Supreme Court seeks Maharashtra govt's response on plea challenging mandatory Marathi signboards for shops

The high court had noted that there was no bar on using any other language on their display board and the rule only mandated the shop’s name to be displayed in Marathi.

Urvi MahajaniUpdated: Saturday, July 23, 2022, 12:33 AM IST
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The Supreme Court on Friday issued notices to the Maharashtra government and the BMC on a petition filed by the Retail Traders Welfare Association (RTWA) challenging the decision of the Maharashtra government mandating all shops and establishments to display their names in Marathi (Devanagiri) script as well.

RTWA had challenged the order of the Bombay High Court of February this year which had upheld the government decision.

An amendment to the Maharashtra Shops and Establishments (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 2017, mandated that all shops and establishments shall display signboard of their names in Marathi in Devanagari script, the font of which shall be the same as that of the other script and not smaller. The government had set May 31 deadline for the same, failing which prosecution will be initiated.

An SC bench of Justices KM Joseph and Krishna Murari issued the notices and kept it for hearing in September.

Counsels for RTWA – senior counsel Gopal Sankaranarayanan and advocate Mohini Priya – contended that they have challenged the constitutional validity of the amendment in the Act to incorporate the rule of compulsory signboard in Marathi. The Act was enacted to improve the condition of workers who work at these establishments. However, the language of the signboards has nothing to do with the welfare of workers.

Initially, the rule was only for establishments with more than 10 workers. The government has made further amendment in the rule and included those establishments also which have less than 10 workers.

Apart from financial repercussions, this will also dilute the brand value, contends RTWA plea. Majority of the establishments have suffered losses recently, and this would only add to their financial burden.

During the hearing, the judges observed that the government has not barred use of signboards in other languages.

To this, Sankaranarayanan said that although the signboards in other languages are not barred, there is a compulsion to spend on Marathi signboards which amounts to an invasion of personal choice. Also, he pointed out that not everyone in Mumbai would know Marathi language.

Meanwhile, the Bombay High Court on Friday disposed of the petition filed by the Indian Hotel and Restaurants Association (AHAR) after BMC advocate Dhruti Kapadia informed it that the civic body has extended the time till September 30 for the shops and establishment to put up signboards in Marathi as well.

Vishal Thadani, advocate for AHAR, assured the court that its members will try their best to comply with the mandate in the extended time frame. AHAR had filed a petition seeking extension of time by six months to comply with the mandate.

HC FELT DECISION WAS REASONABLE

On February 23, the HC bench of justices Gautam Patel and Madhav Jamdar had upheld the government decision terming it as “reasonable” considering display of signboards in other languages were not prohibited. Justice Jamdar pointed out that the rule was more for the convenience of the public at large in the state, whose mother tongue is Marathi.

“To say that there is some sort of invidious discrimination is wholly untrue. If a trader wishes to carry trade in Maharashtra, then it must be subject to rules laid by the government which seek to impose uniformity on all,” the HC had noted in its order.

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