Rule to display signboards in Marathi is reasonable: Bombay HC
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Bombay high court on Wednesday upheld the state’s rule that shops and establishments must display their sign boards in Marathi in Devanagri script saying it is “reasonable.”

“No other language or script is prohibited or banned. 

The requirement of display of name in Marathi in Devanagri is reasonable in Maharashtra,” said Justice Gautam Patel  and Justice Madhav Jamdhar  while rejecting a petition by Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association that challenging Rule 35 of Maharashtra Shops and Establishments (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2018 that “the name board of every establishment shall be in Marathi language in Devanagri script.”

The petition said it ultra vires fundamental rights including freedom of expression and to carry on trade as it mandates every establishment with more than 10 employees to have a name board in Marathi in Devanagri script.

The Federation’s advocates Mayur Khandeparkar  and Dipesh Siroya argued that while the state government may adopt one or more languages under Article 345 as language of the state; it is only for official purpose. “The state cannot dictate what language or script must be displayed. It is a question of choice,” said Khandeparkar. Justice Patel responded, “That choice has not been taken away by requiring you to use one language exclusively. Nobody’s business is stopped. Nobody’s life is threatened.”

The judges “expressly” rejected the argument that there is no nexus between Rule 35 and the object of the Maharashtra Shops and Establishments Act, 2017. They said there is a public purpose sought to be achieved by Rule 35 and its operation. “Marathi may be the official language of the State government but it is undeniably the common language and mother tongue of the State. It has rich and diverse cultural heritage extending to literature and theatre,” said the judges. They added that HC, although its language is English, permits documents to be produced in Marathi and does not insist on translations unless required. “To say, therefore there is invidious discrimination is wholly untrue,” they added.

The judges said: “more importantly, the petitioner fails to recognise that the requirement is not to benefit retail traders but workers and the public who are more likely to be familiar with Marathi in devanagari script “. “This is for the convenience of the public, your customers,” said Justice Jamdar.

The judges noted that Rule 35 existed even prior to the 2018 amendment and questioned what is the motive behind filing the petition now. “The petition could not have become aware of this rule in February 2022,” they added. The judges frowned at the statements in the petition that use of Marathi is on the decline. “What is this? Marathi is going down? 

You (Federation) are coming because of elections?” asked Justice Jamdar angrily. Declining to grant relief, the judges imposed Rs 25,000/- cost on the Federation to be paid to the chief minister Relief Fund.

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