Doctrine of Harmonious Construction


It is well established that the purpose of law should be to bring pleasure & to avoid pain; it means that pleasure & pain are the ultimate standards to adjudge a law and to determine, whether a law is in accordance with such standards, it is essential to understand its true sense for which a law is interpreted. Interpretation is nothing but an art to determine the true meaning of the words provided in the statute on the basis of their ordinary and natural meanings. In simple words, it is a process initiated by the interpreter to ascertain & reach the true intent of the statute.

The judiciary is not expected to interpret the law arbitrarily and thereby, it should always try to extract the true sense of the words used in the Statutes. Therefore, to find the true intention, the judiciary has evolved, over the years, certain interpretative principles which are generally used to discard the ambiguity, if any, bestowed by the words of the Statute. These principles are called as the ‘rules of interpretation’. The basic objective of these rules is to decipher the true intention of the legislative authorities by extracting the possible, if not exact, meaning of the language used in the statutes. According to Salmond, “by interpretation or construction is meant, the process by which the courts seek to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed.”

Intention is basically the express manifestation of our internal consciousness. It may be by way of words, written or spoken, thus it is a way by which we communicate what we desire. Where the words have sole meaning, no problem arises in such cases and the true sense is very easy to catch however the demand of interpretation comes into picture where a word has two different meaning and complications emerge, in such cases, as to reach the real intent behind the word. In most cases, the language of a provision is plain, simple and to the point meaning, thus in such cases the rules of interpretation does not derive great significance, however interpretation becomes important where the provisions are uncertain, ambiguous and repugnant in nature. The prominent reason for such uncertainty could be the basic nature of the language used in the statute. It is matter of fact that it is not every time possible to reduce the exact intent of the legislature to written word, neither it is possible to deny the arguments in favour or against such provision to flush out the competing interpretation. It is also pertinent to note that after enacting a statute, the legislative authority becomes functus officio, means its duty in regard to the concerned statute has been discharged and therefore the interpreters could not approach them to ascertain what they meant, if any ambiguity lies. Thus in such situations, what the courts do is they generally see the circumstances in which the statute was created and tries to reach the inference which the legislature would have reached by taking into consideration the reasonable factors which could have aspired and affected its intent. Thus it is absolutely upon the judges to interpret the statute in such a way that it can be wholly made to effect.

Here I have stressed on to discuss the rule of Harmonious Construction of interpretation which plays a significant role while interpreting a statute.


The expression ‘Harmonious Construction’ simply means a coordinated abstract or inference. In legal parlance, it a rule of interpretation which is used by the courts to construe relation or inference between two provisions of contrary language in such a manner that, as far as possible, the effect to both the provisions could be given and subsequently the enactment could be read as a whole. It is a noticeable point that such relation or inference should be such that the meaning of neither of the provisions is left out as it would amount to indicate that the provision whose meaning has been left out is nothing but a dead letter.

The need of the rule arises when there is conflict between two or more statutes or two or more parts of a statute and in such cases the rule of harmonious construction is adopted. The rule is based on the principle that every statute has purpose and intent as per law under which its meaning should flow, and thereby it should be read as a whole. Thus in simple words this rule lays down the interpretation of such nature which is consistent of all the provisions of the statute. But there may also be cases where it would not be feasible to harmonize the concerned provisions in an efficient manner therefore in such cases the court’s opinion, in relation to such dispute shall prevail.

The rule of harmonious construction is one of the most important and used rules in the interpretation of any statute. Through this rule, the courts aim to construct an interpretation which makes it in consonance with the whole statute. The courts must avoid the construction of such interpretation which causes inconsistency or repugnancy among the provisions or parts of the Statute. It is pertinent to understand that when a matter of uncertainty arises between two or more statutes or part of statutes the presumption of the court should be in favour of consistency i.e. it must not be assumed by the courts that what is given with one hand by the legislature is sought to be taken away by the other. Thus the rule of harmonious construction should be applied only to avoid absurd unintended results. It should be resorted to make the provisions meaningful in the context in which it has been used i.e. the interpretation should be in consonance with the intention of the legislators.

