A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha ruled that nothing in constitution bars a state government to declare one or more of languages used in the State, in addition to Hindi, as the second official language. It upheld Uttar Pradesh Official Language (Amendment) Act, 1989 by which Urdu was adopted as second official language of the state.
"Nothing in Article 345(Official language or languages of a State), in our view, bars declaring one or more of the languages in use in the State, in addition to Hindi, as the second official language," the bench also comprising justices Dipak Misra, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and S A Bobde, said.
"It is said that law and language are both organic in their mode of development. In India, these are evolving through the process of accepting legitimate aspirations of the speakers of different languages. Indian language laws are not rigid but accommodative the object being to secure linguistic secularism," the bench said.
It said "the plain language of Article 345 which empowers the State Legislature to make law for adoption of one or more of the languages in use in the State leaves no manner of doubt that such power may be exercised by the State Legislature from time to time".
The apex court said there are many State Legislatures which have adopted other officially recognized language(s) in addition to Hindi such as in Bihar, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi which would not have been possible but for the constitutional permissibility.
Delhi has adopted Punjabi and Urdu as other officially recognized languages in addition to Hindi.
"Merely because Hindi is mentioned explicitly or separately and it is adopted as official language by the State, we do not think that the Constitution forecloses the State Legislatures option to adopt any other language in use in the State as official language," it said.
The bench said if Hindi is in use in a particular State then it does not foreclose the States power or discretion to adopt any language other than Hindi as the official language provided such language is in use in that State.
"The use of the word may in Article 345 is not without significance. It indicates that State has discretion in adopting the language or languages in use in the State and so also Hindi. Such discretion can be exercised any number of times by the State Legislature as it deems proper," it said.
The court passed the order on a appeal filed by UP Hindi Sahitya Sammelan challenging constitutional validity of Official Language (Amendment) Act 1989 by which Urdu was recognised as second language.