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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Explained: Why traders are against new rule making Marathi signboards mandatory

The Maharashtra government has now made it mandatory for small shops and establishments to display nameplates in Marathi across the state.

Written by Laxman Singh | Mumbai |
January 13, 2022 8:36:27 pm
The move is clearly Shiv Sena’s attempt to consolidate the Marathi vote bank for BMC polls, likely to be held in the next few months.

The Maharashtra government has introduced a new rule under which all small shops and establishments need to display Marathi signboards in Devanagari script. We explain the significance of the new order and the reasons that compelled the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government to bring in the new rule in the run up to various urban local body elections in Maharashtra.

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What is the new rule on signboards of shops and establishments?

The Maharashtra government has now made it mandatory for small shops and establishments to display nameplates in Marathi across the state. The Maha Vikas Aghadi (Sena-NCP-Congress) cleared an amendment in Maharashtra Shops and Establishment (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Service) Act, 2017 in the cabinet meeting Wednesday which will cover shops and establishments with less than 10 workers.

The amendment also mandates that the font of the Marathi-Devanagari script cannot be smaller than the font of other scripts. In case of violation, action can be initiated as per the provision in Shops Act, 2017. The decision will cover all sorts of establishments like grocery shops, offices, hotels, restaurants, bars and theaters.

In Mumbai, over 70 per cent of establishments are small ones with BMC recordingn showing that out of a total 6.18 lakh shops and establishments, 4.56 lakh had less than 10 workers.

Why has the new amendment been introduced?

Government officials said when the Maharashtra Shops and Establishment (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Service) Act, 2017 was introduced in December 2017 by revoking Maharashtra Shops and Establishments Act, 1948, the government offered many exemptions like no registrations for license required for shops and establishments with 0 to 9 workers. However, for shops with more employees than this, the rules were not changed and included the provision of putting nameplates in Marathi. Many small shops used this ‘loophole’ and exempted themselves from putting up Marathi name boards.

Marathi Language minister Subhas Desai said after the 2017 law came into force, it was found that establishments and shops with less than ten workers were evading the rules. Following this the state decided to fix the loophole.

What is the political significance of the new rule?

The move is clearly Shiv Sena’s attempt to consolidate the Marathi vote bank for BMC polls, likely to be held in the next few months. In the last two years, the Sena, which is an alliance partner in the MVA government, has been taking forward its agenda on the Marathi language. Last July, the Maharashtra legislature passed a Bill amending the Maharashtra Official Language Act 1964 for the effective use of the Marathi language in administrative work in all government offices. In February 2020, another Bill made the Marathi language a compulsory subject from Class 1 to 10 in all school boards.

Why has the traders’ body questioned the new rule?

Federation of Retail Traders’ Welfare Association (FRTWA), a state-level umbrella group of shops, has questioned the amendment and highlighted that the rule is in violation of a petition pending before Bombay High Court. Association president Viren Shah said in 2001 the high court had stayed the rule on putting up Marathi signboards in shops following a petition by them. The court had also prohibited the state government and BMC from imposing fines on violators.

In 2008, the BMC, following the agitation from Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), issued orders for all shops and establishments to display Marathi signboards. However, the corporation had to withdraw its order following the high court order clarifying that the stay is still in effect. Shah said his body was going through the state amendment and could challenge the rule after seeking legal opinion.

In a statement Wednesday, the association said shopkeepers are in the middle of a pandemic where they have suffered a lot. “If we will are forced to change the name board into Marathi, crores of rupees will be spent. Every shopkeeper will have to spend Rs 10,000 to Rs 30,000 depending on the size of the board . Such a decision will not go well among the trading communities,” reads the statement.

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