Precedents construing the word “any”
[Writ Petition (Civil) No. 906 of 2016]
112. A Constitution Bench of this Court in the case of The Chief Inspector of Mines and another v. Lala Karam Chand Thapar etc. was considering the question as to whether the phrase “any one of the directors” as found in Section 76 of the Mines Act, 1952 could mean “only one of the directors” or could it be construed to mean “every one of the directors”. In the said case, all the directors of the Company were prosecuted for the offences punishable under Sections 73 and 74 of the Mines Act, 1952. The High Court had held that any ‘one’ of the directors of the Company could only be prosecuted. The Constitution Bench of this Court observed thus:
“It is quite clear and indeed not disputed that in some contexts, “any one” means “one only it matters not which one” the phrase “any of the directors” is therefore quite capable of meaning “only one of the directors, it does not matter which one”. Is the phrase however capable of no other meaning? If it is not, the courts cannot look further, and must interpret these words in that meaning only, irrespective of what the intention of the legislature might be believed to have been. If however the phrase is capable of another meaning, as suggested, viz., “every one of the directors” it will be necessary to decide which of the two meanings was intended by the legislature.
If one examines the use of the words “any one” in common conversation or literature, there can be no doubt that they are not infrequently used to mean “every one” – not one, but all. Thus we say of any one can see that this is wrong, to mean “everyone can see that this is wrong”. “Any one may enter” does not mean that “only one person may enter”, but that all may enter. It is permissible and indeed profitable to turn in this connection to the Oxford English Dictionary, at p. 378, of which, we find the meaning of “any” given thus:
“In affirmative sentences, it asserts, concerning a being or thing of the sort named, without limitation as to which, and thus collectively of every one of them”. One of the illustrations given is – “I challenge anyone to contradict my assertions”. Certainly, this does not mean that one only is challenged; but that all are challenged. It is abundantly clear therefore that “any one” is not infrequently used to mean “every one”. But, argues Mr Pathak, granting that this is so, it must be held that when the phrase “any one” is used with the preposition “of”, followed by a word denoting a number of persons, it never means “every one”.
The extract from the Oxford Dictionary, it is interesting to notice, speaks of an assertion “concerning a being or thing of the sort named”; it is not unreasonable to say that, the word “of” followed by a word denoting a number of persons or things is just such “naming of a sort” as mentioned there. Suppose, the illustration “I challenge any one to contradict my assertions” was changed to “I challenge any one of my opponents to contradict my assertion”. “Any one of my opponents” here would mean “all my opponents” – not one only of the opponents.
While the phrase “any one of them” or any similar phrase consisting of “any one”, followed by “of” which is followed in its turn by words denoting a number of persons or things, does not appear to have fallen for judicial construction, in our courts or in England – the phrase “any of the present directors” had to be interpreted in an old English case, Isle of Wight Railway Co. v. Tahourdin [25 Chancery Division 320] . A number of shareholders required the directors to call a meeting of the company for two objects. One of the objects was mentioned as “To remove, if deemed necessary or expedient any of the present directors, and to elect directors to fill any vacancy on the Board”.
The directors issued a notice to convene a meeting for the other object and held the meeting. Then the shareholders, under the Companies Clauses Act, 1845, issued a notice of their own convening a meeting for both the objects in the original requisition. In an action by the directors to restrain the requisitionists, from holding the meeting, the Court of Appeal held that a notice to remove “any of the present directors” would justify a resolution for removing all who are directors at the present time. “Any”, Lord Cotton, L.J. pointed out, would involve “all”.
It is true that the language there was “any of the present directors” and not “any one of the present directors” and it is urged that the word “one”, in the latter phrase makes all the difference. We think it will be wrong to put too much emphasis on the word “one” here. It may be pointed out in this connection that the Permanent Edition of Words and Phrases, mentions an American case Front & Hintingdon Building & Loan Association v. Berzinski where the words “any of them” were held to be the equivalent of “any one of them”.
After giving the matter full and anxious consideration, we have come to the conclusion that the words “any one of the directors” is ambiguous; in some contexts, it means “only one of the directors, does not matter which one”, but in other contexts, it is capable of meaning “every one of the directors”. Which of these two meanings was intended by the legislature in any particular statutory phrase has to be decided by the courts on a consideration of the context in which the words appear, and in particular, the scheme and object of the legislation.”
