Supreme Court Nudges Mumbai Traders To Comply with Marathi Signboard Law

The Supreme Court on Friday nudged traders in Mumbai to comply with the 2022 law that requires Marathi signboards outside all shops, big and small, in Maharashtra. The court said that, though cosmopolitan, Mumbai is also the capital of Maharashtra, where Marathi is the official language.

September 2, 2023: Traders in Mumbai cannot be excused from posting signboards in Marathi because it is a cosmopolitan city. On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that they must comply with the 2022 law that requires Marathi signboards outside all Maharashtra shops, small and large.

Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association’s argument

Traders argue that the state cannot mandate language in trade

The Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association, which has for years resisted strong-arm tactics by political groups to force shopkeepers to put up signboards in Marathi prominently, told the bench that they were on a more significant point. Lawyer Mohini Priya, appearing for the Federation, said their petition raises constitutional questions of law on whether a state can mandate the use of a language in trade and business matters.

The Federation argued that the state cannot direct the use of language in matters of marketing and business. They said that Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city and people from all over the country come here. They also noted that changing the signboard will entail a considerable cost.

Court disagrees, says traders should respect local language

The Supreme Court disagreed with the Federation’s argument. The court said that Mumbai is also the capital of Maharashtra, and Marathi is the official language. The court also noted that the traders should not be fighting this issue and should comply with the law.

Maharashtra government’s argument

The state says the amendment was made for the benefit of Marathi speakers

The Maharashtra government argued that the state was within its right to introduce the amendment. The government said the change was made “purely for the benefit of the Marathi-speaking population of Maharashtra”.

Maharashtra’s Marathi-speaking population accounted for 69% of the state’s population, and shopkeepers were not prohibited from using other languages, according to the state government.

Petitioners’ argument on dilution of brand value

The petitioners had also argued that imposing Marathi on signboards would dilute their brand value, affecting their fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g), providing freedom to practice any trade or profession.

The Supreme Court’s decision is a welcome step in promoting the use of the Marathi language in Mumbai. It also reminds traders that they should respect the local language and culture, even if they are doing business in a cosmopolitan city.

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