The Odisha cabinet on Wednesday decided to make Odia language mandatory on signboards of all shops and commercial establishments. To bring this into effect, the Odisha Shops and Commercial Establishment Act, 1956 would be amended in the budget session of the assembly beginning March 20.
The move is expected to get a push ahead of Utkala Dibasa, the foundation day of the state, on April 1, according to a government officer associated with the plan.
The cabinet also decided that once the rule is implemented, all shops and establishments will have to comply within a month or pay fines ranging between Rs 1,000 and Rs 5,000 for a first violation. In case of a second violation, the fine will rise to between Rs 2,000 and Rs 25,000.
The cabinet decision triggered talk that chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) was trying to blunt criticism of his lack of command over Odia. The opposition routinely targets Patnaik for reading Odia in Roman script. Several TV shows in the state also satirise the CM’s difficulties with the state’s language despite being in power uninterrupted since the last 18 years.
During his visit to Odisha last year, BJP president Amit Shah had said Patnaik should seek apology for his poor Odia. The Congress too repeatedly targets him over his struggle with Odia.
Cooperation minister and senior BJD leader Surya Patro said the Cabinet decision was a fitting riposte to those who claim the CM has no love for Odia language. “The kind of things that Naveen Patnaik has done for the spread of Odia language in last few years has not been attempted by any other CM. The opposition will always have a problem with whatever the CM does,” said Patro.
In September last year, the state government passed a bill for starting the first Odia language university.
In August 2016, the state government enacted the rules of the Odisha Official Language Act, 1954, formally bringing it into force for official work in Odia language. According to the act, Odia has to be used for all gazette notifications, bills, amendment, acts, ordinances, orders, rules and regulations issued by the state government.
Odisha’s decision follows a path taken by several other states. In November last year, the Tripura government made it mandatory to display the Kokborok language on signboards, nameplates and notice boards in all government buildings. In September last year, Telangana government announced Telugu would be mandatory on signboards. In 2015, Karnataka made it compulsory for all private and public enterprises to display Kannada signboards prominently.