Eminent lawyer Shreehari Aney is known to be a man of conviction. It took the Maharashtra government almost four months to convince him to become advocate general, which he finally accepted in October 2015. However, it took him only a day to resign, when he realised that his views on statehood for the Marathwada region and its development backlog were unpalatable to politicians.
On March 20, in a speech in Jalna district, Aney supported the demand for Marathwada's statehood and said the region had suffered more injustice than Vidarbha, a much older claimant for statehood. In a Facebook post on March 22, he confirmed the statements, but said they were in reply to statements made by two earlier speakers, advocate Pradeep Deshmukh and Baba Ugale.
At the function organised by the Marathwada Mukti Morcha to give token assistance to widows of farmers who had committed suicide, Aney said that both speakers had expressed apprehension that Vidarbha was getting more funds than Marathwada and that Vidarbha should demand that Marathwada, too, be given statehood.
When it was his turn to speak, Aney said he felt there should be no anger or ill will towards Vidarbha and that both the regions had been neglected by previous governments. “If anything, Marathwada suffers more,” wrote Aney. “I pointed out that I have had to fight hard in courts to ensure that water was released for Marathwada, and was still fighting for Vidarbha and Marathwada's irrigation rights in the Aurangabad bench of the High Court and for the farmers' rights in the Bombay bench.”
Politicians from the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP were fuming. They demanded that Aney apologise and be sacked. Revenue minister and senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse said that the government did not agree with Aney's views, even if they were expressed in personal capacity.
“SUCH REPEATED statements by Aney, seeking a separate Vidarbha and Marathwada, are illegal and unconstitutional as he has been sworn in as Maharashtra's advocate general,” said senior Congress legislator Sanjay Dutt. “The chief minister is speaking about 'Make In Maharashtra', and his advocate general is talking about 'breaking Maharashtra'.”
MNS chief Raj Thackeray said the RSS and BJP were behind Aney's demands. Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena MP and editor of the party's mouthpiece Saamna, wrote, “Appointing Aney for the post of advocate general is like appointing Hafeez Saeed as Pakistan's high commissioner in Delhi.”
A closer look at the ground realities in Marathwada, however, proves that Aney is right about the dire situation in the region. Vijay Diwan, former member of the Marathwada Development Board, says that the backlog of Marathwada is around 014,000 crore, which is more than that of Vidarbha.
“Unlike Vidarbha, natural resources are very scarce in Marathwada,” says Diwan. “All eight districts are mainly dependent on the Godavari river. Water availability for the region is just 309tmc, as compared to 660tmc for Vidarbha, 630tmc for western Maharashtra and 2,600tmc for the Konkan region. If we go by the Mendhegiri Committee Report, there has been a 40 per cent reduction in this 309tmc water availability because of successive droughts. Nearly 80 per cent of the population is dependent on ground water and the ground water table has gone down dramatically.”
Diwan, however, feels that Marathwada as a separate state is not economically viable. He says, “Vidarbha is rich in forest and mineral wealth. Marathwada can develop only if the backlog issue is systematically addressed.”
Aney justifies his views, saying that the advocate general represents the interests of the people of the state and not just the government. The legal luminary that he is, Aney will surely keep the debate alive and champion the cause dear to his heart.