INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES
“No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding.” – Plato
The art of discovering the true meaning of an enactment by giving the terms of the enactment their actual and ordinary meaning is known as interpretation. It is the method of determining the true meaning of a statute’s terms. The Court is not supposed to interpret arbitrarily, and as a result, some standards have emerged as a result of the Courts’ ongoing work. These standards are often referred to as “interpretation laws.” The aim of statutory interpretation is to decide the legislature’s purpose, which is expressed either explicitly or implicitly in the language used. “By interpretation or construction,” SALMOND explains, “we mean the mechanism by which courts attempt to determine the purpose of the legislature through the medium of authoritative ways through which it is articulated.”
The means of communication are what we say or write. When the words have a single meaning, there is no problem, but when they have multiple meanings, the conveyor’s basic purpose must be grasped. If two people are conversing, any language inconsistencies will almost certainly be resolved at the same time. In most cases, the statute’s wording has a straightforward, straightforward, and straightforward definition. When it comes to the uncertain and repugnant provisions of the statutes, interpretation becomes much more critical.
The fundamental essence of language is the source of legislative uncertainty. It is not always possible to correctly translate a law’s true purpose into written words. Because of the flexibility of language, there will almost always be equally strong or equally unconvincing reasons for two opposing interpretations. There are occasions when provisions have more than one interpretation or when the terminology is ambiguous. After enacting the statutes, the legislature becomes functus officio. The interpreters are unable to return to the legislature to request the exact interpretation of the legislation because lawmakers may not have taken into account such a broad range of circumstances when drafting any given statute.
DOCTRINE OF HARMONIOUS CONSTRUCTION
Where there is a discrepancy between two or more statues or sections of a statute, the harmonious construction rule must be followed. The rule is based on the basic principle that any statute has a legal purpose and should be read in its entirety. The interpretation that is consistent with all of the statute’s provisions should be used. In the event that harmonizing both clauses is unlikely, the court’s decision on the provision would take precedence.
The thumb rule for interpreting every law is the rule of harmonious construction. The aim of the courts should be to view the law as a whole, and a construction that prevents confusion or repugnancy between the different sections or parts of the statute should be used. The courts should prevent a “head-on collision” between the various sections of an enactment, as the Apex Court put it, and any dispute between the various provisions should be resolved. The usual assumption should be fairness, and it should not be believed that what the legislature grants with one side would be taken away with the other. The Supreme Court has succinctly clarified the rule of harmonious construction as follows: “When there are two clauses in an enactment that cannot be reconciled with each other, they should be interpreted in such a way that, if possible, effect should be provided to both.” Since harmonization does not imply destruction, a construction that renders one component of the enactment a dead letter should be avoided.
Statutory laws should be construed in a consistent manner, and courts should prevent absurd or unintentional consequences. It should be used to make the provision relevant to the situation. It should be in accordance with the Rulemakers’ meaning. The Harmonious Construction Rule also applies to subordinate legislature.
ORIGIN OF HARMONIOUS CONSTRUCTION
The Doctrine of Harmonious Construction was established as a result of court interpretations of a variety of cases. The doctrine’s creation can be traced all the way back to the first amendment to the Indian Constitution, with the landmark judgment of Shankari Prasad v. Union of India. The disagreement between Part III (Fundamental Rights) and Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy) of the Indian Constitution was the subject of the case.
The court used the Harmonious Construction rule to hold that fundamental rights, which are rights granted against the state, may be revoked under certain circumstances and modified by Parliament to bring them into compliance with constitutional provisions. Both were given preference, and it was determined that FRs and DPSPs are just two sides of the same coin that must be worked together for the greater good.
This theory was developed historically through the law of conciliation, which was first proposed in the case of C.P and Berar Act. The court used this rule of interpretation to prevent any overlap or confusion between entries 24 and 25 of the State list, and to read them in a logical order by deciding the scope of the subjects in question.
CASE LAWS OF HARMONIOUS CONSTRUCTION
VENKATARAMANA DEVARU VS. STATE OF MYSORE
For this situation the High Court applied the standard of harmonious construction in settling a contention between Articles 25(2)(b) and 26(b) of the Constitution and it was held that the right of each religious division or any part thereof to deal with its own undertakings in issue of religion [Article 26(b)] is dependent upon a law made by a State accommodating social welfare and change or opening up of Hindu religious of a public character to all classes and segments of Hindus [Article 25(2)(b)].
