Interpretation means the art of finding out the true sense of an enactment by giving the words of the enactment their natural and ordinary meaning. It is the process of ascertaining the true meaning of the words used in a statute. The Court is not expected to interpret arbitrarily and therefore there have been certain principles which have evolved out of the continuous exercise by the Courts. These principles are sometimes called ‘rules of interpretation’. The object of interpretation of statutes is to determine the intention of the legislature conveyed expressly or impliedly in the language used. As stated by SALMOND, "by interpretation or construction is meant, the process by which the courts seek to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed."
What we speak or write are the means of communication. No problem arises when the words are of single meaning, but those with plural meanings require the basic intend of the conveyor to be understood. If two people conversing with each other, surely whatever be the uncertainty in the language will be resorted at the same time. Let us suppose we discovered a letter written by a soldier during World War I, to his wife, there will definitely be some words inconsistent with the others and will be delivering more than one meaning. The best way to understand the real meaning is to have a logical interpretation of his mind and the conditions that affected his writing of the letter which will deliver the real intend of the writer. All that we can do is to solve the mystery by our self as the soldier is not there to make us understand the whole meaning of the letter; the same is the case with our judiciary as they by their own intellect have to interpret the statutes made by the legislators. In most circumstances the language of the statute has a plain, simple and to the point meaning. Interpretation becomes more important when it comes to uncertain and repugnant provisions of the statues.
The reason for ambiguity of legislation is the basic nature of language. It is not always possible to accurately convert the real intend of the legislation into written words. The versatility of language inevitably means that there will often be equally good or equally unconvincing arguments for two competing interpretation. There are at times the provisions having more than one meaning or the ambiguity in the language. The legislature becomes functus officio after enacting the statues. The interpreters cannot go back to the legislature and ask for the exact meaning of the statute as the legislators would not have assumed such a wide variety of conditions while making of any particular statute.
Thus it is totally on the Judges to interpret such provisions so that both are effective. To avoid further ambiguities legislation has provided us with the primary rules of interpretations. Here only two of the rules will be discussed and a reasonable comparison shall be drawn out between them. Harmonious Construction and Beneficial Construction are the two rules to be discussed as a concept and shall be compared with each other as per usages of the same and on different heads.
Interpretation And Construction
Interpretation is the method by which true sense or the meaning of the word is understood. The meaning of an ordinary meaning of an English word is not a question of law. According to Gray, the process by which a judge constructs from the words of a statute book, a meaning which he either believes to be that of the legislature, or which, he proposes to attribute to it is interpretation. Salmond describes interpretation as the process which the courts seek to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed.
Rule of Harmonious Construction
When there is a conflict between two or more statues or two or more parts of a statute then the rule of harmonious construction needs to be adopted. The rule follows a very simple premise that every statute has a purpose and intent as per law and should be read as a whole. The interpretation consistent of all the provisions of the statute should be adopted. In the case in which it shall be impossible to harmonize both the provisions, the court’s decision regarding the provision shall prevail.
The rule of harmonious construction is the thumb rule to interpretation of any statute. An interpretation which makes the enactment a consistent whole, should be the aim of the Courts and a construction which avoids inconsistency or repugnancy between the various sections or parts of the statute should be adopted. The Courts should avoid “a head on clash”, in the words of the Apex Court, between the different parts of an enactment and conflict between the various provisions should be sought to be harmonized. The normal presumption should be consistency and it should not be assumed that what is given with one hand by the legislature is sought to be taken away by the other. The rule of harmonious construction has been tersely explained by the Supreme Court thus, “When there are, in an enactment two provisions which cannot be reconciled with each other, they should be so interpreted, that if possible, effect should be given to both”. A construction which makes one portion of the enactment a dead letter should be avoided since harmonization is not equivalent to destruction.
Harmonious Construction should be applied to statutory rules and courts should avoid absurd or unintended results. It should be resorted to making the provision meaningful in the context. It should be in consonance with the intention of Rule makers. Rule of Harmonious construction is applicable to subordinate legislature also.
The Supreme Court laid down five principles of rule of Harmonious Construction in the landmark case of CIT v Hindustan Bulk Carriers:
1. The courts must avoid a head on clash of seemingly contradicting provisions and they must construe the contradictory provisions so as to harmonize them.
2. The provision of one section cannot be used to defeat the provision contained in another unless the court, despite all its effort, is unable to find a way to reconcile their differences. When it is impossible to completely reconcile the differences in contradictory provisions, the courts must interpret them in such as way so that effect is given to both the provisions as much as possible.
3. Courts must also keep in mind that interpretation that reduces one provision to a useless number or dead is not harmonious construction.
To harmonize is not to destroy any statutory provision or to render it fruitless.
