The Central government is duty-bound to communicate in English with those States that have not adopted Hindi as their official language, the Madras High Court emphasized recently (S Venkatesan v. Ministry of State for Home Affairs and Others).
This is in line with the Official Languages Act 1963 and the Official Language Rules 1976, the Bench of Justices N Kirubakaran (now retired), and M Duraiswamy observed.
The court said that once a representation is given in English, it is the duty of the Union Government to give a reply in English only which will also be in consonance with the statute, viz., the Official Languages Act. In this regard, the Court relied upon Section 3 of the Official Languages Act 1963. The Bench further commented that different ethnic, linguistic, and cultural identities have to be protected and any attempt to destroy and disturb the same may become sensitive issues. The court said that any kind of fanaticism is not good for any society. Fanaticism, in any form, is to be condemned, if it is exhibited. Linguistic fanaticism is more dangerous as it would give an impression that one language alone is superior and being imposed upon the people speaking different languages.
Against this backdrop, the Court also expressed appreciation for the Central government’s recognition of the importance of one’s mother tongue or language in the National Education Policy. The court said that when such is the importance given to the languages of the country, it seems that a few officials in the Respondent Government either without understanding the sensitivity of the issue or by inadvertence, are bent upon using Hindi in communications and other official matters. With respect to the present case, the Court also referred to Section 8 of the Official Languages Act, 1963 which excluded the application of the Official Languages Rules, 1976 in the State of Tamil Nadu, thereby making it clear the central government is expected to use English for official communications with Tamil Nadu.
The Court further noted that Article 350 of the Constitution of India entitles any person to submit a representation to Union or the State government in any of the languages used in the Union or State. Pertinently, the Bench went on to express hope that the Central government will seriously consider amending Article 350 so that, replies given to such representations are also given in the language used. The court said that if a representation is given as per Article 350 of the Constitution, a reply should be given in the same language, so that, the people could understand the information. This Court hopes that the Central Government would seriously consider amending Article 350, so that, not only representation is given in the languages of the Union or the States, but also reply is given in the same language used by the citizens. The Bench was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition filed by Lok Sabha Member of Parliament from Madurai, Su Venkatesan who approached the Court after he received a reply from the Central government in Hindi to a representation made by him in English.
Venkatesan told the Court that he had written back to the Union government, calling for the reply to be sent again in English. However, upon failing to receive any response to this additional communication, he moved the Court. His petition had urged the Court to direct the use of English in all communications between the Central government and the State of Tamil Nadu. Before the High Court, the Central government admitted that there was a mandate to use English in communications between the Centre and States that have not adopted Hindi as their official language. Appearing for the Centre, Assistant Solicitor General L Victoria Gowri further submitted that the reply to Venkatesan had been inadvertently written in Hindi. There was no intention on the part of the Central government to violate any provision of the Official Languages Act, 1963 or Rules, the Court was told. The Court, however, was not convinced that it was a bona fide error on the Centre’s part. The Bench opined that if the mistake had really been inadvertent, the Central government would have immediately replied to Venkatesan in English after the issue was raised.
The Court observed that there were other instances reported where the Centre had only responded in Hindi to the State of Tamil Nadu. Commenting on the importance of communicating in the vernacular as well, the Court noted that even notifications prior to land acquisitions have to mandatorily be communicated in the vernacular. The court said that The purpose of publication in vernacular languages is only to see that the information regarding cases reaches the local people, particularly, the landowners who are likely to be affected. With these observations, the Court proceeded to allow the petition, while cautioning the Union government and its officers and instrumentality to follow the provisions of Official Languages Act 1963 and the Official Languages Rules 1976.