Singh Vs. Press Council of India & Ors  Insc 127 (11 March 2002)
Lahoti & K.G. Balakrishnan R.C. Lahoti, J.
controversy centres around the interpretation of sub-section (7) of Section 6
of the Press Council Act, 1978 (hereinafter 'the Act', for short), viz., for
how many terms of the Council a member can be nominated? The facts are jejune. Harbhajan
Singh, the appellant, is an editor of Indian Observer. All India Small and
Medium Newspapers Federation, the respondent no.2 is an 'association of
persons' within the meaning of clause (b) of sub-section (4) of Section 5 of
appellant had been a member of the Council for two terms of three years each,
namely, 1982-1985 and 1985-1988. Steps were taken for the constitution of the
Seventh Council commencing from the year 1998. A notification in that regard
was issued on 21.11.1997.
5.5.1997 and 9.8.1997 the Federation __ respondent No.2 had sought for a
clarification-cum-opinion from the Chairman of the Press Council of India as to
whether a person who had already been a member of the Council for two terms
earlier is eligible for being nominated though such nomination did not amount
to re-nomination, that is to say, at the time of being nominated he was not a
retiring member. In response, the Council circulated an opinion of the
President dated 30.9.1997, the substance whereof is, that Section 6(7) debars
the same person from holding the office as a member of the Council for more
than two terms in his life. The appellant and the Federation, respondent no.2
herein, filed a writ petition before the High Court of Delhi seeking quashing
of the opinion of the Chairman of the Press Council. A learned Single Judge of
the High Court directed rule nisi to issue and on 9.12.1997 issued an interim
direction that the decision of the Press Council would be subject to the
decision in the writ petition. The Federation __ respondent No.2 nominated the
appellant and also his son as a cover candidate. The appellant's nomination was
not accepted by the Council on the ground that he having remained a member of
the Council for two terms, was ineligible for nomination as per sub-section (7)
of Section 6 of the Act.
hearing the petitioners and the Press Council, as also the Union of India, the
learned Single Judge vide order dated August 18, 2000 allowed the writ petition
and quashed the decision of the Press Council of India rejecting the nomination
of the appellant. The learned Single Judge formed an opinion that the language
of the statute was plain, admitting of no ambiguity, and therefore, deserves to
be assigned the plain meaning which naturally flows from a reading thereof. In
the opinion of the learned Single Judge the disqualification spelled out by
sub-section (7) of Section 6 attaches to a member 'retiring' in presenti and
was sought to be 're-nominated' but did not apply to a person who had 'retired'
some time in the past though having held two consecutive terms as member of the
Council and was now being only 'nominated' and 'not re-nominated'. The Press
Council of India preferred an intra-court appeal before a Division Bench which
allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of the learned Single Judge.
Tracing out the legislative history of the enactment and giving a liberal
interpretation to sub-section(7) of Section 6 in its desire to spell out and
read the objective sought to be achieved by the Act, the Division Bench formed
an opinion that the Legislature intended not to allow a member to hold office
for more than two terms in his life-time, and therefore, the appellant was not
eligible for nomination to membership of the Council for the term commencing
1998 in view of his having held membership of the Council for two terms
1982-1985 and 1985-1988. The appellant has filed this appeal by special leave.
Act, as its preamble shows, proposed to establish a Press Council for the
purpose of preserving the freedom of the Press and of maintaining and improving
the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India. Section 4 provides for
incorporation, and Section 5 provides for composition, of the Council. The
details are irrelevant for our purpose. Section 6, in so far as relevant for
our purpose, provides that the Chairman and other members of the council shall
hold office for a period of three years. Sub-section(7) reads as under:- (7) A
retiring member shall be eligible for re-nomination for not more than one
term." According to the appellant, all that the provision bars is a member
holding two terms of office successively. According to the respondent Council
the total number of terms for which a member can hold office, whether in
succession or otherwise, is two, as the provision makes it permissible for any
member to seek re-nomination for one term only. This is the narrow controversy.
the language of Sub-Section (7) of Section 6 abovesaid, is plain and simple.
There are two manners of reading the provision.
positively, it confers a right on a retiring member to seek re- nomination.
Read in a negative manner, the provision speaks of a retiring member not being
eligible for re-nomination for more than one term. The spell of ineligibility
is cast on 're-nomination' of a member who is 'retiring'. The event
determinative of eligibility or ineligibility is 're-nomination', and the
person, by reference to whom it is to be read, is 'a retiring member'.
