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Rule of construction of statutes


In the case of Jugalkishor Saraf vs. M/s. Raw Cotton Co. Ltd., AIR 1955 SC 376 the Apex Court has observed as under :

“The cardinal rule of construction of statutes is to read the statute literally, that is, by giving to the words used by the legislature their ordinary, natural and grammatical meaning. If, however, such a reading leads to absurdity and the words are susceptible of another meaning the Court may adopt the same. But if no such alternative construction is possible, the Court must adopt the ordinary rule of literal interpretation.”

 The interpretation, which is an interpretation according to the intent departs from the letter of the law and goes behind the language used in the statute for the ascertainment of its meaning when grammatical interpretation leads to some absurdity or inconsistency. In such cases, it is the duty of the Court to discover and give effect to the true intention of the legislature.

 In order to ascertain the exact meaning of what the Legislature has actually said, Denning, L.J. went so far as to observe that “we sit here to find out the intention of Parliament and Ministers and carry it out and we do this better by filling in the gaps and making sense of the enactment than by opening it up to destructive analysis.” [Magor & St. Melius Rural District Council vs. Newport Corporation, (1950) 2 All E.R. 1226, 1236].

 The golden rule of interpretation is that a construction which creates anomalous situation, should, if possible, be avoided. Where the plain literal interpretation of a statutory provision produces a manifestly unjust result which could never have been intended by the legislature, the Court might modify the language used by the legislature so as to achieve the intention of the legislature and produce a rational construction. The task of interpretation of a statutory provision is an attempt to discover the intention of the legislature from the language used. It is necessary to remember that language is at best imperfect, instrument for the expression of human intention. It is well to remember the warning administered by Judge Learned Hand that one should not make a fortress out of dictionary but remember that statutes always have some purpose of object to accomplish and sympathetic and imaginative discovery is the surest guide to their meaning as observed by the Supreme Court in Commissioner of Income Tax, Bangalore Vs. J.H. Gotla, Yadagiri, .

The statute as well known must be interpreted having regard to the purport and object which it seeks to achieve. The Court while interpreting provisions of statute, although, is not entitled to re-write the statute itself, is not debarred from, “ironing out the crease”. The Court should always interpret the section in such a manner which would make it workable. The statue as well known must be interpreted having regard to the text and context thereof. Mischief rule may also be applied in a given case. While construing the statute the object of the Act must be taken into consideration as held by the Apex Court in the case of Killick Nixon Ltd. vs. Dy. Commissioner of income tax, (2003) 1 SCC 144. The object of the section is to provide a Leader of Opposition to the House of the Corporation and not to keep the said office vacant. Why the office of the Leader cannot be kept vacant is another question which needs to be answered. To answer this question, one has to consider the importance of the office of the Leader of Opposition and Legislative intent behind it.

 It will be useful to make reference to the case of Lt.-Col. Prithi Pal Singh Bedi and Others Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Others, , wherein it is observed by the Supreme Court as under :

“The dominant purpose in construing a statute is to ascertain the intention of the Parliament. One of the well recognised canons of construction is that the legislature speaks its mind by use of correct expression and unless there is any ambiguity in the language of the provision the Court should adopt literal construction if it does not led to an absurdity. The first question to be posed is whether there is any ambiguity in the language used in the provision. If there is none, it would mean the language used, speaks the mind of Parliament and there is no need to look somewhere else to discover the intention or meaning. If the literal construction leads to an absurdity, external aids to construction can be restored to. To ascertain the literal meaning it is equally necessary first to ascertain the juxtaposition in which the rule is placed, the purpose for which it is enacted and the object which it is required to observe and the authority by which the rule is framed.”

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