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Construction Ejusdem Generis

Written by: Jayant Bhatt, Vth year Amity Law School, New Delhi
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Canons of statutory construction are rules of construction for the interpretation of statute law Canons give common sense guidance to courts in interpreting the meaning of statutes. Proponents of the use of canons argue that the canons constrain judges and limit the ability of the courts to legislate from the bench in US. Rules of construction or statutory construction is the process of determining how the provisions of the general law relate to a specific legal case, and distinguishes the rules of statutory interpretation from other rules or aids for the interpretation of law in common law jurisdictions. Rules of construction has also been defined as "the drawing in inference by the act of reason, as to the intent of an instrument, from given circumstances, upon principles deduced from men's general motives, conduct and action.

There are are certain general principles of interpretation which has been applied by the courts from time to time. And one of them viz. Construction Ejusdem Generis has been explained herein below. Ejusdem Generis is a Latin term which means "of the same kind," it is used to interpret loosely written statutes. Where a law lists specific classes of persons or things and then refers to them in general, the general statements only apply to the same kind of persons or things specifically listed. Example: if a law refers to automobiles, trucks, tractors, motorcycles and other motor-powered vehicles, "vehicles" would not include airplanes, since the list was of land-based transportation. The term Ejusdem Generis in other words means words of a similar class. The rule is that where particular words have a common characteristic (i.e. of a class) any general words that follow should be construed as referring generally to that class; no wider construction should be afforded.

Construction Ejusdem Generis
According to the Black's Law Dictionary (8th edition, 2004) the principle of Ejusdem Generis is where general words follow an
enumeration of persons or things, by words of a particular and specific meaning, such general words are not to be construed in their widest extent, but are to be held as applying only to persons or things of the same general kind or class as those specifically mentioned. it is a canon of statutory construction, where general words follow the enumeration of particular classes of things, the general words will be construed as applying only to things of the same general class as those enumerated.

The expression Ejusdem Generis means of the same kind. Normally, general words should be given their natural meaning like all other words unless the context requires otherwise. But when a general word follows specific words of a distinct category, the general word may be given a restricted meaning of the same category. The general expression takes it's meaning from the preceding particular expressions because the legislature by using the particular words of a distinct genus has shown its intention to that effect. This principle is limited in its application to general word following less general word only. If the specific words do not belong to a distinct. Genus, this rule is inapplicable. Consequently, if a general word follows only one particular word, that single particular word does not constitute a distinct genus and, therefore, Ejusdem Generis rule cannot be applied in such a case. Exceptional stray instances are, however, available where one word genus has been created by the courts and the general word following such a genus given a restricted meaning. If the particular words exhaust the whole genus, the general word following these particular words is construed as embracing a larger genus. The principle of Ejusdem Generis is not a universal application. If the context of legislation rules out the applicability of this rule, it has no part to play in the interpretation of general words. The basis of the principle of Ejusdem Generis is that if the legislature intended general words to be used in unrestricted sense, it would not have bothered to use particular words at all.

It is an ancient doctrine, commonly called Lord Tenterden's Rule, dating back to Archbishop of Canterbury's Case in 1596. Singer 47:17, at 272-73. It provides that when general words follow specific words in a statute, the general words are read to embrace only objects similar to those objects of the specific words. The rule recognizes and gives effect to both the specific and general words by using the class indicated by the specific words to extend the scope of the statute with the general words to include additional terms or objects within the class. In using the doctrine as an interpretative aid, it is important to keep in mind that it is not applied in a vacuum, and disputes cannot be resolved by merely tying the issue to the procrustean bed of Ejusdem Generis. In fact, there are several conditions that have been identified for the doctrine to apply, but none more important than the identification of the class. There are five conditions that have been identified:
(1) The statute contains an enumeration by specific words;
(2) The members of the enumeration suggest a class;
(3) The class is not exhausted by the enumeration;
(4) A general reference supplementing the enumeration, usually following it; and
(5) There is not clearly manifested an intent that the general term be given a broader meaning than the doctrine requires.
Classes can be defined in a vast number of ways, but the key to unlocking the true value of the doctrine is to ensure that the
identified class has some objective relationship to the aim of the statute. In other words, the basis for determining, which among various semantically correct definitions of the class should be given effect is found in the purpose and subject of the statute as revealed in the legislative intent.
The rule of Ejusdem Generis must be applied with great caution, because, it implies a departure from the natural meaning of words, in order to give them a meaning on a supposed intention of the legislature. The rule must be controlled by the fundamental rule that statutes must be construed so as to carry out the object sought to be accomplished. The rule requires that the specific words are all of one genus, in which case, the general words may be presumed to be restricted to that genus.

