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Doctrine Of Harmonious Construction

Law is taken into account as a tool to stay the society peaceful and problem free and to forestall conflicts between people by regulating their behaviour. The law has its source in legislation is termed civil law. it's quickly made, definite and doesn't need to watch for recognition by the courts.

The Parliament makes a separate set of statutes, rules and legislation also as constitutional provisions. These provisions are framed very carefully but some issues still occur while framing such provisions. To handle such issues, certain rules and doctrines are set forth by courts that are employed in interpretation of statutes.

What is Doctrine of Harmonious Construction?

The Doctrine of Harmonious Construction is considered as the thumb rule to the rule of interpretation of statutes.

The Doctrine states that:
Whenever there's a case of conflict between two or more statutes or between two or more parts or provisions of a statute, then the statute must be interpreted upon harmonious construction. It signifies that in case of inconsistencies, proper harmonization is to be done between the conflicting parts so that one part does not defeat the purpose of another.

What it simply means is that Doctrine of Harmonious Construction is essentially a principle utilized in the Indian system. It holds when two provisions of a legal text are in conflict. When there's a conflict between two or more statutes, the rule of Harmonious Construction has to be applied.

The rule follows an awfully simple concept that is every statute includes a purpose and intent and it should be read as whole, Therefore, it implies that a statute must be read as whole and in such a way that one provision of the act is harmoniously constructed in regard to other provision of the identical act to produce an identical enactment of the full statute.

There are five principles of Doctrine of Harmonious Construction laid down by the Supreme Court of India in the case of CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carrier, (2003) 3 SCC 57, p. 74, which reads as follow:
  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.
  3. 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.
  4. Courts must also keep in mind that interpretation that reduces one provision to a useless number or dead letter is not harmonious construction.
  5. To harmonize is not to destroy any statutory provision or to render it fruitless.

Genesis Of Doctrine Of Harmonious Construction

The Doctrine of Harmonious Construction was originated through explanations given by courts in numerous cases. Its origin is traced back to the very first amendment made in the Constitution of India with the landmark judgment of Shankari Prasad v. Union of India. The case addressed the conflict between part 3 (Fundamental Rights) and part 4 (Directive Principles of State Policy) which are basic features of the Indian Constitution.

In this landmark case, the court applied the rule of Harmonious Construction and it was held that fundamental rights being right given against the state can be taken away or amended by the Parliament in certain situations to make them more understandable with constitutional provisions. Preference was given to both Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy. The court agreed that both were different sides of the same coin that needs working together for the public good.

The Doctrine evolved through the rule of conciliation put forward in the case of C.P and Bera Act. The court applied this rule to avoid overlapping between some entries in the state list.

Relevance Of Doctrine Of Harmonious Construction

The principles stated above which were laid down by the Supreme Court of India in the case of CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carrier give basic and clear explanations on usage of the rule of Harmonious Construction.

When two or more statute are in conflict, then they both must be interpreted in such a way that the interpretation gives effects to both and should not render either of the provision useless except if it is completely necessary. The Supreme Court proved the use of this rule in the case of Raj Krushna Bose v. Binod Kanungo & ors, 1954 AIR 202.

In this case, the section 33(2) and section 123(8) of the ROPA (The Representation of People Act), 1951 were in conflict. The section 33(2) talks about the power of a government servant to nominate in an election, the other section 123(8) specifies that a government servant cannot assist any candidate in the election except by casting his vote. The court followed the rule and interpreted both the sections Harmoniously. It was held that a government servant has both the right to nominate a candidate but is forbidden to assist in any other manner and he also has a right to vote.

Case Laws On Doctrine Of Harmonious Construction

The first is a landmark case in the history of the Indian Constitution, M.S.M Sharma v. Krishna Sinha. The petitioner in this case was alleged thereupon he had breached the privileges of the speaker for publishing a speech which was delivered by a member.

Whether the privileges under Article 194(3) prevail over fundamental right art. 19(1)(a)?

Petitioner's Claim:
The action taken by the Committee and therefore the notice sent stands in violation of his fundamental rights under Art 19 (1)(a) and Art. 21. However, since the respondent relied on Art. 194(3), the rule of interpretation was involved as to which provision shall prevail.

Held: The Supreme Court applied the rule of harmonious construction and held that though Art. 194 (3) is subordinate to Art. 21 but Indian Constitution is that the highest law within the country and thus, an individual can be expunged from publishing the official records of the Assembly. This is not a complete prohibition on Fundamental Right of that person.

But, with relation to the above judgment, in Special Reference No. 1 of 1964, it had been decided that Article 194(3) is subordinate to Articles 21, 32, 211 and 226. This conclusion was also reached by recourse to the rule of harmonious construction.

In Venkataramana Devaru v. State of Mysore, 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 each 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 any or all classes and sections of Hindus - Article 25(2)(b).

In the case of Department of Customs vs Sharad Gandhi, the Supreme Court has again applied the principle of Harmonious construction to resolve the inconsistency between the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 and Customs Act, 1962. The Bench observed the inconsistency found in Article 254 of Indian Constitution between laws made by Parliament and state legislatures stating: If the law made by the state is repugnant to the law made by the parliament, then law made by the parliament shall prevail to the extent of repugnance. However, in the present case, the court observed that both the said act has been made by Parliament.

The principle of Harmonious Construction is additionally applicable in the case of construction of provisions referring to subordinate legislation.

In the landmark judgment of Sirsilk Ltd. v. Govt. of Andhra Pradesh AIR 1964 SC 160, a very important question was answered. Various disputes arose between the employer and the also workmen and it was further referred to an industrial tribunal. After the adjudication was over, the government sent its award to the government for publication. However, before the publication of the award, the parties to the dispute came to a settlement, and wrote a letter to the government jointly, that the dispute has been settled and therefore the award shall not be published. The government refused to withhold the publication and in turn, the parties further moved the High Court. The High Court overruled the writ petition. The parties further moved to the Supreme Court through a special leave petition.

The main premise of the appellants was that Section 17 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 was directory in nature and not mandatory.
Ordinarily, the words 'shall' and 'must' are mandatory, and also the word 'may' is a directory, although using them interchangeably in legislation is common.

Section 17(1) of the Act states:
Every award shall within a period of thirty days from the date of its receipt by the appropriate government be published in such manner as the appropriate government thinks fit.

The court read Section 17 and 17A and declared that the duty cast on the government to publish the award is mandatory and not a directory. Thus, the contention of the appellants did not hold well.

But on further observation by the court, Section 18 was examined. Section 18 (1) provides that a settlement arrived at by agreement between the employer and the workmen otherwise than in the course of conciliation proceeding shall be binding on the parties to the agreement.

The Supreme Court observed that in the present case, the duty of the government under Section 17 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and settlement under Section 18 are in conflict with one other. Finally, it was held that where a settlement has been arrived at between the parties before the tribunal after the award has been submitted to the government but before its publication, no dispute is left to be resolved. So, the government should refrain from publishing the award.
Thus, in the above case, Harmonious Construction was applied. This is a fine example of how enforcement of one provision can be implemented without rendering the other provision useless or dead.

Personal Opinion
It is clear that there's always a possibility of ambiguity or gaps within the laws made by the legislature. The principle of harmonious construction plays a very important role in interpreting statutes and is used in an abundance of cases. It helps in simplifying complicated issues and makes delivering judgments much easier.

Today, it's considered as a number one tool in hands of our Judiciary, the rule helps two confronting laws work together harmoniously in delivering justice to society at large. We must always understand the importance of the Doctrine of Harmonious Construction and the interpretation of statutes in general with its ever-increasing scope in the present times.


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