Lawyers’ demand to use Tamil in Madras High Court is totally justified: Justice Katju


Justice Markandey Katju

I received a telephone call a short while back from a Tamilian lawyer in Chennai practising in the Madras High Court. He told me that the High Court lawyers in both benches of the Madras High Court, in Chennai and in Madurai, are agitating for quite some time demanding that Tamil should be allowed in proceedings before the High Court. Some lawyers are on hunger strike, some have been arrested for disturbing proceedings in the Courts, and others are agitating in other ways.

I believe that the demand of the lawyers is totally justified.

In this connection I may refer to Article 348 (2) of the Indian Constitution which says :
” (2) Notwithstanding anything in sub-clause (a) of clause (1), the Governor of a State may, with the previous consent of the President, authorise the use of the Hindi language, or any other language used for any official purposes of the State, in proceedings in the High Court having its principal seat in that State: Provided that nothing in this clause shall apply to any judgment, decree or order passed or made by such High Court. ”

Pursuant to this Constitutional provision, the Official Languages Act, 1963 was enacted by Parliament, section 7 of which states :
” As from the appointed day or any day thereafter, the Governor of a State may, with the previous consent of the President, authorise the use of Hindi or the official language of the State, in addition to the English language, for the purpose of any judgment, decree or order passed or made by the High court for that State,  and where any judgment, decree or order is passed or made in any such language (other than the English language), it shall be accompanied by a translation of the same in the English language issued under the authority of the High Court. ”

Under these provisions  the states of U.P. Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have permitted use of Hindi in Court proceedings and also for passing orders and judgments in the High Court. I myself used to speak often in Hindi in the Allahabad High Court, both as a lawyer and as a Judge.. There are some lawyers like Pt. Daya Shankar Mishra, a senior lawyer in the Allahabad High Court, who argue only in Hindi, and some Judges like late Justice P.S. Gupta who used to encourage lawyers to argue in Hindi, and used to pass judgments in Hindi.

Why then  should other languages like Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, Kannada, Malayalam,  Gujrati, Kashmiri, Marathi, Telugu, Oriya, Assamese  etc not be allowed in Court proceedings in the High Courts ? All languages in our country are equal, and need to be developed.So I fully support the demand of the Tamil lawyers.

However, this should be subject to the following conditions :

(1) A lawyer should have the option to argue in Tamil or in English

(2) Some Judges come from other states who do not know Tamil. This category. would include the Chief Justice, because the policy is that the Chief Justice of the High Court must be from another state. Arguments before such Judges should be in English, otherwise he would not understand it.

(3) While judgments and orders by Judges should be permitted to be passed in Tamil, preferably they should be in English. This is because judgments of a particular High Court are often cited in other High Courts too. Although they are not binding in other High Courts, they have persuasive value. So unless they are in English, they may not be understood.

I am coming to Chennai to attend a function for release of a book on Mediation by senior lawyer, Mr. Sriram Panchu on 7th October, and intend to stay in Chennai for a few days. During that period I shall seek an appointment with the Chief Minister and Chief Justice and ask them to do the needful to permit use of Tamil in the Madras High Court.

In the meantime I appeal to the lawyers to suspend their agitation for a while. I will personally take up their cause with the concerned authorities.
I had been the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court ( from 2004 to 2005 ) and Tamilians gave me great respect and love. So even after I left the Court ( to take over as Chief Justice of Delhi High Court ), I have been trying to help the High Court even thereafter in whatever way I could.

These blogs first appeared on Justice Katju’s official page SATYAM BRUYAT.