For example, the words 'or otherwise' are generally used as ancillary to the specific proposition which precedes them.

In Thakur Amar Singhji v. State of Rajasthan, the validity of the Rajasthan Land Reforms and Resumption of Jagirs Act, 1952 was impugned. One of the tenures was known as Bhomichar tenure and it was contended that its holders were not jagirdars. It was held: We agree with the petitioners that a jagir can be created only by a grant, and that if it is established that Bhomichara tenure is not held under a grant, it cannot be classed as a jagir. We do not base this conclusion on the ground put forward that the word 'Jagir' in Article 31-A of the Constitution should be read Ejusdem Generis with 'other similar grants', because, the true scope of the rule of 'Ejusdem Generis' is that words of a general nature following specific and particular words should be
construed as limited to things which are of the same nature as those specified and not its reverse, that specific words which precede are controlled by the general words which follow.

In State of Bombay v. Ali Gulshan, the question was whether the appellant was entitled under Section 6(4)(a) of the Bombay Land Requisition Act, 1948, to requisition, as for a public purpose, premises for housing a member of a foreign consulate. The sub-section provided that the State Government may requisition for the purpose of a State or any other public purpose . . .. The High Court held that the words 'any other purpose' should be read' Ejusdem Generis' with the purpose of the State that accommodation for a member of the foreign consulate staff is a 'purpose of the Union' and hence the State Government was not entitled to requisition. Allowing the appeal, the Supreme Court held: With great respect, we are constrained to say that the 'Ejusdem Generis' rule of construction, which found favour in the court below for reaching the result that the words 'any other public purpose' are restricted to a public purpose which is also a purpose of the State, has scarcely any application. Apart from the fact that the rule must be confined within narrow limits, and general or comprehensive words should receive their full and natural meaning unless they are clearly restrictive in their intendment, it is requisite that there must be a distinct genus, which must comprise more than one species, before the rule can be applied.

In Lilavati Bai v. Bombay State, the petitioner was the widow of a tenant of certain premises and she had vacated from such premises. Finding the premises vacant, the respondent requisitioned the premises under Section 6(4)(a) of the Bombay Land Requisition Act, 1948, for the public purpose of housing a government servant. One of the contentions of the petitioner was that under the Explanation to the sub-section there would be deemed to be a vacancy when the tenant 'ceases to be in occupation upon termination of his tenancy, eviction or assignment or transfer in any other manner of his interest in the premises or otherwise', and that the words 'or otherwise' should be construed as Ejusdem Generis with the words immediately preceding them. It was held:
the rule Ejusdem Generis sought to be expressed in aid of the petitioner can possibly have no application. The legislature, when it used the words 'or otherwise', apparently intended to cover other cases which may not come within the meaning of the preceding clauses, for example, a case where the tenant's occupation has ceased as a result of trespass by a third party. The legislature intended to cover all possible cases of vacancy occurring due to any reasons whatsoever. Hence, far from using those words Ejusdem Generis with the preceding clauses of the explanation, the legislature used those words in an all-inclusive sense. The rule of Ejusdem Generis is intended to be applied where general words have been used following particular and specific words of the same nature on the established rule of construction that the legislature presumed to use the general words in a restricted sense that is to say, as belonging to the same genus as the particular and specific words.

Such a restricted meaning has to be given to words of general import only where the context of the whole scheme of legislation requires it. But where the context and the object and mischief of the enactment do not require such restricted meaning be attached to words of general import, it becomes the duty of the courts to give those words their plain and ordinary meaning.

