The language used in courts: What the Constitution and laws say

The language used in courts: What the Constitution and laws say

Context- Recently, the Supreme Court observed that although there are at least 22 official languages in the country, Hindi is “the national language”.

In doing so, Justice Dipankar Datta dismissed a plea for transferring a motor accident case pending before the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal (MACT) in Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh, to the MACT in Darjeeling, West Bengal.

(Credits- GeeksforGeeks)

What is this case about?

  • The top court was dealing with a transfer petition filed in a motor accident case that occurred in Siliguri, West Bengal.
  • The plea to transfer the case from the MACT in UP to the one in Darjeeling was filed under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, which allows an “application for compensation” to be made by the persons sustaining the injury in the accident, the owner of the property, and the deceased’s legal representatives or agents, in cases where the accident has resulted in death.
  • Pointing to Section 166 (2) of the 1988 Act, the court said that the provision allows claimants in such cases to approach the MACT within the local limits of their jurisdiction or where they live or carry on their business. Since the claimants had opted for the MACT in Farrukhabad, UP, and the same was permitted by law, the court rejected the transfer plea.

Is Hindi India’s “national language”?

  • More than 100 languages and 270 mother tongues are spoken across the country. However, the Constitution does not list any one language as India’s “national language”.
  • Clause 1 of Article 343 (“Official language of the Union”) says “The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in Devanagari script”, and “The form of numerals to be used for the official purposes of the Union shall be the international form of Indian numerals.”
  • Article 351 (“Directive for development of the Hindi language”) says “It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India”.
  • However, the provision says, this must be done “without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule”.

What is the Eighth Schedule?

  • There are 22 languages listed under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. These include Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Sanskrit, Assamese, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, and Urdu, among others.
  • There were only 14 languages in this Schedule initially; others including Bodo, Dogri, Maithili, and Santhali were added in 2004
  • There are demands to include another 38 languages in the Eighth Schedule, such as Bhojpuri, Garhwali (Pahari), and Rajasthani.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs has said that “the evolution of dialects and languages is dynamic and influenced by socio-eco-political developments”, which makes it difficult to fix any criterion for languages, “whether to distinguish them from dialects, or for inclusion in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India”.
  • Notably, English is absent from the list of 22 in the Eighth Schedule. It is one of the 99 non-scheduled languages of India.

What is the status of English, then?

  • English, alongside Hindi, is one of the two official languages of the central government.
  • Article 343(2) says that “for a period of fifteen years from the commencement of this Constitution, the English language shall continue to be used for all the official purposes of the Union for which it was being used immediately before such commencement”. The Constitution of India commenced, or came into force, on January 26, 1950.
  • Under Article 343(3), “Parliament may by law provide for the use, after the said period of fifteen years, of— (a) the English language, or (b) the Devanagari form of numerals, for such purposes as may be specified in the law.”
  • On January 26, 1965, Section 3 of the Official Languages Act, 1963 came into effect, which provided for the “continuation of English Language for official purposes of the Union and for use in Parliament” even after the expiration of the 15-year period after the commencement of the Constitution.

What is the language to be used in courts?

  • Clause 1 of Article 348 (“Language to be used in the Supreme Court and in the High Courts and for Acts, Bills, etc.”) says that “until Parliament by law otherwise provides”, “all proceedings in the Supreme Court and in every High Court”, and all Bills, Acts, ordinances, rules, and orders etc. at the Union and state levels, “shall be in the English language”.
  • However, Article 348 (2) permits “the use of the Hindi language, or any other language used for any official purposes of the State, in proceedings in the High Court having its principal seat in that State” after authorisation by the Governor and “with the previous consent of the President”.
  • But again, while the proceedings could be in any official language, Article 348 (2) mandates that “any judgment, decree or order passed or made by such High Court” must be in English.

How did this situation change over the decades?

  • On May 21, 1965, the Cabinet Committee decided that the Chief Justice of India’s consent must be taken on any proposal concerning the use of any language besides English in the High Courts.
  • Thereafter, the use of Hindi was authorised in the High Courts of Uttar Pradesh (1969), Madhya Pradesh (1971), and Bihar (1972) in consultation with the CJI, Rijiju told Parliament in his reply of April 7, 2022.
  • Subsequently, several states, including Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu have approached both the central government and the CJI seeking the use of their respective regional languages in the High Courts in their states.
  • However, in all cases, the Full Court of the Supreme Court has, after deliberations, decided to not accept the proposals.

What is the situation in courts subordinate to the High Court?

  • While Hindi and English are permitted by the High Courts and the Supreme Court, usage of other regional languages is not. However, the situation for courts subordinate to the High Court is different.
  • Section 272 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, states: “The State Government may determine what shall be, for purposes of this Code, the language of each Court within the State other than the High Court.”

Conclusion- Our diversity is our strength . Hence, all languages should be promoted going forward to further spirit to fraternity and brotherhood.

Syllabus- GS-2; Judiciary

Source- Indian Express