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I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to Mr. Abhishek
Tiwari, Faculty of Law, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, and who
gave me an opportunity to write on this topic and also gave his valuable suggestions to
complete this project and without him this project would not have reached this shape.
I would also like to thank my family, without their love and support this project
would not have completed. Last but not the least; I would like to thank my friends who
were very helpful throughout the completion of the project.

Date: 7th November, 2010 Anoop Kumar

Roll no. 11



• Mathur, D. N., Interpretation of Statutes, 1st Edn., 2006, Central Law
Publications, Allahabad.
• Singh, Avtar, Introduction to Interpretation of Statutes, 2nd Edition Reprint 2007,
Wadhwa and Company, Nagpur.


The term interpretation means “To give meaning to”. Governmental power has been
divided into three wings namely the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
Interpretation of statues to render justice is the primary function of the judiciary. It is the
duty of the Court to interpret the Act and give meaning to each word of the Statute.

The most common rule of interpretation is that every part of the statute must be
understood in a harmonious manner by reading and construing every part of it together.
The maxim “A Verbis legis non est recedendum” means that you must not vary the words
of the statute while interpreting it.
The object of interpretation of statutes is to determine the intention of the
legislature conveyed expressly or impliedly in the language used. In Santi swarup Sarkar
v pradeep kumar sarkar1, the Supreme Court held that if two interpretations are possible
of the same statute, the one which validates the statute must be preferred.

AIR 1997 Cal 197

There are generally two kind of interpretation; literal interpretation and logical
Literal interpretation
Giving words their ordinary and natural meaning is known as literal interpretation or
litera legis. It is the duty of the court not to modify the language of the Act and if such
meaning is clear and unambiguous, effect should be given to the provisions of a statute
whatever may be the consequence. The idea behind such a principle is that the legislature,
being the supreme law making body must know what it intends in the words of the
statute. Literal interpretation has been called the safest rule because the legislature’s
intention can be deduced only from the language through which it has expressed itself.
The bare words of the Act must be construed to get the meaning of the statute and
one need not probe into the intention of the legislature. The elementary rule of
construction is that the language must be construed in its grammatical and literal sense
and hence it is termed as litera legis or litera script.
The Golden Rule is that the words of a statute must prima facie be given their
ordinary meaning. This interpretation is supreme and is called the golden rule of
In Ramanjaya Singh v Baijnath Singh2, the Election tribunal set aside the election
of the appellant under s 123(7) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 on the
(1955) 1 SCR 671 : AIR 1954 SC 749.

grounds that the appellant had employed more persons than prescribed for electioneering
purpose. The appellant contended that the excess employees were paid by his father and
hence were not employed by him. The Supreme Court followed the grammatical
interpretation of S 123(7) and termed the excess employees as volunteers.
In Maqbool Hussain v State of Bombay3, the appellant, a citizen of India, on
arrival at an airport did not declare that he brought gold with him. Gold, found in his
possession during search in violation of government notification, was confiscated under S
167 (8) Sea Customs Act, 1878. He was charged under sec. 8 of the Foreign Exchange
Regulation Act, 1947. The appellant pleaded that his trial under the Act was violative of
Art 20(2) of the constitution relating to double jeopardy as he was already punished for
his act by was of confiscation of the gold. It was held by the Supreme Court that the sea
customs authority is not a court or a judicial tribunal and the confiscation is not a penalty.
Consequently his trial was valid under the Act of 1947.
In Madan Mohan v K.Chandrashekara, it was held that when a statute contains
strict and stringent provisions, it must be literally and strictly construed to promote the
object of the act.
In Bhavnagar University v Palitana Sugar Mills Pvt Ltd4, it was held that
according to the fundamental principles of construction the statute should be read as a
whole, then chapter by chapter, section by section and then word by word.

In Municipal Board v State Transport Authority, Rajasthan5, an application against the

change of location of a bus stand could be made within 30 days of receipt of order of
regional transport authority according to s 64 A of the Motor vehicles Act, 1939. The
application was moved after 30 days on the contention that statute must be read as “30
days from the knowledge of the order”
The Supreme Court held that literal interpretation must be made and hence
rejected the application as invalid.

