The Supreme Court Tuesday said states in India have no powers to compel the children of linguistic minorities to choose the language considered to be the mother tongue in a state as a medium of instruction at primary level.
A constitution bench of Chief Justice R.M.Lodha, Justice A.K.Patnaik, Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya, Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla said: “We hold that the state has no power under article 350A of the constitution to compel the linguistic minorities to choose their mother tongue only as a medium of instruction in primary schools.”
“Article 350A (Facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at the primary stage) therefore cannot be interpreted to empower the state to compel a linguistic minority to choose its mother tongue only as a medium of instruction in a primary school established by it in violation of this fundamental right under article 30(1)”, said Justice Patnaik speaking for the bench.
The court’s decision came while dismissing a plea challenging the Karnataka High Court order holding that children of linguistic minorities could not be compelled to take Kannada as a medium of instruction in primary classes.
Answering the five questions raised by the two judge bench, the constitution bench said: “Mother tongue in the context of the constitution would, therefore, mean the language of the linguistic minority in a State and it is the parent or the guardian of the child who will decide what the mother tongue of child is.”
The court said that the constitution nowhere provides that mother tongue is the language which the child is comfortable with.
The five questions framed by the earlier three judge bench of apex court to be addressed by the constitution bench included (i) What does mother tongue mean? If it referred to as the language in which the child is comfortable with, then who will decide the same? and (ii) Whether a student or a parent or a citizen has a right to choose a medium of instruction at primary stage?
Other questions were (iii) Does the imposition of motherA tongue in any way affects the fundamental rights under articles 14, 19, 29 and 30 of the constitution? and (iv) Whether the government-recognized schools are inclusive of both government-aided schools and private & unaided schools?
The last question was whether the state can by virtue of article 350A compel the linguistic minorities to choose their (the state’s) mother tongue only as medium of instruction in primary schools.
These five questions were framed by a bench of Chief Justice P.Sathasivam (since retired) and Justice Ranjan Gogoi and referred to the constitution bench July 5, 2013.
The court that though the experts may be uniform in their opinion that children studying in classes 1 to 4 in the primary school can learn better if they are taught in their mother tongue, but “the imposition of mother tongue affects the fundamental rights under articles 19, 29 and 30 of the Constitution”.
The court said that the government-recognized schools will not only include government-aided schools but also unaided schools which have been granted recognition.
The Karnataka government had challenged the high court verdict which had set aside the State government order making Kannada a mandatory medium of instruction in all schools at primary level.
The high court order had come on a petition by Associated Management of Government. Recognized Primary and Secondary Schools Association (AMGRPSSA) comprised the unaided, English- medium, primary and secondary schools in Karnataka.