The expression ejus dem generis -’of the same kind or nature’ – signifies a principle of construction whereby words in a statute which are otherwise wide but are associated in the text with more limited words are, by implication, given a restricted operation and are limited to matters of the same class or genus as preceding them. If a list or string or family of genus-describing terms are followed by wider or residuary or sweeping – up words, then the verbal context and the linguistic implications of the preceding words limit the scope of such words.
In ‘Statutory Interpretation’ Rupert Cross says:
“……The draftsman must be taken to have inserted the general words in case something which ought to have been included among the specifically enumerated items had been omitted …….”
The principle underlying this approach to statutory construction is that the subsequent general words were only intended to guard against some accidental omission in the objects of the kind mentioned earlier and were not intended to extend to objects of a wholly different kind. This is a presumption and operates unless there is some contrary indication. But the preceding words or expressions of restricted meaning must be susceptible of the import that they represent a class. If no class can be found, ejusdem generis rule is not attracted and such broad construction as the subsequent words may admit will be favoured. As a learned author puts it:
“…………… if a class can be found, but the specific words exhaust the class, then rejection of the rule may be favoured because its adoption would make the general words unnecessary; if, however, the specific words do not exhaust the class, then adoption of the rule may be favoured because its rejection would make the specific words unnecessary.”
(See:Construction of Statutes by E. A. Driedger p. 95 quoted by Francis Bennion in his Statutory Construction pages 829 and 830).
Francis Bennion in his Statutory Construction observed:
“For the ejusdem generis principles to apply there must be a sufficient indication of a category that can properly be described as a class or genus, even though not specified as such in the enactment. Furthermore the genus must be narrower than the words it is said to regulate. The nature of the genus is gathered by implication from the express words which suggest it …….”
“It is necessary to be able to formulate the genus; for if it cannot be formulated. it does not exist. ‘Unless you can find a category’, said Farwell LJ, ‘there is no room for the application of the ejusdem generis doctrine’.”
In SS. Magnhild (Owners) v. McIntyre Bros. and Co. (1920) 3 KB 321 Me Cardie J said:
“So far as I can see the only test seems to be whether the specified things which precede the general words can be placed under some common category. By this I understand that the specified things must possess some common and dominant feature.”
In Tribhuban Parkash Nayyar v. Union of India (1970) 2 SCR 732 the Court said:
“……This rule reflects an attempt to reconcile incompatibility between the specific and general words, in view of the other rules of interpretation, that all words in a statute are given effect if possible, that a statute is to be construed as a whole and that no words in a statute are presumed to be superfluous …….”
In U. P. S. E. Board v. Hari Shanker, AIR 1979 SC 65 it was observed:
“……….The true scope of the rule of “ejusdem generis” is that words of a general nature following specific and particular words should be construed as limited to things which are of the same nature as those specified. But the rule is one which has to be “applied with caution and not pushed too far”…..”
The argument that the word “transfer” must be construed ejusdem generis with the words sale, exchange or relinquishment has to be rejected because as stated in Craies on Statute Law (7th edition, page 181).
“the ejusdem generis rule is one to be applied with caution and not pushed too far, as in the case of many decisions, which treat it as automatically applicable, and not as being, what it is, a mere presumption, in the absence of other indications of the intention of the legislature. The modern tendency of the law, it was said, is “to attenuate the application of the rule of ejusdem generis”. To invoke the application of the ejusdem generis rule there must be a distinct genus or category. The specific words must apply not to different objects of widely differing character but to something which can be called a class or kind of objects. Where this is lacking, the rule cannot apply.”
Thus, unless you find a category there is no room for the application of ejusdem generis doctrine and where the words are clearly wide in their meaning they ought not to be qualified on the ground of their association with other words. (See Glasgow Corpn. v. Glasgow Tramway Co. 1898 AC 631 at page No. 634.) In N.A.L.G.O. v. Bolton Corpn., 1943 AC 166, it was held that “the ejusdem generis rule is often useful or convenient, but it is merely a rule of construction, not a rule of law.” In the instant case, in the absence of distinct genus or category, no presumption can arise that the word “transfer” must be construed in the sense of voluntary act of transfer since “sale”, “exchange” or “relinquishment” are in the normal acceptation of those terms voluntary acts. The words (a) sale, (b) exchange, (c) relinquishment and (d) transfer must accordingly be given their plain and natural meaning and there is no justification for restricting the wide comprehension of the last of the four words to voluntary transfers by the application of the ejusdem generis rule.[AIR 1978 SC 1272 : (1978) 3 SCR 913 : (1978) 3 SCC 248]
We were then referred to C. A. P. R. M. A. R. Adaikappa Chettiar v. Thomas Cook and Son (Bankers) Ltd. AIR 1933 PC 78 where the well-known principle of ejusdem, generis was applied to hold that general words following words conferring specifically enumerated powers “cannot be construed so as to enlarge the restricted powers there mentioned.” In this case, the purpose of the general power was subordinated to the specific powers given which determined the object of the power of attorney. There is no deviation in this case from the general rules of construction set out above by us. We have indicated above that implied powers cannot go beyond the scope of the general object of the power but must necessarily be subordinated to it. In fact, in a case like the one before us, where a general power of representation in various business transactions is mentioned first and then specific instances of it are given, the converse rule ,which is often specifically stated in statutory provisions (the rules of construction of statutes and documents being largely common) applies. That rule is that specific instances do not derogate from the width of the general power initially conferred. To such a case the ejusdem generis rule cannot be applied. The mode of construing a document and the rules to be applied to extract its meaning correctly depend upon not only upon the nature and object but also upon the frame, provisions, and language of the document. In case of uncertainty, the rule embodied in proviso 2 to Section 92 of the Evidence Act, which is applicable to contracts, can be invoked. Thus, the ultimate decision on such a matter, turns upon the particular and peculiar facts of each case.[AIR 1977 SC 734 : (1977) 2 SCR 451 : (1977) 3 SCC 474]