113. The Constitution Bench found that the words “any one” has been commonly used to mean “every one” i.e. not one, but all. It found that the word “any”, in affirmative sentences, asserts, concerning a being or thing of the sort named, without limitation. It held that it is abundantly clear that the word “any one” is not infrequently used to mean “every one”.
114. It could be seen that the Constitution Bench, after giving the matter full and anxious consideration, came to the conclusion that the words “any one of the directors” was an ambiguous one. It held that in some contexts, it means “only one of the directors, does not matter which one”, but in other contexts, it is capable of meaning “every one of the directors”. It held that which of these two meanings was intended by the legislature in any particular statutory phrase has to be decided by the courts on consideration of the context in which the words appear, and in particular, the scheme and object of the legislation.
115. After examining the scheme of the Mines Act, 1952, the Constitution Bench of this Court further observed thus:
“But, argues Mr Pathak, one must not forget the special rule of interpretation for “penal statute” that if the language is ambiguous, the interpretation in favour of the accused should ordinarily be adopted. If you interpret “any one” in the sense suggested by him, the legislation he suggests is void and so the accused escapes. One of the two possible constructions, thus being in favour of the accused, should therefore be adopted. In our opinion, there is no substance in this contention. The rule of strict interpretation of penal statutes in favour of the accused is not of universal application, and must be considered along with other well-established rules of interpretation.
We have already seen that the scheme and object of the statute makes it reasonable to think that the legislature intended to subject all the directors of a company owning coal mines to prosecution and penalties, and not one only of the directors. In the face of these considerations there is no scope here of the application of the rule for strict interpretation of penal statutes in favour of the accused. The High Court appears to have been greatly impressed by the fact that in other statutes where the legislature wanted to make every one out of a group or a class of persons liable it used clear language expressing the intention; and that the phrase “any one” has not been used in any other statute in this country to express “every one”.
It will be unreasonable, in our opinion, to attach too much weight to this circumstance; and as for the reasons mentioned above, we think the phrase “any one of the directors” is capable of meaning “every one of the directors”, the fact that in other statutes, different words were used to express a similar meaning is not of any significance. We have, on all these considerations come to the conclusion that the words “any one of the directors” has been used in Section 76 to mean “every one of the directors”, and that the contrary interpretation given by the High Court is not correct.”
116. It could thus be seen that though it was sought to be argued before the Court that since the rule of strict interpretation of penal statutes in favour of the accused has to be adopted and that the word “any” was suffixed by the word “one”, it has to be given restricted meaning; the Court came to the conclusion that the words “any one of the directors” used in Section 76 of the Mines Act, 1952 would mean “every one of the directors”. It is further to be noted that the word “any” in the said case was suffixed by the word “one”, still the Court held that the words “any one” would mean “all” and not “one”. It is to be noted that in the present case, the legislature has not employed the word “one” after the word “any”. It is settled law that it has to be construed that every single word employed or not employed by the legislature has a purpose behind it.
117. On the very date on which the judgment in the case of The Chief Inspector of Mines and another v. Lala Karam Chand Thapar etc. (supra) was pronounced, the same Constitution Bench also pronounced the judgment in the case of Banwarilal Agarawalla (supra), wherein the Constitution Bench observed thus:
“The first contention is based on an assumption that the word “any one” in Section 76 means only “one of the directors, and only one of the shareholders”. This question as regards the interpretation of the word “any one” in Section 76 was raised in Criminal Appeals Nos. 98 to 106 of 1959 (Chief Inspector of Mines, etc.) and it has been decided there that the word “any one” should be interpreted there as “every one”. Thus under Section 76 every one of the shareholders of a private company owning the mine, and every one of the directors of a public company owning the mine is liable to prosecution. No question of violation of Article 14 therefore arises.”
118. Another Constitution Bench of this Court in the case of Tej Kiran Jain and others (supra) was considering the provisions of Article 105 of the Constitution of India and, particularly, the immunity as available to the Member of Parliament “in respect of anything said in Parliament”.
