The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a five-judge constitution bench the question whether a state government could impose the mother tongue or a regional language as the only medium of instruction in primary schools.
Referring the matter to the constitution bench, a bench of Justice P.Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi said: “The crux of all the grounds raised in the petition is that whether the mother-tongue or the regional language can be imposed by the state as the medium of instruction at the primary education stage.”
Justice Sathasivam said, “… the issue involved in this case concerns about the fundamental rights of not only the present generation but also the generations yet to be born.”
The court’s order came on the Karnataka government’s petition challenging the state high court’s July 2, 2008, order that exempted private unaided, religious and linguistic minority institutions from the mother-tongue or Kannada as medium of instruction.
The Karnataka government April 29, 1994, had ordered that all the recognized schools in the state would have mother-tongue or Kannada as medium of instruction in the primary schools from the academic year 1994-95 and all those schools who did not fall in line would be closed.
Aggrieved schools contended that the government order was violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(a), 21, 29(2) and 30(1) of the Constitution.
Referring the issue to a constitution bench, the court has framed five questions to be considered by it. The first was: “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?”
The second question: “Whether a student or a parent or a citizen has a right to choose a medium of instruction at primary stage?”
On the constitutional validity of the Karnataka government’s order, the court has framed third question which asks if the “imposition of mother-tongue in any way affects the fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19, 29 and 30 of the Constitution?”
The fourth poser is: “whether the government recognized schools are inclusive of both government-aided schools and private and unaided schools?”
In its last poser, the court asked “whether the state can by virtue of Article 350-A of the Constitution compel the linguistic minorities to choose their mother-tongue only as medium of instruction in primary schools?”
While framing the questions for the larger bench, the court said: “The vital question involved in this petition has a far-reaching significance on the development of the children in our country who are the future adults.”
Underlining the importance of the primary stage schooling on the education of a child, the court said that “it moulds the thinking process and tutors on the communication skills” and “lays the groundwork for future learning and success”.
The skills and values that primary education instills are no less than the foundations and serve as base for all future learning, it said, but also observed that the importance of language can’t be understated.
“We must recollect that reorganisation of states was primarily based on language,” the court said.
The bench also observed that “early disposal of the case was desirable” since the issue dated to 1994, and asked the registry to place the matter before the Chief Justice of India for necessary directions.