Adnan Abidi / Reuters

A man walks inside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi, India, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI—The Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde on Thursday dismissed an appeal filed by the union environment ministry against a Delhi High Court judgment which directed the ministry to translate the controversial proposed law for environment clearance in at least 22 languages mentioned in the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution. 

“Impugned order is in the correct spirit since in many rural areas, people may not be conversant with Hindi and English,” the CJI Bobde reportedly said during the hearing of the appeal filed by the union environment ministry on Thursday afternoon. 

He also told the environment ministry’s counsel that the union government must “consider amending the Official Languages Act”. The Narendra Modi– led government’s environment ministry, in a Special Leave Petition filed in early August had argued that it is legally not obliged to translate the draft environment impact assessment notification (EIA 2020), which is the official name for the proposed new law for environment clearance, in any language other than Hindi and English, and cited provisions of the Official Languages Act, 1963 and part XVII of the constitution.  

To the government concerns about the feasibility of translating the draft law into 22 languages, CJI Bobde is also reported to have said that “translation is the easiest thing, even in parliament there is instant translation.” 

As HuffPost Indiareported previously, in its judgment dated June 30, the Delhi HC had directed the environment ministry to translate the controversial proposed law for public consultation in the following words, “We are of the view that it would be in aid of effective dissemination of the proposed notification if arrangement are made for its translation into other languages as well, at least those mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the constitution.” 

On its part, in its appeal filed in early August against this judgment, the union environment ministry had raised the spectre of the union government’s administration being adversely affected on account of the obligation to translate all official communication in local Indian languages. 

Referring to the Delhi HC’s judgment dated June 30, the appeal claimed, “In case the impugned order is not partially modified/set aside by this Hon’ble Court, in coming days various akin nature of cases would start being filed across various Hon’ble High Courts against the petitioner as well as other Ministries of Union of India for seeking vernacular languages translation of their various resolutions, general orders, rules, notifications etc which used to be passed as per the need and requirement of effective governance.” 

Evidently, the SC was not persuaded by this and other arguments cited by the environment ministry against the Delhi HC judgment. The Apex Court, however, has granted liberty to the ministry to file a review petition in the Delhi HC against the judgment and also approach the SC with a review petition in case the Delhi HC rules unfavourably. 

This dismissal of its appeal comes at a time when the environment ministry has been, as reported by HuffPost Indiahere, asked by the Karnataka HC to translate the draft law into Kannada and give the public “reasonable time” for filing their suggestions and objections. 

The Madras HC has also asked the environment ministry if it can translate the draft law into Tamil for public consultation to ensure that people file their suggestions and objections about the draft law for environment clearance. 

The Supreme Court also stayed a Delhi HC order in a contempt case filed against the union environment ministry secretary R P Gupta by petitioner Vikrant Tongad for not ensuring that the environment ministry translates the draft law in local languages other than Hindi and English. 

An official statement issued by the union environment ministry to the media after the SC decision said the following, “Supreme Court stays Delhi HC contempt of court proceedings against Ministry for failing to publish the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 in the languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

Solicitor General said the rules say publication is only in Hindi and English.

CJI suggested that Center should amend the Official languages rules which say official publication is necessary only in English and Hindi.”

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