'Retiring member' is to be read in contra-distinction with a member/person
retired some time in past, and so, would be called a retired or former member.
'Re' means again, and is freely used as prefix. It gives colour of 'again' to
the verb with which it is placed. 'Re-nomination' is an act or process of being
nominated again. Any person who had held office of member some time in past, if
being nominated now, cannot be described as being 'again nominated'. It is only
a member just retiring who can be called 'being again nominated' or 're-nominated'.
No other meaning can be assigned except by doing violence to the language
does not waste its words. Ordinary, grammatical and full meaning is to be
assigned to the words used while interpreting a provision to honour the rule
Legislature chooses appropriate words to express what it intends, and
therefore, must be attributed with such intention as is conveyed by the words
employed so long as this does not result in absurdity or anomaly or unless
material intrinsic or external is available to permit a departure from the
provision is cast in present tense. A retiring member is ineligible for
re-nomination. 'Not more than one term' qualifies 're- nomination'. The words
'retiring', used in present tense, and 're- nomination' speak aloud of the
intention of the Legislature. If the word 'retiring' was capable of being read
as 'retired' (sometime in past) then there would have been no occasion to use
're-nomination' in the construction of the sentence. If the intention of law
framers would have been not to permit a person to be a member of council for
more than two terms in his lifetime then a different, better and stronger
framing of the provision was expected. It could have been said __ 'no member
shall be eligible for nomination for more than two terms', or it could have
been said __ 'a retired member shall not be eligible for nomination for more
than two terms'.
in Statutory Interpretation (Third Edition, 1995) states :
governing idea here is that if a statutory provision is intelligible in the
context of ordinary language, it ought, without more, to be interpreted in
accordance with the meaning an ordinary speaker of the language would ascribe
to it as its obvious meaning, unless there is sufficient reason for a different
interpretation. . . . .Thus, an 'ordinary meaning' or 'grammatical meaning'
does not imply that the judge attributes a meaning to the words of a statute
independently of their context or of the purpose of the statute, but rather
that he adopts a meaning which is appropriate in relation to the immediately
obvious and unresearched context and purpose in and for which they are used.
enabling citizens (and their advisers) to rely on ordinary meanings unless
notice is given to the contrary, the legislature contributes to legal certainty
and predictability for citizens and to greater transparency in its own
decisions, both of which are important values in a democratic society"
(p.32 ibid). The learned author cites three quotations from speeches of Lord
Reid in House of Lords cases, the gist whereof is:
determining the meaning of any word or phrase in a statute ask for the natural
or ordinary meaning of that word or phrase in its context in the statute and
follow the same unless that meaning leads to some result which cannot
reasonably be supposed to have been the legislative intent;
of construction are our servants and not masters; and
a statutory provision cannot be assigned a meaning which it cannot reasonably
bear; if more than one meaning are capable you can choose one but beyond that
you must not go (p.40, ibid). Justice G.P. Singh in his celebrated work __
Principles of Statutory Interpretation (Eighth Edition, 2001) states (at page
54) __ "The intention of the Legislature is primarily to be gathered from
the language used, which means that attention should be paid to what has been
said as also to what has not been said.
consequence a construction which requires for its support addition or
substitution of words or which results in rejection of words as meaningless has
to be avoided." The learned author states at another place (at page 74,
ibid) that the rule of literal construction whereby the words have to be
assigned their natural and grammatical meaning can be departed from but subject
to caution. The golden rule is that the words of statute must prima facie be
given their ordinary meaning. A departure is permissible if it can be shown
that the legal context in which the words are used or the object of the statute
in which they occur requires a different meaning. To quote, "Such a
meaning cannot be departed from by the judges 'in the light of their own views
as to policy' although they can 'adopt a purposive interpretation if they can
find in the statute read as a whole or in material to which they are permitted
by law to refer as aids to interpretation an expression of Parliament's purpose
or policy'. A modern statement of the rule is to be found in the speech of Lord
Simon of Glaisdale in Suthendran v. Immigration Appeal Tribunal, (1976) 3 All
ER 611, 616 to the effect __ 'Parliament is prima facie to be credited with
meaning what is said in an Act of Parliament. The drafting of statutes, so
important to a people who hope to live under the rule of law, will never be
satisfactory unless courts seek whenever possible to apply 'the golden rule' of
construction, that is to read the statutory language, grammatically and
terminologically, in the ordinary and primary sense which it bears in its
context, without omission or addition. Of course, Parliament is to be credited
with good sense; so that when such an approach produces injustice, absurdity,
contradiction or stultification or statutory objective the language may be
modified sufficiently to avoid such disadvantage, though no further'." Sir
Dinshah Mulla, while interpreting Article 182 of the Limitation Act, 1908 emphasised
the need of testing the question of interpretation upon the plain words of the
Article and opined that there is no warrant for reading into the words quoted
any qualification and the strict grammatical meaning of the words is the only
safe and Ors. AIR 1932 P.C. 165). Viscount Maugham in General Abdul Rahim AIR
1941 P.C. 6 approved the principle that it may be desirable for an act to
receive such construction as the language in its plain meaning imports. The
same principle has been followed by the Supreme Court of India in several decisions.