The Constitution Bench observed thus:
“8. In our judgment it is not possible to read the provisions of the article in the way suggested. The article means what it says in language which could not be plainer. The article confers immunity inter alia in respect of “anything said in Parliament”. The word “anything” is of the widest import and is equivalent to “everything”. The only limitation arises from the words “in Parliament” which means during the sitting of Parliament and in the course of the business of Parliament. We are concerned only with speeches in Lok Sabha.
Once it was proved that Parliament was sitting and its business was being transacted, anything said during the course of that business was immune from proceedings in any Court this immunity is not only complete but is as it should be. It is of the essence of parliamentary system of Government that people’s representatives should be free to express themselves without fear of legal consequences. What they say is only subject to the discipline of the rules of Parliament, the good sense of the members and the control of proceedings by the Speaker. The Courts have no say in the matter and should really have none.”
119. This Court held that the word “anything” is of the widest import and is equivalent to “everything”. The only limitation arises from the words “in Parliament” which means during the sitting of Parliament and in the course of the business of Parliament. It held that, once it was proved that Parliament was sitting and its business was being transacted, anything said during the course of that business was immune from proceedings in any Court.
120. This Court, in the case of Lucknow Development Authority (supra), was considering clause (o) of Section (2) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 which defines “service”, wherein the word “any” again fell for consideration. This Court observed thus:
“4. The words ‘any’ and ‘potential’ are significant. Both are of wide amplitude. The word ‘any’ dictionarily means ‘one or some or all’. In Black’s Law Dictionary it is explained thus, “word ‘any’ has a diversity of meaning and may be employed to indicate ‘all’ or ‘every’ as well as ‘some’ or ‘one’ and its meaning in a given statute depends upon the context and the subject-matter of the statute”. The use of the word ‘any’ in the context it has been used in clause (o) indicates that it has been used in wider sense extending from one to all.”
121. This Court held that the word “any” is of wide amplitude. It means “one or some or all”. Referring to Black’s Law Dictionary, the Court observed that the word “any” has a diversity of meaning and may be employed to indicate “all” or “every” as well as “some” or “one”. However, the meaning which is to be given to it would depend upon the context and the subject-matter of the statute.
122. In the case of K.P. Mohammed Salim (supra), this Court was considering the power of the Director General or Chief Commissioner or Commissioner to transfer any case from one or more assessing officers subordinate to him to any other assessing officer or assessing officers. This Court observed thus:
“17. The word “any” must be read in the context of the statute and for the said purpose, it may in a situation of this nature, means all. The principles of purposive construction for the said purpose may be resorted to. (See New India Assurance Co. Ltd. v. Nusli Neville Wadia [(2008) 3 SCC 279 : (2007) 13 SCR 598]) Thus, in the context of a statute, the word “any” may be read as all in the context of the Income Tax Act for which the power of transfer has been conferred upon the authorities specified under Section 127.”
123. The Court again reiterated that the word “any” must be read in the context of the statute. The Court also applied the principles of purposive construction to the term “any” to mean “all”. 124. In the case of Raj Kumar Shivhare (supra), an argument was sought to be advanced that since Section 35 of the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 uses the words “any decision or order”, only appeals from final order could be filed. Rejecting the said contention, this Court observed thus:
“19. The word “any” in this context would mean “all”. We are of this opinion in view of the fact that this section confers a right of appeal on any person aggrieved. A right of appeal, it is well settled, is a creature of statute. It is never an inherent right, like that of filing a suit. A right of filing a suit, unless it is barred by statute, as it is barred here under Section 34 of FEMA, is an inherent right (see Section 9 of the Civil Procedure Code) but a right of appeal is always conferred by a statute.
While conferring such right a statute may impose restrictions, like limitation or pre-deposit of penalty or it may limit the area of appeal to questions of law or sometime to substantial questions of law. Whenever such limitations are imposed, they are to be strictly followed. But in a case where there is no limitation on the nature of order or decision to be appealed against, as in this case, the right of appeal cannot be further curtailed by this Court on the basis of an interpretative exercise.
20. Under Section 35 of FEMA, the legislature has conferred a right of appeal to a person aggrieved from “any” “order” or “decision” of the Appellate Tribunal. Of course such appeal will have to be on a question of law. In this context the word “any” would mean “all”.
