Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay. – Sallust
Table of Contents
Introduction to Interpretation
Laws are drafted and enacted by the legal experts to keep the society in serenity to avoid conflicts to a great extent. But we often see that certain laws don’t have a specific meaning and contain ambiguous words and expressions, due to which such laws are interpreted accordingly, resulting in the formulations of rules in the form of a proper interpretation of statutes.
When the words have a singular and precise meaning, there arises no difficulty in using the terms included in the law. Still, those with plural meanings require the most appropriate way of interpretation so that the law could be understood easily.
Furthermore, it is expected that the court should use the most liberal way of interpretation, avoiding any arbitrariness; this liberal interpretation is made with the help of certain principles which has ultimately evolved out of the perpetual exercise of laws by the Courts. These principles are usually called ‘rules of interpretation.’ 
When there is a conflict between two or more statutes or two or more parts of a statute, then the harmonious construction doctrine needs to be adopted. The rule follows a straightforward premise that every statute has a purpose and intent as per law.
According to this rule, a statute should be read as a whole and in such a manner that one proviso of the Act should be assembled following the other provisions of the same Act to make a consonant sanction of the whole statute. Also, to remove any disparity or repugnancy while interpreting it.
Harmonious construction should be used to bring harmony among the statutory rules, and the court’s presumption while using the said doctrine is to avoid conflicts and unintended objects.
The Five Principles
In the landmark case of CIT v. Hindustan Bulk Carriers, the Supreme Court laid down five rules of conducting the doctrine of harmonious construction:-
- The courts must avoid any clash of seemingly contradicting provisions, and they should try to harmonize such contradictory or contrasting provisions.
- The provision of one section cannot be used to suppress another provision unless the court, despite all its efforts, cannot find a way to harmonize or reconcile their differences.
- When it becomes impossible to propitiate the differences in contrasting provisions, the courts must interpret them in such a way so that both the provisions are focused and applied as much as possible.
- While interpreting any provision, courts must consider that such interpretation that renders one proviso futile or pointless, such construction does not come under the concept of harmonious construction.
- Further, it should also be taken into consideration by the Courts that harmonizing does not mean to destroy any statutory provision or to depict it fruitless.
The following are the requirements
- The first requirement to use the rule of harmonious construction is to remove ambiguity between two or more provisions.
- The second requirement is to interpret the law so that it renders justice to the victim.
- The third requirement is the most appropriate way of interpreting without making any other provision useless or dead.
- To remove any clashes between two or more statutes or part of statutes avoiding all sorts of inconvenience.
- The next requirement is to bring harmony between the various lists referred to in the Indian Constitution i.e., Union list, State list, and Concurrent list.
- Society is subjected to alteration from time to time due to which new developments are introduced; therefore, considering this, the law needs to be interpreted to predict its applicability in the present and future.
The following are specific steps taken by the Courts for the better applicability of the doctrine of harmonious construction:-
- Both the provisions that are conflicting should be given equal importance aiming at reducing conflicts between them.
- Both the provisions should be read as a whole, and the entire enactment in question must be taken under consideration while interpreting.
- From the two contrasting provisions, the one having the broader scope must be chosen to interpret the provision most appropriately.
- There should be a comparison made between the narrow provision and the more comprehensive provision to have the desired consequence. If the outcome proves to be as rational as to reconcile both the provisions, no further inquiry must be made.
- Further, the court should consider the extent to which the legislature has intended to give an overriding effect of one provision over the other and should be interpreted accordingly. In Eastbourne Corporation v. Fortes Ltd.,, it was held that if two contrasting sessions cannot be harmonized, then the last section must succeed. However, the rule is not universal.
