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Report No. 183

Regarding the above said issue (A)

A statute is a will of legislature conveyed in the form of text. Interpretation or construction of a statute is an age-old process and as old as language. Elaborate rules of interpretation were evolved even at a very early stage of Hindu civilization and culture. The rules given by 'Jaimini', the author of Mimamsat Sutras, originally meant for srutis were employed for the interpretation of Smrities also. (Law Commission of India, 60th Report, Chapter 2, para 2.2). It is well settled principle of law that as the statute is an edict of the Legislature, the conventional way of interpreting or construing a statute is to seek the intention of legislature.

The intention of legislature assimilates two aspects; one aspect carries the concept of 'meaning', i.e., what the word means and another aspect conveys the concept of 'purpose' and 'object' or the 'reason' or 'spirit' pervading through the statute. The process of construction, therefore, combines both the literal and purposive approaches. However, necessity of interpretation would arise only where the language of a statutory provision is ambiguous, not clear or where two views are possible or where the provision gives a different meaning defeating the object of the statute. If the language is clear and unambiguous, no need of interpretation would arise. In this regard, a Constitution Bench of five Judges of the Supreme Court in R.S. Nayak v. A.R. Antulay, AIR 1984 SC 684 has held:

"If the words of the Statute are clear and unambiguous, it is the plainest duty of the Court to give effect to the natural meaning of the words used in the provision. The question of construction arises only in the event of an ambiguity or the plain meaning of the words used in the Statute would be self defeating."

(para 18)

Recently, again Supreme Court in Grasim Industries Ltd. v. Collector of Customs, Bombay, (2002) 4 SCC 297 has followed the same principle and observed:

"Where the words are clear and there is no obscurity, and there is no ambiguity and the intention of the legislature is clearly conveyed, there is no scope for court to take upon itself the task of amending or altering the statutory provisions."

(para 10)

For the purpose of construction or interpretation, the court obviously has to take recourse to various internal and external aids. "Internal aids" mean those materials which are available in the statute itself, though they may not be part of enactment. These internal aids include, long title, preamble, headings, marginal notes, illustrations, punctuation, proviso, schedule, transitory provisions, etc.

When internal aids are not adequate, court has to take recourse to external aids. It may be parliamentary material, historical background, reports of a committee or a commission, official statement, dictionary meanings, foreign decisions, etc. The Supreme Court has accepted the necessity of external aids in interpretation of statutory provision. O.Chennappa Reddy J. in B. Prabhakar Rao and others v. State of A.P. and others , AIR 1986 SC 120 has observed :

"Where internal aids are not forthcoming, we can always have recourse to external aids to discover the object of the legislation. External aids are not ruled out. This is now a well settled principle of modern statutory construction."

(para 7)

Recently, in District Mining Officer and others v. Tata Iron & Steel Co. and another , (2001) 7 SCC 358, Supreme Court has observed:

"It is also a cardinal principle of construction that external aids are brought in by widening the concept of context as including not only other enacting provisions of the same statute, but its preamble, the existing state of law, other statutes in pari materia and the mischief which the statute was intended to remedy."

(para 18)

So far as admissibility and utility of these external aids are concerned, law is almost settled in our country now. The Supreme Court in K.P. Varghese v .Income Tax Officer Ernakulam, AIR 1981 SC 1922 has stated that interpretation of statute being an exercise in the ascertainment of meaning, everything which is logically relevant should be admissible.

Following are some known external aids, which are admissible for the interpretation of statutory provisions:

A continuum on the General Clauses Act, 1897 with special reference to the admissibility and codification of external aids to interpretation of statutes Back

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