Cases on Harmonious Construction
1. Venkataramana Devaru v. State of Mysore
In this case the Supreme Court applied the rule of harmonious construction in resolving a conflict between Articles 25(2)(b) and 26(b) of the Constitution and it was held that the right of every religious denomination or any section thereof to manage its own affairs in matters of religion [Article 26(b)] is subject to a law made by a State providing for social welfare and reform or throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus [Article 25(2)(b)].
2. Calcutta Gas Company Pvt. Limited v State of West Bengal
The Legislative Assembly of WB passed the Oriental Gas Company Act in 1960. The respondent sought to take over the management of the Gas Company under this Act. The appellant challenged the validity of this act by holding that the state Legislative Assembly had no power to pass such an under Entries 24 and 25 of the State List because the Parliament had already enacted the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951 under Entry 52 of the Central List dealing with industries. It was observed by the Supreme Court that there are so many subjects in three lists in the Constitution that there is bound to be some overlapping and it is the duty of the courts in such situation is to yet to harmonise them, if possible, so the effect can be given to each of them. Entry 24 of the State List covers entire Industries in the State. Entry 25 is only limited to the Gas industry. Therefore Entry 24 covers every industry barring the Gas Industries because it has been specifically covered under Entry 25. Corresponding to Entry 24 of the State List, there is Entry 52 in the Union List. Therefore, by harmonious construction it became clear that gas industry was exclusively covered by Entry 25 of the State List over which the state has full control. Therefore, the state was fully competent to make laws in this regard.
3. Commissioner of Sales Tax, MP v Radha Krishna
Under section 46 (1) c of the Madhya Pradesh General Sales Tax Act, 1958, criminal prosecution of the respondent partners was sanctioned in this case by the Commissioner when even after repeated demands the assesse did not pay the sales tax. The respondent challenged this provision on the ground that there were two separate provisions under the Act, namely, section 22 (4 – A) and section 46 (1) c under which two different procedures were prescribed to realize the amount due but there was no provision of law which could tell that which provision should be applied in which case. According to the Supreme Court, the provision prescribed u/s 46 (1) c was more drastic. It was held that by harmonious construction of these two provisions, the conclusion drawn is that the Commissioner had a judicial discretion to decide as to which procedure to be followed in which case. Whenever the Commissioner will fail to act judicially, the court will have the right to intervene. However, in this case, the Commissioner had correctly decided that the more drastic procedure under section 46 (1) c deserved to be followed because of the failure of the assesse firm in paying sales tax despite the repeated demands by the sales tax officer.
4. Sirsilk Ltd. v Govt. of Andhra Pradesh
An interesting question relating to a conflict between two equally mandatory provisions, viz., ss 17(1) and 18(1) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, is a good illustration of the importance of the principle that every effort should be made to give effect to all the provisions of an act by harmonizing any apparent conflict between two or more of its provisions. Section 17(1) of the Act requires the government to publish every award of a Labour Tribunal within thirty days of its receipt and by sub – section (2) of section 17 the award on its publication becomes final. Section 18(1) of the Act provides that a settlement between employer and workmen shall be binding on the parties to the agreement. In a case where a settlement was arrived at after the receipt of the award of a Labour Tribunal by the Government but before its publication, the question was whether the Government was still required u/s 17(1) to publish the award. In construing these two equally mandatory provisions, the Supreme Court held that the only way to resolve the conflict was to hold that by the settlement, which becomes effective from the date of signing, the industrial dispute comes to an end and the award becomes infructuous and the Government cannot publish it.
Rule of Beneficial Construction
Beneficent construction involves giving the widest meaning possible to the statutes. When there are two or more possible ways of interpreting a section or a word, the meaning which gives relief and protects the benefits which are purported to be given by the legislation, should be chosen. A beneficial statute has to be construed in its correct perspective so as to fructify the legislative intent. Although beneficial legislation does receive liberal interpretation, the courts try to remain within the scheme and not extend the benefit to those not covered by the scheme. It is also true that once the provision envisages the conferment of benefit limited in point of time and subject to the fulfillment of certain conditions, their non-compliance will have the effect of nullifying the benefit. There should be due stress and emphasis to Directive Principles of State Policy and any international convention on the subject.
There is no set principle of construction that a beneficial legislation should always be retrospectively operated although such legislation such legislation is either expressly or by necessary intendment not made retrospective. Further, the rule of interpretation can only be resorted to without doing any violence to the language of the statute. In case of any exception when the implementation of the beneficent act is restricted the Court would construe it narrowly so as not to unduly expand the area or scope of exception. The liberal construction can only flow from the language of the act and there cannot be placing of unnatural interpretation on the words contained in the enactment. Also, beneficial construction does not permit rising of any presumption that protection of widest amplitude must be deemed to have been conferred on those for whose benefit the legislation may have been enacted.
Beneficial Construction of statutes have enormously played an important role in the development and beneficial interpretation of socio – economic legislations and have always encouraged the Indian legislators to make more laws in favour of the backward class of people in India.