Exceptions to the rule of literal interpretation

[1953] S.C.R. 730.
2002 AIR SCW 4939.
[1963] Supp. 2 S.C.R. 373.

Generally a statute must be interpreted in its grammatical sense but under the following
circumstances it is not possible:-
Logical defects
A) ambiguity
B) inconsistency
C) incompleteness or lacunae
D) unreasonableness

Logical interpretation
If the words of a statute give rise to two or more construction, then the construction
which validates the object of the Act must be given effect while interpreting. It is better
to validate a thing than to invalidate it or it is better the Act prevails than perish. The
purpose of construction is to ascertain the intention of the parliament.

The mischief rule

The mischief rule of interpretation originated in Heydon’s case. If there are two
interpretations possible for the material words of a statute, then for sure and true
interpretation there are certain considerations in the form of questions. The following
questions must b considered:
1. What was the common law before making the Act?
2. What was the mischief and defect for which the common law did not provide a
3. What is the remedy resolved by the parliament to cure the disease of the common
4. The true reason of the remedy.
The judge should always try to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy. The
mischief rule says that the intent of the legislature behind the enactment should be

Rule of casus omissus

Generally, the court is bound to harmonize the various provisions of an Act passed by the
legislature during interpretation so that repugnancy is avoided. Sometimes certain matters
might have been omitted in a statute. In such cases, they cannot be added by construction
as it amounts to making of laws or amending which is a function of legislature. A new
provision cannot be added in a statute giving it meaning not otherwise found therein. A
word omitted from the language of the statute, but within the general scope of the statute,
and omitted due to inadvertence is known as Casus Omissus.
In Padma Sundara Rao v State of Tamil Nadu6 it was held that the cassus omissus
cannot be supplied by the court except in the case of a clear necessity and when reason
for it is found within the four corners of the statute itself.

Rule of Ejusdem Generis

Ejusdem generis means “of the same kind”. Generally particular words are given their
natural meaning provided the context does not require otherwise. If general words follow
particular words pertaining to a class, category or genus then it is construed that general
words are limited to mean the person or thing of the same general class, category or
genus as those particularly exposed.
Eg: if the husband asks the wife to buy bread, milk and cake and if the wife buys
jam along with them, it is not invalidated merely because of not specifying it but is valid
because it is of the same kind.
The basic rule is that if the legislature intended general words to be used in
unrestricted sense, then it need not have used particular words at all. This rule is not of
universal application. In Devendra Surti v State of Gujarat7, under s2 (4) of the Bombay
shops and Establishments Act, 1948 the term commercial establishment means “an
establishments which carries any trade, business or profession”. Here the word profession
is associated to business or trade and hence a private doctor’s clinic cannot be included in
the above definitions as under the rule of Ejusdem Generis. In Grasim Industries Ltd v
Collector of Customs, Bombay8, the rule of Ejusdem Generis is applicable when
particular words pertaining to a class, category or genus are followed by general words.

(2002) 3 SCC 533.
[1969] 1 SCR 235.
AIR 2002 SC 1706.

In such a case the general words are construed as limited to things of the same kind as
those specified.
Every clause of a statute must be construed with reference to other clauses of the


Long title
A long title of a Legislation may not control, circumscribe or widen the scope of
the legislation, if the provisions thereof are otherwise clear and unambiguous, but if the
terms of the legislation are capable of both a wider and a narrower construction, that
construction which would be in tune with the avowed object manifested in the preamble
or declared in the long title, ought to be accepted9.

An exemption clause in a taxing statute must be, as far as possible, liberally
construed and in favour of the assessee, provided no violence is done to the language

“It is true that an exemption provision should be liberally construed, but this does
not mean that such liberal construction should be made even by doing violence to the
plain meaning of such exemption provision. Liberal construction will be made wherever
it is possible to be made without impairing the legislative requirement and the spirit of
the provision.”11


The normal function of a proviso is to except and deal with a case which would
otherwise fall within the general language of the main enactment, and its effect is
confined to that case.

