"No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding.
" - Plato
Every individual living in a society understands the value of law. Law may be
understood as a tool to keep the society peaceful and problem free and to
prevent conflicts between people by regulating their behaviour. The laws enacted
to regulate the society are drafted by legal experts and it can very well be
anticipated that many of the laws enacted will not be specific and will contain
ambiguous words and expressions.
Quite often we find that the Courts and lawyers are busy in unfolding the
meaning of such words and expressions and in resolving inconsistencies. All this
has led to the formulation of certain Rules of Interpretation of Statutes.
We are all aware that the Government has three wings, namely, the Legislature,
the Executive and the Judiciary. The Role of Interpretation of Statutes comes
into play and is of utmost importance for the Judiciary to render Justice
correctly by interpreting the Statutes in the way the situation demands.
Doctrine of Harmonious Construction
The Parliament makes a separate set of Statutes, Rules and Legislation as well
as constitutional provisions under their well-defined powers. While the framing
of these provisions has to be done very carefully, conflict still occurs
sometimes due to overlapping in their enforcement. This is because there are
chances of certain gaps being left while framing of these provisions, which
could not have been forseen by Legislators. To deal with such conflicts, certain
Doctrines and Rules are propounded by Courts that are used in the Interpretation
of Statutes. One such Rule of Interpretation is the Doctrine of Harmonious
When there is a conflict between two or more Statues or two or more parts of a
Statute then the Rule of Harmonious Construction needs to be adopted. Every
Statute has a purpose and intent as per Law and should be read as a whole. While
using the Harmonious Rule the Interpretation should be consistent with all the
provisions of the Statute. In the case in which it shall be impossible to
harmonize both the provisions, the Court's decision regarding the provision
The basis of Principle of Harmonious Construction probably is that the
Legislature must not have intended to contradict itself. The intention of
Legislature is that every provision should remain operative. But when two
provisions are contradictory, it may not possible to effectuate both of them and
in result, one will be rendered futile 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.
Meaning of the Doctrine of Harmonious Construction
The Doctrine of Harmonious Construction is considered as the thumb Tule to the
Rule of Interpretation of Statutes.
The Doctrine states:
"Whenever there is a case of conflict between two or more Statutes or between
two or more parts or provisions of a Statute, then the Statute has to 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."
The Doctrine of Harmonious Construction is based on a cardinal principle in law
that every statute has been formulated with a specific purpose and intention and
thereby should be read as a whole. The normal presumption is that what the
Parliament has given by one hand is not sought to be taken away from another.
The essence is to give effect to both the provisions. To avoid conflict, the
adopted Interpretation of the Statute should be consistent with all its
If there seems an impossibility to harmoniously construe or reconcile the
parts/provision, then the matter rests with the Judiciary to decide and give its
final Judgment. The aim of the Courts is to do interpretation in a manner that
it resolves the repugnancy between the provisions and enables the Statute to
become consistent as a whole and read accordingly.
Origin Of Doctrine Of Harmonious Construction
The Doctrine of Harmonious Construction was established as a result of Court
Interpretations of a variety of cases. The Doctrine's creation can be traced all
the way back to the first amendment to the Constitution of India, with the
landmark Judgment of [Sri Shankari Prasad Singhh Deo Vs Union of India
1951 SC 458]. The disagreement between Part III (Fundamental Rights) and Part IV
(Directive Principles of State Policy) of the Constitution of India was the
subject of the case.
The Court used the Harmonious Construction Rule to hold that Fundamental Rights,
which are rights granted against the State, may be revoked under certain
circumstances and modified by Parliament to bring them into compliance with
constitutional provisions. Both were given preference, and it was determined
that Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy are just two
sides of the same coin that must be worked together for the greater good.
This theory was developed historically through the law of conciliation, which
was first proposed in the case of C. P and Berar General Clauses Act, 1914. The
Court used this Rule of Interpretation to prevent any overlap or confusion
between entries 24 & 25 of the State List, and to read them in a logical order
by deciding the scope of the subjects in question.
