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English fiat stumps babus: The Telegraph

Last Updated: Monday, August 3, 2009 - 09:26

Ranchi: There is frenetic activity in the corridors of power — hassled babus are scurrying around piles of files, they are punching computer keys and scribbling notes in the Queen’s language with dogged determination and the dictionary has become dearer than everything else.
The credit of this sudden spring of life in their humdrum existence goes to the new occupant of Raj Bhavan. Not conversant in Hindi, Governor Kateekal Sankaranarayanan (in picture) has directed officials to prepare cabinet memoranda and proposal files in English. But since there is no stenographer in the state secretariat who can take dictations in the Queen’s language, the onus has fallen on departmental secretaries to prepare notes in longhand or with the help of computers.

Simultaneously, the babus are also trying to improve their English vocabulary and brush up on the language.

A political veteran from Kerala, Sankaranarayanan has spent the greater part of his career in the southern state. Later, he was posted as governor of Nagaland. Neither of the states uses Hindi as an official language. Hence, a looming communication barrier the Raj Bhavan wants to get rid of without delay.

Though an order to draft cabinet memos in both English and Hindu is nothing new, the practice of using the former was done away with in unified Bihar in 1997, ostensibly to promote the state’s official language. In fact, a separate department was formed to promote the use of Hindi in official work.

“Government officials also have to clear an examination that involved preparing draft proposals in Hindi to qualify for an annual increment,” pointed out an official.

In a state where babus have been made to cling so dearly to their mother tongue, the Raj Bhavan directive has come as an unexpected jolt.

Former chief secretary P.P. Sharma said the order to prepare cabinet proposals in English was not constitutionally wrong. “There was a provision for preparing five copies of cabinet memos in English along with Hindi in unified Bihar. But then, the practice was scrapped 12 years ago. It has been a long time,” he said.

A senior bureaucrat dubbed the order “problematic” as officials from the rank of deputy secretary to the secretary did not “usually prepare” cabinet proposals and left it to clerks.

The practice is ingrained. So much so that former Speaker Inder Singh Namdhari once remarked that the Assembly “debated budget proposals prepared by clerks”.

In 2002, a personnel department official said, the state had decided to appoint 29 English stenographers on contract to correspond with Union ministries, but the plan never materialised. Currently, there is no one conversant in the language.

A Raj Bhavan spokesman, however, said the directive should not pose much difficulty because the governor had distributed all departments among the three advisers. “Maybe, a few important files relating to policy decisions or state budget will be placed before the governor,” he added.

Words of solace had also come from Sankaranarayanan yesterday. Talking to reporters, he had said that he had great respect for Hindi. “I understand, but cannot speak the language. I will learn to converse in Hindi.”

In 2005, lawyers of the state had faced a similar predicament. Then Chief Justice Nelavoy Dhinakar, a native of Tamil Nadu, had asked them to produce papers in English. Though the official language of the high court is English, subordinate courts record deposition of witnesses in Hindi. So, lawyers found it difficult to produce translated versions of the entire records.

First Published: Monday, August 3, 2009 - 09:26
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