Absurd drive against English signboards

As the Assembly elections approach, the Siddaramaiah government appears to be making one desperate move after another to woo different sections of the vote bank. Any and every significant caste, religious and linguistic group is sought to be appeased so that they develop a favourable inclination towards the ruling party. The drive against English signboards (name boards) launched by Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) is one such harebrained idea which should never have been attempted. In the name of promoting Kannada, BBMP personnel swooped down on several shops and establishments in the upscale Commercial Street and took away the signboards in what appeared like sheer vandalism by the official machinery. Justifying the action, the BBMP commissioner says that he is merely carrying out the "directions" issued by the Kannada Development Authority (KDA) that signboards should predominantly be in Kannada, "occupying at least 60% of the space."

First and foremost, it is an infringement of the fundamental right of the citizens and businesses to use any language they deem fit for their purposes. In a cosmopolitan city with a significant migrant and expatriate population, every effort must be geared towards making the lives of people easier. Besides, it was not that these signboards completely ignored the local language. How much importance it should be given is entirely left to the individuals who are running the business establishments. In launching their campaign, the BBMP and the KDA have relied on a provision in the Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments (KSCE) Rules, 1963, obfuscating the fact that subsequently it was struck down by the high court as a violation of Article 19(1) of the Constitution.

Rule 24A of the KSCE Rules states that the name board of every business establishment "shall be in Kannada," and, even if any other language is used, it shall be "below" the Kannada version. It also mandates that the Kannada version be displayed more prominently, by "providing more space." In a 2014 judgement, the high court held that it was not in consonance with the aims and objectives of the Act. It nullified the rule on the ground that, "Under the guise of delegated power, the state cannot traverse beyond its limits of delegation nor frame such rule which was not contemplated under the provisions of the Act." The state filed an appeal before a division bench, but it was dismissed. Respecting the law of the land, the Siddaramaiah government should immediately cease and desist from its ill-conceived drive.

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