Welcoming the decision of the Union Cabinet to conduct a caste census, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, a prominent leader of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the State, said here on Saturday that demands for OBC reservation would gain strength once the size of the group is determined.

Mr. Bhujbal also batted for quota for women within the overall OBC quota and reservation in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha.

“Each time we approached the Supreme Court with our demands we would be asked what is the size of our population. Now with the caste census, we would have an estimate of our numbers. It would help further our demands. The Centre has special programmes for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. We need such programmes for the OBCs as well,” Mr. Bhujbal said.

He said the struggle for a caste census bore fruit because of the united efforts of leaders and organisations across the country.

Gopinath Munde, OBC leader from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too welcomed the Centre's decision, but refused to comment on women's quota or reservation in politics. He said a certain number of castes which fell in the OBC category nationwide were included in the category of de-notified tribes in Maharashtra. Pointing out that this was unique to the State, he demanded their inclusion in the OBC category.

Asked to comment on the demand for reservation for the Maratha community, Mr. Munde said 50 per cent of Kunbi Marathas were in the OBC category. He approved reservation for them in education, employment and in the private sector, but not in politics.

Mr. Munde expressed concern over the rising atrocities on the SCs and STs, especially in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. He criticised the tardiness of the criminal justice system. In the Khairlanji case, the Central Bureau of Investigation had still not filed an appeal, he said. He demanded the setting up of special courts and prosecution departments to deal with atrocity cases.

He said the recent oil spill had taken a toll on the movement of cargo in and out of the Mumbai port. “Traffic in the channel is still not smooth. The State has incurred a loss of Rs. 10,000 crore,” he said.

The BJP leader criticised All India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi, for being “lacklustre.” He said Mr. Gandhi should effect change at the government level. Both the leaders expressed their gratitude for the efforts of Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh, Lok Jan Shakti Party president Ram Vilas Paswan and others for unitedly pushing the demand for a caste census.