26. In the instant case also when a right is conferred on a person aggrieved to file appeal from “any” order or decision of the Tribunal, there is no reason, in the absence of a contrary statutory intent, to give it a restricted meaning. Therefore, in our judgment in Section 35 of FEMA, any “order” or “decision” of the Appellate Tribunal would mean all decisions or orders of the Appellate Tribunal and all such decisions or orders are, subject to limitation, appealable to the High Court on a question of law.”
125. While holding that the word “any” in the context would mean “all”, this Court observed that a right of appeal is always conferred by a statute. It has been held that, while conferring such right, a statute may impose restrictions, like limitation or pre-deposit of penalty or it may limit the area of appeal to questions of law or sometime to substantial questions of law. It has been held that whenever such limitations are imposed, they are to be strictly followed. It has been held that in a case where there is no limitation, the right of appeal cannot be curtailed by this Court on the basis of an interpretative exercise.
126. Shri P. Chidambaram, learned Senior Counsel relied on the judgment of this Court in the case of Union of India v. A.B. Shah and others (supra). In the said case, the High Court was considering an appeal preferred by the Union of India wherein it had challenged the acquittal of the accused by the learned trial court, which was confirmed in appeal by the High Court. The learned trial court and the High Court had held that the complaint filed was beyond limitation. This Court reversed the judgments of the learned trial court and the High Court. This Court while interpreting the expression “at any time” observed thus:
“12. If we look into Conditions 3 and 6 with the object and purpose of the Act in mind, it has to be held that these conditions are not only relatable to what was required at the commencement of depillaring process, but the unstowing for the required length must exist always. The expression “at any time” finding place in Condition 6 has to mean, in the context in which it has been used, “at any point of time”, the effect of which is that the required length must be maintained all the time.
The accomplishment of object of the Act, one of which is safety in the mines, requires taking of such a view, especially in the backdrop of repeated mine disasters which have been taking, off and on, heavy toll of lives of the miners. It may be pointed out that the word ‘any’ has a diversity of meaning and in Black’s Law Dictionary it has been stated that this word may be employed to indicate ‘all’ or ‘every’, and its meaning will depend “upon the context and subject-matter of the statute”.
A reference to what has been stated in Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary Vol. I, is revealing inasmuch as the import of the word ‘any’ has been explained from pp. 145 to 153 of the 4th Edn., a perusal of which shows it has different connotations depending primarily on the subject-matter of the statute and the context of its use. A Bench of this Court in Lucknow Development Authority v. M.K. Gupta [(1994) 1 SCC 243] , gave a very wide meaning to this word finding place in Section 2(o) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 defining ‘service’. (See para 4)”
127. Shri Chidambaram rightly argued that the word “any” will have to be construed in its context, taking into consideration the scheme and the purpose of the enactment. There can be no quarrel with regard to the said proposition. Right from the judgment of the Constitution Bench of this Court in the case of The Chief Inspector of Mines and another v. Lala Karam Chand Thapar etc. (supra), the position is clear. What is the meaning which the legislature intended to give to a particular statutory provision has to be decided by the Court on a consideration of the context in which the word(s) appear(s) and in particular, the scheme and object of the legislation. Purposive interpretation
128. We find that for deciding the present issue, it will also be necessary to refer an important principle of interpretation of statutes i.e. of purposive interpretation.
129. “Legislation has an aim, it seeks to obviate some mischief, to supply an inadequacy, to effect a change of policy, to formulate a plan of government. That aim, that policy is not drawn, like nitrogen, out of the air; it is evidenced in the language of the statute, as read in the light of other external manifestations of purpose [Some Reflections on the Reading of Statutes, 47 Columbia LR 527, at p. 538 (1947)].”
130. This is how Justice Frankfurter succinctly propounds the principle of purposive interpretation. It is thus necessary to cull out the legislative policy from various factors like the words in the statute, the preamble of the Act, the statement of objects and reasons, and in a given case, even the attendant circumstances. After the legislative policy is found, then the words used in the statute must be so interpreted such that it advances the purpose of the statute and does not defeat it.