In Western India Theatres v. Municipal Corporation, Poona , the respondent levied a tax of Rs. 2 per day as license fee on the appellants, who were lessees of a cinema house. The levy was under Section 59(1)(xi) of the Bombay District Municipal Act, 1901, which provides that the municipality could levy 'any other tax to the nature and object of which the approval of the Governor shall have been obtained'. It was contended that Section 59(1)(xi) is unconstitutional in that the legislature had completely abdicated its-functions and delegated the power to the municipality to determine the nature of the tax to be imposed. The contention was rejected by the Supreme Court and one of the reasons given for the decision is: Although the rule of construction based on the principle of Ejusdem Generis cannot be invoked in this case, for items (i) to (x) do not, strictly speaking, belong to the same genus, they do indicate, to our mind, the kind and nature of tax which the municipalities are authorized to impose.

In Kochunni v. State of Madras, it was observed: The rule of Ejusdem Generis is that when general words follow particular and specific words of the same nature, the general words must be confined to the things of the same kind as those specified. But it is clearly laid down by decided cases that the specific words must form a distinct genus or category. It is not an inviolable rule of law, but is only a permissible inference in the absence of an indication to the contrary.

In Jage Ram v. State of Haryana, the respondent issued a notification under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, for the acquisition of the appellant's land. The notification directed that action under Section 17(2)(c) of the Act shall be taken on the ground of urgency and that the provisions of Section 5-A shall not apply in regard to the acquisition. The appellant contended that though Section 17(2)(c) read by itself covers a very large field, that provision should be given a narrower meaning because of the provisions of Section 17(2)(a) and (b). It was held: The Ejusdem Generis rule is not a rule of law but is merely a rule of construction to aid the courts to find out the true intention of the legislature. If a given provision is plain and unambiguous and the legislative intent is clear, there is no occasion to call in aid that rule. Ejusdem Generis rule is explained in HALSBURY'S LAWS OF ENGLAND thus: 'As a rule, where in a statute there are general words following particular and specific words, the general words must be confined to things of the same kind as those specified, although this, as a rule of construction, must be applied with caution, and subject to the primary rule that statutes are to be construed in accordance with the intention of Parliament. For the Ejusdem Generis rule to apply, the specific words must constitute a category, class or genus, then only things which belong to that category, class or genus fall within the general words'.

The Supreme Court in Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board v. Harishanker, has laid down the following five essential elements of this rule:
(1) the statute contains an enumeration of specific words;
(2) the subjects of enumeration constitute a class or category;
(3) that class or category is not exhausted by the enumeration;
(4) the general terms follow the enumeration; and
(5) there is no indication of a different legislative intent. If the legislative purpose of a statute is such that a statutory series should be read Ejusdem Generis, so be it, the rule is helpful.  But if not, the rule is more likely to defeat than to fulfill the purpose of the statute. The rule like many other rules of statutory interpretation is a useful servant but a bad master.

In State of Bombay v. Ali Gulshan, the interpretation of Section 6 (4) (a) of the Bombay Land Requisition Act, 1948 which said: 'State Government may requisition for the purpose of State or any other public purpose , was' involved. It was contended that under the provision the appellant was entitled to requisition premises for housing a member of the foreign consulate. The High Court held that the expression any other public purpose should be read Ejusdem Generis with purpose of state, and providing accommodation to a member of the foreign consulate being a purpose of the Union and not of the State, the State Government had no authority to requisition. The Supreme Court held that the High Court was in error in applying the principle of Ejusdem Generis. The general expression any other public purpose follows only a single expression for the purpose of a State which is not a distinct genus. In the absence of a genus the rule has no application. Further, the intention of the legislature is quite clear by the words used in the enactment. By giving the words their natural meaning it is apparent that the expression any other public purpose includes providing accommodation to a member of a foreign consulate.

In Rajasthan State Electricity Board v. Mohan Lal , the respondent raised a question of his seniority in service and filed a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution praying that suitable directions may be given to the appellant Board. The appellant contended that it was not 'State' as defined in Article 12 and that therefore no direction could be given to it. The High Court rejected the appellant's contention. In the Supreme Court the appellant relied on certain decisions46 in which 'other authorities' in the Article were read Ejusdem Generis with 'State'. Dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court held:
 In our opinion the High Court [in these cases] fell into an error in applying the principle of Ejusdem Generis when interpreting the expression 'other authorities' in Article 12 of the Constitution, as they overlooked the basic principle of interpretation that, to invoke the application of Ejusdem Generis rule, there must be a distinct genus or category running through the bodies already named. Craies summarizes the principle as follows: 'The Ejusdem Generis rule is one to be applied with caution and not pushed too far.. .. To invoke the application of the Ejusdem Generis rule there must be a distinct genus or category. The specific words must apply not to different objects of a widely differing character but to something, which can be called a class or kind of objects. Where this is lacking, the rule cannot apply, but the mention of a single species does not constitute a genus'. Maxwell explained the principles by saying, 'But the general word which follows particular and specific words of the same nature as itself takes its meaning from them, and is presumed to be restricted to the same genus as those words . . .. Unless there is a genus or category, there is no room for the application of the Ejusdem Generis doctrine.'

