It’s been several months since the much talked-about Kannada Language Comprehensive Development (Bill) 2022 was tabled in the Karnataka Assembly.
And it will take several more months — and a new government — before it becomes law.
Though the Bill, also known as the Samagraha Kannada Bhashe Abhivruddhi Videyaka, was passed unanimously by the Karnataka Assembly on Thursday, 23 February, it requires passage in the Legislative Council and, finally, the assent of the Governor to become an Act.
With Friday marking the last day of the final legislative session of this term, as Karnataka heads into polls, the Bill, which was meant to be a response to the growing linguistic rights movement in the state, will now have to wait until the legislature convenes next — under a new government.
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What the Bill promises
The Bill that proposes to ensure a statutory mechanism for the use of Kannada language in government offices, banks, courts, financial institutions, and in higher education, so as to protect and promote the interests of Kannadigas and their language.
The Kannada Language Comprehensive Development Bill 2022 was introduced and tabled in the Assembly on 22 September, 2022, by Minister for Kannada and Culture V Sunil Kumar, who said the tabled bill would give statutory powers to the Kannada Development Authority (KDA).
This Bill repeals the Karnataka Official Language Act, 1963, and the Karnataka Local Authorities (Official Language) Act, 1981.
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Kannada push ahead of elections
With linguistic rights movements and campaigns gaining strength in Karnataka, especially in the backdrop of attempts by Union government to impose the use of Hindi as an alternative to English, the BJP government in Karnataka had been facing a backlash.
With this Bill, the saffron party had hoped to project itself as committed to the cause of Kannada.
When the Bill was tabled, sources in Minister Sunil Kumar’s office had told South First that it aimed to rejuvenate the Kannada language by encouraging its extensive use and propagation in most fields and sectors.
“Besides the usage of Kannada in higher education, courts, banks and financial institutions, we would also enable usage of Kannada in the IT field, also software development,” the sources said.
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Key features of the Bill
The key feature of this Bill proposes that Kannada be the official language and be used in all communications in legislation, orders, and rules.
When it becomes an Act, Kannada will be taught in higher education, technical education and professional courses as well. The Bill proposes to reserve seats in higher education courses for students who have pursued their studies in Kannada medium schools.
As for the industrial policy, the Bill proposes “denial of land concessions, tax exemptions, other inducements, incentives, etc, if the private industries do not recruit the specified percentage of Kannadigas. At present, according to the industrial policy, it is mandatory that 70 percent of jobs need to be given to Kannadigas — (and) 100 percent of jobs in the case of Group-D employees”.
The bill also requires the state government to establish an employment portal for displaying vacancies at government offices, public enterprises and private companies so that Kannadigas be benefited.
Under the Bill, a Kannadiga is defined as someone who has (or whose parents/guardians have) lived in the state for at least 15 years, and can read and write Kannada.
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Industrial policy a worry
However, there is an issue with the industrial-policy stance of the Bill, with experts saying that “indirectly providing reservation to Kannadigas in private employment may be arbitrary and unfair towards some industries. Reservation or preference to candidates on basis of language or domicile has been held to be violative of the Constitution”.
Meanwhile, Ganesh Chetan, a pro-Kannada activist, told South First: “If that is the case, let us go ahead and amend the Constitution. The interests of natives should be protected and considered with paramount importance. Natives should be supported legally as well.”
The Kannada Language Comprehensive Development (Bill) 2022 has also been granted with teeth — for enforcement and to keep a check on offenders.
According to the Bill, industries, shops and commercial establishments that are found to violate its provisions will be fined anywhere between ₹5,000 and ₹20,000, depending on the magnitude of the violation, and could also lead to suspension of licenses.
Besides that, the enforcement authorities can also book offenders for dereliction of duty if they fail to abide by the provisions of the law with regard to communication in the Kannada language, the Bill proposed.