The Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed a bill which makes Marathi a compulsory subject across all schools in the state.
The development came on "Marathi Bhasha Din" (Marathi language day) which is celebrated on February 27, the birth anniversary of poet and Jnanpith award winner late V V Shirwadkar.
The state Legislative Council had passed the legislation, titled "Maharashtra Compulsory Teaching and Learning of Marathi Language in Schools Bill, 2020", on Wednesday.
Minister for Marathi Language Subhash Desai introduced the bill in the Lower House on Thursday.
Mr Desai said the legislation was on the lines of laws in Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, and it makes teaching and studying Marathi compulsory in all schools (irrespective of the board to which they are affiliated).
Marathi will become a compulsory subject in all schools from standard 1st to 10th in a phased manner from the academic year 2020-2021, he said.
It will be introduced in the first and sixth standards from the coming academic year and extended to further classes in subsequent years.
The subject will be, thus, taught from 1st to 10th standards from 2024, and the schools will follow a curriculum prescribed by the government.
The government will have the power to exempt a student or a class of students from all or any of the provisions of the Act, Desai said.
The Act also provides for a penalty of Rs 1 lakh for non-compliance.
Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis welcomed the bill but objected to the provision of exemption.
"This will create a loophole. The penalty of Rs 1 lakh is too low. Several schools charge fees ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 12 lakh. Paying Rs 1 lakh would not be a problem for them," the BJP leader said.
"There is also no provision for penalising repeat offenders," he added.
Mr Desai said the rules that are to be framed under the Act would ensure there is no misuse of the exemption.
"The clause is for students coming from outside Maharashtra," he said.
He cited the example of someone from outside the state taking admission in Maharashtra in the seventh standard. The exemption was meant for such students as they would not be able to catch up with local students who would be studying the subject from the 1st standard, the minister said.
Devendra Fadnavis, however, was not satisfied by the clarification. Southern states do not have such a clause, he said.
If someone comes to Maharashtra from outside, it does not mean he or she should not learn Marathi, the former chief minister said.
The House then passed the bill unanimously.