INTERPRETING LEGISLATIVE INTENT THROUGH EXTERNAL AIDS
The procedure by which the judiciary ascertains or determines the purpose of laws or legal provisions is known as interpretation. It is a procedure through which a court attempts to decide the true sense of an expression, verb, or phrase in question in any statute before it, as well as the true intent of the legislature behind that statutory provision.
The judiciary may use a variety of methods or concepts of statutory interpretation, such as finding assistance from internal or external aids to interpretation and applying primary or secondary rules of interpretation that the court has developed over time.
External Aids of Interpretation
Where existing resources are insufficient, courts must turn to outside resources. They’re extremely useful for interpreting and constructing regulatory provisions. “Where internal aids are not forthcoming, we should still turn to external aids to discover the purpose of the legislation,” O. Chennappa Reddy J. wrote in B. Prabhakar Rao and others v. State of A.P. and others. External assistance isn’t completely ruled out. This is now a well-established constitutional building concept.”
Furthermore, in District Mining Officer and others v. Tata Iron & Steel Co. and others, the Supreme Court stated: “It is also a cardinal principle of construction that external aids be brought in by broadening the concept of context to include not only other enacting provisions of the same statute, but also its preamble, the existing state of law, other statutes in pari materia, and the judicial record.”
If the wordings are ambiguous, the historical setting may be considered in order to arrive at the proper construction, which covers parliamentary history, historical facts, statement of objects and reasons, report of expert committees.
Parliamentary History, Historical Facts and Surrounding Circumstances
- a) Parliamentary history means the includes conception of an idea, drafting of the bill, the debates made, the amendments proposed, speech made by mover of the bill, etc. Papers placed before the cabinet which took the decision for the introduction of the bill are not relevant since these papers are not placed before the parliament.
- b) Historical facts of the statute are the external circumstances in which it was enacted. The object is to understand whether the statute in question was intended to alter the law or leave it where it stood.
- c) Statement of objective and reasons provides why the statute is being brought to enactment. It is permissible to refer to it for understanding the background, the antecedent state of affairs, the surrounding circumstances in relation to the statute and the evil which the statute sought to remedy
- d) Reports of Commissions including Law Commission or Committees including Parliamentary Committees preceding the introduction of a Bill can also be referred to in the Court as evidence of historical facts or of surrounding circumstances or of mischief or evil intended to be remedied.
Social, Political and Economic Developments and Scientific Inventions
A Statute must be interpreted to include circumstances or situations which were unknown or did not exist at the time of enactment of the statute. Any relevant changes in the social conditions and technology should be given due weightage.
Reference to Other Statutes
For the purpose of interpretation or construction of a statutory provision, courts can refer to or can take help of other statutes. It is also known as statutory aids. For e.g. the General Clauses Act, 1897.
The application of this rule helped to avoid any contradiction between a series of statutes dealing with the same subject as it allows the use of an earlier statute to throw light on the meaning of a phrase used in a later statute in the same context.
When a word is not defined in the statute itself, it is permissible to refer to dictionaries to find out the general sense in which that word is understood in common parlance. For e.g. Black’s Law Dictionary.
Decisions by courts on the same manner act as precedents for the interpretation of statutes. Indian judicial pronouncements may have binding value when issued by a higher court, and have persuasive value when issued by a court having same or lower authority. These foreign decisions from countries following the same system of jurisprudence have persuasive value only and cannot be used to contradict binding Indian judgements.
Courts also refer passages and materials from eminent text books, articles and papers published in journals.
On the basis of the discussion above, we are of the view; (1) in the event of ambiguity of a provision, for the purpose of interpretation of such a statutory provision, courts can certainly take recourse to material or aids outside the statute, i.e., external aids, and (2) the rules of interpretation specially regarding use of external aids, should not be incorporated in the General Clauses Act, 1897 at all.
In the present matter, the ambiguity with respect to the provision mentioned in under 225B of Schedule II is disregarding the producer to qualify under the ambit of 5%. The mere ambiguity is affecting his rights to trade freely and thereby leading to an ambit of 18%.
In CIT V. Sodra Devi, the court stated that if the language of the statute is unclear and unambiguous,; consequently the historical facts and surrounding circumstances must give way to the clear language of the statute.
‘It is only when the words used are ambiguous that they would stand to be examined and construed in the light of surrounding circumstances and constitutional principle and practice .’
In the present matter, with the ambiguity in the provision, regarding the taxation charges levied in regard to the production of fly ash bricks with less than 90% content there happens to be violation of the right of the producer. The reasonable interpretation that could be inferred regarding the taxation possibility is that the producer should be charged with 5% bracket.
Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, the interpretation of the expression ‘backward class of citizen’ used in Article 16(4) was in question before the court. The SC under this case referred to the speech given by B.R. Ambedkar to understand the context, background and object behind its use of the given expression. Page 61
That the debates in Constituent Assembly can be relied upon as an aid to interpretation of a constitutional provision is borne out by a series of decisions of this Court. The relevance of these debates is pointed out, emphasising at the same time, the extent to which and the purpose for which they can be referred to). Since the expression “backward” or “backward class of citizens” is not defined in the Act, reference to such debates is permissible to ascertain, at any rate, the context, background and objective behind them.
In the present matter, the idea behind referring to the agenda item and meetings can be a decisive mode to interpret the taxation bracket whereby the producer gets to qualified under 5% GST rate. Also, the imposition of 18% GST rate would be a irregular application on the producer. Merely, judging the provision with the term ‘OR’ creates ambiguity and an unfair disadvantage to the producers of fly ash brick. However, to bring clarity the 23rd meeting stated the agenda item i.e.
‘6(i) the rate of tax on fly ash bricks was rightly proposed to be reduced from 12% to 5%.’
To bring clarity the 31st meeting further strengthened the aspect that referring to the fly ash blocks it also included fly ash bricks levying 5% GST rate.
M/S. Aakavi Spinning Mills (P) Ltd vs The Authority For Clarification …, Page 4, para 11
The Golden Rule of Interpretation is plain meaning of the plain words and only if there is some confusion or ambiguity in such plain words, then the external aids of interpretation like Dictionaries, Scientific materials, Budget Speeches, etc. can be referred by the Courts for interpretation of such words.
Khandelwal Metal & Engineering … vs Union Of India And Others on 11 June, 1985, Page 19
Certain exemption Notifications, referred to earlier, as affording intrinsic evidence to show the contemporaneous understanding of the framers of such Notifications. True, that such understanding is a legitimate aid to interpretation.
In the present matter, the notif no:41/2017 w.e.f 15.11.2017 and notif no:24/2018 w.e.f 01.01.2019, states the application of 5% GST on fly ash bricks. Interpreting the application of such notification and producing intrinsic evidence it states that the producer of fly ash bricks would be classified to pay GST at 5%.
In Samantha v State of Andhra Pradesh, in interpreting para 5(2) of the 5th Schedule of the Constitution, reports of drafting committee and sub-committees of the Constituent Assembly, the Draft Constitution and changes made thereafter in giving it the final shape were referred by the Supreme Court.
The recommendations of the two Sub-Committees were not considered by the Constituent Assembly in its Session in July, 1947, when the broad principles of the Constitution were settled since, as explained by Dr. Ambedkar, they were received too late. The Drafting Committee however, considered these proposals at the stage of drafting and suitable provisions including Schedule V & VI were included in the Draft Constitu-tion of February, 1948 in which it was indicated that the transfer of land in Scheduled Area From Tribal to non-Tribal was forbidden; and the State Government was also prohibited from allotting the State land in the Scheduled Area to Non-Tribal except in accordance with the Rules which may be made by the Governor after consulting the Tribes Advisory Council.
In M Ismail Faruqqui v Union of India, Para 102, it was held by the Supreme Court that white paper issued by the Government detailing the facts leading to enactment of a statute is also admissible for understanding the background when the court is called upon to interpret and decide the validity of the statute.
The historical background, as now set out, is drawn from the White Paper on Ayodhya issued by the Government of India in February, 1993. This was the. basis upon which the Bill to bring the said Act upon the statute book was prepared and the Reference was made.
The Supreme Court in S.R. Chaudhuri v. State of Punjab and others, Page 11.
It is a settled position that debates in the Constituent Assembly may be relied upon as an aid to interpret a constitutional provision because it is the function of the Court to find out the intention of the framers of the Constitution. We must remember that a Constitution is not just a document in solemn form, but a living framework for the Government of the people exhibiting a sufficient degree of cohesion and its successful working depends upon the democratic spirit underlying it being respected in letter and in spirit.
Considering the above application of case laws, it can be concluded that the application of 5% GST rate classifies under the appropriate law. The Schedule 225B authenticates the position of the same. Moreover, with the ambiguity in the provision, it can be derived that following the above chronology of external aid, it is well within the ambit to interpret flying ash brick under the category of 5%GST tax Rate.
Interpretation is the process which is employed by the judiciary to ascertain or to determine the meaning of the statutes or legal provision. It is basically a process by which court seeks to ascertain the true meaning of the expression or word or phrase which is in question in any statute before the court and determine the true intention of the legislature behind such statutory provision.
A process of interpretation employed by the judiciary can be done through various tools or principles of statutory interpretation which include seeking help from internal or external aids to interpretation and applying primary or secondary rule of interpretation which has evolved over a period of time by the court.