This article is written by Oishika Banerji of Amity Law School, Kolkata. This article provides a detailed discussion on the special officer appointed for the linguistic minorities in India.
India is a land where people of different linguistic communities reside. Home to 19,500 languages, India comprises 121 languages that are spoken by 10,000 people across the nation. Whenever we talk of linguistic minorities, the concern surrounding their welfare, socio-economic development, and equal status like that of the rest of the nation, takes a positive stand. Although the term linguistic minorities have not been defined in the Constitution of India, the linguistic minorities are considered as a group or collectivities of individuals residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language or script of their own.
The language of the minority group need not be one of the twenty-two languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. In other words, linguistic minorities at the State level mean any group or groups of people whose mother tongues are different from the principal language of the State, and at the district and taluka /tehsil levels, different from the principal language of the district or taluka/tehsil concerned. In order to channelize this concern, the Seventh Constitutional Amendment Act of 1956 inserted a new Article 350-B in Part XVII of the Constitution of India which provides the setting up of a constitutional body for addressing the issues surrounding linguistic minorities of India.
This constitutional body of Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities falls under the Ministry of Minority Affairs which is currently headed over by Shri Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (assumed office on 31st May 2019), followed by Shri John Barla (assumed office on 8th July 2021), and Ms. Renuka Kumar (assumed office on 8th July 2021) in the position of Minister of State for Minority Affairs, and Secretary (Minority Affairs) respectively. The Special Officer submits the annual reports along with other reports to the President of India through the Union Minister of Minority Affairs. This article provides a detailed discussion regarding the Special Officer for linguistic minorities.
The Indian Constitution and its provisions relating to special officer for linguistic minorities
Prior to the 7th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1956, the Indian Constitution did not have any specific provision concerning Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities. The provision for the Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities saw the light of the day after the recommendation by the States Reorganisation Commission (1953-55) which was adopted in Part XVII of the Indian Constitution under Article 350 B. The article reads as:
“(1) There shall be a Special Officer for linguistic minorities to be appointed by the President.
(2) It shall be the duty of the Special Officer to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under this Constitution and report to the President upon those matters at such intervals as the President may direct, and the President shall cause all such reports to be laid before each House of Parliament, and sent to the Governments of the States concerned.”
A bare reading of this provision reveals that the Constitution while on one hand specifies appointment and the objective of the Special Officer, it does not provide clarity on subject matters of qualifications, tenure, salaries and allowances, service conditions, and procedure for removal of the Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities.
Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities
The term “Special Officer” in association with the Linguistic Minorities came into the picture in 1957. It was from then that the Special Officer was designated as the Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities. With the Commissioner having his headquarter at Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, each of the three regional offices functioning under the headquarter located at Belgaum (Karnataka), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), and Kolkata (West Bengal) are headed by an Assistant Commissioner. At the headquarters, the Special Officer is assisted by the Assistant Commissioner, and a Deputy Commissioner. In order to keep positive relations with the states, and the Union Territories, the Special Officer appoints nodal officers who carry out and facilitate the functions of the Commissioner, as it is technically not possible for the Commissioner himself to carry out every function in association with the 29 states and 7 Union Territories.
Role of the Commissioner
The Commissioner has a significant role to play in helping the Ministry of Minority Affairs achieve goals in association with the linguistic minorities of the nation. The notable roles of the Commissioner of the Linguistic Minorities have been listed down hereunder:
- Whichever policy and schemes pertaining to the linguistic minorities are brought up by the Ministry of Minority Affairs, the responsibility of ensuring its implementation and keeping track of the same rests completely on the Commissioner.
- Remedial actions need to be adopted by the Commissioner if the first role fails to be carried out. Any notice, references, information brought before the Commissioner by the linguistic minority groups or individuals, associations, or organizations at the highest administrative levels of the state governments and Union Territory administrations, must be taken into account by the Commissioner.
- The constitutional safeguards that have been provided to the linguistic minorities, namely Articles 29, and 30 have to be publicly made known so that the protective measures ensured by the supreme law of the land can be applied when required. The role of the Commissioner in such scenarios is to make the state governments and Union Territories acknowledge the necessity of raising awareness among the public. This can only be done through the Ministry of Minority Affairs.
Purpose behind the working of the Commissioner
The Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities will acquire his/her position keeping in mind the purpose of the designation acquired. Thus there has to be both a vision and a mission that will facilitate the functions of the Commissioner or the Special Officer. Previously, we have discussed the necessity of implementation of policies, schemes that are framed for the development of linguistic minorities of India. The vision of the Commissioner walks in the same line as it aims to strengthen and streamline the machinery that helps in delivering the planned schemes thereby guaranteeing effective discharge of constitutional safeguards framed specifically for these minorities. To summarize, therefore, the vision of the Commissioner is to provide equal opportunities, and scope for the growth of the linguistic minorities in order to remove the tag of “minorities” from their names. Similarly, the mission is to give effect to the vision of the Commissioner, and the Ministry of Minority Affairs as a whole. Inclusive development and equal chances are thus the two key priorities of the Commissioner.
Functions and objectives of the Commissioner
The summarized list of functions of the Commissioner of Linguistic Minorities have been provided hereunder:
- It is the duty of the Commissioner to investigate matters associated with safeguards available for linguistic minorities.
- The Commissioner is supposed to submit to the President of India reports on the status of implementation of the protection measures that have been accepted on a constitutional and national basis for the linguistic minorities.
- To look after the implementation of the protections available for the linguistic minorities by means of questionnaires, visits, conferences, seminars, meetings, review mechanisms, etc.
The objectives of the Commissioner of Linguistic Minorities are listed below:
- The objective behind the functions of the Commissioner is to provide and ensure equal opportunities, and platforms to the linguistic minorities for their development and overall national integration.
- The Commissioner must spread awareness amongst the linguistic minorities about the safeguards that are available to them by means of the Indian Constitution.
- The Commissioner must make it certain that effective implementation of the safeguards provided for the linguistic minorities in the Indian Constitution will take place, as have been agreed by the states / Union Territories.
- The Commissioner must be responsible to handle the representations appointed for grievance redress in relation to shielding the linguistic minorities.
As we come to the end of this article, it is necessary to talk about the 52nd Report of the Ministry of Minority Affairs which was provided by the Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, and presented a list of responsibilities undertaken by the constitutional organization, and the Indian government for the betterment of the linguistic minorities. The same has been laid down hereunder:
- The Commissioner of Linguistic Minorities has personally visited locations of such minorities along with educational institutions constructed specifically for such minority groups, for the purpose of on-the-spot assessment of the status of implementation of the scheme of Safeguards. In this connection, the Commissioner has also held discussions with dignitaries such as the Chief Ministers, Governors, and at the highest levels of administration at the States/Union Territories.
- The report highlighted that the Union Government along with the Ministry of Human Resource Development has collaborated to address issues concerning the threat of extinction of several languages of India. The purpose behind the same is to highlight the importance of a language that is not just a collection of words but also a reflection of the culture of the society.
- The “Mahal” language which is majorly spoken in Lakshadweep and the tribal areas of the North-Eastern States demands immediate attention be preserved from extinction. Taking into account the constitutional rights of the citizens under Article 29 of the Indian Constitution, the same should be administered in its true spirit.
- The Commissioner has worked towards a successful grant of permissions by the Central Government, thereby recognizing the educational institutions for the linguistic minorities.
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