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Report No. 14

29. Language

1. The scope of our enquiry.-

The questions of the official language of the Union and the time for the change-over fixed English to Hindi envisaged by the Constitution, have been the subject of acute and even acrimonious controversy. Happily, our task in this regard is confined to making recommendations in regard to the language of the laws of the country, the language to be used in the superior and the subordinate courts and the language of the Law Reports. This task has, in a measure, been made easier by the fact, that these questions have been examined by the Language Commission who have made recommendations1 on them and whose report is now under the consideration of a Parliamentary Committee appointed under Article 344 of the Constitution.

1. Chapters IX, X, XI of the Report of the Official Language Commission.

2. Constitutional provisions.-

It will be useful to examine at the start the existing constitutional position and the statutory provisions with regard to these questions.

Article 343 lays down in unequivocal terms that Hindi is to be the official language of the Union. It however provides for the continuance of English as the official language for a period of fifteen years. It envisages the possibility of both, English and Hindi, being the official languages of the Union side by side, even during this period of fifteen years. It also contemplates the possibility of the continuance of English as the official language for specified purpose, after the period of fifteen years.

Thus, having regard to the far-reaching change to be accomplished-the replacement of an official language which has been in use for nearly a hundred years by Hindi-the Constitution rightly leaves a wide latitude to the Union executive and legislature in the matter. Article 345 provides, that the offiCial language of a State may be one or more of the languages used in the State, or Hindi, at the option of the State Legislature. Article 346 provides, that the official language of the Union is to be the language of communication between the Union and the States and between one State and another.

3. Language of Bills, Acts, the Supreme Court and the High Court.-

Article 348 aims at achieving uniformity in the language of the Union and State laws and of the superior courts. It lays down that until Parliament by law otherwise provides, which means, until Parliament enacts legislation bringing into use Hindi in certain spheres, the authoritative texts of all Bills in Parliament or the State legislatures and of all Acts of Parliament and of all the State Legislatures and of all Orders, Rules, Regulations and Bye-laws, issued either under the Constitution or under any law made by Parliament or a State Legislature shall be in true English language. It also provides, that all proceedings in the Supreme Court and in the High Courts, shall be in English.

In regard to Bills in and Acts of the State Legislatures, the rule is relaxed to the extent that a State Legislature may prescribe any language other than the English language for use, in Bills in, or Acts of, the State Legislature. In cases, however, it decides to do so, a translation of these has to be published in the English language and it is the translation so publisher) which is deemed to be the authoritative text of the Bill or the Act. In regard to proceedings in the High Court also, the rule laid down in the opening part of Article 348 is modified to the extent that the Governor of a State may, with the previous consent of the President, authorise the use of Hindi or any other language in proceedings in the State High Court. This, however, does not apply to judgments, decrees or orders made by the High Court which will still have to continue in English.

4. Statutory provisions for subordinate civil courts.-

Section 137 of the Civil Procedure Code deals with the language of subordinate Civil Courts. While permitting the continuance of the existing court languages until a different provision is made, it empowers a State Government to declare what shall be the language of any civil court. It also permits the use of English for all purposes for which the language of the court can be used except in the recording of evidence. Order XVIII, rule 5, prescribes that evidence shall be taken down in writing in the language of the court. The High Court has, however, power under section 138, to direct with respect to a judge or class of judges, that evidence in cases in which an appeal lies shall be recorded in English.

5. Subordinate criminal courts.-

Similarly, in regard to criminal courts, section 558 of the Criminal Procedure Code empowers the State Government to decide for the purposes of that Code, the language of each subordinate court within its territory. The Code also regulates the language of the court as regards the framing of the charge, recording of evidence and the delivery of judgments. Section 221 of the Code provides that the charge in a Presidency town shall be written in English and elsewhere either in English or in the language of the court.

Section 356 of the Code provides, that in all trials before the courts of session and trials or inquiries before Magistrates, the evidence of each witness is to be recorded in writing in the language of the court. Where the evidence is given in a language other than the language of the court, the magistrate and judge may record in English the evidence of a witness who deposes in that language and unless the accused is familiar with English, an authenticated translation of such evidence in the language of the court has to form part of the record.

In other cases also evidence recorded in the language in which it is given but a translation of the deposition in English or in the court language has to form part of the record. The examination of the accused under section 342 has, however, to be recorded in full in the language in which he is examined, and English or the language of the Court may be used only if that course is not practicable (section 364). The judgment of the court may be delivered in English or in the language of the court (section 367).