In the Old English case of Evans v. Cross the words 'other devices' had to be interpreted in Section 48 (9) of the Road Traffic Act, 1930 which defined a 'traffic sign' to include 'all signals, warning sign posts, direction posts, signs, or other devices'. Applying the rule of Ejusdem Generis the Court held that a painted white line on a road could not be called a traffic sign because devices are things, which a painted line on road is not. Similarly, in re Latham Deceased, the words 'or other person' in the expression 'trustee, guardian, committee or other person' in Section 8 (4) of the Finance Act, 1894 was 'interpreted Ejusdem Generis to mean a person in a similar position to a trustee etc. and as such a person who was beneficially interested could not be included within it.

Where the preceding words do not belong to a distinct genus, the rule of Ejusdem Generis does not apply.

For instance, in N.A.L.G.O. v. Bolton Corporation, the words 'or otherwise' had to be interpreted in the definition of a 'workman' as any person who has entered into a work under a contract with an employer whether the contract be by way of manual labour, clerical work or otherwise: The court refused to apply the principle of Ejusdem Generis saying the preceding words manual labour' and 'clerical work' did not form a distinct category to be called a gems.

In Lilavati Bai v. State of Bombay the petitioner, the widow of a tenant of a certain premises, was not residing in it at the time. The respondent requisitioned the premises under Section 6(4) (a) of the Bombay Land Requisition Act, 1948 for providing accommodation to a government servant. The petitioner challenged the requisition on the ground that the premises was not vacant within the meaning of the explanation attached to the section according to which a vacancy will exist when the tenant 'ceases to be in occupation upon termination of his tenancy, eviction or assignment or transfer in any other manner of his interest in the premises or otherwise: According to her the expression or otherwise should be construed Ejusdem Generis with the expressions preceding it. The Supreme Court held that the rule has no application in the present instance because the expressions preceding the words or otherwise are not species of the same nature, and therefore, do not belong to any identifiable genus. Assigning the natural meaning to the words used in the enactment it is clear that the expression or otherwise is intended to include all cases not covered -by
the preceding expressions. This interpretation is quite consistent with the object of the legislation.

In Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India through the Fruit Products Order, 1955, issued under Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, it was made obligatory that the peonage of fruit juice in fruit syrup should be twenty-five. The appellant argued that the order did not apply to its product Rooh Afza even though it contained fruit juices because clause 2 (d) (v) of the Order includes squashes, crushes, cordials, barley water, barrelled juice and ready-to-serve beverages or any other beverages containing fruit juices or fruit pulp and that the expression any other beverages containing fruit juices or fruit pulp
should be construed Ejusdem Generis. The Supreme Court rejected the contention and held that the rule had no application here because the things mentioned before the general expression any other beverages containing fruit juices or fruit pulp did not fall under a determinable genus. Further, the context makes it clear that all beverages containing fruit juice are intended to be included.

In M/s Siddeshwari Cotton Mills Private Limited v. Union of India, the Supreme Court observed that the expressions 'bleaching, mercerizing, dyeing, printing, water-proofing, rubberising, shrink-proofing, organdie processing, which precede the expression 'or any other process' in Section 2 (f) (v) of the Central Excises and Salt Act, 1944 contemplate processes which import a change of a lasting character to the fabric by either the addition of some chemical into the fabric or otherwise. 'Any other process' in the section must share one or the other of these incidents. The expression is used in the context of what constitutes manufacture in its extended meaning and the expression 'unprocessed' in the exempting notification draws its meaning from that context.

