The story so far: On April 6, the High Court of Karnataka stayed the implementation of two orders issued by the State Government making Kannada a compulsory language for undergraduate courses such as BA, BSc, BCom, etc., from the academic year 2021-22. With the interim order of the High Court, students admitted for the academic year 2021-22 are not required to compulsorily study Kannada for the time being.
The Higher Education Department of Karnataka, on August 7, 2021, notified a Government Order issuing guidelines to universities and affiliated colleges for implementing the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020.
As per the guidelines, students joining the undergraduate courses in Karnataka from the academic year 2021-22 were required to study Kannada as a compulsory language among the two languages mandated for the first four semesters. The government also prescribed preparation of a separate Kannada language syllabus for those who have not studied Kannada in 10+2 level and for those whose mother tongue is not Kannada.
In another Government Order, issued on September 15, 2021, the department modified the guidelines stating that only functional Kannada is to be taught to students from outside Karnataka or from foreign countries or for those who have not studied Kannada in any level up to 10+2.
The Samskrita Bharati (Karnataka) Trust, a private institution, on September 23, 2021, moved the High Court questioning the legality of making Kannada a compulsory subject in the guise of implementing NEP 2020. Later, Shivakumar G.K. and several other students as well as Kshithija S. Shetty and fellow lecturers/professors of the Hindi language across the State joined the legal battle by filling separate petitions.
Apart from contending that making Kannada a compulsory language to be studied in UG courses violates various fundamental rights of the students and the teaching community, the litigants mainly argued before the High Court that making the study of a language mandatory is contrary to the very purpose of NEP-2020, which purports to offer a choice-based system to promote inclusivity. Stating that NEP 2020 does not specify any mandatory language criteria for higher education courses, the litigants have also pointed out that even the reports submitted by the task force and sub-committees of the Government on Karnataka on implementation of NEP 2020, did not contain any recommendation making Kannada a mandatory language for UG courses.
The High Court had asked the Central government to make its stand clear on whether NEP-2020 prescribes such compulsion to study a particular language. The Central government, in its written statement, clarified to the court that “there is no mention of any compulsory language in NEP-2020.” The Additional Solicitor General of India, in addition to reiterating the averments made in the statement, made it clear to the court that the regional language cannot be made a compulsory subject in implementation of the NEP.
Initially, the High Court on December 16, 2021, had directed that the students who have already chosen Kannada language should do so, but all such students who do not wish to take the Kannada language shall not be compelled to pursue it till further orders. The court had also directed the government to not insist on Kannada as a compulsory language.
In view of the stand of the Central government, the court said that prima facie the Government Orders of August 7 and September 15, 2021, cannot be implemented for now.
The State Advocate General of Karnataka wanted to argue on the powers of the State government to make Kannada a compulsory subject.
The court said that it would hear further arguments in July on the question of whether Kannada can be made a compulsory subject in higher studies (undergraduate) on the pretext of implementing the National Education Policy, 2020.