Landmark Case Laws
Following are some of the landmark case laws where the doctrine of harmonious construction has been used to interpret the provisions to the required extent:-
- In the case of Venkataramana Devaru v. the State of Mysore, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, to resolve a conflict between Articles 25(2)(b) and 26(b) of the Constitution, applied the doctrine of harmonious construction. The court held that the right of every religious sector to manage its affairs, including religion matters [Article 26(b)] comes under the subject of provisions made by the state to ensure social welfare or opening of any Hindu religious institutions having a public character to all classes including the Hindus [Article 25(2)(b)].
- In the case of M.S.M. Sharma v. Krishna Sinha,, the doctrine of harmonious construction was used to resolve the contrast between Articles 19(1)(a) and Article 194(3) of the Constitution. It was held that the right to freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), is to be considered as Subjects of powers and privileges of the House of the Legislature, which is similar to those of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom as declared under Article 194(3).
It was subsequently decided that Article 194(3) was subordinate to Articles 21, 32, 211, and 226, and this conclusion was reached with the help of the doctrine of harmonious construction.
In the case of Sirsilk Ltd. v. Govt. of Andhra Pradesh,, various disputes arose between the employer and the workmen, which was further dealt with by the industrial tribunal. After the completion of the adjudication, an award was sent for its publication. However, before the publication, the parties to the dispute came to a settlement and informed the same jointly to the government with a letter’s help. But the government refused to withhold the publication, this refusal of the government led the parties to appear before the High Court, but the court rejected their contentions, which led them to move to the Supreme Court through a special leave petition.
The main contention made by the parties was that Section 17 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, was directory in nature and not mandatory. Section 17(1) of the Act states, ”Every award shall within thirty days from the date of its receipt by the appropriate government be published in such manner as the appropriate government thinks fit.” After analyzing the provisions of 17 and 17A, the court declared that it shouldn’t be mistaken that the government’s duty to publish the award is directory because it is mandatory. But, later Section 18 was scrutinized, which stated that a settlement arrived at by agreement between the employer and the workmen otherwise than in the course of conciliation proceeding shall be binding on the parties to the contract.
The Supreme Court analyzed the present case’s facts and observed Section 17 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and settlement under Section 18 conflict. Therefore, after applying the doctrine of harmonious construction, it was held that a settlement has been arrived at between the parties before the tribunal after the award has been submitted to the government. Still, before its publication, no dispute is left to be resolved. So the government should refrain from publishing the award.
The Judiciary is held to be an independent body, which acts as the Supreme source of justice to the people. Therefore, it is expected that the task of statutory interpretation is performed with utmost care and caution. The Courts are under a sole discretion to interpret the statutes in its own and appropriate way to render justice to the people so that the legislature’s real intention behind making the law could be established accordingly.
The interpretation of every provision is always not under the words and expressions that it includes and differs in nature as well due to which it depends on the Courts to adopt the appropriate meaning of the provision in question to avoid ambiguity.
There is no need to interpret laws when the literal meaning of specific provisions is clear and unambiguous. Still, the necessity arises when the circumstances are otherwise, and the Courts need to apply the ‘rule of interpretation’ in the most effective way. Therefore, the doctrines help the court to interpret specific provisions according to its requirement. Among which, the principle of harmonious construction has been dealt with in the following article in an elaborate manner, highlighting the fact that it reduces conflicts between two or more provisions and helps to adopt the provision of broader scope rendering justice to the people.
 Mohesh Kumar, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi, “Doctrine of Harmonious Construction” published on May 22, 2020,
 Dr. J.N Pandey, “Constitutional Law of India”, 56th Ed.
 Arjun Gupta, DR. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow, “Harmonious and Beneficial Construction”,
 (2003)3 SCC 57.
 Shrishti Khandelwal, “Doctrine of Harmonious Construction”,
 (1959) 2 All ER 102 CA.
 AIR 1958 SC 255.
 AIR 1959 SC 395, p. 410.
 AIR 1964 SC 160.
 Yug Sinha, “What is the Doctrine of Harmonious Construction?”,
BY ANANYA SAHA | INDIAN INSTITUTE OF LEGAL STUDIES