6. Regional languages in subordinate courts.-

The factual position as to the languages used in the High Courts and in subordinate courts in the various States appears in a statement1 annexed to the Report of the Official Language Commission. It has been thus summarised by the Official Language Commission2:-

"Broadly speaking, it would appear that at the lowest rungs of the system, viz., village panchayats and trial courts, civil and criminal, at the taluka level, the linguistic medium is the regional language. As we go up the judicial system, English comes to occupy a larger place, although the exact constituents of the linguistic 'mixture' at this stage seem to differ quite considerably from State to State, and it would seem that even within one State there are sometimes differences as between different districts. Generally speaking, excepting the Hindi-speaking areas in which it is the regional language, Hindi does not find a place at this level in the judicial system in non-Hindi-speaking areas.

It appears that there has been a progressive trend towards displacement of English, particularly in Hindi-speaking regions at this middle level of the judiciary. Even where judgments, decrees and orders are still delivered in English, it would appear that in practice arguments by counsel are frequently allowed to be conducted in the language best understood by all parties, viz, the regional language. This is, however, no fresh departure but only an enlargement of a practice which obtained in greater or less degree even previous to 1947".

1. Official Language Commission Report, App VII, p. 447.

2. Ibid., p. 160, para 3.

Regional Languages in High Courts.- As regards the High Courts, it appears that in some States advantage has been taken of clause (2) of Article 348 to permit the use of the regional languages in their proceedings other than judgments, decrees or orders. To quote the Official Language Commission:-

"Thus in Madhya Bharat and Rajasthan States the respective Rajpramukhs have authorised under this clause the use of Hindi in the proceedings of High Courts; in Hyderabad and Travancore-Cochin, Urdu and Malayalam respectively have been authorised; and in PEPSU, both Hindi and Punjabi have been authorised. Hindi is similarly allowed for proceedings in the Judicial Commissioner's Court in Vindhya Pradesh."1

1. Official Language Commission Report, App VII, p. 161, para. 4.

7. Distribution of legislative power and the language of the laws.-

We have seen how the Constitution has endeavoured by enacting the provisions in Article 348 to maintain a uniform language for all laws in the country. A federal system such as we have, cannot function satisfactorily unless laws all over the country are in one language at the moment in English and later, when the time is ripe for it, in Hindi. The Union would promulgate its laws in its Official Language which is to be Hindi and these laws will be applicable all over the country. The legislative power of the Union and the States is concurrent in many fields, and there would, therefore be what may be described as an interlacing of Central and State Laws.

A Central law may by its provisions impliedly repeal a State law. The Centre may legislate in its official language even in the State field under Article 252 of the Constitution and other provisions. The State may by its legislation in certain fields affect Central legislation enacted in the Union official language. With legislative powers so distributed, it is inevitable that all legislation, whether by the Centre or the States, should be in one language, that is, eventually in Hindi. It would be impossible, if it were otherwise, for the lawyer, the citizen and the courts to understand the laws and their mutual reaction, and the administration of justice would be at a standstill.

8. Integrated court structure and need for uniformity of language.-

Our. Constitution has also established what has been called a unified or integrated system of law courts. There is no division of courts into State Courts and Federal Courts, as in the United States. The Centre and the States have a single hierarchy of courts administering both the Central and the State laws. Under our system, a decision of a subordinate court in a State may, in appropriate cases, come for disposal to the High Court or the Supreme Court. Apart from the regular law courts, we have spread over the various States tribunals administering Central taxation, labour and other laws, which must necessarily conduct their proceedings in Union official language. It would be well-nigh impossible to work this integrated system of courts efficiently, if there were not in use a uniform language, at any rate in the superior courts.

9. Unified Bar and judiciary implied linguistic unity.-

Member of the Bar all over the country have demanded for years a unified Indian Bar and it appears likely that this may shortly be accomplished by Parliamentary legislation. Is it conceivable that a unified Bar can function with any usefulness, unless our laws are enacted and our law courts function in a uniform language? Frequently, suggestions have been made for the establishment of an All-India cadre of High Court Judges and an All-India Judicial Service manning the subordinate judiciary. All these ideas will be incapable of fruition unless we have one language in which all our laws-Union and State-are enacted and in which our courts are run.

10. Multi-lingual legislation of laws and law report impossible.-

Some enthusiasts have in their zeal for promoting the use of regional languages in the judicial sphere, gone to the length of suggesting that all these difficulties could be overcome by establishing a system under which all laws and all proceedings of courts and all law Reports are translated from Hindi into all the regional languages and from the regional languages into Hindi. One admires the imaginative boldness of this proposal. The Union and State Secretariats and the Supreme Court and the State High Courts will then have huge offices manned by armies of translators.

One of the witnesses before us dealing with this suggestion truly remarked: "We should soon turn ourselves into a nation of translators". It is obvious, that even if we could afford to do this at a time, when our whole effort should be directed to nation-building and other essential activities it would be inadvisable to fritter away our energies and resources on such a scheme. Even if we did embark on, such a scheme, it could never achieve the purposes aimed at by our Constitution.

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