What to do if a statute is producing more than one construction?

Language of the Statute producing more than one meaning


It is now a well-settled principle of law that if the language used in a statute is capable of bearing more than one construction, the true meaning thereof should be selected having regard to the consequences resulting from adopting the alternative constructions. A construction resulting in hardship, non-fulfilment of the purpose for which the statute has been brought in force should be rejected and should be given that construction which avoids such results.[AIR 2007 SCW 3595 : (2007) 7 SCALE 758 : (2007) 9 SCC 755]

Yet again in P.T. Rajan vs. T.P.M. Sahir and Others (2003) 8 SCC 498, this Court observed :

“45. A statute as is well known must be read in the text and context thereof. Whether a statute is directory or mandatory would not be dependent on the user of the words shall or may. Such a question must be posed and answered having regard to the purpose and object it seeks to achieve.

What is mandatory is the requirement of sub-section (3) of Section 23 of the 1950 Act and not the ministerial action of actual publication of Form 16.

The construction of a statute will depend on the purport and object for which the same had been used. In the instant case the 1960 Rules do not fix any time for publication of the electoral rolls. On the other hand Section 23(3) of the 1950 Act categorically mandates that direction can be issued for revision in the electoral roll by way of amendment in inclusion and deletion from the electoral roll till the date specified for filing nomination. The electoral roll as revised by reason of such directions can therefore be amended only thereafter. On the basis of direction issued by the competent authority in relation to an application filed for inclusion of a voters name, a nomination can be filed. The person concerned, therefore, would not be inconvenienced or in any way be prejudiced only because the revised electoral roll in Form 16 is published a few hours later. The result of filing of such nomination would become known to the parties concerned also after 3.00 p.m.

Furthermore, even if the statute specifies a time for publication of the electoral roll, the same by itself could not have been held to be mandatory. Such a provision would be directory in nature. It is a well-settled principle of law that where a statutory functionary is asked to perform a statutory duty within the time prescribed therefor, the same would be directory and not mandatory. (See Shiveshwar Prasad Sinha vs. District Magistrate of Monghyr, Nomita Chowdhury vs. State of W.B. and Garbari Union Coop. Agricultural Credit Society Ltd. vs. Swapan Kumar Jana)

Furthermore, a provision in a statute which is procedural in nature although employs the word shall may not be held to be mandatory if thereby no prejudice is caused. (See Raza Buland Sugar Co. Ltd. vs. Municipal Board, Rampur, State Bank of Patiala vs. S.K. Sharma, Venkataswamappa vs. Special Dy. Commr. (Revenue) and Rai Vimal Krishna vs. State of Bihar.)”

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