Explained | What is the Kannada Language Comprehensive Development Bill, 2022?

What does the Bill propose? How will it affect the education system, employment opportunities and businesses in Karnataka?

Updated - March 01, 2023 11:27 am IST

Published - February 24, 2023 01:08 pm IST

The Bill defines a ‘Kannadiga’ as a person whose parents or guardians have resided in Karnataka for not less than 15 years, with knowledge of reading and writing Kannada. 

The Bill defines a ‘Kannadiga’ as a person whose parents or guardians have resided in Karnataka for not less than 15 years, with knowledge of reading and writing Kannada.  | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

The story so far: The Kannada Language Comprehensive Development Bill, 2022, was adopted by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on February 23, 2023 with support from members cutting across political affiliations. The Karnataka government tabled the Bill in the monsoon session of the Legislative Assembly on September 22, 2022 in a bid to ensure extensive use and propagation of the Kannada language.

Among a host of measures aimed at giving primacy to Kannada, the Bill proposes providing reservation to Kannadigas in higher education and linking incentives to private industries with jobs for locals. The bill was piloted by Kannada and Culture Minister V. Sunil Kumar. Submitted by a committee headed by S.R. Bannurmath, it prescribes fines for various violations and offences.

Background to the legislation

Although successive governments in Karnataka have issued various orders to give primacy to Kannada in administration and in other fields, none has succeeded in fully implementing them because they were not backed by legislation. In this context, the Bill follows demands by various pro-Kannada groups to enact legislation for the promotion of Kannada language amidst accusations of the BJP-led Union government imposing Hindi on non-Hindi speaking States.

JD(S) legislators, led by former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, stage a protest in front of Gandhi statue at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru against celebration of Hindi Diwas in Karnataka, on September 14, 2022.

JD(S) legislators, led by former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, stage a protest in front of Gandhi statue at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru against celebration of Hindi Diwas in Karnataka, on September 14, 2022.

On September 13, 2022, JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy wrote to Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai demanding the State government not celebrate Hindi Diwas (September 14) with the money of taxpayers in Karnataka. He called Hindi Diwas an ‘injustice’ to people of Karnataka, and Hindi imposition tantamount to fostering regional imbalance. The former Chief Minister led a protest against the ruling BJP in Karnataka.

In response, Mr. Bommai assured the opposition of protecting the interests of Kannadigas and bringing in a policy to promote Kannada as the official language of the State. The recently passed Bill not only makes Kannada the official language in the State, but also creates an enforcement mechanism to implement its use. The new Bill will replace the Karnataka Official Language Act, 1963 and Karnataka Local Authorities (Official Language) Act, 1981.

What does the Bill say?

The Bill defines a ‘Kannadiga’ as a person whose parents or guardians have resided in Karnataka for not less than 15 years, and with knowledge of reading and writing Kannada.

In education: A percentage of seats in higher, technical and professional education will be reserved for students who have studied in Kannada-medium from classes 1-10. Students will be taught practical and functional knowledge of Kannada relevant to their course of study in higher, technical and professional education. University students, who have not studied Kannada as a language at the SSLC (class 10) level, will also be taught basic Kannada.

Students writing Kannada on a black board at a Government Higher Primary School in Bengaluru.

Students writing Kannada on a black board at a Government Higher Primary School in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: File photo

In employment: Borrowing from Karnataka’s Industrial Policy 2020-25, which mandates companies to have a reservation of 70% for Kannadigas and 100% for Group D employees, the Bill directs private industries and institutions to reserve a percentage of seats for Kannadigas. If companies fail to recruit the prescribed percentage of Kanandigas, the government can deny or withdraw incentives like land concessions, tax rebates, grants and other sops.

Those applying for government jobs will have to pass a Kannada language examination conducted by the Karnataka Public Service Commission (KPSC). This exam is not necessary for a person who has passed SSLC or equivalent examination with Kannada as first or second language.  

In official communication: Kannada language must be used in all legislation (Bills and Acts), orders, rules, or regulations, while existing legislation in English should be translated to Kannada. The Bill requires district courts, trial courts and tribunals to conduct proceedings and pronounce judgments in Kannada. Employees of all banks and financial institutions in Karnataka must use Kannada in all their communication with the public.

