Signboards in the state can display the English writing more prominently than Kannada, the High Court has ruled.
It has also declared ultra vires (beyond power) the legal provision that insists on priority for Kannada on signboards.
Five years ago, Vodafone, the world’s second largest mobile telecommunications company, had contested a provision under the Karnataka Shops and Establishments Act of 1963, amended in 2008.
On March 17, a division bench comprising justices K L Manjunath and Ravi Malimath dismissed an appeal by the state government, challenging a single bench ruling in Vodafone’s favour.
In 2009, on receiving a notice to change its signboards, Vodafone had filed its first petition in the High Court, submitting that it had spent crores on the signage and would suffer losses if it had to put up fresh signboards. The company had said the name Vodafone is displayed in English in over 60 countries and contended that the Karnataka law has violated Article 13 of the Indian Constitution, which says the state shall not make any law that “takes away or abridges” Constitutional provisions, and Article 19, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. The Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, introduced to regulate service conditions, has gone beyond its brief, Vodafone had submitted.
Defending the Act, the government had contended that Rule 24A and Rule 26 were meant to protect the interests of workmen who may not know any language other than Kannada. It said the single judge had not considered similar rules being enforced in adjoining states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
But the single judge had noted that the Vodafone signboards contained Kannada below the writing in English. This will not, in any way, affect the interests of employees and the single judge has not committed any error, the division bench ruled.
The bench said the provisions of the law has to be in consonance with its “aims and objects”. The state cannot traverse beyond its limits or frame a rule not even contemplated under the Act. “These two rules are ultra vires and in violation of the Constitution,” the bench said.