Currently, official versions of the acts/ordinances/rules exist only in English and Hindi. The committee which comprises members of several political parties and is chaired by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Bhupendra Yadav has also asked the law ministry to translate the Constitution of India to all the 22 Indian languages. At present, the legislative department of the Law Ministry brings out “authoritative texts” or official versions of the Constitution in 17 Indian languages which are Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Odia, Urdu, Sindhi, Sanskrit and Nepali. The other languages specified under Schedule VIII of the Constitution are Bodo, Dogri, Maithili, Meitei (Manipuri) and Santali.
These recommendations are part of 96th Report on Demands for Grants (2018-19) of the Ministry of Law and Justice that was recently submitted to the Parliament. Constitutional experts say translation of the Constitution and other Union legislation into all 22 Indian languages would make sense only if these languages are recognised as official languages in the courts of law because translation of these texts would involve huge cost. The “sudden” clamour for regional languages was also viewed skeptically by some experts who said the decision to promote these languages may have been taken on political consideration after having been “pushed” by some states to do so.
“Commenting on the committee’s recommendations, constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap said, “The courts heavily rely upon the Constitution of India but regional languages have not been adopted as languages of the High Courts/Supreme court. For instance, the High Courts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala do not use Kannada, Telugu or Malayalam. They use only English language. The translation into all Indian languages will involve considerable cost and if these translated versions are not treated as authentic by the different courts of law, then the government should assess if the expenditure is justified. This matter should be dispassionately considered without involvement of politics. ” Notably, district courts of some states do use their regional languages in courts, besides using English.
Kashyap added that if there is a matter in the court of law and there is a difference of opinion in the two interpretations of the constitution — an Indian language version and the version in English, the English interpretation prevails. If no difference of opinion occurs, both versions will be valid.
Interestingly, many states, including Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh had sent requests to the government seeking the consent of the President under Article 348 (2) of the Constitution, for the use of the official language of the state (the regional languages) in the proceedings of the High Courts of their states. This was, however, rejected by the Supreme Court.
The committee had previously recommended official languages of the State other than English be permitted to be used in the High Courts, provided it is demanded by the concerned State government, in its 75th and 84th report. In a bid to popularize legal terms among citizens, the committee has also recommended the Legislative department to use “simple terms” while bringing out all Central legislations in Hindi.