The Senior Electric Inspector& Ors
Vs. Laxmi Narayan Chopra & Ors  INSC 246 (16 August 1961)
CITATION: 1962 AIR 159 1962 SCR (3) 146
CITATOR INFO :
APL 1963 SC 445 (4) R 1964 SC 828 (18)
E&R 1978 SC 548 (8) R 1988 SC 191 (45) RF 1992 SC 573 (33)
"Telegraph line", Meaning of-If includes electric lines used for the
purpose of wireless telegraph-Indian Electricity Act, 1910 (9 of 1910),
ss.2,34(2) (b) Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 (13 of 1885), 3(4)-Electricity
(Supply) Act (54 of 1948) StatuteConstruction-Maxim Contemporanea Exposition
eat optima et fortissima in legel-If applicable to Acts comparatively
modern-Mode of Interpretation.
Severe electrical interference was observed
in a Post and Telegraphs Wireless Station which was traced to the respondent
No. 1's factory where a number of motors,-were operated for the purpose of
working electric drills. The Senior Electric Inspector issued a notice to the
first respondent to show cause as to why an order under s.34(2) (b) of the
Indian Electricity Act requiring discontinuance of the operation of the
electric motors in the said factory should not be made.
The first respondent challenged the said
order by a writ petition contending inter alia that there was no
"Telegraph Line" in the Posts and Telegraphs Wireless Station within
the meaning of s.34(2)(b) of the Act.
The High Court held, firstly, that the word
'line' in the expression telegraph line' connotes the existence of a defined
channel of communication which has got a physical existence and that wireless
telegraphy is dependent upon transmission through space of electric waves and
that is not a defined physical channel. Secondly, the expression
"telegraph line", as used in s. 34 2)(b) of the Indian Electricity
Act, has, in the absence of any new definition in that Act, to be given the
same sense as the Legislature had intended in 1885 by the definition of that
expression in the earlier Act. This reason is based upon the maxim
contemporaries exposition west optima et fortissima in legel (contemporaneous
exposition is the best and strongest in law).
The appellants contended that the definition
of "telegraph line" in the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, was wide
enough to take in electric lines used for the purpose of 147 wireless telegraph
and the High Court went wrong in invoking the old maxim contemporaneous expositions
optima et fortisima in lege in construing the provisions of a modern statute.
Held, that the combined reading of the
relevant, provisions of the Indian Electricity Act, 1910, and the Indian Telegraph
Act, 1885, a "Telegraph line" is comprehensive enough and means a
wire or wires used for the purpose of an appliance or apparatus for receiving
telegraphic or other communications by means of electricity, and it need not be
a continuous physical channel from the point of transmission to the point of
A wireless transmitter transmits sound as
electro-magnetic waves and the said waves are detected by the aerial and fed
into the receiving apparatus by wires. So the wires of the aerials well as of
the apparatus are used for the purpose of the apparatus receiving
communications. Thus, the receivingapparatus employs "telegraph
lines" within the meaning ofs.3 (4) of the Telegraph Act, 1885.
Held, further, that the maxim contemporanea
expositio as laid down by Coke was applied to construing ancient statutes, but
not to interpreting Acts which were comparatively modem:
The fundamental rule of construction is the
same whether the court is asked to construe a provision of an ancient statute
or that of a modern one, namely what is the expressed, intention of the
Legislature. In a modern progressive society it would be unreasonable to
confine the intention of a Legislatureto the meaning attributable to the word
used at the time the law was made, and unless a contrary intention appeared, an
interpretation should be given to the words used to take in new facts and
situations, if the words are capable of comprehending them.
The maxim "contemporanea exposition"
could not be invoked in construing the word "telegraph line" in the Indian
Electricity Act, 1910.
Assheton Smith v. Owen, (1906)1 Ch. 179,
Attorney General v.. Edison Telephone Co. of London, (1880)6 Q. B. D. 244 In re
Regulation and Control of Radio Communication in Canada, (1932) A. C. 304, The
King v. Brislan,.Ex parte Williams, (1935) 54 C.L.R. 262 and James v.
Commonwealth ,of Austratia, (1936) A.C. 578, referred to.
State of Madras v. Gannon Dunkerley & Go.
(1959) S.C.R. 379, relied on., 148
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Civil Appeal
No. 328,of 1958.
Appeals from the judgment and order dated
September 12, 1956, of the Calcutta High Court in Appeal from Original Order
No. 15 of 1955.
B. Sen P. K. Chatterjee and P.K. Bose, for
Dipak Datta Choudhri and P. D. Menon., for
respondent No. 2.
