Few constitutions have such elaborate provisions dealing with the official language as the Constitution of India. Ordinarily, official language is not a subject which requires any special treatment in a constitutional enactment. This is because, in most countries, a single language is employed as the common medium of expression of the entire population, or at least of an overwhelming majority. There are, of course, exceptions to this general pattern in some parts of the world and some countries have made even special provisions to solve the problems arising out of bilingualism or multilingualism within their borders. India belongs to the latter category, hence a special Chapter in the Constitution dealing with the official language.
In the course of the discussion on the official language, the Constituent Assembly witnessed some of the most agitated scenes, surcharged with emotions, riding on the crest of linguistic fanaticism. Nevertheless, the Assembly produced a compromise formula after a long and heated discussion. The provisions dealing with official language are the product of this compromise formula.
Language of the Union
The main provisions dealing with the official language of the Union as embodied in Articles 343 and 344 are as follows :
- Hindi written in Devanagari script will be the official language of the Union.
- For a period of fifteen years from the commencement of the Constitution, however, English will continue to be used for all official purposes of the Union. But during this period, the President may authorise the use of Hindi in addition to English.
- Notwithstanding anything in Article 343, Parliament may, by law, provide for the use, after the said period of fifteen years, of—
- the English language, or
- the Devanagari form of numericals, for such purposes as may be specified in the law.
Each State legislature is empowered under Article 345 to adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State for all or any of the official purposes of the State concerned. But so far as communication between a State and the Union or between one State and another is concerned, the official language of the Union will be the authorised language.
In order to protect the linguistic interests of minorities in certain States, the Constitution has incorporated a special provision. This is in addition to the cultural rights that are guaranteed as Fundamental Rights under Article 29 of the Constitution. According to this, the President is empowered under Article 347 to direct a State Government to recognise a particular language for official purposes for either the whole or part of the State, if he is satisfied, on a representation made to him in this regard, that a substantial proportion of the population of the State desires such recognition. This power in the hands of the Centre will help to curb any tendency towards linguistic fanaticism and the domination of the majority over linguistic minorities in different States.
Language in Courts
Under Article 348, the Constitution makes a special provision for the retention of the English language, if Parliament so decides, even after the fifteen-year period, for the following purposes :
‘ (1) All proceedings in the Supreme Court and the High Courts.
(2) Authoritative texts of Bills, Acts, Ordinances, orders, rules, regulations and bye-laws issued under the Constitution or under any law.
However, Parliament is empowered to stop the use of English even in the courts whenever it likes, once the fifteen- year period is over. It is also provided that Hindi or any regional language may be used even earlier for conducting the proceedings in a High Court if the President gives his consent for the measure.
The Constitution also embodies a directive for the development and enrichment of the Hindi language with a view to making it serve as a real medium of expression for all the elements nof the composite culture of India. Such enrichment may be secured by drawing primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.
After the Constitution (Ninety- second Amendment) Act, 2003 which provided for the inclusion of four languages, viz., Bodo, Dogri, Maithili and Santhali, the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution specifies the following 22 languages :
(1) Assamese, (2) Bengali, (3) Bodo,
- Dogri, (5) Gujarati, (6) Hindi, (7) Kannada, (8) Kashmiri, (9) Konkani, (10) Maithili, (11) Malayalam, (12) Manipuri, (13) Marathi, (14) Nepali, (15) Odiya, (16) Punjabi, (17) Sanskrit, (18) Santhali, (19) Sindhi, (20) Tamil, (21) Telugu, and (22) Urdu.
The Constitution of India has provided a separate chapter on elections. In this respect, it has made a departure from the usual practice of constitutions to leave elections as a comparatively unimportant subject to be dealt with by the legislature. The fact that detailed provisions in this regard have been made in the Constitution shows how anxious the Constitution-makers had been to safeguard this political right as an integral part of the Constitution itself.
The Legal Framework
Under the Constitution, provision is made for an Election Commission which is entrusted to deal with the following matters:
- Election of the President of India;
- Election of the Vice-President of India;
- The Union Parliament and the composition of its two chambers;
- Qualifications of members of Parliament;
- Composition of State Legislatures;
- Qualifications of members of State Legislatures;
- Duration of Parliament and State Legislatures;
- Election to Parliament and State Legislatures;
- Reservation of seats in the House of the People and the State Assemblies for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; and
- Determination of population for purposes of election.
Under Article 327, Parliament is vested with the supreme power to legislate on all matters relating to elections, including election to State Legislatures. Under Article 328, the States have also been vested with certain limited power of legislation with respect to elections. But such legislation should not be in conflict with any parliamentary legislation in this matter.
Universal Adult Suffrage
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One of the outstanding features of the Constitution is adult suffrage. It means that every- person—man or woman—who is not less than eighteen years of -age has the right to vote in the election to the House of the People and the State Legislative Assembly. The only