Suffice it to refer to Siraj-il-Haq Khan and Ors. VS. The Sunni Central Board
of Waqf U.P. and Ors. 1959 SCR 1287, wherein P.B. Gajendragadkar, J. (as His
Lordship then was) said that effect must be given to the strict grammatical
meaning of the words used. Without multiplying the authorities we would still
like to refer to two more decisions which we of Wealth Tax (1990) 3 SCC 624,
the expression "where the interest is available to an assessee for a
period not exceeding six years from the date the interest vests in the assessee"
contained in Section 2(e)(2)(iii) of the Wealth Tax Act, 1957 came up for
consideration and the emphasis was on the significance of "is" on the
import of the provision. This Court held that the word "is", normally
refers to the present and often a future meaning. It may also have a past
signification as in the sense of "has been". However, in the setting
in which "is" was used followed by the word "available", it
was held "the word 'is' must be construed as referring to the present and
the future. In that sense it would mean that the interest is presently
available and is to be available in future for a period not exceeding six
years". The High Court had construed the word "is" to mean
"has been" which construction was discarded by this Court. The tense
of the sentence played a pre-dominant role in the interpretation placed on the
relevant provision by this Court in F.S. Gandhi's case. In and Anr.- (1966) 1
All ER 545, under the relevant Statute the Minister was empowered to declare
that the school should cease to be an unaided school and that the Director
should be the Manager of it, if the Minister was satisfied that an unaided
school "is being administered" in contravention of any provisions of
the Act. Their Lordships opined, "Before the Minister had jurisdiction to
make the order he must be satisfied that 'any school.is being so administered
in contravention of any of the provisions of this Act'.
present tense is clear. It would have been easy to say 'has been administered'
or 'in the administration of the school any breach of any of the provisions of
this Act has been committed', if such was the intention of the legislature; but
for reasons which common sense may easily supply, it was enacted that the
Minister should concern himself with the present conduct of the school, not the
past, when making the order. This does not mean, of course, that a school may
habitually misconduct itself and yet repeatedly save itself from any order of
the Minister by correcting its faults as soon as they are called to its
attention. Such behaviour might well bring it within the words 'is being
administered' but in the present case no such situation arose.
was, therefore, no ground on which the Minister could be 'satisfied' at the
time of making the order. As appears from the passages of his broadcast
statement which are cited above, he failed to consider the right question. He
considered only whether a breach had been committed, and not whether the school
was at the time of his order being carried on in contravention of any of the
provisions of the Act. Thus he had no jurisdiction to make the order at the
date on which he made it".
Division Bench, in its impugned judgment, entered into tracing the legislative
history and tried to find out the object of enactment and intention of the
Legislature. The effort made by the Division Bench can be appreciated but
regrettably the deductions drawn by the Bench are based on no material. In
fact, the learned Judges of the Division Bench fell into the same error as has
been pointed out above, that is, of attributing such intention to Legislature
as suited their own view of the policy behind enactment. M.H. Beg, J.
against beginning with a theory as to what the real purpose or need is or could
be, for the danger is that we may be injecting a subjective notion or purpose
of our own into what is, after all a legal question of construction or
interpretation. His Lordship emphasized the need of avoiding the danger of a
priori determination of the meaning of a provision based on our own
preconceived notions of an ideological structure or scheme into which the
provision to be interpretated is somehow fitted. (See, concurring judgment of
M.H. and Ors. etc. (1977) 2 SCC 273. The Division Bench has not culled out and
placed material on record, either available intrinsically in the Act or from
any external aid to interpretation, so as to lead to the inference drawn by the
Division Bench and sustain departure from the golden rule of interpretation.
learned single Judge followed the correct track on the path of interpretation
of statutes by reading what has been said and comparing with what has not been
said. The learned single Judge gave at least three illustrations of what could
have been said but has not been said so as to find out how the Legislature
would have construed the provision in question if the intention would have been
not to permit a person to be a member of the council for more than two terms.