1961. August 16. The Judgment of the Court
was delivered by SUBBA RAO, J.-This appeal raises the question of construction
of the expression ,,telegraph line" in S.
34(2)(b) of the Indian Electricity Act, 1910
(Act 9 'of 1910), (hereinafter called the' Act).
The first respondent, Laxmi Narayan Chopra,
carries on business, as motor coach builder;, under the name and style of
"Chopra Motors" having, his factory at 139, Regent Park, Tollygunge
in the suburbs of Calcutta., In the said factory a number of "Universal
Electric Motors" are operated for the purpose of working electric drills.
Within a distance of 100 feet of the said factory, there is a Post and
Telegraph Wireless Station, which, besides functioning as a coast station
communicating with ships at sea, handles public messages in large volume from
Darjeeling, Shillong, Gauhati, Agartala and New Delhi. In or about Aril, 1953
severe electrical interference was observed in the said station and experts
attributed the same. to local induction from the first respondent's factory. On
October 13, 1953, the Senior Electric Inspector issued a notice to the first
respondent to show cause writing as to why an order under s. 34(2)(b) of the Act,
read with notification No. 4193-COM, dated August 1 14, 1929 requiring
discontinuation of the operation of the Universal Electric Motors in the 149
said factory premises should' not be made. After some correspondence: on:
December 1, 1953, the Senior Electric Inspector made an order under a. 34(2)(b)
of the Act requiring the first respondent to remedy the injuries affecting the
lines used for wireless telegraphic communications atthe Wireless Receiving
Centre. On January 12, 1954, the first respondent filed a petition in the High
Court at Calcutta under Art. 226 of the Constitution pray for a writ of
mandamus or any other appropriate mug writ directing the appellants to withdraw
and cancel the said order and to forbear from giving effect to the same. The
petition came up for hearing, in the first instance, before Sinha J., of that
Court. It was contended, interalia, that there was no "telegraph
line" in the Post and Telegraph Wireless Station within the meaning of
s.34(2)(b) of the Act, and, therefore, the notice issued by the Senior Electric
Inspector was without jurisdiction.
Sinha J., rejected the contention and
dismissed the petition. But on appeal, a division bench of that High Court,
consisting of Mookerjee, A. C, J., and H.-K. Bose J., accepted the contention
of the first respondent and issued a writ as prayed for. The present appeal is
directed against the said order.
Learned counsel for the appellants contends
that the definition of ",'telegraph line" in the Indian Telegraph
Act, (Act 13 of 1885), which is included by reference in the Act,is wide,
enough to take in electric lines used for the purpose of wire. less telegraph
and that the Appellate Bench of the High Court went wrong in invoking the old
maxim contemporanea expositio est optima et fort issima in lege in construing
the provisions of a modern state. The first respondent is ex parte; but in this
case his viewpoint is forcibly expressed in the judgment of the High Court
To appreciate the rival contentions, it is
necessary at the outset. to read I the relevant provisions of the Act and the
150 The Indian Electricity Act, 1910 Section
34. (2) If at any time it is established to the satisfaction of the appropriate
Government(b)that any electric supply lines or other works for the generation,
transmission, supply or use of energy are attended with danger to the public
safety or to 'human life or injuriously affect any telegraph line, the appropriate
Government may, by order in writing, specify the matter complained of and
require the owner or user of such electric supply-lines or other works to
remedy it in such manner as shall be specified in the order, and may also in
like manner forbid the use of, and the supply of energy to, any electric
supply-line or works 'until the order is complied with or for such time as is
specified in the order.
Section 2. In this Act, expression,.; defined
in the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, or in the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1948,
have the meanings assigned to them in either of those Acts............
The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 Section 3. (1)
"telegraph" means an electric, galvanic or magnetic telegraph, and
includes appliances and apparatus for making, transmitting or receiving
telegraphic telephonic or other communications means of electricity, galvanism
(4)"telegraph line" means a wire or
wires used for the purpose of a telegraph with any casing, coating, tube or
pipe enclosing the same and any appliances and apparatus connected therewith
the purpose of fixing or insulating the same.
A combined reading of the relevant provisions
of 151 the two Acts may-be expressed thus: "'Telegraph line" means a
wire or wires used for the purpose of an appliance or apparatus for receiving
telegraphic or other communications by means of electricity.
