New Delhi: The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the 1989 Uttar Pradesh law conferring Urdu the status of second official language, holding that it suffered from no constitutional infirmity as the state could have, besides Hindi, one or more official language that are in use.
“We hold, as we must, that neither insertion of Section 3 in the 1989 Amendment Act nor the impugned notification in pursuance of the above provision notifying Urdu as the second language for seven purposes is unconstitutional,” said the constitution bench of Chief Justice R M Lodha, Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Madan B Lokur, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice S A Bobde in their judgement.
The court said this as it dismissed the plea by UP Hindi Sahitya Sammelan which had challenged the August 16, 1996, order of the Allahabad High Court upholding the Uttar Pradesh Official Language (Amendment) Act, 1989 by which Urdu was accorded the status of second official language for seven specified purposes.
Chief Justice Lodha, who authored the judgement, said: “There are many state legislatures who have adopted other officially recognised language(s) in addition to Hindi such as Bihar, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Delhi has also adopted Punjabi and Urdu as other officially recognised languages in addition to Hindi. Obviously, this would not have been possible but for the constitutional permissibility.”
Not accepting the contention of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan that once a state has opted for Hindi as an official language under article 345 of the constitution then it could not exercise other options, the court said: “We find it difficult to accept the submission.
“Merely because Hindi is mentioned explicitly or separately and it is adopted as official language by the state, we do not think that the constitution forecloses the state legislature’s option to adopt any other language in use in the state as official language.
“Nothing in article 345, in our view, bars declaring one or more of the languages in use in the state, in addition to Hindi, as the second official language. This can only be at the cost of distorting the provision contained in article 345,” the court said.
“The significance of the word ‘or’ occurring before ‘Hindi’ is to dispense with the requirement of Hindi being ‘in use’, while the requirement of being ‘in use’ for any other language to be declared official language has to be satisfied for exercise of power by the state legislature under article 345,” the court underlined.
Before reaching the constitution bench, the challenge to Allahabad High Court decision travelled from two judge bench to three judge bench before being referred to a five judge bench.
The matter was listed two judges bench on September 2, 2003 but it felt that “having regard to the nature of controversy and the important question of law arising in the matter, it was appropriate that matter should be heard by a bench of three judges”.