Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Monday sought to downplay the issue of mandatory Marathi clause for obtaining new auto permits, saying last year nearly 70 per cent of such licences were issued to drivers who did not know the state language.

Transport Minister and senior Shiv Sena leader Diwakar Raote kicked up a controversy last week when he announced that new autorickshaw permits will be issued only to drivers who speak Marathi.

Fadnavis also sought to emphasise that what Raote said was nothing new and there was a law in place since 1988 which says a person applying for auto permit should know Marathi.

A delegation of BJP workers on Monda met Fadnavis and sought a clarification on the issue of auto permits and the statement given by Raote. It demanded that the Transport Department issue permits to even those who cannot speak Marathi.

In a letter to Fadnavis, party workers said insisting on knowing the local language may render thousands of people jobless in the city.

Fadnavis told reporters out of 7,843 permits issued last year, 5,303 (around 70 per cent) were given to non-Marathi speaking people.

"In September 2014, a total of 27,087 applications were received online for 7,843 permits. Of the total, 7,747 were bagged by male applicants, 95 by women and one by a transgender," an official from Transport Department said.

A senior Cabinet Minister, however, said Raote’s statement should have been taken lightly and not blown out of proportion by the media.

"When the condition of knowing the local language is already there in the Transport Act, the media should not have unnecessarily blown the issue out of proportion," he said.

Opposition Congress and NCP had slammed the Marathi mandatory decision, accusing Sena and alliance partner BJP of whipping up the sons-of-the-soil sentiment for making gains in the Mumbai civic polls due in early 2017.

JD(U), the ruling party in Bihar, latched onto the auto permit issue to hit out at BJP, its main political rival in the poll-bound state. The regional party criticised the BJP- Sena goverment’s decision to give auto permits to only Marathi-speaking people.