Mother tongue issue to be decided by SC Constitution Bench
The apex court, which was of the opinion that it was "a fit case for consideration by a larger bench," 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."
A bench comprising justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said the issue has to be referred to a larger bench as a two-judge bench of the apex court in 1993 had refused to interfere with a Karnataka government order specifying the mother tongue Kannada as the medium of instruction at the primary school level and making it mandatory for every child.
"Observing the fact that a two-judge bench of this court has already arrived at a decision as to the question whether the medium of instruction should be that of mother tongue in English Medium Students Parents Association (supra), we are of the view that it is not appropriate to decide the very same issue under different grounds by a bench of same number of judges."
"If we decide to accept the argument of the respondent that a student or a parent or a citizen has a right to choose a medium of instruction at primary stage, we in substance will be contradicting the judgement in English Medium Students Parents Association, which upholds the mother tongue as the medium of language," the bench said.
It said the vital question involved in the matter has a far-reaching significance on the development of the children in the country who are the future adults.
The apex court further said the primary school years of a child are an important phase in a child's education.
Besides, they mould the thinking process and tutors on the communication skills. Thus, primary education lays the groundwork for future learning and success.
"Succinctly, the skills and values that primary education instills are no less than foundational and serve as bases for all future learning. Likewise, the importance of a language cannot be understated; we must recollect that reorganisation of states was primarily based on language.
"Further, 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 bench said.
"Considering the constitutional importance of these questions, we are of the firm view that all these matters should be heard by a constitution bench," the bench said and listed the questions to be considered by the bench.
Define mother tongue
The apex court said the constitution bench would consider:
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?
Further, whether a student or a parent or a citizen has a right to choose a medium of instruction at primary stage and does the imposition of mother tongue in any way affects the fundamental rights under Article 14 (right to equality), 19 (right to freedom of speech), 29 and 30 (educational rights of minorities) of the Constitution?
Whether the government recognised schools are inclusive of both government-aided schools and private and unaided schools and 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?
The two-judge bench said apart from the above issues, the constitution bench would also take into consideration any other ancillary or incidental questions which may arise during the course of hearing of the case.
The issue had come before the apex court as the two Karnataka government orders of 1994 making mother tongue or regional language compulsory for imparting education from class I to IV had come under challenge.