If it is established to the satisfaction of
the appropriate Government that any works for the generation transmission
supply, or use of electrical energy injuriously affects such a telegraph line
the said Government is authorized to take appropriate action under. 34 of the
Act. It is not disputed that in the said factory a number of Universal Electric
Motors are operated for the purpose of working electric drills and it is also
established that the interference with the reception of messages at the
Telegraph Wireless Station is, attributable to local induction from the said
factory. But the, dispute between the parties centers round the question
whether the said interference with the reception of messages at the said
Station injuriously affects any telegraph line within the meaning of s. 34 of
the Act. The Telegraph Wireless Receiving Station clearly comes within the
definition of "telegraph" in the Telegraph Act. The Telegraph Act was
passed in 1885.
"Telegraph" then meant "an
electric, galvanic or magnetic telegraph and appliance, and apparatus for
telegraphic, telephonic or other communications by means of electricity,
galvanism or magnetism". At that time wireless telegraphy or radio had not
been developed. In the year 1914,s. 3(1) of the said Act was amended and the
following words were inserted after the words "apparatus for" :
"'making transmitting or receiving". With the result that, after the
amendment, receiving of communications by means of electricity was included in
the definition. A wireles.
receiving station certainly receives
communications by means of electricity, and therefore, it. is
"telegraph" within the meaning of said definition. Though the., said
station may be within the definition of "telegraph", the question
still remains 152 whether there is a "telegraph line", for, under the
definition, to be a ',,telegraph line" there shall. be a wire or wires
used for the purpose of an apparatus receiving communications by means of
electricity Under the heading "wireless telegraphy" in. the
Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol.
28, a brief but adequate description of a
wireless telegraphy is given thus "A wireless transmitter is a device for
producing rapid oscillatory motion of electricity which is the origin of
Such electric waves are detected at a
wireless receiving station b 'the effects of the rapidly varying electric and
magnetic forces Which constitute the electric wave motion." Are any wires
used for the purpose of the apparatus receiving the said communications ? In
the Encyclopedia Britannica some of the receiving stations ate described and
'it shows that wires are invariably used as aerials for receiving the said
communications. In the present case , the Senior Electric Inspector filed an
affidavit wherein he stated "it was established to my satisfaction that
the operation and use of the 'Universal drills during the working hours of the
factory caused serious interference by induction to the existing lines as well
as to the receiving apparatus containing wires which are/were expressly used
for telegraphic communication at the said centre." It is therefore
manifest that wires are used for the purpose of the apparatus receiving
communications that is, wires are used not only for the aerial but &ISO
inside the apparatus. A 'wireless transmitter transmits sound as
electromagnetic waves and the said waves are detected by the. aerial and fed
into the receiving apparatus by wires. To put it shortly the wires of the
aerial as well as of the apparatus are used for the purpose of the apparatus
receiving communications. If so, it follows Chit the receiving 153 appartus
employs "telegraph lines" within the meaning of s.
3(4) of the Telegraph Act.
The High Court gave two reasons for rejecting
the appellants' contention. The first reason is that the word line' in the
expression 'telegraph line' connotes the existence of a defined channel of
communication which has got a physical existence and that wireless telegraphy
is dependent upon transmission through space of electric waves and that is not
a defined physical channel. We cannot accept this reasoning, for a telegraph
line is not defined to mean a defined continuous physical channel from the
point of transmission to the point of reception. The definition, as we have
pointed out, is comprehensive enough to take in any wire used for the purpose
of an apparatus for receiving communications by means of electricity.
The second reason given by the learned Judges
is that the expression "'telegraph line", as used in s. 34(2)(b) of
the Indian Electricity Act, has, in the absence of any new definition in that
Act., to be given the same sense as the Legislature had intended in 1885 by the
definition of that expression in the earlier Act. This reason is based upon the
maxim contemporanea expositio est optima et fortissima in lege (contemporaneous
exposition is the best and strongest in law). To state it differently, in the
year 1885 the Legislature could not have dreamt of the future discovery of
wireless telegraphy and, therefore, could not have intended to use the
expression "telegraph line" in a comprehensive sense so as to take in
electric wires of a receiving station of wireless telegraphy.
It is necessary to consider the scope of the
said maxim in its application to the interpretation of modem statutes. In
Craies on Statute Law, 5th edn., the said rule is explained in the words of
Coke thus at p. 77.
