The meaning of “Or”


In order to steer clear of the above interpretation of Section 11 (2) learned counsel for the employees put forward the argument that the word ‘or’ occurring in the section should not be read as a disjunctive and should be given the meaning ‘and’ so that the two clauses forming the conditions about which the Central Government has to be satisfied before it can act under the section are taken to be one single whole; but we do not see any reason why the plain meaning of the word should be distorted to suit the convenience or the cause of the employees. It is no doubt true that the word ‘or’ may be interpreted as ‘and’ in certain extraordinary circumstances such as in a situation where its use as a disjunctive could obviously not have been intended. (see Mazagaon Dock Ltd. v. Commr. of Income-tax and Excess Profits Tax, (1959) SCR 848. Where no compelling reason for the adoption of such a course is, however, available, the word ‘or’ must be given its ordinary meaning, that is, as a disjunctive. This rule was thus applied to the interpretation of clause (c) of Sec. 3 (1) of the U. P. (Temporary) Control of Rent and Eviction Act, 1947 in Manmohan Das Shah v. Bishun Das, (1967) 1 SCR 836, by Shelat., J.:

“The clause is couched in simple and unambiguous language and in its plain meaning provides that it would be a good ground enabling a landlord to sue for eviction without the permission of the District Magistrate if the tenant has made or has permitted to be made without the landlord’s consent in writing such construction which materially alters the accommodation or is likely substantially to diminish its value. The language of the clauses makes it clear that the legislature wanted to lay down two alternatives which would furnish a ground to the landlord to sue without the District Magistrate’s permission, that is, where the tenant has made such construction which would materially alter the accommodation or which would be likely to substantially diminish its value. The ordinary rule of construction is that a provision of a statute must be construed in accordance with the language used therein unless there are compelling reasons, such as where a literal construction would reduce the provision to absurdity or prevent the manifest intention of the legislature from being carried out. There is no reason why the work ‘or’ should be construed otherwise than in its ordinary meaning.”

144. In my view this reasoning is fully applicable to the case in hand and there is every reason why the word ‘or’ should be given its ordinary meaning. This was also the view taken by a learned single Judge of the Madras High Court in K. S. Ramaswamy v. Union of India, (1977) 1 Lab LJ 211, of which I fully approve.[ The Life Insurance Corporation of India Versus D. J. Bahadur and others-AIR 1980 SC 2181 : (1981) 1 SCR 1083 : (1981) 1 SCC 315]