May 6, 2021

A brief on Doctrine of Repugnancy


The Constitution is known as the supreme law of the land because it holds the very crux of the workings of law on which the wheels of justice turn. The Indian Constitution contains many such articles which are responsible for providing an intelligible view and also to avoid any further confusion which might be there if these articles were not provided by The Constitution itself, among these articles of incomparable importance is Article 254 of The Constitution which provides for The Doctrine of Repugnancy. As indicated in Black’s Law Dictionary, Repugnancy could be characterized as “an inconsistency or contradiction between two or more parts of a legal instrument (such as a statute or a contract)”. The Doctrine of Repugnancy is included to remove any skepticism which might be present in the minds of people as to which legislation will prevail if there is Repugnancy between a Central Legislation and State legislation.

Evolution of Doctrine of Repugnancy

From time unknown, the legislative bodies are making laws concerning matters in their country. The clash between these different legislative bodies or the law that they formulate is unavoidable and imminent, to prevent any such clash between legislative bodies The Indian Constitution, makers put provided the Doctrine of Repugnancy. The Constitution of India is known to be of the Quasi-Federal kind which means that it is neither federal nor unitary but the Doctrine of Repugnancy brings out more of the federal side of the Constitution.

The United States of America is a federal State and from there, our Constitution framers got the idea of implementing this doctrine in our Constitution. They implemented this doctrine because they believed that there should be no confusion between the powers of the State legislation and Centre legislation. The implementation of this doctrine and many others led to the naming of our Constitution as a Quasi-Federal Constitution. Now under Article 245 and Article 246 of The Indian Constitution it is clearly stated that the Parliament can make laws for the whole country whereas the State can make laws which are in concern to any part of the State or whole State. It is clearly Stated in the VII schedule that Parliament has the power to make exclusive law under any matter in Union list and The State has the power to make laws on matters mentioned under State list .There is also a 3rd list in the VII schedule which is known as the Concurrent List, in this list the Parliament and the Legislation of the State both have powers to make laws.

The Parliament’s power over the Concurrent List is considered to be supreme as, if any legislature made by the Parliament concerning a matter listed in Concurrent List will prevail over a legislation made by the State to the extent of its repugnancy over the law made by the Centre. The State can oppose this power of the parliament by getting an assent from The President of India that the legislature made by the State should prevail in their province. There have been many interpretations of the use of the doctrine by the Indian courts, which have given the doctrine a new practical life and help the doctrine evolve with the change in times.

Salient Features of Doctrine of Repugnancy

The key part of having repugnancy laws is to maintain a strategic distance from two laws on a similar topic and accomplish uniform law all through the country which is one reason behind comprising the Indian Constitution. Such sort of uniformity is fundamental to have a mature legitimate framework and this can be taken forward just by a power who has uniform purview everywhere throughout the country, which is the parliament in India. The State has local jurisdiction just on specific issues and this is why they can’t guarantee uniformity in the framework. The Doctrine of Repugnancy has the following salient features -:

I. Direct Conflict- This doctrine is present in the constitution to prevent any direct conflict which might take place between the State and the Centre in formulation of laws concerning their respective view, for example one law says “DO” and the other says “DON’T”.

II. Occupied Filed – This doctrine was adopted by our constitution maker so that they can distinguish clearly between the legislative powers of both the Centre and the State. In Schedule VII of The Indian Constitution 3 lists were formulated and two lists among these three are related to both Centre and State, whereas the 3rd list is related to matters on which both Centre and State have power to make laws of their own.

III. Parliament Shall Prevail-It is under Article 254(1) that the Constitution gives that on the off chance that both the Parliament and the State make a law upon an issue in the Concurrent List and the laws are irreconcilable, at that point the law made by the Parliament will be legitimate and the law made by the State will be repulsive to the degree of its repugnancy with the Central law. In the odd case under Article 254(2) the State law can prevail over the Central law if the State can get an assent of legitimacy from the President of India.

Important Judgments on Doctrine of Repugnancy

The judiciary has been responsible for some of the most practical implications of the Doctrine of Repugnancy in the past and some of the authoritative judgments are being listed below -:

M. Karunanidhi v. Union of India

This judgment is widely regarded as the most authoritative judgment given by the courts on the use of the doctrine. The judgment said that if there is a direct conflict between legislatures made on a matter listed in the concurrent list then the central law will prevail over the State law. Where however a law has been passed by the State legislature related to a matter Stated in The Concurrent list then the State legislature shall prevail over Centre’s legislature in only that State if the State government takes proper assent from the President of India under Article 254(2). Where a law passed by the State Legislature while being considerably inside the extent of the sections in the State List endless supply of the Entries in the Central List, the defend-ability of the law might be maintained by conjuring the principle of pith and substance if on an investigation of the arrangements of the Act it gives the idea that all around, the law falls inside the four corners of the State List and entrenchment, if any, is purely incidental or inconsequential[1].

