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Multi-lingual Bengal

Calcutta, Dec. 10: The state government today passed a bill in the Assembly to make Hindi, Santhali, Odiya and Punjabi official languages.

The objective of the bill — the West Bengal Official Language (Second Amendment) Bill, 2012 — is to adopt any language as an official one if it is spoken by a population exceeding 10 per cent of the whole in a particular block or sub-division or a district and thereby make communication easier with the administration.

For example, if an Odiya-speaking population exceeds 10 per cent in a block, they will be able to lodge an FIR in Odiya in that particular block. The onus to translate would be on local officials.

So, far, Bengali, Nepali and Urdu were the official languages in the state.

A Writers’ official said: “Earlier, say if a Punjabi in Asansol, which had a substantial Punjabi-speaking population, were to communicate with a block-level official, it would have to be done in either in Bengali or English. Else, the official would have not have taken note citing he does not understand Punjabi. Now, a person can legally demand an interpreter.”

According to the bill, petitions and applications in public offices can also be made in any of the official languages.

For examinations conducted by the government, it would be up to the boards to decide on the new languages.

“Urdu has been an official language for long. But the state civil service examinations do not have the provision of answering in Urdu,” the official said.

Although chief minister Mamata Banerjee holds the minority affairs department, the bill was moved by industries minister Partha Chatterjee.