Recently, the Supreme Court of India observed that although there are at least 22 official languages in the country, Hindi is “the national language”.
GS II: Polity and Governance
Dimensions of the Article:
- Key Points of the Case
- Language Provisions and Hindi
- Language Provisions in Judiciary
- Progression over Decades
- Subordinate Courts’ Language Usage
Key Points of the Case:
Transfer Petition and Jurisdiction:
- The Supreme Court reviewed a transfer petition related to a motor accident case originating in Siliguri, West Bengal.
- The plea sought to transfer the case from the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal (MACT) in Uttar Pradesh to the one in Darjeeling, invoking the Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) of 1988.
Compensation Application under MVA:
- The MVA allows individuals injured in accidents to apply for compensation.
- The petitioner argued that language could pose a barrier since all witnesses are from Siliguri.
Choice of MACT and Rejection of Transfer Plea:
- The claimants had chosen the MACT in Farrukhabad, UP, within their rights under the law, which the court recognized.
- Consequently, the transfer petition was dismissed.
- The court highlighted Hindi as the national language, expecting witnesses to communicate in Hindi.
- Accepting the petitioner’s argument could disadvantage the claimants, who would have to convey their version in Bengali.
Language Provisions and Hindi:
- The Indian Constitution refrains from designating any language as the “national language.”
- Article 343(1) establishes Hindi in Devanagari script as the official language of the Union for official purposes, with international Indian numerals.
- Article 351 directs the Union to develop and promote Hindi as a medium of expression without disrupting its essence, styles, and forms used in Hindustani and other languages specified in the Eighth Schedule.
Eighth Schedule and Listed Languages:
- The Eighth Schedule enlists 22 languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Sanskrit, Assamese, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, and Urdu.
- Additions like Bodo, Dogri, Maithili, and Santhali were made in 2004, initially totaling 14 languages.
- There are calls to include 38 more languages, such as Bhojpuri, Garhwali (Pahari), and Rajasthani.
English, along with Hindi, serves as an official language of the central government.
- Article 343(2) maintains English for official Union purposes for 15 years from the Constitution’s commencement (till January 26, 1950).
- Article 343(3) grants Parliament the authority to legislate the use of English or Devanagari numerals after the 15-year period, for specified purposes.
Official Languages Act 1963:
- The Act ensures the persistence of English for Union official purposes and parliamentary use beyond the initial 15 years stipulated in Article 343(2).
Language Provisions in Judiciary:
- Article 348(1) stipulates that, until altered by Parliament, all proceedings in the Supreme Court (SC) and High Courts (HCs), as well as Bills, Acts, ordinances, rules, and orders at the Union and state levels, shall be conducted in the English language.
Use of Other Languages:
- Article 348(2) allows the use of Hindi or any other language used for official purposes of the State in HC proceedings, with the Governor’s authorization and the President’s consent.
- While proceedings can be in any official language, it mandates that any judgment, decree, or order by an HC must be in English.
Official Languages Act 1963 and Judgments:
- The Official Languages Act 1963 addresses the optional use of Hindi or other official languages in HC judgments.
- With the President’s consent, a Governor can authorize the use of Hindi or the state’s official language alongside English in judgments, but an English translation must accompany it, issued by the HC.
Progression over Decades:
- In 1965, a Cabinet Committee decision mandated the Chief Justice of India’s consent for the use of languages other than English in High Courts (HCs).
- Hindi usage was authorized in HCs of Uttar Pradesh (1969), Madhya Pradesh (1971), and Bihar (1972) after consultation with the Chief Justice.
- Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu later sought to introduce regional languages in their HCs, but the Supreme Court (SC) rejected these proposals.
Prime Minister’s Call for Local Languages:
- In 2022, the Indian Prime Minister emphasized the importance of using local languages in courts to enhance accessibility for a significant portion of the population.
- The (then) Chief Justice N V Ramana echoed this sentiment, suggesting gradual implementation over time.
Subordinate Courts’ Language Usage:
- While HCs and the SC allow Hindi and English, other regional languages face restrictions.
- The Code of Criminal Procedure (1973) allows each State Government to determine the language of subordinate courts within the state.
- According to the Code of Civil Procedure (1908), subordinate courts must use the language in existence during the Code’s adoption unless directed otherwise by the State Government.
-Source: Indian Express