The Maharashtra Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed a bill making Marathi a mandatory subject in schools of all boards in the state, PTI reported.

The Maharashtra Compulsory Teaching and Learning of Marathi Language in Schools Bill, 2020, was introduced by Minister for Marathi Language Subhash Desai. He said it was on the lines of laws enacted by Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, and Kerala, making it mandatory for schools affiliated to national boards to teach local languages.

“Marathi will become a compulsory subject in all schools from standard 1st to 10th in a phased manner from the academic year 2020-’21,” 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.”

Desai added that schools will follow a curriculum prescribed by the government and there is a penalty of Rs 1 lakh for non-compliance.

He said the government will also have the power to exempt a student or a class of students from all or any of the provisions of the Act. Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis welcomed the bill but raised objections to the provision of exemption. “This will create a loophole,” he said. “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. There is also no provision for penalising repeat offenders.”

The minister said the exemptions are meant for students outside the state taking admission in Maharashtra in between the academic year. “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,” Desai added.

Fadnavis pointed out that southern states do not have such clauses. “If someone comes to Maharashtra from outside, it does not mean he or she should not learn Marathi,” the Bharatiya Janata Party leader said.

Tamil Nadu was the first to introduce such legislation in the country in 2006. Other southern states have enacted similar laws over the past few years.