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The Haryana Official Language (Amendment) Act, 2020 was passed by the Haryana Assembly and the State of Haryana notified that in all the tribunals and courts, Hindi has been declared as the sole official language. The rationale behind this amendment being supported by 78 MLAs and the Advocate General is that it would become helpful for the common people of the community to understand and engage with the procedure and proceedings of the court. Moreover, it would also empower a common man to come with his own perspective about a particular issue in front of the court.
However, this amendment made to the Haryana Official Language Act, 1969 has been jointly challenged in the Supreme Court, by five advocates including Sandeep Bajaj, Suvigya Awasthi, Angad Sandhu, Sameer Jain and Anant Gupta. The have challenged the amendment made on the ground that it creates arbitrary classification between the people who speak Hindi and those who don’t.
Significance of this development
There have been significant number of instances where the witness failed to understand what has been recorded in their statements. Thus, to touch upon this problem faced by the commoners and to provide justice to innocents in their own language, Hindi as an official working language has turned out to be a desideratum. This amendment, as stated by the government of Haryana, would also encourage the citizens of Haryana to take part and understand the entire judicial process.
Controversy around it
It wouldn’t be wrong if we assign the tag of socially backward to the local people of Haryana and it is equally true that the local people find it difficult to understand English. This eventually creates hinderance for the commoners to take active participation in the court proceedings. However, the major disagreement regarding this amendment has been shown by the lawyers that are fluent in English. This also includes that category of lawyers whose ultimate goal is not to build a career in litigation, but to hold the judicial offices in future. To a large extent, their concern is definitely valid i.e. to switch to Hindi language for all the official work and that too in an extremely short duration. Moreover, this change is official language from English to Hindi would also act as an obstacle in their path to succeed in the judicial examinations.
Another point that has been raised by a lot of intellectuals is that when the entire education system of the country and the working of High courts and Supreme Court is English oriented, is it justifiable and well-grounded to change the official language of district courts and tribunals to Hindi. In addition to this, when it comes to the young staff that has come from named universities of the country that are English oriented, they would require training to argue and work in Hindi and this would result in delays of court proceedings.
The amendment to the Haryana Official Language Act has led to the incorporation of section 3A that designates Hindi as the sole official language that has to be used in the working of all the subordinate courts to the High Court and the other tribunals constituted by the government. The notification regarding the same came out on 11th May 2020. This amendment also declares that the state government needs to deliver the translators, requisite infrastructure and the training to the staffs within the time period of 6 months from the commencement of the Haryana Official Language (Amendment) Act, 2020.
Furthermore, it is to be noted that the State government possesses that power of deciding the language that needs to be used for successful conduction of all its offices and this also includes the judicial proceedings. And even the criminal and civil also supports this power of the State government.
Plea in Supreme Court
The petitioners contended that precluding the use of English in the subordinate courts is manifestly arbitrary with no legal backing and it will eventually turn out to have devastating impact on the working class in the state. The amendment creates an unreasonable classification between the lawyers who can speak Hindi and are fluent in it and the lawyers who can’t. Thus, this amendment is in violation of the fundamental rights of the advocates guaranteed under Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The other argument states that section 3A has been incorporated on the basis of a vague assumption that every advocate who is practicing in the lower courts is not only capable of understanding Hindi, but has excellent fluency and command over Hindi. This would result in making a lot of advocates handicap in handling their cases with utmost proficiency.
While arguing that this amendment isn’t fit as it will have far reaching consequences for the commoners and advocates, it was stated by the petitioners that the State is an industrial hub where people from various parts and strata work and it is not possible to say that all of them are fluent in Hindi. In order to illustrate the problematic situation that would arise for the advocates by the compulsory usage of Hindi language, the plea touches upon the level of expertise that is required by a lawyer to argue and present a particular case in the court, which is much more difficult than the mere understanding of the language.
Arguments in favour of the Act
The very initial argument that comes up in favour of the insertion of section 3A is that the very basis of the separation of Haryana from the erstwhile Punjab in 1966, was the linguistic difference between the two states. In 1969, State of Haryana declared Hindi as the official language of the state. And that was same time around which Punjabi was made mandatory in all the working of courts in Punjab. Another argument is that in the recent times, English has replaced a lot of major regional languages as a significant medium of instruction. Thus, it has become the practical necessity and need of the hour to make the predominantly spoken languages mandatory in the working of tribunals and other subordinate criminal and civil courts.
While analysing the amendment made, we also need to look at the impact that this amendment will have on the other aspects related. One of such aspects is that, there exist a desire of judicial services in the minds of young lawyers and the point of concern is that English is a compulsory language in Haryana Judicial Services Exam but this amendment would eventually break the link of young minds to the English language. There is one more backdrop to the government’s point that states like UP and Rajasthan have also done such a thing earlier. This is that when it comes to states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the provision of Hindi has been supplemented by English as well for the ease for advocates.
The State government does have the power to make such amendment however, it is the Hon’ble Supreme Court that has to decide whether bringing an end to the use of English in the subordinate courts is justifiable or not. And thus, it is on the SC to decide if this amendment is ultra vires to the right to equality, life and dignity and freedom to practice a profession of choice. However, it is righteous to conclude that such a sudden change of language will result in hinderance for many and it would be wise to make Hindi an optional official language.
Author: Vaibhav Singh from Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.
Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.