Urmila Bala Dasi vs. Probodh Chandra Ghosh (1990) 184 ITR 604 (Cal)
CIT vs. Dungarmal Tainwala (1991) 191 ITR 445 ( Patna)
Petron Engineering Construction Pvt. Ltd. vs. CBDT (1989) 175 ITR 523 (SC)

“The main function of a proviso is to carve out an exception to the main
enactment. It cannot, normally, be so interpreted as to set at naught the real object of the
main enactment.”12.

A proviso cannot be held to control the main enactment or to withdraw, by mere

implication, any part of what the main provision has given. But it cannot enable
something to be done which is not to be found in the enacting clause itself, on the ground
that otherwise the proviso would be meaningless and senseless.

“There may be cases in which the language of the statute may be so clear that a
proviso may be construed as a substantive clause. But whether a proviso is construed as
restricting the main provision or as a substantive clause, it cannot be divorced from the
provision to which it stands as a proviso. It must be construed harmoniously with the
main enactment.”13


Sometimes an Explanation is added to a section to elaborate upon and explain the

meaning of the words appearing in the section. Such an Explanation becomes an integral
part of the main enactment.

“An Explanation to a statutory provision has to be read with the main provision to
which it is added as an Explanation. An Explanation appended to a section or a sub-
section becomes an integral part of it and has no independent existence apart from it.
There is, in the eye of law, only one enactment, of which both the section or sub-section
and the Explanation are two inseparable parts. In the absence of anything repugnant in
the subject or context, the words and expressions used in the Explanation are to be given
the same meaning as given to them in the main provision itself.”14

The purpose of an Explanation is not to limit the scope of the main section. An
Explanation is quite different in nature from a proviso; the latter excludes, excepts and
restricts while the former explains, clarifies or subtracts or includes something by
introducing a legal fiction.

CIT vs. Pyarilal Kasam Manji & Co. 198 ITR 110 (Ori.)
CIT vs. Ajax Products Ltd. (1964) 55 ITR 741 (SC)]
CIT vs. Reunion Engineering Co. (P) Ltd. (1993) 203 ITR 274 (Bom.)

“An Explanation may be appended to a section to explain the meaning of the
words used in the section. There is no presumption that an Explanation which is inserted
subsequently introduces something new which was not present in the section before.
Ordinarily, an Explanation is inserted to clear up any ambiguity in the section and it
should be so read as to harmonise it with the section and to clear up any ambiguity in the
main section.”15.

“The normal principle in construing an Explanation is to understand it as

explaining the meaning of the provision to which it is added; the Explanation does not
enlarge or limit the provision, unless the Explanation purports to be a definition or a
deeming clause; if the intention of the Legislature is not fully conveyed earlier or there
has been a misconception about the scope of a provision, the Legislature steps in to
explain the purport of the provision; such an Explanation has to be given effect to, as
pointing out the real meaning of the provision all along.”16.

Non-obstante clauses
“A non-obstante clause is usually used in a provision to indicate that the provision
should prevail despite anything to the contrary in the provision mentioned in such non-
obstante clause. In case there is any inconsistency or a departure between the non-
obstante clause and another provision, one of the objects of such a clause is to indicate
that it is the non-obstante clause which would prevail over the other clause.”17

Marginal notes and headings

“The marginal note to a section cannot be referred to for the purpose of
construing the section but it can certainly be relied upon as indicating the drift of the
section or to show what the section is dealing with. It cannot control the interpretation of
the words of a section, particularly when the language of the section is clear and
unambiguous but, being part of the statute, it prima facie furnishes some clue as to the
meaning and purpose of the section.”18.

CIT vs. Voltas Ltd. (1994) 205 ITR 569 (Bom)
CIT vs. Mangalore Ganesh Beedi Works 193 ITR 77 (Kar)
Parasuramaiah vs. Lakshamma AIR 1965 AP 220.
K.P. Varghese vs. ITO 131 ITR 597 (SC)

“Marginal notes are not decisive in interpreting a substantive provision of law,
but, in case of doubt, they can be relied upon as one of the aids for construction.” 19


The Act Starts with a preamble and is generally small. The main objective and purpose of
the Act are found in the Preamble of the Statute. “Preamble is the Act in a nutshell. It is a
preparatory statement. It contains the recitals showing the reason for enactment of the
Act. If the language of the Act is clear the preamble must be ignored. The preamble is an
intrinsic aid in the interpretation of an ambiguous act.
In Kashi Prasad v State20, the court held that even though the preamble cannot be
used to defeat the enacting clauses of a statute, it can be treated as a key for the
interpretation of the statute.

