To increase the usage of Marathi in administrative and judicial proceedings as well as in other sectors, the state Marathi language department has set up an expert committee to study and suggest recommendations and submit draft rules to amend the Maharashtra Official Language Act, 1964.
Officials said as the Act in its current form does not specify to whom it is applicable, Marathi is not much used in public sector undertakings, local bodies and other sectors. Also, there is no provision of taking penal action against those who do not use the language, said an official.
The official added that there has been a demand by various organisations and dignitaries to amend the law to make it applicable to semi-government offices, government-aided institutions, educational institutions, government-run corporations and authorities, commissions, tribunals, lower courts and private sector.
A five-member committee headed by Prajakta Lavangare Verma, secretary of the department, will suggest recommendations after studying similar laws of other states, said the official.
This is the second move by the Uddhav Thackeray government in regard to the language. In February, a Bill was passed in the state legislature making Marathi a compulsory subject from classes I to X in all boards.
The use of Marathi as a language of communication has been decreasing, particularly in cities like Mumbai. According to the 2011 Census, the number of respondents who said that Marathi is their mother tongue fell by 2.64 per cent to 44.04 lakh from 45.23 lakh in 2001 in the city.
“We have a commitment to Marathi and just don’t do lip service. We have started studying all aspects of the law, which is over 50 years old, to see what it was intended for, its implementation and the lacuna in it. After getting the report from the committee, we will take further decision,” said Subhash Desai, Marathi Language Minister and Shiv Sena leader.
The committee has been tasked to specify the sectors to which the Act will be applicable, how to make a provision in law for use of Marathi in the information and technology sector and how to increase its usage in lower courts, tribunals and authorities. It has also been asked to suggest penal provision for not using the language.
“With time, new mediums such as digital media and Internet have emerged and these should use Marathi language. All correspondence with the public, such as electricity bills or receipts, among others, should be in Marathi. The legal provisions will ensure the effective enforcement of the language,” said Verma.
However, Marathi enthusiasts said the government needs to go a step ahead while amending the law. “Various no objection certificates (NOC) are issued by the government or its agencies or local bodies for various works. The government should include a clause making the usage of Marathi mandatory by these companies seeking NOCs. It should also make provision for penal action to be taken if Marathi is not used by anyone, including government departments and private companies,” said Laxmikant Deshmukh, working president of Marathichya Bhalyasathi (a platform for the development of Marathi) and former chairman of All India Marathi Literature Meet.
He added that the government should also explore legal options to see how it can enforce the use of Marathi in offices under the Centre, such as banks, Railways, insurance companies and others. “Besides, the government should also consider setting up a Marathi language development authority to increase its overall usage,” said Deshmukh.
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