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Mother-tongue order

New Delhi, May 6: The Supreme Court today ruled that states could not impose any conditions on either private or government schools stipulating that children in primary classes must be taught in their mother tongue.

The court said imposition of the mother tongue as the only medium of instruction would affect the fundamental rights of linguistic minorities and the choice should be left to the institutions concerned and parents.

The Constitution bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha and Justices A.K. Patnaik, S.J. Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra and Ibrahim Kalifulla said experts “may be uniform in their opinion that children studying in classes I to IVů can learn better if they are taught in their mother tongue”.

“(But) the state cannot stipulate as a condition for recognition that the medium of instructionů in classes I to IV in minority schools protected under Articles 29(1) and 30(1) of the Constitution and in private unaided schools enjoying the right to carry on any occupation under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution would be the mother tongue of the children.”

The bench passed the ruling while dismissing an appeal filed by the Karnataka government against a judgment of the state’s high court. The high court had set aside a 1994 circular of the state government that said the medium of instruction for classes I to IV in all government-recognised schools should be the “mother tongue or Kannada” with effect from the academic year 1994-95.

The Supreme Court rejected Karnataka’s argument that Article 350A mandated the state to protect and promote the mother tongue. “Imposition of mother tongue affects the fundamental rights under Articles 19 (freedom of expression and speech), 29 (protection of minorities’ interests) and 30 (right of minorities to run their own institutions) of the Constitution,” the bench said.