154 "This and the like were the forms of
ancient Acts and graunts, and,, the. ancient Acts and graunts must. be'
'construed and taken as the law was holden at that time when they were,
made.", The discussion ended with the following words at p. 79 "In
Assheton Smith v. Owen(1), Cozens Hardy, L. J. said do not think that the
doctrine of contenporanea exposition can be applied in construing Acts which
are, comparatively modern and the Court declined to apply the rule 1 to the
interpretation of local Acts of 1793 and 1800." In Halsbury's Laws of
England, 2nd edn., Vol., 32, it is stated in the context of telegraph
legislation thus at p. 4 The fact that new methods of telegraphy have been
invented since the date of passing of the Acts containing the definition does
not prevent the application of the Acts to such methods, provided that they
answer the requirements and fall within the terms of the definition." In
Sutherland's Statutory Construction, 3rd. edn., Vol. 2, dealing with the said
maxim,-the learned author states at p. 508 as follows "As a general rule
it may be stated -that legislative intent should be determined as of the time
the legislation goes into effect. But surrounding circumstances and situations
occurring after the enactment of the statute may be of great or even conclusive
assistance in determining a meaning which was intended to be conveyed.
Legislative standards are generally couched
ill terms which have, considerable breadth. Therefore a. status may be
interpreted to include., circumstances or (1) (1906) 1 Ch. 179, 213.
155 situations which were unknown or did not
exist at the time of the enactment of the statute." Decided cases accepted
the said liberal approach in construing modern statutes. In The
Attorney-General v. The Edison Telephone Company of London (1),a telephone was
held to be a "telegraph" within the meaning of the Telegraphs Acts,
1863 and 1869, although the telephone was not invented or contemplated in 1869.
Stephen, T., observed at p. 254 :
"Of course no one supposes that the
legislature intended to refer specifically to telephones many years before they
were invented, but it is highly probable that they would, and it seems to us
clear that they actually did, use language embracing future discoveries as to
the use of electricity for the purpose of conveying intelligence." The
Privy-Council in re Regulation and Control of-Radio Communication in Canada (
2) held that broadcasting fell within the m eaning of the expression in s.92 of
British North America Act,1867, though at the time when that Act was made broadcasting
was not in vogue. In The King V. Brislan ; ex parte Williams(3) the question
was whether a law of the Commonwealth Parliament with respect to radio
broadcasting was one with respect to "Postal, telegraphic telephonic and
other like services" under s. 1(5) of the Australian Commonwealth Act, and
the Court held that the words were wide enough to take in radio broadcasting.
In James v. Commonwealth of Australia(4),Lord Wright has state the principle in
felicitous language thus (1) (1880) 6 Q. B. D. 244.. (2) (1932) A. C. 304.
(3) (1935) 54 C L.R. 262. (4) (1936) A.C.
156 "...... the meaning of the words
changes, but the changing circumstances illustrate and illuminate the full
import of that meaning." This Court in construing the words "sale of
goods" in Entry 48, List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Government of
India Act, 1935, accepted the aforesaid principle in The State of Madras V.
Gannon Dunkerley and Co., (Madras) Ltd.
(1),and restated it at p. 416 thus "The
principle of these decisions. is that when, after the enactment of a
legislation, new facts and situations arise which could not have been in its
contemplation, the statutory provisions could properly be applied to them if
the words thereof are in a broad sense capable of containing them." The
legal position may be summarized thus: The maxim contemporanea exposition as
laid down by Coke was applied to construing ancient statutes but not to
interpreting Acts which are comparatively modern. There is a good reason for
this change in the mode of interpretation. The fundamental rule of construction
is the same whether the Court is asked to construe a provision of an ancient
statute or that of a modern one, namely, what is the expressed intention of the
Legislature. It is perhaps difficult to attribute to a legislative body
functioning in static society that its intention was couched in terms of
considerable breadth so as to take within its sweep the future developments
comprehended by the phraseology used. It is more reasonable to confine its
intention only to the circumstances obtaining at the time the law was made. But
in a modem progressive society it would be unreasonable to confine the
intention of a Legislature to the meaning attributable to the word used at the
time the law was made, for a modern Legislature making laws to govern a society
which is fast moving must be presumed to be aware (1)  S.C. R. 379.
157 of an enlarged meaning the same concept
might attract with the march of time and with the revolutionary changes brought
about in social, economic, political and scientific and other fields of human.
activity. Indeed, unless a contrary intention appears, an interpretation should
be given to the words used to take in new facts and situations, if the words
are capable of comprehending them. We cannot, therefore, agree with the learned
Judges of the High Court that the maxim contemporanea exposition could be
invoked in construing the word "telegraph line" in the Act.
For the said reasons, we hold that the
expression "'telegraph line" is sufficiently comprehensive to take in
the wires used for the purpose of the apparatus of the Post and Telegraph
In the result, we set aside the order of the
High Court and dismiss the petition filed by the first respondent. The appeal
is allowed, but, in the circumstances of the case, without costs.