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Case Comment on B.Vishwanathiah and Company v/s Karnataka

Case Note
B. Vishwanathiah and Company and Ors. v. State of Karnataka and Ors. is a 1991 Supreme Court Judgement. The issue was placed before the three-judge bench of S. Ranganathan, Kuldip Singh, and N.M. Kaliswal. The judgement was written by S. Ranganathan. Advocates who appeared in the case for appellants include Soli J. Sorabjee and Rajinder Sachar while advocates for respondents include M. Veerappa, K.H. Nobin Singh and P.R. Ramesh.

Facts of the case:
Mysore Silkworm Seed and Cocoon (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 5 of 1960 was passed in the legislature which tried to regulate production, distribution and supply of silkworm seed in the then state of Mysore. There were several amendments brought forth in this Act over the years. The current petition is regarding the legislative competence of Amendments effected to this Act by Karnataka Act 33 of 1979.

These amendments, to be put in simple words, brought the entire silk industry under the state control. According to the petitioner, this is unconstitutional since under entry 52 in List 1 of seventh scheduled any industry which is to be seen expedient in the public interest can be brought before the control of the union government and is said to be a controlled industry. The petitioner argued that since the Central Silk Board Act 1948 says that silk industry should be controlled for the public interest, therefore silk industry in India is a controlled Industry and the state has no legislative competence.

The judgement stated that any industry comprises of three major parts namely raw materials, production and manufacturing, and distribution of manufactured products. States can legislate any law regarding raw materials under entry 27 of List II even if the industry is a controlled industry. It can also enact any law on the distribution of manufactured products under entry 33 of List III along with the centre even in cases of controlled industry.

The amendments challenged by the petitioners is valid since it comes under the third part i.e. distribution of manufactured products. Further, the legislation of the state would be valid if it doesn’t stand in repugnance with a law enacted by the centre. The pith and substance of the Central Silk Board Act is to constitute a board for research and scientific development in this field and doesn’t in any way deals with the distribution of manufactured products. Hence, it is not repugnant.

Analysis of the judgement:
The judgement can be divided into two parts:
  1. The precedent part of the judgement based on the well-known case of Tika Ramji v. State of Uttar Pradesh.
  2. The doctrinal part of judgement based on the doctrine of Pith and Substance.

Part A: The precedent basis of judgement

This case forms a typical case of Tika Ramji and ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh. The judgement heavily relies on the ratio of Tika Ramji and ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh. It has not only cited this case but all famous cases which have followed its precedents as Ganga Sugar Corporation v. State of Uttar Pradesh, Harakchand Ratanchand Banthia v. Union of India etc.

Added to this, the case itself has become one in a series of many cases following the precedents of Tika Ramji and Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh. Duncan International India and Anr. v. Appellate Authority for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction , Hari om Prakash cement stockists v District Supply Officer , and others. Therefore concerning Part A, it could be said that it was grounded on good precedent and continues to be a good precedent.

Part B: The doctrinal basis of the judgement
Doctrines as a source of law
A perusal of Constitution of India 1950 doesn’t provide us with various doctrines that are used in the courts for solving disputes which can force a person to ask what is the authority of doctrines as a source of law.

Two types of constitution act as a source of law. First, one being a single canonical text which lays down various laws for forming and regulating various structures of government and relation between them. The second form of constitution is much wider than first. It is a political constitution involving various statutes, customs and rules which deals with establishing and regulating the relationship between different structures of governance. Doctrines form part of this broader political constitution as “assumed rules and principles of law”. Doctrines get legal authority in India from article 141of the Indian Constitution.

Article 141 says law declared by the Supreme Court to be binding on all courts within the territory of India. Doctrines, however, can be construed by jurists as well. They can be changed to evolve a new doctrine with changing time and development in the law. They also need to be impartial towards both the parties and not formed in such a way that it favours one party over others always. It should also be formed in such a way to be applicable in diverse situations and not be confined to just the facts of the precedent case.

Doctrine of Pith and Substance:
Doctrine of pith and substance determines whether the impugned legislation was enacted by a legislature which had the competence to enact the impugned legislation. In other words, is the legislating authority competent to enact the legislation? In a federal form of government, both state and union government are provided with their subjects of legislation respectively.

The state may encroach upon the subject allotted to the centre or vice versa. This problem is solved by the doctrine of pith and substance. It tries to find the true nature of the legislation. If the legislation in its ‘pith and substance’ comes under the ambit of the field then the legislation is termed valid.

This doctrine arises out of the need to acknowledge the necessary evil that most of the important legislations enacted for the welfare of the nation will invariably affect and end up acting in the field which the legislative authority is not competent to act upon. If one goes to declare all the laws with even a slight of encroachment upon other subjects as void then it would act as a hindrance in the progress of the country. This is the reason why even though India has a separate concurrent list where both state and union can legislate, the doctrine of pith and substance continues to be used.

The doctrine of pith and substance has been used in this India for two purposes. First, it is used to determine whether the legislating authority is competent to enact the legislation it has enacted. This is the original purpose of the doctrine of pith and substance.

The second way in which the doctrine of pith and substance is used is to declare the repugnant legislation as void. If there are two legislations one from the centre and the second from the state (on matters of the concurrent list for the scope of this case note), provisions of which conflict with each other, then the court will see whether they in pith and substance cover the same entry. If the entries on which state and centre have legislated are under the same entry then under article 254(1) the state legislation will be termed as void.

On the other hand, if the state legislation covers different entry in the concurrent list then what has been covered by the centre, it will stand valid. This is because, in pith and substance, legislations are matters concerning different entries. Thus, this doctrine has been extended for deciding repugnance while its original purpose was to determine competence.

In the present case, the doctrine of pith and substance is used for deciding repugnance. It is used to assess the Central Silk Boards Act. The legislation, the judgement says, in pith and substance deals with constituting silk board for research and scientific development in the silk industry and not concerning the distribution of manufactured products. Thus, the legislation of the centre is not covering entry 33 of the concurrent list (which the state legislation was covering).

Hence, the state legislation is in no way repugnant to the legislation enacted by the centre. Although some jurists are critical of using the doctrine of pith ad substance for repugnancy, it is gradually being accepted by the courts. Supreme Court in the case of V.K. Sharma v. State of Karnataka decided that the doctrine of pith and substance can be used for repugnancy.

Although the present case has not cited V.K. Sharma v. State of Karnataka, it does affirm the judgement. This is a case which has expressly stated about the usage of the doctrine of pith and substance for repugnancy.


B. Vishwanathiah and Company and Ors. v. State of Karnataka and Ors. is a case which follows the precedent of Tika Ramji and Ors. V. State of Uttar Pradesh and one which follows the doctrine of pith and substance for determining repugnancy. On the aspect of following the precedent of Tika Ramji the case is certainly a good law and has followed the precedent carefully. It stands as a good precedent of distribution of power concerning the controlled industry in case of textiles.

On the aspect of using the doctrine of pith and substance for repugnancy, it is to be said many jurists are wary of the same. However, even in this regard, we find that many judgements continue to use the doctrine for repugnancy. Thus, we can say the usage of doctrine, despite its criticism, has been accepted for determining repugnancy. On both these aspects, we can conclude that the decision was correct and one which followed the precedents and continues to stand as a binding precedent as of today.

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