Law is a tool which keeps the society peaceful and prevents conflicts among people by its rules and regulations. The law which is enacted and followed by the land is drafted by legal experts and when time comes, it is also interpreted for the benefit of the society. With changing time, the society changes and their need, along with their thinking process, also changes. Hence, with time, law also needs to be regulated with the changing society. With drafted laws, there also comes out the ambiguities in it which many a times, leads to conflict.
Each statute is enacted with a purpose. But sometimes, two different statutes or acts or provisions, come into conflict with each other and there comes the role of judiciary as it is the one which has got the responsibility of interpreting the laws.
This paper focuses on the rule of harmonious construction and its role in interpreting the statutes and also, resolving the inconsistencies arising out of them.
Doctrine of Harmonious Construction
The principle of harmonious construction is a concept of statutory interpretation. According to this principle, whenever there is a conflict between two legal provisions, both should be interpreted in such a way that each has a separate effect and none is nullified. The aim of this rule is to avoid any kind of repugnancy between any two parts or provisions of our legal system.
As per this very rule, the statute must be read as a whole. One provision of the act should be interpreted by taking the other provision of that act in reference. This procedure avoids the conflict between them.
The base of this rule is that every statute has a purpose of its own in this legal system and hence, it should be read as a whole. The principle of harmonious construction guides us to follow that very interpretation which is consistent with all other provisions and makes the enactment consistent. This very principle avoids those interpretations which cause injustice, inconvenience, anomaly or hardship.
The origin of the doctrine of harmonious construction lies in the various interpretations made by courts in different cases. Its evolution comes from the very first amendment made in the Indian Constitution, through the way of case Shankari Prasad v. Union of India. In this case, the conflict was between Part III and Part IV of Constitution i.e., between fundamental rights and DPSP. Both od these are the basic feature of the Indian Constitution.
The court, in this case, held that both fundamental rights and DPSP are just two different faces of the same coin and need to work together for public good. The rule of harmonious construction was applied and preference was given to both parts of the Constitution. It was said by the court that fundamental rights are the rights which have been provided against the state and can also be taken away in particular situations like, national emergency.
This doctrine had evolved through the rule of conciliation and was first propounded in the case of C.P. & Berar Act. The court had applied this very doctrine and consequently, avoided the inconsistency between Entry 24 and Entry 25 of the State list. The extent of concerned subjects was determined.
Generalia Specialibus Non Derogat
This maxim has its literal meaning as “the provisions of a general statute must yield to those of a special one”. It says that in case of conflict between two statutes, the later will repeal the earlier one. The conditions, here, to be fulfilled are:
- Both are inconsistent to each other.
- Some reference should exist in expressed form, in the later to the earlier enactment.
Generalia Specialia Derogant
This maxim has its literal meaning as “special things derogate from general things”. This maxim can be understood with the help of a case law- State of Rajasthan v. Gopi Kishan Sen. It was held by the SC, in this case, that “the rule of harmonious construction of apparently conflicting statutory provisions is well established for upholding and giving effect to all the provisions as far as it may be possible, and for avoiding the interpretation which may render any of them ineffective”.
So, the crux of this maxim is that if a situation arises where a special provision is made regarding a particular subject, then that very subject is excluded out from the general provision.
Five Main Principles Laid Down by Sc For Harmonious Construction
- In order to harmonize any conflict between two provisions or statutes, the court must avoid a ‘head of clash’ of provisions which are contradictory in nature. (CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carrier)
- If it becomes impossible to completely avoid the differences between the conflicting provisions, the court should take the approach of interpreting them in such a way that to the extent possible, both are given effect. (Sultana Begum v. Premchand Jain)
- Courts must keep in mind that the interpretation which reduces one provision to a useless standing is against the essence of ‘Harmonious Construction’.
- To harmonize the provisions does not mean to render them fruitless, or destroy any statutory provision.
- Unless the court finds no other option, no provision should be used to render useless another one.
The SC has clearly mentioned the use of the principle of harmonious construction in the case Raj Krushna v. Binod Kanungo. The court said that in case where two different provisions are in conflict, both must be interpreted in such a way that both are given to the effect and no such way should be opted which renders either of them to be inoperative.
Procedure to be Followed
The mentioned four steps need to be followed for the doctrine of harmonious construction to have an effect:
- The relevant provisions which are in conflict with each other should be read as a whole, taking the entire enactment in question as the reference.
- The approach should be to give both of them the full effect and to reduce the conflict.
- If required to choose between both of them, choose wider and narrower scope of these two separately.
- Subtract the narrower one from the wider one and if the result is reasonable and harmonizes the situation, no scrutiny is needed.
Landmark Case Laws
- Re Kerala Education Bill Case, 1957
In this case, the SC held that there is no (inherent) inconsistency between Part III (Findamental Rights) and Part IV (DPSP) of the Indian Constitution. In fact, they are complementary to each other and are as far as possible, any conflict between them must be avoided. Both constitute an integrate scheme which is beneficial for the working of modern democratic state.
- Venkataramana Devaru VS. State of Mysore, 1997
The conflict was between Article 25(2)(b) and Article 26 (b) of the Constitution. It was held by the SC that the right of every religious denomination, or any section thereof to manage its own affairs in matters of religion [Article 26(b)] is a subject to law made by the state providing for social welfare, and reform, or throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all the classes and sections of Hindus [Article 25(2)(b)].
- Raj Krishna vs Binod, 1954
The provisions which were in conflict in this case were belonging to the same act i.e., Representation of People Act, 1951. The inconsistency was between Section 33(2) and Section 123(8). According to the first one, a government servant can nominate a candidate in the election. On the other hand, as per the second one, a government servant cannot assist any candidate in election expect by casting his vote.
The principle of harmonious construction was applied by the SC and it was held that a government servant can nominate a candidate for election in State Legislative Assembly. To assist that candidate in any other matter was not authentic.
- M.S.M. Sharma v. Krishna Sinha, 1959
The conflicting Articles of this case were Article 19(1)(a) and Article 194(3) of the Constitution. It was held by the court that right to freedom of speech has been provided in Article 19(1)(a) and it is to be read as subject of power and privilege. Subsequent Article was held to be subordinate one and the rule of harmonious construction was applied.
So, we can infer from the above that without striking off any one of the conflicting provisions, we can opt the principle of harmonious construction and can implement both the provisions.
The society is regulated by the law enacted there. The law makers are a part of that society only and hence, it’s a matter of no surprise that the scope of ambiguity always remains there which can further lead to conflict. For such situations, the principle of harmonious construction comes into role and guided through its rule that provisions should be construed in such a way that to the extent possible, both are given effect and none is regarded as inoperative. Hence, it is a very important tool for the judiciary of our legal system for interpreting the statutes.
 AIR 1951 SC 458
 (2003)3 SCC 57
 AIR 1997 SC 1006
 1954 AIR 202
 1959 1 SCR 995
 1958 AIR 255
 1954 AIR 202
 1959 AIR 395
Author- Chetna Priyam (ICFAI University, Dehradun)