Consider amending Official Languages Act: Supreme Court tells Centre
The Central government should consider amending the Official Languages Act of 1963, to include scheduled languages other than Hindi and English as official language of the Government of India, the Supreme Court said on Thursday.
Scheduled languages are those languages which are listed in the 8th schedule of the Constitution and are given official recognition and encouragement by the Central government. However, all official communication and publication of rules and notifications by the Central government are in Hindi and English.
Chief Justice of India (CJI), SA Bobde said that people in various parts of the country might not know either English or Hindi and communication by the Central government in vernacular languages will come to their aid.
“There might be people in Karnataka, Nagaland or rural Maharashtra who might not know Hindi or English. Your government should consider amending the Official Languages Act,” CJI Bobde told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing the Central government.
The court was hearing an appeal filed by the Centre against a judgment passed by the Delhi high court on June 30, directing the Centre to translate the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2020 into twenty-two scheduled languages.
The Central government submitted on Thursday that as per Article 343 of the Constitution, the official language of the Union is Hindi along with English.
“The Constitution of India does not have any provision whereby it may be inferred that all the languages mentioned in the 8th schedule of the Constitution would be used as official languages of the Union,” the plea said.
Further, it was also pointed out that section 3 of the Official Languages Act states that Hindi and the English shall be used for resolutions, general orders, rules, notifications, administrative or other reports made by the Central government or any of its ministries or departments.
The Supreme Court after examining the high court judgment observed that the arguments raised by the Centre before the Supreme Court were not raised before the high court.
It, therefore, directed the Centre to withdraw the petition before the top court with liberty to file a review petition before the high court.
The apex court also said that no contempt of court proceedings can be initiated against the Centre for non-compliance with the high court order till the review petition is decided.
The draft EIA notification was issued by the Centre on March 23 and was published on the website of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for the information of stakeholders and public inviting their comments and objections.
Environmentalist, Vikrant Tongad approached the Delhi high court seeking extension of the window allowed to the public to send in their responses, till September 30. The initial deadline allowed by the Centre was till June 11 and the same was later extended by the Centre till June 30.
The high court extended the deadline till August 11 taking into account the fact that there was an error in the Centre’s notice extending the deadline to June 30.
Tongad in his plea had also canvassed the issue regarding the language in which the EIA notification was issued.
“The draft has been published only in English and Hindi, whereas it is proposed to have effect all over India and to several industries and comments have naturally be elicited from all over the country,” Tongad had submitted.
The high court allowed the plea holding that EIA notification should be translated and published in all the scheduled languages.
“Considering the far reaching consequences of the public consultation process for which the draft notification has been published, we are of the view that it would be in aid of effective dissemination of the proposed notification if arrangements are made for its translation into other languages as well, at least those mentioned in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution,” the high court said.
Such translations should also be published through the website of MOEF as well as on websites of Environment Ministries of all the States and State Pollution Control Boards, the high court added.
The Centre challenged this aspect of the high court order before the Supreme Court.
“Such direction (by high court) apart from causing massive procedural and administrative difficulties is also devoid of any statutory requirement for the petitioner to do so,” the Centre said in its plea.
“You (Central government) are right as far as the law is concerned. But we think the spirit in which the high court order was passed is correct,” CJI Bobde said.