Pro-Kannada activists protesting against the Central government’s imposition of Hindi in banks and in Central government offices, in Bengaluru on September 14, 2021.

Pro-Kannada activists protesting against the Central government’s imposition of Hindi in banks and in Central government offices, in Bengaluru on September 14, 2021. | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

In business compliance: Industrial and consumer products manufactured and sold within the State must provide the product name and direction for use in Kannada (in addition to any other language). PSUs, State and Central government industries, banks and private industries with more than 100 employees must establish cells and teaching units to promote the language within the organisation. The Bill pushes for the use of Kannada in Information Technology services.  

In signages: The Bill mandates that nameboards of certain government and private institutions, signboards indicating names of roads, tender notifications, bills or notices must primarily be in Kannada. Outdoor display advertisements, billboards and notices issued in public interest must have a percentage of the content in Kannada, as prescribed by the State government. 

Where can English be used?

English, the second language for communication, may be used to communicate with the Central government and other State governments, foreign governments, the Supreme Court and High Courts. If the communication is purely scientific or technical in nature or cannot be avoided due to administrative reasons, English is allowed. Linguistic minorities may also use English to correspond with the State government. 

Outdoor display advertisements, billboards and notices issued in public interest must have a percentage of the content in Kannada, as prescribed by the Karnataka government. 

Outdoor display advertisements, billboards and notices issued in public interest must have a percentage of the content in Kannada, as prescribed by the Karnataka government.  | Photo Credit: SUDHAKARA JAIN

What are the penalties?

Owners of industries or commercial establishments, who do not use Kannada as prescribed by the Bill, can incur a fine of ₹5,000 for the first offence, ₹10,000 for the second, and ₹20,000 for the third, including suspension of licence.

If Karnataka government employees and officers entrusted with the duty of enforcing the official language fail to use Kannada in official transactions, they can be tried for dereliction of duty.

How will the Bill be enforced?

As per the Bill’s provisions, the State government will constitute an Official Language Commission under the Department of Parliamentary Affairs. The chairman and members of the commission will be nominated by the government for a five-year period. A State-level Language Enforcement Directorate, led by the Kannada and Culture Minister, will be set up at the State, district and taluk levels.

The committee will implement the official language in all government functioning, and will be led at the district-level by Deputy Commissioners and at the rural-level by zilla panchayat CEOs. The Bill was slightly amended from its original form to provide for the inclusion of representatives of the Kannada Sahitya Parishat in the State-level enforcement committee.

Objections raised

On October 12, a panel of writers and experts at a Kannada Sahitya Parishat (KSP) seminar pointed out many omissions in the draft Bill relating to the enforcement process and penalty, and asked that it be reconsidered. The KSP also contended that the Bill did not represent all Kannadigas, as it excluded non-resident Kannadigas and those from border areas.

Pro-Kannada activists ransack the English nameboard of a hotel, on Raj Bhavan Road, in Bengaluru on March 8, 2020.

Pro-Kannada activists ransack the English nameboard of a hotel, on Raj Bhavan Road, in Bengaluru on March 8, 2020. | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

In introducing the Bill just months before the 2023 Assembly elections, the Karnataka government seemed to be favouring a two-language policy, similar to Tamil Nadu.

However, there were concerns that by making Kannada the official language and English, the administrative language of the State, the Bill could deal a blow to other smaller languages, like Konkani, Kodava and Tulu, spoken within Karnataka.

On October 28, Tulu and Kodava language activists had opposed the draft Bill, which they termed ‘a threat to minority languages’ in the State. Since the Bill gives primacy to Kannada, they said it would fuel the fear among linguistic minorities about their languages vanishing, and sought protection for subaltern languages and cultures.

What was the precursor to the Kannada Language Bill?

The precedent to such a policy can be seen in the Sarojini Mahishi Committee report that had made 58 recommendations towards providing job security for Kannadigas in public sector undertakings, private companies and multinational companies..

The committee recommended 100% reservation for Kannadigas in all PSUs, 100% reservation for Kannadigas in Group C and D jobs in Central government departments and PSUs in Karnataka, minimum 80% reservation in Group B and 65% reservation in Group A jobs.

Though the report was submitted in 1984, its recommendations were never adopted, as they posed several challenges to constitutional and fundamental rights of the people.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.