Doctrine of Pith and Substance which means true nature and substance, is brought
up on the issues involving the conflict between the state government and the
central government over whether a particular subject in the Central List/State
List/ Concurrent List lies within the law making power of the Union Government
or the State Government. Article 246 says that the Centre has exclusive right to
govern the union list which is otherwise known as list one.
In addition, the
states possess exclusive right with the state list which is also called list
two. Also, the Centre as well as the states can craft laws over the issues
encompassed in the concurrent list, but if there is a conflict, the legislation
created by the Centre will prevail.
The doctrine of pith and substance is believed to have originated from the
Canadian jurisdiction, where it formed part of the judgment in the landmark case
of 'Cushing v. Dupuy
' (1880). It also reached India where it rests on Article
246 of the Constitution in seventh schedule. It has transformed into a highly
revered principle in India and formed a benchmark for several historical Indian
supreme court decisions.
"Pith and substance" is a rule used in law. It's used in places like the
United States, Canada, Australia and India to figure out if a law belongs to a
certain level of government. In Canada, this could mean federal or provincial
levels. In India, it could be central or state levels.
"Pith and substance" is a rule that helps decipher what a law really stands
for. It lets us read between the lines to find what a law truly aims to do.
This rule helps us figure out which government level, central or state, has
the right to make a law.
Imagine a new law is suggested, mostly about something the central government
usually handles. But, it might also touch on things that the state government
usually controls. According to the "pith and substance" rule, if the core goal
of this law aligns with the central government's duties, the law is
legitimate. Even if it somewhat affects areas the state government usually
This rule helps when different government levels may dispute who has the
right to oversee a certain issue. It checks that the law's primary objective
aligns with the correct governmental power, regardless of minor effects
elsewhere. This helps keep a balance of power and avoid legal issues from
- In Prafulla Kumar Mukherjee v. Bank of Khulna (1946), the court held that a State law, dealing with money lending (a State subject), is not invalid, merely because it incidentally affects promissory notes (a Central Subject).
- In State of Bombay v. FN Balsara (1951), the Bombay Prohibition Act was challenged on the ground that it accidentally encroaches upon import and export of liquor across custom frontier - a Central Subject. The court, affirming the contentious law, deemed it principally a state subject even if it encroached on a central subject.
- In Premchand Jain v. R. K. Chhabra, the Supreme Court asserted that no objections would be entertained as long as the law was generally within its realm, even if it slightly overstepped its boundaries. It conveyed in multiple judgments that a law couldn't be deemed invalid just because it incidentally touched on matters dealt with by other legislatures if it fundamentally fell within the constitutional powers awarded to the legislative body that enacted it.
- Incidental and superficial encroachments are to be disregarded, the court held in the case of Central Bank of India v. State Of Kerala & Ors on 27 February, 2009.
- The "pith and substance" rule is used when a legislature's authority to pass a specific law is questioned. This is based on the categories in different lists. Simply put, a law associated with a topic in one list may also relate to a topic in another list. In such a case what has to be ascertained is the pith and substance of the enactment, a five Judges' bench of the supreme court observed while discussing the said doctrine in
Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab (1994) 3 SCC 569.
- The central issue is determining if a specific law pertains to a topic listed. Courts focus on the law's substance. This means if the substance (heart of the law) aligns with the Union List, any minor overlap with the State List won't render it void. This was decided on September 1, 2008, in the case
State of Maharashtra v. Bharat Shanti Lal Shah & others.
"Pith and substance" is an important concept in constitutional law. In federal
systems, it has a few key uses. It helps solve conflicts between government
levels by telling us who has the main lawmaking power. This stops fights over
area control and keeps the power balance in check inside a federal system. It
also makes law clearer and more predictable.
This helps lawmakers and judges
understand and use laws the same way. This rule doesn't just protect
individual rights - it also keeps the constitution strong. It stops power misuse
and boosts flexibility for changing society needs. Simply put, it upholds the law and protects the health and function of federal governments.
- Doctrine of Pith and Substance, https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/doctrine-of-pith-and-substance/
- Explain the Rule of Pith and Substance with Case Laws, https://lawcorner.in/explain-the-rule-of-pith-and-substance-with-case-laws/
- Judicial Doctrines, https://www.drishtiias.com/to-the-points/Paper2/judicial-doctrines
- Doctrine of Pith and Substance Indian Polity Notes, https://prepp.in/news/e-492-doctrine-of-pith-and-substance-indian-polity-notes
- Indian Kanoon - Doctrine of Pith and Substance, https://indiankanoon.org/docfragment/698472/
Written By: Md.Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected]
, Ph no: 9836576565