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Rule of Harmonious Construction

person DateApril 30, 2017

 Rule of Harmonious Construction

When there is a conflict between two or more statues or two or more parts of a statute then the rule of harmonious construction needs to be adopted. The rule follows a very simple premise that every statute has a purpose and intent as per law and should be read as a whole. The interpretation consistent of all the provisions of the statute should be adopted. In the case in which it shall be impossible to harmonize both the provisions, the court’s decision regarding the provision shall prevail.

The rule of harmonious construction is the thumb rule to interpretation of any statute.

An interpretation which makes the enactment a consistent whole, should be the aim of the Courts and a construction which avoids inconsistency or repugnancy between the various sections or parts of the statute should be adopted. The Courts should avoid “a head on clash”, in the words of the Apex Court, between the different parts of an enactment and conflict between the various provisions should be sought to be harmonized. The normal presumption should be consistency and it should not be assumed that what is given with one hand by the legislature is sought to be taken away by the other. The rule of harmonious construction has been tersely explained by the

Supreme Court thus, “When there are, in an enactment two provisions which cannot be reconciled with each other, they should be so interpreted, that if possible, effect should be given to both”. A construction which makes one portion of the enactment a dead letter should be avoided since harmonization is not equivalent to destruction.

It is a settled rule that an interpretation which results in hardship, injustice, inconvenience or anomaly should be avoided and that which supports the sense of justice should be adopted. The Court leans in favour of an interpretation which conforms to justice and fair play and prevents injustice (Union of India v. B.S. Aggarwal) (AIR 1998 S.C. 1537).

When there are two provisions in a statute, which are in apparent conflict with each other, they should be interpreted such that effect can be given to both and that construction which renders either of them inoperative and useless should not be adopted except in the last resort.

This principle is illustrated in the case of Raj Krishna v. Binod AIR 1954. In this case, two provisions of Representation of People Act, 1951, which were in apparent conflict, were brought forth. Section 33 (2) says that a Government Servant can nominate or second a person in election but section 123(8) says that a Government Servant cannot assist any candidate in election except by casting his vote. The Supreme Court observed that both these provisions should be harmoniously interpreted and held that a Government Servant was entitled to nominate or second a candidate seeking election in State Legislative assembly. This harmony can only be achieved if Section 123(8) is interpreted as giving the govt. servant the right to vote as well as to nominate or second a candidate and forbidding him to assist the candidate in any other manner.

The important aspects of this principle are –

  1. The courts must avoid a head on clash of seemingly contradicting provisions and they must construe the contradictory provisions so as to harmonize them.
  2. The provision of one section cannot be used to defeat the provision contained in another unless the court, despite all its effort, is unable to find a way to reconcile their differences.
  3. When it is impossible to completely reconcile the differences in contradictory provisions, the courts must interpret them in such as way so that effect is given to both the provisions as much as possible.
  4. Courts must also keep in mind that interpretation that reduces one provision to a useless number or a dead lumbar, is not harmonious construction.
  5. To harmonize is not to destroy any statutory provision or to render it loose.

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