In Jagdish Chandra Gupta v. Kajaria Traders (India) Ltd., interpretation of the words 'or other proceeding' in the phrase 'a claim of set off or other proceeding to enforce a right arising from contract' appearing in . Section 69 of the Partnership Act, 1932 was involved. The Supreme Court did not apply the principle of Ejusdem Generis because the preceding words /a claim of set off did not constitute a genus. The court also observed that interpretation Ejusdem Generis or Noscitur a Sociis need not always be made when words showing particular classes are followed by general words. Before the general words can be so interpreted there must be a genus constituted or a category disclosed with reference to which the general words can and are intended to be restricted.

In Jiyajirao Cotton Mills Ltd v/s Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board interpretation of the words 'any other relevant factors' was involved. The Electricity Board has been empowered under Section 49 (3) of the Electricity Supply Act, 1948 to fix deposit tariff for the supply of electricity to any person having regard to the geographical position of any area, the nature of the supply and the purpose for which the supply is required and any other relevant factors'. The Supreme Court did not apply the Ejusdem Generis principle because the preceding words did not belong to a distinct category.

In M. Kumar v/s Bharat Earth Movers Limited, the Supreme court observed that to invoke the application of the Ejusdem Generis rule there must be' a distinct genus or category. The specific words must apply not to different objects of the widely different character but to something which can be called a class or kind of object; where this is lacking, the rule will not apply and mention of single specie will not constitute a genus.

EJUSDEM GENERIS is (a) In an enumeration of different subjects in an Act, general words following specific words may be construed with reference to the antecedent matters, and the construction may be narrowed down by treating them as applying to things of the same kind as those previously mentioned, unless of course, there is something to show that a wider sense was intended. (b) If the particular words exhaust the whole genus, then the general- words are construed as embracing a larger genus.

This is a rule of language employed by the courts when a situation arises that may not have been foreseen when the statute was being drafted. It will bring within the meaning of the statute things that are of the same class or genus as those mentioned within the statute itself. Thus, if specific items are listed, plus a general term (for example, houses, offices, rooms or other places), the general term of other places will include things only of the same class as the specific list, in this case indoor places.

General words in a statute should be taken ordinarily in their usual sense. General words, even when they follow specific words, should ordinarily be taken in their general sense, unless a more reasonable interpretation requires them to be used in a sense limited to things Ejusdem Generis with those specifically mentioned. If, however, the particular words exhaust the whole genus, the general words must be understood to refer to some larger genus.
The doctrine of Ejusdem Generis is only part of a wider principle of construction, namely, that, where reasonably possible, some significance and meaning should be attributed to each and every word and phrase in a written document. That being the object of the doctrine, it is difficult to see what difference it can make whether the word 'other' is or is not used, provided-and this is essential-that the examples which have been given are referable to a clearly ascertainable genus.

End Notes:
1.Messerschmidt v. City of Sioux City, 654 N.W.2d 879, 884 (Iowa 2002) (citing Shatzer v. Globe Am. Cas. Co., 639 N.W.2d 1, 5 (Iowa 2001)); accord Maxim Techs., Inc. v. City of Dubuque, 690 N.W.2d 896, 902 (Iowa 2005); Black?s Law Dictionary 535; Singer 47:17, at 272-81.
2.Id. at 285
3.United States v. Weadon, 145 F.3d 158, 162 (3d Cir. 1998)
4.Id. at 287; see Metier v. Cooper Transp. Co., 378 N.W.2d 907, 912-13 (doctrine inapplicable when there is no inconsistency between the general and specific language).
5.Singer 47:18, at 289
6.[1955] 2 SCR 303
7.AIR 1955 SC 810
8.AIR 1957 SC 521
9.AIR 1959 SC 586
10.AIR 1960 SC 1080
11.AIR 1971 SC 1033
12.3rd Ed., Vol. 36, p. 397, para 599
13.AIR 1979 SC 65
14.Quasi v. Quasi, (1979) 3 All ER
15.AIR 1955 SC 810
16.AIR B1967 SC 1857
17.(1938) 1 KB 694
18.(1961) 3 W.L.R. 1154
19.1943 AC 166
20.AIR 1957 SC 521
21.AIR 1965 SC 1167
22.AIR 1989 SC 1019
23.AIR 1964 SC 1882
24.AIR 1969 SC 788
25.AIR 1999 Karn. 343

More Articles:
Application of the doctrine of Ejusdem generis
Probity in Governance

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