131. Francis Bennion in his treatise Statutory Interpretation, at page 810 described purposive construction in an equally eloquent manner as under:
“A purposive construction of an enactment is one which gives effect to the legislative purpose by-
(a) following the literal meaning of the enactment where that meaning is in accordance with the legislative purpose (in this Code called a purposive-and-literal construction), or
(b) applying a strained meaning where the literal meaning is not in accordance with the legislative purpose (in the Code called a purposive-and-strained construction).”
132. A statute must be construed having regard to the legislative intent. It has to be meaningful. A construction which leads to manifest absurdity must not be preferred to a construction which would fulfil the object and purport of the legislative intent.
133. Aharon Barak, the former President of the Supreme Court of Israel, whose exposition of “doctrine of proportionality” has found approval by the Constitution Bench of this Court in the case of Modern Dental College and Research Centre and Others (supra), to which we will refer to in the forthcoming paragraphs, in his commentary on “Purposive Interpretation in Law”, has summarized ‘the goal of interpretation in law’ as under:
“At some point, we need to find an Archimedean foothold, external to the text, from which to answer that question. My answer is this: The goal of interpretation in law is to achieve the objective – in other words, the purpose – of law.56 The role of a system of interpretation in law is to choose, from among the semantic options for a given text, the meaning that best achieves the purpose of the text. Each legal text – will, contract, statute, and constitution – was chosen to achieve a social objective. Achieving this objective, achieving this purpose, is the goal of interpretation.
The system of interpretation is the device and the means. It is a tool through which law achieves self-realization. In interpreting a given text, which is, after all, what interpretation in law does, a system of interpretation must guarantee that the purpose of the norm trapped in the – in our terminology, the purpose of the text – will be achieved in the best way. Hence the requirement that the system of interpretation be a rational activity.
A coin toss will not do. This is also the rationale – which is at the core of my own views – for the belief that purposive interpretation is the most proper system of interpretation. This system is proper because it guarantees the achievement of the purpose of law. There is social, jurisprudential, hermeneutical, and constitutional support for my claim that the proper criterion for interpretation is the search for law’s purpose, and that purposive interpretation best fulfills that criterion. A comparative look at the law supports it, as well. I will discuss each element of that support below.”
134. The learned Judge emphasized that purposive interpretation is the most proper system of interpretation. He observed that this system is proper because it guarantees the achievement of the purpose of law. The proper criterion for interpretation is the search for law’s purpose, and that purposive interpretation best fulfills that criterion.
135. The principle of purposive interpretation has also been expounded through a catena of judgments of this Court. A Constitution Bench of this Court in the case of M. Pentiah and others v. Muddala Veeramallappa and others57 was considering a question, as to whether the term prescribed in Section 34 would apply to a member of a “deemed” committee under the provisions of the Hyderabad District Municipalities Act, 1956. An argument was put forth that, upon a correct interpretation of the provisions of Section 16, the same would be permissible. Rejecting the said argument, K. Subba Rao, J, observed thus:
“Before we consider this argument in some detail, it will be convenient at this stage to notice some of the well established rules of Construction which would help us to steer clear of the complications created by the Act. Maxwell on the Interpretation of Statutes, 10th Edn., says at p. 7 thus:
“if the choice is between two interpretations, the narrower of which would fail to achieve the manifest purpose of the legislation, we should avoid a construction which would reduce the legislation to futility and should rather accept the bolder construction based on the view that Parliament would legislate only for the purpose of bringing about an effective result”. It is said in Craies on Statute Law, 5th Edn., at p. 82- “Manifest absurdity or futility, palpable injustice, or absurd inconvenience or anomaly to be avoided.”
Lord Davey in Canada Sugar Refining Co. v. R. [(1898) AC 735] provides another useful guide of correct perspective to such a problem in the following words:
“Every clause of a statute should be construed with reference to the context and the other clauses of the Act, so as, so far as possible, to make a consistent enactment of the whole statute or series of statutes relating to the subject-matter.””