“There are three activities serially set out in that sub-clause, namely, construction,
manufacture or production. A comma is, therefore, legitimately and as per the rules of
grammar, required after the first activity to separate it from the second activity of
manufacture. Since the second activity is followed by the word “or”, no comma is
required after the second activity to separate it from the third activity. Therefore,
punctuation is put as grammatically required. It does not disclose any intention of
providing for a separate kind of business altogether. Punctuation, in any case, is a minor
element in the construction of a statute. Only when a statute is carefully punctuated and
there is no doubt about its meaning can weight be given to punctuation. It cannot,
however, be regarded as a controlling element for determining the meaning of a

Definition clause and undefined words

(a) Judicially defined words

R.B. Shreeram Religious & Charitable Trust vs. CIT (1988) 172 ITR 373 (Bom)
1980 BB CJ 612
Hindustan Construction vs. CIT (1994) 208 ITR 291 (Bom)

“It has long been a well-established principle to be applied in the construction of
an Act of Parliament that where a word of doubtful meaning has received a clear judicial
interpretation, the subsequent statute which incorporates the same word or the same
phrase in a similar context, must be construed so that the word or phrase is interpreted
according to the meaning that has previously been assigned to it.”22

“Interpretation of a provision in a taxing statute rendered years back and accepted

and acted upon by the department should not be easily departed from.”23

(b) Rule of Ejusdem generis

The maxim ejusdem generis serves to restrict the meaning of a general word to
things or matters of the same genus as the preceding particular words. It is well
recognised rule of construction that when two or more words which are susceptible of
analogous meaning are coupled together noscitur a sociis, they are understood to be used
in their cognate sense. They take their colour from each other that is, the more general is
restricted to a sense analogous to the less general.

In order to attract the principle of ejusdem generis, it is essential that a distinct

genus or category must be discernible in the words under examination. Where the statute
imposes restriction on advertisement, publicity and sales promotion, the expression “sales
promotion” cannot include selling expenses incurred in the ordinary course of
business24. Similarly, the words “other stationary plant” must be construed ejusdem
generis with switchgears and transformers.25

The rule of ejusdem generis is to be applied “with caution” and “not pushed too
far”. It may not be interpreted too narrowly and unnecessarily if broad based genus could
be found so as to avoid cutting down words to dwarf size.26

The Schedules appended to a statute form part of it. They are generally added to
avoid encumbering the statute with matters of excessive details, guidelines to work out
Barras vs. Aberdeen Steam Trawling and Fishing Co. Ltd. (1933) AC 402 (HL)
CIT vs. Balkrishna Malhotra (1971) 81 ITR 759 (SC)
CIT vs. Statesman Ltd. (1992) 198 ITR 582 ( Cal .)
[CIT vs. Anglo India Jute Mills Co. Ltd. (1993) 202 ITR 104 (Cal.)
U.P. State Electricity Board vs. Hari Shanker Jain AIR 1979 (SC) 65

the policy of the statute, transitory provisions, rules and forms which need frequent
amendment and the like. Much importance is not given to the forms unless they contain
requirements of a mandatory nature.

Statute generally means the law or the Act of the legislature authority. The general rule of
the interpretation is that statutes must prima facie be given this ordinary meaning. If the
words are clear, free from ambiguity there is no need to refer to other means of
interpretation. But if the words are vague and ambiguous then internal aid may be sought
for interpretation.

• Mathur, D. N., Interpretation of Statutes, 1st Edn., 2006, Central Law
Publications, Allahabad.
• Singh, Avtar, Introduction to Interpretation of Statutes, 2nd Edition Reprint 2007,
Wadhwa and Company, Nagpur.