Bharat Hydro Power Corporation. Ltd. v. State of Assam

In this case, the Apex court of India gave the order that there should be every effort made to harmonize both the legislations of Centre and State which are in direct conflict with each other. If both the laws made are not relating to the same list and there will be no repugnancy[2].

Grand Kakatiya Sheraton Hotel and Towers Employees & Workers Union v. Srinivasa Resorts Ltd

In this case, The Supreme Court clearly stated that if State Government gets assent from the President on the matter in dispute then only the State legislature has the power to prevail over Centre’s legislation and this power granted to State is not indefinite for future legislature rather it is only related to the matter of conflict [3]

National Engineering Industries Ltd. v. Shri Kishan Bhageri-

In this case the Court gave the best way to deal with a repugnancy between the legislature of the State and the Centre is that if one prevails, the other cannot prevail. This judgment gave a crystal clear view that the degree of repugnancy needs to be removed from the legislature in question either by The Parliament or The State Government.[4]

Use of Doctrine of Repugnancy in Covid-19 Times

On 24th March 2020 The Prime Minister of India announced a nation-wide lockdown from 25th March, 2020 to April 14th 2020[5] which latest has been extended to 17th May 2020[6] with some leniency. This step taken by The Central Government was applauded by a vast majority of the legal fraternity but the sudden nature of the order arose some doubts in the mind of the people whether The Centre Government really has the power to overrule the powers of The State and impose lockdown or it will be regarded as a conflict between the powers of State and Centre.

This question was up for debate for quite some time because law order and public health comes under States subject regarding Schedule VII of The Indian Constitution, but in the end, it was proven that The Central Government’s order was constitutionally valid. The key to the answer of this question was Entry 21 in the Concurrent List which clearly states that the Central and State governments have the power to legislate on matters pertaining to the prevention of an infectious or contagious disease spreading from one State to another[7], this could have led to a conflict between a law made by State and Centre but as understood in the case M.Karunanidhi vs Union of India if there is conflict in the law made by the Parliament is bound to prevail over a State law made on the same matter.

Critical Analysis

The renowned jurist MP. Jain once said that it doesn’t have all the earmarks of being sound to keep Article 254(1) confined to just those circumstances where the clashing Center-State laws fall inside the Concurrent List when it is when it is possible that they could fall in different lists and yet be inconsistent with each other. He goes on further to say that it is common that a conflict might arise when they both have the power to legislate upon the same matter in the same list, but it is not impossible for a conflicting law to come from different lists altogether[8].

The majority of judgments take into consideration only the conflict which might arise between the laws if the matter were part of List III(Concurrent List).Most of the authoritative cases regarding Doctrine of Repugnancy discuss the power of Parliament over State in making laws under Entry List III.


The founders of the Constitution said that our Constitution qualifies as a Federal Constitution, but later on many of the distinguished jurists including the likes of K.C.Wheare described our Constitution as a Quasi-Federal Constitution. The justification given for the same is that our Constitution grants powers to both the Centre and State and only in times of conflict one legislature is allowed to prevail over another.

In Tika Ram vs State of Uttar Pradesh, it was made evident by the judges of The Apex Court that The Doctrine of Repugnancy shall only apply in cases where the State law was not repugnant to the law made by The Parliament. An earlier central law should exist prior to the state legislation for the parliament to enact a subsequent law repealing the earlier state law. This judgment further shows the importance of Article 254 of The Constitution in maintaining the relationship between Centre and State. This Doctrine brings forward the Federal nature of our Constitution which is for the best in most of the cases observed by the court. It will be interesting to see whether the interpretation of the Doctrine of Repugnancy will change in the challenging times which are coming for Judiciary to deal with in the years to come.


[1] M. Karunanidhi v. Union of India, 1979 AIR 898

[2] Bharat Hydro Power Corporation. Ltd. v. State of Assam, (2004) 2 SCC 553

[3] Grand Kakatiya Sheraton Hotel and Towers Employees & Workers Union v. Srinivasa Resorts Ltd , (2009) 5 SCC

[4]National Engineering Industries Ltd. v. Shri Kishan Bhageri (1988) Supp. SCC 82.

[5] DO No.40-3/2020-DM-I(A), Ministry Of Home Affairs

[6] No.40-4/2020-DM-I(A), Ministry Of Home Affairs

[7] Samiksha Pednekar, Is The Central Government Coronavirus Lockdown Order Constitutionally Valid?, Bloomberg Quint (31st March), [8] M.P.Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, 7th Edition, LexisNexis

Author Details: Nipun Bansal (Amity Law School, Noida)

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