136. A.K. Sarkar, J. in his concurring opinion observed thus:
“There is no doubt that the Act raises some difficulty. It was certainly not intended that the members elected to the Committee under the repealed Act should be given a permanent tenure of office nor that there would be no elections under the new Act. Yet such a result would appear to follow if the language used in the new Act is strictly and literally interpreted. It is however well established that “Where the language of a statute, in its ordinary meaning and grammatical construction, leads to a manifest contradiction of the apparent purpose of the enactment, or to some inconvenience or absurdity, hardship or in justice, presumably not intended, a construction may be put upon it which modifies the meaning of the words, and even the structure of the sentence.
Where the main object and intention of a statute are clear, it must not be reduced to a nullity by the draftsman’s unskilfulness or ignorance of the law, except in a case of necessity, or the absolute intractability of the language used. Nevertheless, the courts are very reluctant to substitute words in a Statute, or to add words to it, and it has been said that they will only do so where there is a repugnancy to good Sense.”: see Maxwell on Statutes (10th Edn.) p. 229. In Seaford Court Estates Ltd. v. Asher [(1949) 2 AER 155, 164] , Denning, L.J. said:
“when a defect appears a judge cannot simply fold his hands and blame the draftsman. He must set to work on the constructive task of finding the intention of Parliament and then he must supplement the written word so as to give “force and life” to the intention of the legislature A judge should ask himself the question how, if the makers of the Act had themselves come across this ruck in the texture of it, they would have straightened it out? He must then do as they would have done. A judge must not alter the material of which the Act is woven, but he can and should iron out the creases.””
137. Another Constitution Bench Judgment of this Court in the case of Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh and others v. L.V.A. Dixitulu and others58 reiterated the position in the following words:
“67. Where two alternative constructions are possible, the court must choose the one which will be in accord with the other parts of the statute and ensure its smooth, harmonious working, and eschew the other which leads to absurdity, confusion, or friction, contradiction and conflict between its various provisions, or undermines, or tends to defeat or destroy the basic scheme and purpose of the enactment.”
138. In the case of M/s Girdhari Lal and Sons v. Balbir Nath Mathur and others59, O. Chinnappa Reddy, J. explained the position as under:
“9. So we see that the primary and foremost task of a court in interpreting a statute is to ascertain the intention of the legislature, actual or imputed. Having ascertained the intention, the court must then strive to so interpret the statute as to promote or advance the object and purpose of the enactment. For this purpose, where necessary the court may even depart from the rule that plain words should be interpreted according to their plain meaning. There need be no meek and mute submission to the plainness of the language. To avoid patent injustice, anomaly or absurdity or to avoid invalidation of a law, the court would be well justified in departing from the so-called golden rule of construction so as to give effect to the object and purpose of the enactment by supplementing the written word if necessary.”
139. After referring to various earlier judgments of other jurisdictions, His Lordship observed thus:
“16. Our own court has generally taken the view that ascertainment of legislative intent is a basic rule of statutory construction and that a rule of construction should be preferred which advances the purpose and object of a legislation and that though a construction, according to plain language, should ordinarily be adopted, such a construction should not be adopted where it leads to anomalies, injustices or absurdities, vide K.P. Varghese v. ITO [(1981) 4 SCC 173 : 1981 SCC (Tax) 293] , State Bank of Travancore v. Mohd. M. Khan [(1981) 4 SCC 82] , Som Prakash Rekhi v. Union of India [(1981) 1 SCC 449 : 1981 SCC (L&S) 200] , Ravula Subba Rao v. CIT [AIR 1956 SC 604 : 1956 SCR 577] , Govindlal v. Agricultural Produce Market Committee [(1975) 2 SCC 482 : AIR 1976 SC 263 : (1976) 1 SCR 451] and Babaji Kondaji v. Nasik Merchants Coop. Bank Ltd. [(1984) 2 SCC 50]”
140. M.N. Venkatachaliah, J. speaking for the Constitution Bench of this Court in the case of Tinsukhia Electric Supply Co. Ltd. v. State of Assam and others60 observed thus:
“118. The courts strongly lean against any construction which tends to reduce a statute to futility. The provision of a statute must be so construed as to make it effective and operative, on the principle “ut res magis valeat quam pereat”. It is, no doubt, true that if a statute is absolutely vague and its language wholly intractable and absolutely meaningless, the statute could be declared void for vagueness.
