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Doctrine of Harmonious Construction


"No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding”- Plato

Law is life. It is a basic understanding by the people of any society. Without it, we are just people living, breathing in a world without rules and regulations. Now the basic definition of law states that law is the governing body that rules out the basic rules and regulations that people need to follow, but it is more than that. It is about people respecting, accepting and understanding the law that is there to save them from the worldly evils. Law has to be understood in order to be implemented. Understanding is important before implementation. Peace and Harmony are also the two important factors that have to be implemented in life, but there are times when the law that has been made for the society are drafted by legal experts and it is very well known that a lot of laws are not specific and contain ambiguous words and difficult expressions. It is quite a sight to see lawyers and judges trying to figure out the meaning of such words and trying to resolve the fickleness to make things a little easier. Between figuring out the meaning of such expressions, many rules for interpretations of laws have been born.

One can easily understand expressions when it has a singular meaning, but if the same thing has multiple meanings, things start to go a little haywire and only one meaning can be applied to understand the true meaning.

What is the Doctrine of Harmoniums Construction?

We all know that the Government has three levels, ‘the legislature, the executive and the judiciary’. Interpretation of the correct law comes very handy in judiciary. It justice has to be served it is very important to interpret the statutes in the correct manner. This is where interpretation becomes crucial. The enacted law must be seen as an attempt to reconcile, to harmonize, to adjust the overlapping and often conflicting claims and demands, so that the sacrifice of the conflicting provisions is seldom made1

Doctrine of Harmonious Construction is one of the many principles of interpretation of statues that are there to decipher law. According to this, ‘a statute will be read as a whole and should be able to understand and help people with its meaning’. To avoid ambiguities, the legislation has provided us with the primary rules of interpretations. “HARMONIOUS CONSTRUCTION” is one such rule where it is held that ‘if two or more than two provisions of the same act are inconsistent with each other then it must be interpreted in such a manner that effect should be given to both’2. There are five rules of interpretation-

  1. In the case of (CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carriers, (2003) 3 SCC 57, p. 74), it was said that the court must avoid a ‘head clash’ of contradictory provisions and must construe the contradictory provisions to harmonize them.

  2. It is also said that the provision of one section will not be used to defeat the ‘provision contained’ in another unless the court, after all its efforts cannot find a way to reconcile the differences.

  3. In another case, (Sultana Begum v. Premchand Jain, AIR 1997 SC 1006, pp. 1009, 1010.) it was mentioned that when it is just impossible to reconcile differences in ‘contradictory provisions’, the court must interpret them in such a way so that the effect is given to both the provisions as required.

  4. In the same case (CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carriers, (2003) 3 SCC 57, p. 74) it was also said that the courts must keep in mind the interpretation that reduces one provision to a useless number or dead is not at all harmonious construction.

  5. Lastly, to be able to harmonize something is not exactly always to destroy any statutory provision or to make it fruitless.

With this principal, there are two Latin maxims which explain this in simpler words. ‘Generalia specialibus non derogrant’ and ‘Generalibus specialia derogant’. The former maxim states that a special law might become a general law and the latter one means ‘Special things derogate from general things’. These can be mostly used to resolve conflicts between provisions.

There are several landmark cases that are related to this principal. One of the most famous case is of (Re Kerela Education Bill Case 1957) in which the court used this rule and said that there is ‘no inherent conflict between fundamental rights and directive principles of state policy and both together constitute an integrated scheme’. In another case, (Venkataramana Devaru VS. State of Mysore AIR 1997 SC1006) the Supreme Court applied this principal while resolving a conflict between two articles, namely, Article 25(2)(b) and Article 26(b) of the Indian Constitution and it was held in this case that ‘the right of every religious denomination or any section manages its own affairs in matters of religion. This principal has been very helpul in resolving conflicts between articles and one of them is in the case of (M.S.M. Sharma v. Krishna Sinha), this rule was applied to resolve a conflict between Article 19(1)(a) and Article 194(3) of the constitution. It was finally held that ‘the right to freedom of speech is to be read as power and privilege of the House of the Legislature which is quite similar to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.


Doctrine of harmonious construction is very important. This doctrine helps resolve disputes between provisions and several acts making sure that it is understood in a clear way. It is very important when it comes to judgements as it gives a clear cut idea to everyone and the meaning can be interpreted easily. It is also the sole duty of courts to interpret each law with the utmost care. The interpretation should be made in such a way that the result of it is clear and no unambiguity is present.

It should be understood by the courts that it is important to interpret statutes and making sure that the meaning is understood by all. This is why, the rules of interpretation of different statues and harmonious construction should be made mandatory in courts. It is the need of the hour and courts should take this seriously. If one of the meanings is being taken into the consideration, it should be compulsory to give utmost importance to the other meaning as well.





-Nandini Sharma


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