The Principles Of Doctrine Of Harmonious Construction
According to the Doctrine Of Harmonious Construction, a Statute should be read
as a whole and one provision of the Act should be construed with reference to
other provisions in the same Act so as to make a consistent enactment of the
whole statute. Such an interpretation is beneficial in avoiding any
inconsistency or repugnancy either within a section or between a section and
other parts of the statute.
The Five main Principles of this Rule are:
- The Courts must avoid a head on clash of seemingly contradicting
provisions and they must construe the contradictory provisions so as to
harmonize them. ["Commissioner of Income Tax Vs Hindustan Bulk Carriers",
(2003) 3 SCC 57, P.
- 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.
- 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. ["Sultana
Begum Vs Premchand Jain", AIR 1997 SC 1006, Pages 1009, 1010].
- Courts must also keep in mind that interpretation that reduces one
provision to a useless number or dead is not harmonious construction.
- To harmonize is not to destroy any statutory provision or to render it
A familiar approach in all such cases is to find out which of the two apparently
conflicting provisions is more general and which is more specific and to
construe the more general one so as to exclude the more specific. The question
as to the relative nature of the provisions, general or special, has to be
determined with reference to the area and extent of their application either
generally or specially in particular situations. This principle is expressed in
the maxims Generalia Specialibus Non Derogant, and Generalia
The former means that general things do not derogate from special
things and the latter means that special things derogate from general things.
The Rule of harmonious construction can also be used for resolving a conflict
between a provision in the Act and a Rule made under the Act. Further this
principle is also used to resolve a conflict between two different Acts and in
the making of statutory Rules Orders.
But in case there are two remedies for a
situation, one general and one specific, and both are inconsistent with each
other, they continue to hold good for the concerned person to choose from, until
he elects one of them.
Applicability Of Harmonious Construction
The Courts have formulated some measures for the improved applicability of the
said Doctrine Of Harmonious Construction after reviewing numerous case laws:
- Giving maximum force to both clauses thus reducing their inconsistency and/or
- Both clauses that are inherently contradictory or repugnant to one another must
be read as a whole, and the entire enactment must be considered.
- Choose the one with the broader reach of the two contrasting clauses.
- Compare the broad and narrow provisions, and then try to analyze the broad law
to see if there are any other consequences. No further investigation is needed
if the result is as fair as harmonizing both clauses and giving them full force
separately. One thing to keep in mind is that the legislature, when enacting the
provisions, was well aware of the situation that they were attempting to
address, and thus all provisions adopted must be given full effect on scope.
- A non-obstante clause must be used when one provision of an Act strips away
powers conferred by another Act.
- It is critical that the Court determine the degree to which the
legislature wanted to grant one clause overriding authority over another. In
Corporation Vs Fortes Ltd., (1959) 2 All ER 102 CA], it was decided that if two
opposing sections could not be reconciled, the last section would take
precedence. This isn't a universal law, though.
Landmark Judgments on Doctrine Of Harmonious Construction
In [ Venkataramana Devaru & Ors. Vs State of Mysore & Ors., AIR 1958 SC 255],
the Supreme Court applied the Rule of harmonious construction in resolving a
conflict between Articles 25 (2)(b) and 26 (b) of the Constitution of India and
it was held that the right of every 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 all
classes and sections of Hindus [Article 25 (2)(b)].
In [M. S. M. Sharma Vs Krishna Sinha & Ors, AIR 1959 SC 395, Page 410], the
same Rule was applied to resolve the conflict between Articles 19 (1)(a) and 194
(3) of the Constitution of India and it was held that the right of freedom of
speech guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) is the read as subject to powers,
privileges and immunities of a House of the Legislature which are those of the
House of Commons of the United Kingdom as declared by the latter part of Article
But, with regard to the above Judgment, in Special Reference No. 1 of 1964 [AIR
1965 SC 745, Page 761 (Para 36)], it was decided that Article 194 (3) is
subordinate to Articles 21, 32, 211 and 226 of the Constitution of India. This
conclusion was also reached by recourse to the Rule of Harmonious Construction,
more particularly as under:
"All the four clauses of Art. 194 are not in terms made subject to the
provisions contained in Part III. In fact, cl. (2) is couched in such wide terms
that in exercising the rights conferred on them by cl. (1), if the legislators
by their speeches contravene any of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Part
III, they would not be liable for any action in any Court.