In the case of CIT v Hindustan Bulk Carriers[1] the apex court said that the courts should avoid ‘a head on clash’ between the different parts of an enactment & conflict between the various provisions should be sought to be harmonized. The hon’ble Supreme Court also explained the meaning of this rule as “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.” The court has also laid down five main principles of this rule as following:

  1. The courts must try to avoid a head on clash between the contradicting provisions & they should construe such provisions to harmonize them.
  2. The provisions of a section cannot be used to flush out the provisions of another section unless the court, despite all its efforts, is unable to pave a way to harmonize them.
  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. [2]
  4. Courts must also keep in mind that interpretation that reduces one provision to a useless number or dead is not harmonious construction.
  5. To harmonize is not to destroy any statutory provision or to render it fruitless.

The question as to the relative nature of the provisions, general or special, has to be determined with reference to the area and extent of their application either generally or specially in particular situations. This principle is expressed in the maxims Generalia specialibus non derogant and Generalia specialibus derogant. The former means that general things do not derogate from special things and the latter means that special thing derogate from general things.

Case laws on Harmonious Construction:

In Venkataramana Devaru v. Province of Mysore[3] , the Supreme Court applied the standard of amicable development in settling a contention between Articles 25(2)(b) and 26(b) of the Constitution and it was held that the privilege of each strict category or any segment thereof to deal with its own undertakings in issues of religion [Article 26(b)] is dependent upon a law made by a State accommodating social government assistance and change or tossing open of Hindu strict foundations of an open character to all classes and segments of Hindus [Article 25(2)(b)].

In M.S.M. Sharma v. Krishna Sinha[4], a similar principle was applied to determine the contention between Articles 19(1)(a) and 194(3) of the Constitution and it was held that the privilege of opportunity of discourse ensured under Article 19(1)(a) is the perused as subject to forces, benefits and insusceptibilities of a House of the Legislature which are those of the House of Commons of the Joined Kingdom as proclaimed by the last piece of Article 194(3).

A further model can be found in Cantonment Board, Mhow v. M.P. State Road Transport Organization[5], where Section 6 of the Madhya Pradesh Motor Vehicles Taxation Act, 1947 was deciphered. On a correlation of the two Acts, the Supreme Court held that on agreeable development of the two Acts, the restriction in Section 6 of the Taxation Act identified with an expense on vehicles utilized or saved for use which could be required under Section 3(1) and not the passage charge which could be forced by a region under Section 127(1)(iii) of the Municipalities Act.

Steps for employing the rule of Harmonious Construction:

From the above illustrations we can see that the principle of harmonious construction for its Application requires the following four steps:

  1. That the contradictory provisions must be construed by taking regard the whole authorization being referred to.
  2. To expand both the provisions to fullest extent and subsequently to decrease the contention so that both could have effect.
  3. To extract the more extensive and contractive extent of the contradicting provisions, independently.
  4. From the more extensive arrangement, take away the thin and see the outcome.if the outcome is as sensible as to fit both the provisions and it gives their full impact independently, no further arrangement is required. While doing such harmonization one thing must be remembered that the whole establishment is the result of the legislator and it is absolutely assumed that the council while authorizing the arrangements of a resolution was completely alert about the circumstance which entered to spread and consequently all arrangements instituted require to be given their full impact in scope.


It is well-established that the legislator by virtue of being a human being is not immune to form perfection, thus chances exist that the drafted statute may be vague, absurd, repugnant and so forth. In such cases the rule of harmonious construction becomes significantly important and the provisions must be understood in order to give most extreme impact to each of them and to render equity to the circumstance. Thus, with this aspiration in mind, the judges ought to decipher the provisions by applying the judicial mind appropriately and brilliantly, which if not done; the rule of harmonious construction would be of no use.

[1] (2003) 3 SCC 57, P 74.

[2] Sultana Begum v. Premchand Jain, AIR 1997 SC 1006, pp. 1009, 1010.

[3] AIR 1958 SC 255

[4] AIR 1959 SC 395, p. 410.

[5] AIR 1997 SC 2013, p. 2019.

Author: Aman Pandey,
Faculty of Law, University of Lucknow, LL.B. Hons. 4th Year

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