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(Jul 30, 2009) On July 25, 2009, after a year-long trial, the Supreme Court of Nepal ruled that Vice President Parmananda Jha's taking of the oath of office in Hindi, instead of Nepali, on July 23, 2008, was unconstitutional. The two-justice bench, comprising Chief Justice Min Bahadur Rayamajhi and Justice Balram KC, stated: "[t]he oath in Hindi stands annulled as it is against the legal provisions… Since he is responsible for upholding law, the vice-president must take his oath of office and secrecy in Nepali." (Nepal Court Fuels Hindi Battle, Scraps Vice-President's Oath, TIMES OF INDIA, July 24, 2009, available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/NEWS/World/South-Asia/Nepal-court-fue
ls-Hindi-battle-scraps-vice-presidents-oath/articleshow/4816733.cms
.) Advocate Bal Krishna Neupane had filed the suit soon after the oath-taking. Less than 0.01 percent of Nepal's population is estimated to speak Hindi. (Anand Jha, Hindi Should Also Be Made an Official Language [opinion piece], REPÚBLICA, July 26, 2009, available at http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news
_id=7873
.)

Article 5 of Nepal's interim Constitution recognizes all languages spoken as a mother tongue as national languages of Nepal, which can be used in local bodies and offices, but stipulates: "[t]he Nepali Language in Devnagari script shall be the official language." (Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063 (2007), http://www.worldstatesmen.org/Nepal_Interim_Constitution2007.pdf (last visited July 27, 2009).)

Vice President Jha is a member of the Madhesi community based in the Terai plain, whose members are of Indian origin; Jha's mother tongue is reportedly Maithili, spoken by the majority of the Terai population. The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), one of the Terai-based political parties, had nominated Jha for the vice presidency. Jha is himself a former Supreme Court justice, but was not proposed by the Judicial Council to serve permanently on the Court because of a controversial sentence he handed down in favor of an alleged drug smuggler. (Uproar as New Nepal Vice President Takes Oath in Hindi, THAINDIAN NEWS, July 24, 2008, available at http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/uproar-as-new-nepal-vi
ce-president-takes-oath-in-hindi_10075349.html
.)

Several protests, led by students affiliated with the ruling parties, erupted after the oath-taking ceremony in July 2008; similar protests had occurred after Constituent Assembly lawmakers from the Terai parties took their oath of office in Hindi in May 2008. (Id.) However, according to an article in the TIMES OF INDIA, oath-taking in Hindi by Cabinet ministers from the Terai plain and Terai Members of Parliament have occurred "without much ado," and "MPs from indigenous communities have taken their oaths in their mother tongues, which are not Nepali, without any untoward incident." (TIMES OF INDIA, supra.)

Jha and Constituent Assembly members from the Terai plain rejected the Supreme Court verdict. Jha accused the Chief Justice of being partisan, contending that there is no requirement in the Constitution for Nepalis to speak exclusively in the Nepali language and indicating that he would not be compelled to retake the oath in Nepali. Anil Jha of the Sadbhava Party, which is seeking to have Hindi recognized as an official language by 2010, stated, "[i]t is unjust to impose a language in a country that is multi-lingual and multi-cultural." (Id.)

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, ministers from Terai-based political parties, and some political party leaders consulted with Attorney General Bharat Bahadur Karki and other legal experts in an effort to resolve the predicament. One possible course of action is amendment of the Constitution. According Minister for Commerce and Supplies Rajendra Mahato, "[f]irst, we have to study the ruling and find whether it was flawed. After that, we can move the apex court for review of the ruling or go for an amendment to the constitution that will allow oath-taking in the mother tongue, which is what CA members have been doing." (SC Ruling Triggers Concern, E-KANTIPUR.COM, July 26, 2009, available at http://ekantipur.com/kolnews.php?&nid=206229.)He noted that a lawyer could lodge a request with the Supreme Court, on behalf of the government or the vice-president, to review the decision. "The process of constitutional amendment will begin if the Supreme Court refuses to issue another ruling on the matter," he added. (Id.)

Author: Wendy Zeldin More by this author
Topic: Constitution More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Nepal More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 07/30/2009