At a time when the country is celebrating Hindi Divas, one may ask what is the state of affairs as far as using Hindi as a mode of communication in judiciary is concerned. Is it right to mandate Hindi as a uniform language in all courts of India? Is it practical, feasible or even desirable in a country having more than 20 languages?
Hindi is not the “accepted” language of communication in many parts of India except the gangetic belt. Moreover, an average Tamilian, a Malayali, a Kannadiga or a Mizo litigant from remote northeast would be much more comfortable with documentation (or even proceedings) in the vernacular language than Hindi. Keeping this in mind, the lower judiciary already uses the local language for some legal documentation.
The judiciary is not in favor of making Hindi the official language in all courts of India, and it has valid reasons for doing so. The center too has taken a similar stance. In January 2015, the government had moved the Supreme Court rejecting a proposal to amend the constitution and make Hindi the official language in the apex court and 24 high courts in India. According to The Indian Express, the Law Commission in 2008, in its 216th report, had held that induction of Hindi as a compulsory language in the Supreme Court and the high courts was not feasible and added “no language should be thrust on any section of the people against their will since it is likely to become counterproductive”.
The constitution is amply clear on the issue. Article 348 says:
(1) Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Part, until Parliament by law otherwise provides
(a) all proceedings in the Supreme Court and in every High Court,
(b) the authoritative texts
(i) of all Bills to be introduced or amendments thereto to be moved in either House of Parliament or in the House or either House of the Legislature of a State,
(ii) of all Acts passed by Parliament or the Legislature of a State and of all Ordinances promulgated by the President or the Governor of a State, and
(iii) of all orders, rules, regulations and bye laws issued under this Constitution or under any law made by Parliament or the Legislature of a State, shall be in the English language
(2) Notwithstanding anything in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ), the Governor of a State may, with the previous consent of the President, authorise 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: Provided that nothing in this clause shall apply to any judgment, decree or order passed or made by such High Court
(3) Notwithstanding anything in sub clause (b) of clause ( 1 ), where the Legislature of a State has prescribed any language other than the English language for use in Bills introduced in, or Acts passed by, the Legislature of the State or in Ordinances promulgated by the Governor of the State or in any order, rule, regulation or bye law referred to in paragraph (iii) of that sub clause, a translation of the same in the English language published under the authority of the Governor of the State in the Official Gazette of that State shall be deemed to be the authoritative text thereof in the English language under this article
However, the trial courts, which hear the cases directly from the witnesses and litigants, can use a state’s official language but, interpretations and translations are indeed vital. Also, lawmakers can allow other languages in high courts.
India legal spoke to some senior advocates to know their views on the issue:
Vivek Sood, Senior Advocate, Delhi High Court, avers that English is the established language in legal community: “English is more acceptable language. It is in use in the higher judiciary for more than 150 years. Introducing Hindi will bring additional burden on the courts. It will be detrimental to the system than beneficial. Can you have Hindi in Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore or Bombay high court? English may be perceived by some as colonial. But this change will increase our burden. We already have huge backlog of cases, shortage of judges and many other issues which we need to be addressed more urgently.”
Yatindra Chaudhary, Advocate, Supreme Court, however feels that Hindi will benefit litigants. “If we take the example of Allahabad High Court, people are allowed to argue in Hindi, if the judge is comfortable in the language. It is allowed there and benefits the litigants. Introducing Hindi will help lawyers who face difficulties while speaking in English.”
Talking about the significance of English in the apex court, he said: “Hindi cannot work when we talk about pan-India. The language in south India is different from north India and so is the case with the east and west. In such a situation, implementing Hindi throughout the nation is impossible. Here, English is the common language.”
Pointing out that Hindi is used in lower courts, Aishwarya Bhati, Advocate on Record, Supreme Court states: “In Rajasthan, as I have personally witnessed, maximum cases are in Hindi. Be it charge sheet, statements or witnesses everything is filed in Hindi. Also, as I personally know, Gujarat permits Gujarati language.” She added: “Our judicial system is the legacy of the colonial era, one cannot shift this to Hindi. And, at the top of the pyramid, the requirement is different. The Supreme Court not only deals with north Indian states, but also addresses cases from other parts of the country.”
Pradeep Rai, senior advocate in the Supreme Court, while referring to the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India, said: “Unless Government of India comes with a solution with regard to regional languages enshrined in the Constitution and it is properly communicated to the common man, law, justice will not reach to the last person or percolate down to the society in general.”
—By Srishti Sonewal
Lead picture: (Left) President Pranab Mukherjee presenting the awards instituted by the Rajbhasha Vibhag at the Hindi Divas Samaroh at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Also present were Home Minister Rajnath Singh and MoS Kiran Rijiju. Photo; UNI