Nevertheless, if for
other valid considerations, it appears that the contents of cl. (3) may not
exclude the applicability of certain relevant provisions of the Constitution, it
would not be reasonable to suggest that those provisions must be ignored just
because the said clause does not open with the words subject to the other
provisions of the Constitution. In dealing with the effect of the provisions
contained in cl. (3) of Art.194, wherever it appears that there is a conflict
between the said provisions and the provisions pertaining to fundamental rights,
an attempt will have to be made to resolve the said conflict by the adoption of
the rule of harmonous construction."
[Calcutta Gas Company Private Limited Vs State of West Bengal & Ors., AIR 1962
The Oriental Gas Company Act was passed by the West Bengal Legislative Assembly
in 1960. Under this Act, the Respondent attempted to take over the control of
the Gas Company. The Appellant argued that the State Legislative Assembly lacked
the authority to pass such legislation under Entries 24 & 25 of the State List
since the Parliament had already passed the Industries (Development and
Regulation) Act, 1951, which dealt with industries under Entry 52 of the Central
The Supreme Court noted that with so many subjects in three lists in the
Constitution of India, there is bound to be some overlap, and it is the
responsibility of the Courts in such situations to harmonise them, if possible,
so that each of them can have effect. The State List's Entry 24 includes all of
the State's Industries.
Only the Gas Industry is qualified for Entry 25. As a
result, Entry 24 encompasses all industries except the gas industry, which is
explicitly protected under Entry 25. Entry 52 in the Union List corresponds to
Entry 24 in the State List. As a result, it became apparent that the Gas
Industry was solely protected by Entry 25 of the State List, over which the
State has complete influence. As a result, the State had complete authority to
enact legislation in this region.
["Gujarat University Vs Krishna Ranganath Mudholka & Ors.", AIR 1963 SC 703]
According to the Supreme Court separating Education in two Lists under the Head
Of Medium Of Instruction to Parliament and Education dehors to State, is not
reasonable. The Medium Of Instruction related to specific Universities is also
provided under the Union List, Entry 66 and that Entry has enabled Parliament to
make Laws to improve standards of Education and provide financial assistance to
Backward Universities but under Entry 11 of State Law, State can make Law for
Therefore, the Harmonious Construction was invoked and it
was found that Parliament has specific competence over the subject and State has
the general competence. Therefore, it was held that Parliamentary Law should
prevail and the University did not confer the power to impose any language as
Medium Of Instruction and examination.
[Sirsilk Ltd. & Ors Vs Govt. Of Andhra Pradesh & Anr., AIR 1964 SC 160]
An intriguing question involving a conflict between two equally mandatory
provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, namely Sections 17 (1) and 18
(1), is a good example of the significance of the concept that any attempt
should be made to give effect to all of an Act's provisions by harmonizing every
apparent conflict between two or more of them. Section 17 (1) of the Industrial
Disputes Act, 1947 requires the Government to publish any award of a Labour
Tribunal within thirty days of receipt, and Section 17 (2) of the Act states
that the award becomes final upon publication.
A contract between an employer
and employees is binding on the parties to the arrangement, according to Section
18 (1) of the Act. In a situation where a settlement was reached after the
Government received a Labour Tribunal Award but before it was released, the
issue was whether the Government was indeed obliged to report the Award under
Section 17 (1). The Supreme Court held that the only way to address the conflict
was to hold that the Industrial Dispute ends with the settlement, which becomes
valid from the date of signing, and the Award becomes infructuous, and the
Government cannot publish it.
[Commissioner Of Sales Tax, Madhya Pradesh, Indore & Ors. Vs Radha Krishna &
Ors., AIR 1979 SC 1588]
The Commissioner sanctioned criminal prosecution of the Respondent partners in
this case under Section 46 (1) (c) of the Madhya Pradesh General Sales Tax Act,
1958, after the assessee failed to pay the Sales Tax despite repeated demands.
