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Doctrine of Harmonious Construction

The term harmonious construction refers to such construction by which harmony or oneness amongst various provisions of an enactment is arrived at. When the words of statutory provision bear more than one meaning and there is a doubt as to which meaning should prevail, then such meaning should be adopted by which the words best harmonize with the subject and the subject of the enactment.

It is presumed that the legislature has enacted a law with a definite purpose. It is also presumed that legislature have used precise words to open their mind and have left no ambiguity in the language of the enactment. It is further presumed that all the provisions of a statute are well composed and consistent with each other because the legislature is not supposed to contradict itself by providing conflicting provision. Hence, the statute should be construed in such a manner so as to avoid any repugnancy.

An inconsistency should neither be created nor be readily inferred. Where all alternatives constructions are possible, that construction should be accepted by which consistency is achieved and the constructions leading to inconsistency should be rejected.

The intention of legislature is that every provision should remain operative. But where two provisions are contradictory, it may not possible to effectuate both of them and in result, one shall be reduced to futility as against the settled basic principle of ut res magis valeat qauam pereat.

Therefore, such a construction should be allowed to prevail by which existing inconsistency is removed and both the provisions remain in force, in harmony with each other.
It brings harmony among the various lists referred to in Indian constitution schedule 7.

It is a cardinal rule of construction that when there are two provisions of the same law are conflict with each other that both of them cannot stand together they should possibly being so interpreted that effect can be given to both and that a constructions which renders any of them inoperative and useless should not be adopted except in the last resort.

The objective of harmonious construction is to avoid any confrontation between two enacting provisions of a statute and to construe the provisions in such a way so that the harmonize. The basis of this rule is that the Legislature never envisages to provide two conflicting provisions in a statute, for the reason that it amounts to self-contradiction.

The real legislative intent, that we try to discover in the process of interpretation cannot be to provide for something in one provision and deny the same in subsequent one. Hence, even if an inconsistency is found, the same should be considered to be unintentional and as such, is required to be cured by way of harmonious construction.

Principles of rule of Harmonious construction

In the land mark case of CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carriers (2003) the supreme court laid down five principles of rule of harmonious construction:
  1. the courts must avoid a head-on clash of seemingly contradicting provisions and they must construe the contradictory provisions.
  2. the provision of one section cannot be used to defeat the provision contained in another unless the court, despite all its efforts, is unable to find a way to reconcile their differences
  3. when it is impossible to completely reconcile the differences in contradictory provisions, the courts must interpret them in such a way so that effect is given both the provisions as much as possible.
  4. courts must also keep in mind that interpretation that reduces one provisions to useless number or dead is not harmonious construction.
  5. to harmonize is not to destroy any statutory provision or to render it fruitless.

Case laws:

Re- Kerala education bill 1951

In this case it was held that in deciding the fundamental rights the court must consider the directive principle and adopt the principle of harmonious construction. So, two possibilities are given effect as much as possible by striking a balance.

East India hotels ltd. V. Union of India (2001)

It was held that an Act is to be read as a whole, the different provisions have to be harmonized and the effect to be given to all of them.

Qureshi v. State of Bihar

In this case supreme court held that the state should implement directive principle in a way so as that it will not interfere fundamental right.

Bhatia international v. bulk trading (2003)

It was held that if more than one interpretation is possible for a statute than the court has to choose the interpretation which shows the intention of the legislature.

In P.S Sattappan v. Andhra bank ltd. (2004)

The supreme court held observed that one cannot interpret a section in a manner which would lead to a conflict between two sub sections of the same sections.

In Sarabjit Rick Singh v. Union of India (2008)

The apex court observed that a construction giving effect to all provisions of the statute should be adopted.

In S. Nagraj v. B.R. Vasudeva Murthy (2010)

The apex court held that statutes opposing provisions but with same subject matter have to be read together.

SBEC Sugar Limited v. Union of India (2011)

It was held that a cardinal principle of construction is that the provisions of the notification have to be harmoniously construed as to prevent any conflict with the provisions of the statute.

Maxims on which the rule of harmonious construction is expressed

Generalia specialibus non derogant
The general rule to be followed in case of conflict between two statutes is that the later abrogates the earlier one. In other words, a prior special law would yield to later general law if either of the two following conditions is satisfied:
  1. the two are inconsistent with each other.
  2. if either of these two conditions is fulfilled, the later law, even though general would prevail.

In Yakub Abdul Razak Memon v. State of Maharashtra the supreme court held that the conflict between the provisions of two statutes has to be resolved by references to purpose and policy underlying two enactments. The Court must take into consideration principal subject matter of statute and particular perspective in order to determine whether a statute is special or general one.

In Union of India v. Dileep Kumar Singh the apex court held that the provisions of statute must be read harmoniously together. Where this is not possible and there is irreconcilable conflict between two sections, it must be determined which provision is leading provision and which provision is subordinate provision and that which one must give way to the other.

Generalibus specialia derogant

This maxim means that special things derogate from the general things. So special provisions in a statute control the general provisions. In other words, general provisions have no applications in the matter that are governed by special provisions. It can therefore be said that a special provision on a matter excludes application of general provisions and always overrides the general provisions but this overriding effect is restricted to the extent of inconsistency between them.

Law is made by the legislature and there is a possibility of situations of ambiguity. In that situations, the rule of interpretation of statutes come into play and the provisions are construed so as to give maximum effect to them. The doctrine of harmonious construction has helped judges to interpret the two confronting laws easily and helped in providing justice to society at large. Thus, it is one of the most important tools in hands of the judiciary while doing any interpretation of the statutes.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Tusharika Singh Gaharvar

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