CALCUTTA GAS COMPANY PRIVATE LTD. VS. STATE OF WEST BENGAL
The Oriental Gas Company Act was passed by the West Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1960. Under this Act, the respondent attempted to take over the control of the Gas Company. The appellant argued that the state Legislative Assembly lacked the authority to pass such legislation under Entries 24 and 25 of the State List since the Parliament had already passed the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951, which dealt with industries under Entry 52 of the Central List. The Supreme Court noted that with so many subjects in three lists in the Constitution, there is bound to be some overlap, and it is the responsibility of the courts in such situations to harmonise them, if possible, so that each of them can have effect. The State List’s entry 24 includes all of the state’s industries. Only the Gas industry is qualified for Entry 25. As a result, Entry 24 encompasses all industries except the gas industry, which is explicitly protected under Entry 25. Entry 52 in the Union List corresponds to Entry 24 in the State List. As a result, it became apparent that the gas industry was solely protected by Entry 25 of the State List, over which the state has complete influence. As a result, the state had complete authority to enact legislation in this region.
COMMISSIONER OF SALES TAX, MP VS. RADHA KRISHNA
The Commissioner sanctioned criminal prosecution of the respondent partners in this case under section 46 (1) c of the Madhya Pradesh General Sales Tax Act, 1958, after the assessee failed to pay the sales tax despite repeated demands. The respondent argued that the Act had two separate sections, namely section 22 (4 – A) and section 46 (1) c, in which two different procedures for realizing the amount due were prescribed, but that there was no provision of law that could say which provision should be enforced in which case. The provision prescribed u/s 46 (1) c, according to the Supreme Court, was more serious. The inference drawn from the harmonious construction of these two clauses was that the Commissioner had judicial discretion in deciding which procedure to follow in which case. The court has the authority to interfere if the Commissioner fails to act judicially. However, in this situation, the Commissioner was right in deciding that the more severe procedure under section 46 (1) c needed to be used because the assesse company had failed to pay sales tax despite the sales tax officer’s repeated demands.
SIRSILK LTD. VS. GOVT. OF ANDHRA PRADESH
An intriguing question involving a conflict between two equally mandatory provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, namely ss 17(1) and 18(1), is a good example of the significance of the concept that any attempt should be made to give effect to all of an act’s provisions by harmonizing every apparent conflict between two or more of them. Section 17(1) of the Act requires the government to publish any award of a Labour Tribunal within thirty days of receipt, and section 17(2) of the Act states that the award becomes final upon publication. A contract between an employer and employees is binding on the parties to the arrangement, according to Section 18(1) of the Act. In a situation where a settlement was reached after the Government received a Labour Tribunal award but before it was released, the issue was whether the Government was indeed obliged to report the award under section 17(1). The Supreme Court held that the only way to address the conflict was to hold that the industrial dispute ends with the settlement, which becomes valid from the date of signing, and the award becomes infructuous, and the Government cannot publish it.
PRINCIPLES OF DOCTRINE OF HARMONIOUS CONSTRUCTION
- The courts must prevent a head-on collision with apparently conflicting laws and must construe the contradictory provisions to harmonize them.
- A provision of one section cannot be used to invalidate a provision of another unless the court is unable to resolve their differences despite its best efforts.
- Where it is difficult to resolve the discrepancies in conflicting clauses entirely, the courts must view them in such a way that both provisions receive as much weight as possible.
- Courts must remember that reducing one clause to a meaningless number or rendering it dead is not a harmonious construction.
- Harmonization does not imply the repeal or ineffectiveness of any legislative provision.
APPLICABILITY OF HARMONIOUS CONSTRUCTION
The Courts have formulated some measures for the improved applicability of the said doctrine after reviewing numerous case laws.
- Giving maximum force to both clauses thus reducing their inconsistency and/or dispute.
- Both clauses that are inherently contradictory or repugnant to one another must be read as a whole, and the entire enactment must be considered.
- Choose the one with the broader reach of the two contrasting clauses.
- Compare the broad and narrow provisions, and then try to analyze the broad law to see if there are any other consequences. No further investigation is needed if the result is as fair as harmonizing both clauses and giving them full force separately. One thing to keep in mind is that the legislature, when enacting the provisions, was well aware of the situation that they were attempting to address, and thus all provisions adopted must be given full effect on scope.
- A non-obstante clause must be used when one provision of an Act strips away powers conferred by another Act.
- It is critical that the Court determine the degree to which the legislature wanted to grant one clause overriding authority over another. In Eastbourne Corporation v. Fortes Ltd., it was decided that if two opposing sessions could not be reconciled, the last section would take precedence. This isn’t a universal law, though.
Legislation is written by legislators, and there is always the risk of uncertainty, contradictions, inconsistencies, absurdities, hardships, repugnancy, duplication, and other issues. In such cases, the laws of statute interpretation apply, and the provisions are construed to give them the most effect and to make justice to the situation at hand. In reading laws, the concept of harmonious construction is very important and is used in a lot of situations. It aids in the clarification of complex problems and facilitates the delivery of decisions. As a result, the value of the law of harmonious construction is recognized and felt by the judiciary, just as it is by many other laws of application of statutes. ‘The administration of justice is the firmest foundation of the nation,’ George Washington rightly said. As a result, in accordance with this philosophy, the judiciary should correctly interpret statutes and intelligently enforce the rules for interpreting statutes in order to provide prompt justice to the people of the country.