majority of the State’s Cabinet Ministers and sugar barons are Marathas. In fact, most of Maharashtra’s Chief Ministers have been Marathas, among them current Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar.

However, the government said a substantial number of Marathas depend on agriculture and are economically deprived. Mr. Rane headed a committee, which conducted a survey of 5 lakh Maratha families before recommending a quota.

The Supreme Court had earlier capped quotas at 50 per cent, a reason why the Opposition is questioning whether the Maratha quota will stand legal ground. However, Mr. Rane said: “Our survey proved the economic backwardness of the community, so the court’s ruling will not come in the way.”

Sources said OBC leaders within the government, including Cabinet Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, are unhappy with the government’s move. “I am surprised this was announced without being discussed in the Cabinet,” Mr. Bhujbal told The Hindu.

A section of Marathas from the Kunbi agricultural community avail of quotas for the OBC category. Mr. Rane clarified that the Maratha reservation would not impact those already in the OBC category.