Official Languages: Constitutional Provisions

Part 17 of the constitution of India (Articles 343 to Article 351) makes elaborate provisions dealing with the official language of the Republic of India. The main provisions dealing with the official language of the Union are embodied in Articles 343 and 344 of the Constitution of India. The Official languages have been listed in the 8th schedule of Constitution of India.

Official language of union

Hindi written in Devanagari script is the Official Language of the Union.  The original constitution provided that for a period of 15 years from the commencement of the constitution, English will continue to be used for all official purposes of the Union. The constitution made it clear that President may, during the said period, by order authorize the use of the Hindi language in addition to the English language and of the Devanagari form of numerals in addition to the international form of Indian numerals for any of the official purposes of the Union.

Hindi is not India’s National Language. Neither is it language of communication between states & centre. Both Hindi and English are Official languages of India.

The constitution also makes it clear that even after 15 years, the Parliament by law may provide for the continued use of English for any specific purpose.

  • The constitution has put all authority in the hands of the central government both for formulating and implementing the language policy.
  • It is also special responsibility of the centre to develop and spread the official language (Hindi) of the union (art. 351)
Parliamentary Committee on languages

Article 344 that initially after 5 years of commencement and thereafter every 10 years, the President will by order constitute a Parliamentary Committee of 30 members representing the different languages specified in the eighth schedule , which will make recommendations to the president to :

  • Make the progressive use of the Hindi language for the official purposes of the union.
  • Restrictions on the use of the English language for all or any of the official purposes of the union.
  • The form of numerals to be used for any one or more specified purposes of the union.
  • Any other matter referred by the president on linguistic matters of official languages.
Official Languages in States

Though Hindi is the official language of India, the states may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the state or Hindi as the language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of that state.

Language of communication between Union and States

As per Article 346, the official languages for communication between one state and another or between a state and the union are as follows:

  • For the time being the official language of communication of Union i.e. English
  • If two or more states agree that the Hindi language should be the official language for communication between such states, that language may be used for such communication.
Language of courts

According to the Article 348, language to be used in the Supreme Court and in high courts and for bills acts etc will be in in the English language until parliament by law provides otherwise.

Special directive for promotion of Hindi

Article 351 says that it shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.

language to be used to redress grievances

Article 350, says that every person shall be entitled to submit a representation for the redress of any grievance to any officer or authority of the union or a state in any of the languages used in the union or in the state, as the case may be.

Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities

Under Article 350B, a special officer for linguistic minorities has been enshrined in the constitution.

  • This officer is to be appointed by the president.
  • Its job is to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities and report to the president.
  • Please note that this report is also one of those reports laid before each house of parliament and sent to the government of the states concerned.
First Official Language Commission

The first official language commission was appointed in 1955 with B.G. Kher as chairman and it submitted its report in 1956 which was presented to parliament in 1957 and examined by a joint parliamentary committee.

Authorized translation (central laws) act, 1973

In 1973, parliament enacted the authorized translations (centrals laws) act, 197, to provide that when a central law is translated into a regional language (other than Hindi), and published in the official gazette, under the authority of the president, such translation shall be deemed to be the authorized translation thereof in such language.

Scheduled languages

The Eighth Schedule to the Indian Constitution contains a list of 22 scheduled languages viz. Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkari, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu. The list had originally 14 languages only.

At the time the constitution was enacted, inclusion in this list meant that the language was entitled to representation on the Official Languages Commission and that the language would be one of the bases that would be drawn upon to enrich Hindi, the official language of the Union. The list has since, however, acquired further significance.

  • The Government of India is now under an obligation to take measures for the development of these languages, such that “they grow rapidly in richness and become effective means of communicating modern knowledge.”
  • In addition, a candidate appearing in an examination conducted for public service at a higher level is entitled to use any of these languages as the medium in which he or she answers the paper.

Via the 92nd Constitutional amendment 2003, 4 new languages – Bodo, Maithili, Dogri, and Santali – were added to the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution.