Consider including more languages in governance: CJI S.A. Bobde

Official Languages Act can be amended to bring it up to date, he tells Centre

August 13, 2020 09:24 pm | Updated August 14, 2020 08:56 am IST - NEW DELHI

CJI Sharad Arvind Bobde. Photo: File

CJI Sharad Arvind Bobde. Photo: File

Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde has said that the government should consider amending the Official Languages Act of 1963 to include more vernacular languages in governance, and not just confine it to Hindi and English.

“These days, translation is the easiest task between you and Google translator. In Parliament, any language is translated. We are also translating our judgments into vernacular languages ... You [Centre] can bring your Act up to date,” Chief Justice Bobde told the government, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

To this, Mr. Mehta quoted Albert Einstein, that a translation cannot be as evocative as the original version. It was like looking at the rear side of an embroidered cloth.

“But here it is from English to our vernacular languages,” one of the judges on the Bench replied.

The court was hearing an appeal filed by the Union of India challenging the legality of a Delhi High Court judgment of June 30 to translate the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2020 into all 22 vernacular languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

The high court had reasoned that the EIA concerned environmental restrictions on building, expansion and modernisation of major infrastructure projects across the country. The EIA should reach the maximum number of people without discrimination to any part of the country, especially the non-Hindi speaking parts of India. It should reach and be understood by the rural population of the country. The high court wanted to ensure maximum public participation, so that people studied the draft and responded with suggestions and objections.

“We do not object to the high court judgment,” Chief Justice Bobde told Mr. Mehta.

The apex court then gave Mr. Mehta permission to withdraw and return to the high court with a review petition. The government could come back to it if the review plea failed. Meanwhile, the apex court stayed a contempt petition filed against the government for not implementing the June 30 judgment of the high court.

The high court judgment was based on a writ petition filed by activist Vikrant Tongad, who said the Coastal Regulation Zone notification of 2010 was published in nine coastal languages. But the government contended that the final CRZ notification was published in the gazette only in English and Hindi.

Mr. Mehta said there were many constitutional issues which the high court had not taken into consideration, including that the Constitution did not provide for official communications to be sent out in 22 vernacular languages. The Union could use English and Hindi for official purposes. These two languages were used for communication between States and between the Centre and the States. The Official Languages Act and its Rules of 1973 also required English and Hindi for press communiqués, government orders, Rules, etc.

“You argue all this in the high court,” Chief Justice Bobde said, dismissing the appeal as withdrawn by the government.

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