It would be advantageous to restate briefly the three illustrations from the
judgment of the learned single Judge which are as under:
the Schedule appended to the Delhi University Act, 1922 called 'The Schedule __
The Statutes of the University', para 5(1) provides for composition of the
Executive Council as comprising the various members as specified. Clause (2)
provides __ "No person shall be a member under item (ix) or (x) of Clause
(1) for more than two consecutive terms".
Section (1) of the Twenty-second Amendment of the US Constitution provides __
"No person shall be elected to the office of the President for more than
twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as
President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was
elected President shall be electe d to the office of President more than once.
. . . . . . . . ."
In Section 31(5) of the Delhi Cooperative Societies Act, 1972 it is provided__
"Notwithstanding anything contained in the Act, a person shall be
disqualified for election as, or for being, the president, vice-president,
chairman, vice-chairman, managing director, secretary, joint secretary or
treasurer of a committee: (a) if he has held any such office on that committee
during two consecutive terms whether full or part; . . . . . . ." In all
the three illustrations of drafting, the intended bar against holding the given
office for more than two terms (as provided) is clearly and categorically
given the three illustrations, the learned single Judge held that if the
construction suggested by the Council was to be accepted, one would be required
to read 'retiring member' as 'a retired member'. Yet another reason assigned by
the learned single Judge, and rightly so, is that the right to be appointed as
a member having been conferred by the law, ineligibility entailing prohibition
or bar on being appointed to an office should be clearly stated or positively
spelled out, in absence whereof the same cannot be read into the provision on
the basis of the assumed intention of fulfilling the object of the statute. The
learned single Judge quoted very apt and Co., (1897) AC 22, 38 to the effect :-
" 'Intention of the Legislature' is a common but very slippery phrase,
which, popularly understood, may signify anything from intention embodied in
positive enactment to speculative opinion as to what the Legislature probably
would have meant, although there has been an omission to enact it. In a Court
of Law or Equity, what the Legislature intended to be done or not to be done can
only be legitimately ascertained from that which it has chosen to enact, either
in express words or by reasonable and necessary implication." The Division
Bench has, during the course of the judgment, noted that Press Council was
intended to be an independent body and if any person was permitted to remain a
member of the Council for more than two terms, it will erode independence of
the body as the elements of vested interest would creep in and this would also
defeat the object of Sub-Section (7) of Section 6 of the Act. We fail to find
any justification for such an observation much less any basis for forming such
an opinion. Simply because the Press Council has taken a particular view of the
relevant provision it can hardly be a ground for the Court to lean in favour of
such a construction.
clearly of the opinion that Sub-Section (7) of Section 6 of the Press Council
Act must be assigned its ordinary, grammatical and natural meaning as the
language is plain and simple. There is no evidence available, either intrinsic
or external, to read the word 'retiring' as 'retired'. Nor can the word 're-nomination'
be read as nomination for an independent term detached from the previous term
of membership or otherwise than in succession. The provision on its plain
reading does not disqualify or make ineligible a person from holding the office
of a member of the Council for more than two terms in his life. The use of the
words 'retiring' as qualifying 'member' coupled with the use of word 're-nomination'
clearly suggests that a member is disqualified for being a member for the third
term in continuation in view of his having held the office of membership for
more than two terms just preceding, one of which terms, the later one, was held
on re-nomination. Such an interpretation does not lead to any hardship,
inconvenience, injustice, absurdity or anomaly and, therefore, the rule of
ordinary and natural meaning being followed cannot be departed from.
the foregoing reasons, the appeal is allowed. The judgment of the Division
Bench is set aside and that of the learned single Judge is restored.
order as to the costs.
. . .
. . . . . . . . . J.
LAHOTI ) . . . . .J.