The ejusdem generis rule strives to reconcile the incompatibility between specific and general words. This doctrine applies when (i) the statute contains an enumeration of specific words; (ii) the subjects of the enumeration constitute a class or category, (iii) that class or category is not exhausted by the enumeration; (iv) the general term follows the enumeration and (v) there is no indication of a different legislative intent. In the present case it is not easy to construe the various clause of Section 42 as constituting one category or class. But that apart, the very language of the two sections and the objects intended respectively to be achieved by them also negative any intention of the legislature to attract the rule of ejusdem generis[AIR 1972 SC 1863 : (1973) 1 SCR 533 : (1972) 2 SCC 442]
The ejusdem generis rule is not a rule of law but is merely a rule of construction to aid the Courts to find out the true intention of the legislature. If a given provision is plain and unambiguous and the legislative intent is clear, there is no occasion to call into aid that rule. ejusdem generis rule is explained in Halsbury Laws of England (3rd Edn.) Vol. 36 P. 397 paragraph 599 thus:
“As a rule, where in a statute there are general words following particular and specific words, the general words must be confined to things of the same kind as those specified, although this, as a rule of construction, must be applied with caution, and subject to the primary rule that statutes are to be construed in accordance with the intention of Parliament. For the ejusdem rule to apply, the specific words must constitute a category, class or genus:if they do constitute such a category, class or genus, then only things which belong to that category, class or genus fall within the general words……”
14. It is observed in Craies on Statute Law (6th Edn) p. 181 that:
“The ejusdem generis rule is one to be applied with caution and not pushed too far, as in the case of many decisions, which treat it as automatically-applicable, and not as being, what it is, a mere presumption, in the absence of other indications of the intention of the legislature. The modern tendency of the law, it was said, is “to attenuate the application of the rule of ejusdem generic”. To invoke the application of the ejusdem generic rule there must be a distinct genus or category. The specific words must apply not to different objects of a widely differing character but to something which can be called a class or kind of objects”.
15. According to Sutherland Statutory Construction (3rd Edn) Vol. II, p. 395, for the application of the doctrine of ejusdem generic, the following conditions must exist. (i) The statute contains an enumeration by specific words;
(ii) The members of the enumeration constitute a class;
(iii) The class is not exhausted by the enumeration;
(iv) A general term follows the enumeration and
(v) There is not clearly manifested an intent that the general term be given a broader meaning than the doctrine requires.
16. The scope of the ejusdem generis rule has been considered by this Court in several decisions. In State of Bombay v. Ali Gulshan, (1955) 2 SCR 867 it was observed:
“Apart from the fact that the rule must be confined within narrow limits, and general or comprehensive words should receive their full and natural meaning unless they are clearly restrictive in their intendment, it is requisite that there must be a distinct genus, which must comprise more than one species, before the rule can be applied”
In Lilavati Bai v. The State of Bombay, (1957) SCR 721 , it was observed:
“The rule of ejusdem generis is intended to be applied where general words have been used following particular and specific words of the same nature on the established rule of construction that the legislature presumed to use the general words in a restricted sense:that is to say, as belonging to the same genus as the particular and specific words. Such a restricted meaning has to be given to words of general import only where the context of the whole scheme of legislation requires it. But where the context and the object and mischief of the enactment do not require such restricted meaning to be attached to words of general import, it becomes the duty of the Courts to give those words their plain and ordinary meaning”.[AIR 1971 SC 1033 : (1971) 3 SCR 871 : (1971) 1 SCC 671]
When in a statute there are general words following particular and specific words, the general words are sometimes construed as limited to things of the same kind as those specified. This rule of interpretation generally know as ejusdem generis rule has been pressed into service on behalf of the appellant. This rule reflects an attempt to reconcile incompatibility between the specific and general words, in view of the other rules of interpretation, that all words in a statute are given effect if possible, that a statute is to be construed as a whole and that no words in a statute are presumed to be superfluous. ejusdem generis rule being one of the rules of interpretation, only serves, like all such rules, as an aid to discover the legislative intent; it is neither final nor conclusive and is attracted only when the specific words enumerated, constitute a class, which is not exhausted and are followed by general terms and when there is no manifestation of intent to give broader meaning to the general words.[AIR 1970 SC 540 : (1970) 2 SCR 732 : (1969) 3 SCC 99]
When in a statute particular classes are mentioned by name and then are followed by general words, the general words are sometimes construed ejusdem generis, i.e., limited to the same category or genus comprehended by the particular words. But it is not necessary that this rule must always apply. The nature of the special words and the general words must be considered before the rule is applied. In Allen v. Emerson, (1944) 1 KB 362. Asquith, J., gave interesting examples of particular words followed by general words where the principle of ejusdem generis might or might not apply. We think that the following illustration will clear any difficulty. In the expression “books, pamphlets, newspapers and other documents”private letters may not be held included if other documents’be interpreted ejusdem generis with what goes before. But in a provision which reads “newspapers or other document likely to convey secrets of the enemy”, the words ‘other document’would include document of any kind and would not take their colour from ‘news papers’. It follows, therefore, that interpretation ejusdem generis or noscitur a sociis need not always be made when words showing particular classes are followed by general words. Before the general words can be so interpreted there must be a genus constituted or a category disclosed with reference to which the general words can and are intended to be restricted.[AIR 1964 SC 1882 : (1964) 8 SCR 50]