Essay on the official language of the Constitution of India

Few constitutions have such elaborate provisions dealing with the official language as the Constitution of India. Ordinarily, official language is not a subject which requires any special treatment in a constitutional enactment.

Article 3, Federalism and the Silence in our Constitution ...

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This is because, in most countries, a single language is employed as the common medium of expression of the entire population, or at least of an overwhelming majority. There are, of course, exceptions to this general pattern in some parts of the world and some countries have made even special provisions to solve the problems arising out of bilingualism or multilingualism within their borders. India belongs to the latter category, hence a special Chapter in the Constitution dealing with the official language.

In the course of the discussion on the official language, the Constituent Assembly witnessed some of the most agitated scenes, surcharged with emotions, riding on the crest of linguistic fanaticism. Nevertheless, the Assembly produced a compromise formula after a long and heated discussion. The provisions dealing with official language are the product of this compromise formula.


Language of the Union

The main provisions dealing with the official language of the Union as embodied in Articles 343 and 344 are as follows :

  1. Hindi written in Devanagari scrip will be the official language of the Union.
  2. For a period of fifteen years from the commencement of the Constitution, however, English will continue to be used for all official purposes of the Union. but during this period, the President may authorize the use of Hindi in addition to English.
  3. Notwithstanding anything in article 343, Parliament may be law provide for the use, after the said period of fifteen years of –
    1. the English language, or
    2. the Devanagari script from of numerical, for such purposes as may be specified in the law.

Regional Languages

Each State legislature in empowered under Article 345 to adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the State for all or any of the official purposes of the State concerned. But so far as communication between a State and the Union or between one State and another is concerned, the official language of the union will be the authorized language.


In order to protect the linguistic interests of minorities in certain States, the Constitution has incorporated a special provision. This is in addition to the cultural rights that are guaranteed as Fundamental Rights under Article 29 of the Constitution. According to this, the President is empowered under Article 347 to direct a State Government to recognize a particular language for official purposes for either the whole or part of the State, if he is stratified, on a representation made to him in this regard, that a substantial proportion of the population of the State desires such recognition. This power in the hands of the Centre will help to curb any tendency towards linguistic fanaticism and the domination of the majority over linguistic minorities in different States.

Language in Courts

Under Article 348, the Constitution makes a special provision for the retention of the English language if Parliament so decides even after the fifteen-year- period for the following purposes:

  1. All proceedings in the Supreme Court and the High Courts.
  2. Authoritative texts of bills, Acts, Ordinances, orders, rules, regulations and by-laws issued under the Constitution or under any law.

However, Parliament is empowered to stop the use of English even in the courts whenever it lies, once the fifteen-year period is over. It is also provided that Hindi or any regional language may be used even earlier for conducting the proceedings in a High court if the President gives his consent for the measure.


Special Directives

The Constitutions also embodies a directive for the development and enrichment of the Hindi language with a view to making it serve as a real medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India. Such enrichment may be secured by drawing primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.

After the Constitution (Ninety-second Amendment) Act, 2003 which provided for the inclusion of four languages viz. Bodo, Dogri, Maithili and Santhali, the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution specifies the following 22 languages :

  1. Assamese
  2. Bengali
  3. Bodo
  4. Dogri
  5. Gujarati
  6. Hindi
  7. Kannada
  8. Kashmiri
  9. Konkani
  10. Maithili
  11. Malayalam
  12. Manipuri
  13. Marathi
  14. Nepali
  15. Oriya
  16. Punjabi
  17. Sanskrit
  18. Santhali
  19. Sindhi
  20. Tamil
  21. Telugu
  22. Urdu


The Constitution of India has provided a separate chapter on election. Iin this respect, it has made a departure from the usual practice of constitutions to leave elections as a comparatively unimportant subject to be dealt with by the legislature. The fact that detailed provisions in this regard have been made in the Constitution shows how anxious the Constitution-makers had been to safeguard this political right as an integral part of the Constitution itself.

The Legal Framework

Under the Constitution, provision is made for an Election Commission which in entrusted to deal with the following matters:

  • Election of the President of India;
  • Election of the Vice-President of India;
  • The Union Parliament and the composition of its two chambers;
  • Qualifications of members of Parliament;
  • Composition of State “Legislatures;
  • Qualifications of members of State Legislatures;
  • Duration of Parliament and State Legislatures;
  • Election to Parliament and State Legislatures;
  • Reservation of seats in the House of the People and the State Assemblies for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; and
  • Determination of population for purposes of election.

Under Article 327, Parliament is vested with the supreme power to legislate on all matters relating to elections, including election to State Legislatures. Under Article 328, the States have also been vested with certain limited power of legislation with respect to elections. But such legislation should not be in conflict with any parliamentary legislation in this matter.

Universal Adult Suffrage

One of the outstanding features of the Constitution is adult suffrage. It means that every person man or woman who isn’t less than eighteen years of age has the right to vote in the election to the House of the People and the State Legislative Assembly. The only grounds for disqualification are (i) non-residence, (ii) unsoundness of mind, (iii) crime, and (iv) corrupt or illegal practice. This provision has been hailed as the “fountain spring of India’s democracy”. For, it has swept away at one stroke all the antiquated and undemocratic qualifications prescribed to be eligible for voting property, income, status title, educational qualifications and soon.

The cumulative effect of the above two provisions on democracy in India is, indeed, far-reaching. The principle of one man, one over, one value has become a constitutional right. the removal of the notorious system of communal electorates which had broken up Indian society statutorily into religious and communal compartments is in perfect harmony with the establishment of adult suffrage. As a result, the citizens of India will now vote as individuals and not as Hindus, Muslims, Christians, or Sikhs.

The Electoral Machinery

Article 324 provides that the superintendence, direction and control of all elections in India are vested in an independent body called the Election Commission. The power of the Commission includes the power of appointing election tribunals for the removal of doubts and settling of disputes in connection with the elections. According to an amendment (Nineteenth Amendment) of the representation of People Act, 1966, however, the provision for constituting election tribunals has been abolished. Election petitions are now heard by the High Courts and the Supreme Court in appeals. It also provides that the revision of electoral rolls will be made only according to the direction of the Election Commission and not otherwise.

The Election Commission consists of the Chief election Commissioner and as many Election Commissioners as the President may fix from time to time. They are all appointed by the President. At present, there is one Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.

The Commission is an independent body. Its independence is secured by Article 224(5), which provides that the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be removed from office except in like manner an don the like grounds as a Judge of the Supreme Court and that any other Election Commissioner shall not be removed except on the recommendations of the Chief Election Commissioner. In regard to the preparation and maintenance of the electoral rolls of a constituency, the permanent machinery consists of the Election Commission, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Electoral Registration Officer of the constituency.

For each Parliamentary or Assembly constituency, a Returning officer is appointed by the Election Commission. He has to be an officer of the Government. The actual poll is conducted by a large number of Presiding and Polling Officers. For every polling station, a Presiding Officer and a few Polling Officers are appointed in respect of each separate election, for Parliament as well as for Assembly.

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