This is not in judicial review by testing the law for arbitrariness or unreasonableness under Article 14; but what a court of construction, dealing with the language of a statute, does in order to ascertain from, and accord to, the statute the meaning and purpose which the legislature intended for it. In Manchester Ship Canal Co. v. Manchester Racecourse Co. [(1904) 2 Ch 352 : 16 TLR 429 : 83 LT 274] Farwell J. said: (pp. 360-61) “Unless the words were so absolutely senseless that I could do nothing at all with them, I should be bound to find some meaning and not to declare them void for uncertainty.”
119. In Fawcett Properties Ltd. v. Buckingham County Council [(1960) 3 All ER 503] Lord Denning approving the dictum of Farwell, J., said:(All ER p. 516) “But when a Statute has some meaning, even though it is obscure, or several meanings, even though there is little to choose between them, the courts have to say what meaning the statute to bear rather than reject it as a nullity.”
120. It is, therefore, the court’s duty to make what it can of the statute, knowing that the statutes are meant to be operative and not inept and the nothing short of impossibility should allow a court to declare a statute unworkable. In Whitney v. IRC [1926 AC 37] Lord Dunedin said: (AC p. 52)
“A statute is designed to be workable, and the interpretation thereof by a court should be to secure that object, unless crucial omission or clear direction makes that end unattainable.””
141. In the case of State of Gujarat and another v. Justice R.A. Mehta (Retired) and others61, this Court held as under:
“98. The doctrine of purposive construction may be taken recourse to for the purpose of giving full effect to statutory provisions, and the courts must state what meaning the statute should bear, rather than rendering the statute a nullity, as statutes are meant to be operative and not inept. The courts must refrain from declaring a statute to be unworkable. The rules of interpretation require that construction which carries forward the objectives of the statute, protects interest of the parties and keeps the remedy alive, should be preferred looking into the text and context of the statute.
Construction given by the court must promote the object of the statute and serve the purpose for which it has been enacted and not efface its very purpose. “The courts strongly lean against any construction which tends to reduce a statute to futility. The provision of the statute must be so construed as to make it effective and operative.” The court must take a pragmatic view and must keep in mind the purpose for which the statute was enacted as the purpose of law itself provides good guidance to courts as they interpret the true meaning of the Act and thus legislative futility must be ruled out.
A statute must be construed in such a manner so as to ensure that the Act itself does not become a dead letter and the obvious intention of the legislature does not stand defeated unless it leads to a case of absolute intractability in use. The court must adopt a construction which suppresses the mischief and advances the remedy and “to suppress subtle inventions and evasions for continuance of the mischief, and pro privato commodo, and to add force and life to the cure and remedy, according to the true intent of the makers of the Act, pro bono publico”.
The court must give effect to the purpose and object of the Act for the reason that legislature is presumed to have enacted a reasonable statute. (Vide M. Pentiah v. Muddala Veeramallappa [AIR 1961 SC 1107] , S.P. Jain v. Krishna Mohan Gupta [(1987) 1 SCC 191 : AIR 1987 SC 222] , RBI v. Peerless General Finance and Investment Co. Ltd. [(1987) 1 SCC 424 : AIR 1987 SC 1023] , Tinsukhia Electric Supply Co. Ltd. v. State of Assam [(1989) 3 SCC 709 : AIR 1990 SC 123] , SCC p. 754, para 118, UCO Bank v. Rajinder Lal Capoor [(2008) 5 SCC 257 : (2008) 2 SCC (L&S) 263] and Grid Corpn. of Orissa Ltd. v. Eastern Metals and Ferro Alloys [(2011) 11 SCC 334].)”
142. The principle of purposive construction has been enunciated in various subsequent judgments of this Court. However, we would not like to burden this judgment with a plethora of citations. Suffice it to say, the law on the issue is very well crystalized.
143. It is thus clear that it is a settled principle that the modern approach of interpretation is a pragmatic one, and not pedantic. An interpretation which advances the purpose of the Act and which ensures its smooth and harmonious working must be chosen and the other which leads to absurdity, or confusion, or friction, or contradiction and conflict between its various provisions, or undermines, or tends to defeat or destroy the basic scheme and purpose of the enactment must be eschewed. The primary and foremost task of the Court in interpreting a statute is to gather the intention of the legislature, actual or imputed.