Beneficial Construction in Socio – Economic legislations
Socio-economic legislation which is aimed at social or economic policy changes, the interpretation should not be narrow. Justice Krishna Iyer in a case relating to agrarian reforms observed that “the judiciary is not a mere umpire but also an active catalyst in the constitutional scheme”.
In the case of Sant Ram v Rajinderlal, the Supreme Court said that welfare legislation must be interpreted in a third World perspective favoring the weaker and poor class. It has also been laid down in the case of labor legislation that courts should not stick to grammatical constructions but also have regard to ‘teleological purpose and protective intendment of the legislation. Interpretation of labor legislations should be done by the courts with more concern with the colour, the context and the content of the statute rather than its literal import.
Industrial Disputes Act 1947 is one of welfare statute which intends to bring about peace and harmony between management and labour in an industry and improve the service conditions of industrial workers which in will turn accelerate productive activity of the country resulting in its prosperity. As a result the prosperity of the country in turn will help to improve the conditions of the workmen. Therefore this statute should be interpreted in such a way that it advances the object and the purpose of the legislation and gives it a full meaning and effect so that the ultimate social objective is achieved. The courts while interpreting labour laws have always stressed on the doctrine of social justice as enshrined in the Preamble of Constitution.
Beneficial Construction – A tendency rather than a rule
It is said by Maxwell, that Beneficial Construction is a tendency and not a rule. The reason is that this principle is based on human tendency to be fair, accommodating, and just. Instead of restricting the people from getting the benefit of the statute, Court tends to include as many classes as it can while remaining faithful to the wordings of the statute. For example, in the case of Alembic Chemical Works v Workman, an industrial tribunal awarded more number of paid leaves to the workers than what Section 79(1) of Factories Act recommended. This was challenged by the appellant. SC held that the enactment being welfare legislation for the workers, it had to be beneficially constructed in the favor of worker and thus, if the words are capable of two meanings, the one that gives benefit to the workers must be used.
When a statute is meant for the benefit of a specific class, and if a word in the statute is capable of two meanings, one which would preserve the benefits and one which would not, then the meaning that would preserve the benefits must be adopted and shall be followed by the court of law. It is important to note that omissions will not be supplied by the court. Only when multiple meanings are possible, can the court shall pick the beneficial one. Thus, where the court has to choose between a wider mean that carries out the objective of the legislature better and a narrow meaning, then it usually chooses the former meaning carrying out the objective of the legislation. Similarly, when the language used by the legislature fails to achieve the objective of a statute, an extended meaning could be given to it to achieve that objective, if the language is fairly susceptible to the extended meaning.
Limitation On The Application Of Beneficial Construction
If on the application of the rule of beneficial construction, the court finds that it is doing complete justice and delivering a fair judgment then there is no question of why should not such rule is applied? But there are certain restrictions which the court has to take care of which at the time of application have to be adhered to –
1. Where the courts find that by the application of the rule of beneficial construction, it would be re legislating a provision of statute either by substituting, adding or altering any provision of the act.
2. Where any word in a statute confers to a single meaning only. Then the courts should refrain from applying the rule of benevolent construction to the statute.
3. When there is no ambiguity in a provision of a statute so construed. If the provision is plain, unambiguous and does not give rise to any doubt, the rule of beneficial construction cannot be applied.
The conclusion shall be the final analysis of the comparison between the rule of Harmonious Construction and rule of Beneficial Construction. Harmonious construction is only applied where there are a conflict between the meaning coming out of two different sections and the meaning land the courts in dubious situation of which section to apply? Whereas, the rule of Beneficial Construction is applied in the cases where any construction may do any benefit to the society or any group of people and are basically applied in the socio – economic legislations. Here there is no conflict between the meanings of any two sections and meanings attributed to them.
Therefore the rule of Harmonious Construction and Beneficial Construction both play an important in the interpretation of statutes and are two important rules of interpretation.
# Gray Nature and Sources of Law, 176 (EDN. 2)
# P. J. Fitzgerald, “Salmond on Jurisprudence”. Universal Law Publication, EDN.12, 2008.
# Singh, Avtar. “Interpretation of Statutes”. Gurgaon: LexisNexis Publication, EDN.4, 2015.
# (2003) 3 SCC 57, p. 74.
# CIT v Hindustan Bulk Carriers.
# Sultana Begum v. Premchand Jain, AIR 1997 SC 1006
#AIR 1958 SC 255
#AIR 1962 SC 1044
# AIR 1979 SC 1588
# AIR 1964 SC 160
# Singh, G.P. “Principles of Statutory Interpretation”. Gurgaon: LexisNexis Publication, EDN.13, 2015.
# AIR 1978 SC 1601
# Workmen of Indian Standards Institution v Management of Indian Standards Institution, (1976)1 LLJ 33
# AIR 1961 SC 26