The Respondent argued that the Act had two separate Sections, namely Section 22
(4–A) and Section 46 (1)(c), in which two different procedures for realizing the
amount due were prescribed, but that there was no provision of law that could
say which provision should be enforced in which case. The provision prescribed
under Section 46 (1)(c), according to the Supreme Court, was more serious.
inference drawn from the harmonious construction of these two clauses was that
the Commissioner had Judicial discretion in deciding which procedure to follow
in which case. The Court has the authority to interfere if the Commissioner
fails to act Judicially. However, in this situation, the Commissioner was right
in deciding that the more severe procedure under Section 46 (1)(c) needed to be
used because the assesse company had failed to pay Sales Tax despite the Sales
Tax Officer's repeated demands.
[Jagdish Singh Vs Lt. Governor, Delhi & Ors., AIR 1997 SC 2239]
The Supreme Court decided that where there is a conflict between two provisions,
their harmony should be tried to establish between them. It requires:
- Read the complete Statute or Rules as a whole, and
- Read the complete statute or rules as a whole, and
- Any Rule should not be construed to make the other Rule ineffective.
"It is a cardinal principal of construction of a Statute or the Statutory Rule
that efforts should be made in construing the different provisions, so that,
each provision will have its play and in the event of any conflict a Harmonious
Construction should be given, Further a Statute or a Rule made thereunder should
be read as a whole and one provision should be construed with reference to the
other provision so as to make the Rule consistent and any construction which
would bring any inconsistency or repugnancy between one provision and the other
should be avoided. One Rule cannot be used to defeat another Rule in the same
Rules unless it is impossible to effect harmonisation between them.
well-known Principle of Harmonious Construction is that effect should be given
to all the provisions, and therefore, this Court had held in several cases that
a construction that reduces one of the provisions to a 'dead letter' is not a
harmonious construction as one part is being destroyed and consequently court
should avoid such a construction."
In [S. Nagraj (Dead) by LRs & Ors. Vs B. R. Vasudeva Murthy & Ors.,
(2010) 3 SCC 353], the Supreme Court held that Statutes opposing provisions but
with same subject matter have to be read together.
[SBEC Sugar Ltd & Anr. Vs Union of India & Ors., (2011) 4 SCC 668]
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.
In [Union of India & Ors. Vs Dileep Kumar Singh, Civil Appeal Nos.
2466-2467 OF 2015], 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.
Legislation is written by Legislators, and there is always the risk of
uncertainty, contradictions, inconsistencies, absurdities, hardships,
repugnancy, duplication, and other issues. In such cases, the Laws of Statute
Interpretation apply, and the provisions are construed to give them the most
effect and to make Justice to the situation at hand. In reading laws, the
concept of Harmonious Construction is very important and is used in a lot of
It aids in the clarification of complex problems and facilitates the delivery of
decisions. As a result, the value of the law of Harmonious Construction is
recognized and felt by the Judiciary, just as it is by many other laws of
application of Statutes. 'The administration of Justice is the firmest
foundation of the Nation,' George Washington rightly said. As a result, in
accordance with this philosophy, the Judiciary should correctly interpret
Statutes and intelligently enforce the Rules for Interpreting Statutes in order
to provide prompt Justice to the people of the country.
The Judiciary is held to be an independent body, which acts as the Supreme
source of Justice to the people. Therefore, it is expected that the task of
statutory interpretation is performed with utmost care and caution. The Courts
are under a sole discretion to Interpret the Statutes in its own and appropriate
way to render Justice to the people so that the Legislature's real intention
behind making the law could be established accordingly.
The Interpretation of every provision is always not under the words and
expressions that it includes and differs in nature as well due to which it
depends on the Courts to adopt the appropriate meaning of the provision in
question to avoid ambiguity.
There is no need to interpret laws when the literal meaning of specific
provisions is clear and unambiguous. Still, the necessity arises when the
circumstances are otherwise, and the Courts need to apply the Rule of
Interpretation in the most effective way. Therefore, the Doctrines help the
Court to interpret specific provisions according to its requirement. Among
which, the Principle of Harmonious Construction has been dealt with in the
following article in an elaborate manner, highlighting the fact that it reduces
conflicts between two or more provisions and helps to adopt the provision of
broader scope rendering Justice to the people.
Written By: Dinesh Singh Chauhan, Advocate, High Court of Judicature,
Email: [email protected], [email protected]