Originialistic And Textualistic Interprettion Of Statute With Particular Reference To The Cases


The definition of specific terms in an Indian statute can be found in the context or occasion on which they are put to use, rather than in strict etymological language propriety. Since, it is well recognized that the terms are frequently used in their ordinary sense, dictionaries may be consulted to determine the meaning of terms as used in any statute, even though they are not be considered as authoritative in nature.

However, if the dictionary provides different meaning of the same word, then the concerned word should not be construed as per the dictionary. In such scenario, the concerned term should be interpreted as per the context in which it has been used in the provision and legislative intent behind inserting that word as well as overall scheme of the Act should be taken into consideration.

Judicial Pronouncements


In this case, there was a communist leader who had been imprisoned in the year of 1947 by the State of Madras. The convictions include many inferences under criminal law. He was arrested and subsequently detained. The convictions are subsequently set aside. The petitioner file Habeas Corpus petition under Article 32(1)[ii] for the violation of his rights enshrined under Article 19, 21 and 22[iii] and under the Preventive Detention Act, 1950. Upon dismissal, the case reached Supreme Court. The issues involved in the case are whether the detention act contravenes the constitutional provisions enshrined under Articles 21 and 22 and whether the provisions of the detention act are in lieu with the Article 22 of the Indian constitution.

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Legal Cases

The contentions of the petitioners on the issue of interpretation were that the term “procedure established by law” cannot be interpreted to narrowly to imply a particular legislation rather it implies nothing but the “due process” of law. They also gave reference of the American Constitution and the interpretation of the corresponding provisions therein. On the contrary the respondents argued that the term “procedure established by law” was borrowed from the Japanese Constitution so as to avoid the usage of “due process” and thus both the words are supposed to have different meanings and the American Constitution’s interpretation is misplaced in the present context.

In this case there was a conflict between ‘due process of law’ and ‘procedure established by law’. Therefore, the court used the dictionary meaning of established to resolve the conflict. The court said “The word ‘established’ according to the Oxford Dictionary means ‘to fix, settle, institute or ordain by enactment or agreement’. The word ‘established’ itself suggests an agency which fixes limits. According to the dictionary this agency can be either the Legislature or an agreement between the parties. There is therefore no justification to give the meaning of ‘jus’ to ‘law’ in Article 21”.

N.D.P. Namboodripad V. Union Of India[iv]

The facts of the case include a person who has elevated from the Districts and Sessions Judge to the Judge of Kerala High Court. His term of service is 23 years. He is governed under part III of the first schedule of High Court Judges (Conditions of Service) Act, 1954. The office memorandum which is issued by the Government of India subsequently did not include the appellant, who thereafter challenged the fixation. The single bench of high court though ruled in his favour, made the government to appeal the same. The division bench of High Court set aside the order. The appellant reached Supreme Court through the present petition.

The issues in the case are whether the pension and the fixation that is provided by the rules and subsequent memorandum are proper. In this regard, the appellant has contended that the fixation should be given without any reference to any ceiling. He also placed reliance on Rule 62 of part III of Kerala Service Rules. He also contended that word “includes” have enlarged meaning. The respondents in return contended that emolument means average emolument and does not need to include the fixation as suggested by the appellant.

In the instant case the Apex Court interpreted the word ‘includes’. It held that the term ‘includes’ can be used to signify different contexts. Even the dictionaries have assigned multiple meanings to the term ‘include’. While it has been used synonymously with the words ‘comprise’ or ‘contain’ by the Webster’s Dictionary, the Oxford Dictionary uses the term ‘include’ as:  “(i) comprise or reckon in as a part of a whole; (ii) treat or regard as so included”. Further, in the Collins Dictionary the word ‘includes’ is defined as: “(i) to have as contents or part of the contents; be made up of or contain; (ii) to add as part of something else; put in as part of a set, group or a category; (iii) to contain as a secondary or minor ingredient or element”. There is clearly no doubt regarding the fact that usually when the term ‘include’ is used in a definition clause, it is used in the sense of enlargement i.e., to make the definition extensive and not restrictive. However, the term ‘includes’ is also used to signify a particular meaning, that is, as “means and includes” or “comprises” or “consists of”.

Commissioner Of Income Tax V. Madgul Udyog[v]

In this case, the assessee is a partnership firm. It was engaged in the business of constructing multistoried buildings for sale of apartments contained therein. The assessee-firm claimed deduction with regard to gains and profits derived from its aforesaid activity under section 80J of Income-tax Act, 1961.[vi] The Assessing Officer denied the said deduction claim by stating that the construction of the multistoried establishments cannot be considered as production or manufacture of any “article”. However, in an appeal the deduction was allowed by the Tribunal treating the multistoried buildings constructed by the assessee as ‘article’.

In this appeal before the High Court, the main issue under consideration is whether the act of constructing multistoried structures as well as selling apartments falls within the ambit of the phrase “manufactures or produces articles” as mentioned under section 80J(4)(iii) of the Income Tax Act, 1961.

The contention of the Revenue was that the concerned provisions of the Act sets a condition precedent that an undertaking is required to produce or manufacture articles in order to claim deduction. However, buildings are not manufactured, they are constructed and it could not be regarded as articles. On the other hand, the counsel for the assessee submitted that the term ‘article’ is generic in nature and it was defined with the help of Shorter Oxford Dictionary as per which “article” means “a commodity, a piece of goods or property”. He lays the foundation for his case on the occurrence of the word “property” in the dictionary meaning. The fundamental point in his argument is that “article” being synonymous with “property” can embrace within its connotation all immovable properties including a building.

Finally, court held that “articles” is too wide to warrant exclusion from its scope of immovable property. It was further opined that the mere fact that the dictionary meaning of “article” includes “a piece of property” has no impelling force to conclude that the word also denotes an immovable property like a building. The word “articles” are commonly accepted as goods or commodities. Even though the court can rely on the dictionary meaning for the common parlance of the word but the context and commercial parlance is important for interpretation.


Statutes are meant to be interpreted in light of the ordinary meaning in light of the object and purpose of the particular statute. However, as analyzed in the few cases above, in certain circumstances the definitions of particular terms given in dictionaries becomes useful as to establish why the particular term was used in the particular place. In cases such as that of N.D.P. Namoordipad v. Union of India,[vii] the dictionary meaning was referred to expand the meaning given to words used in statutes, which is a principle which has been relied in other judgments as well such as that of Pradeep Kumar Biswas v. Indian Institute of Chemical Biology and Ors.[viii]  These are all instances where in the Courts have correctly interpreted legislative intent through the dictionary meaning of the terms. However, there have been instances wherein while the Courts have indeed referred the dictionary meaning of the terms but such reliance could be said to be immaterial or unnecessary. In the case of Indian Steel and Wire Products Ltd. v. Commissioner of Income-Tax, West Bengal-I,[ix]the court referred the meaning of the term “metal” and whether it would come under the ambit of the terms “iron & steel”. In the particular case, while the court did reach the conclusion, it seems that their reliance on the dictionary seemed misplaced. In the end, the Court interpreted the word in light of general parlance and the intent behind the legislature. It was seemingly immaterial what the dictionary meaning of the term was.

Thus, from the above-mentioned case laws and through the research undertaken, it seems clear that while the dictionary meaning of terms does provide some amount of assistance to Courts in the interpretation of particular statues, they cannot be the sole basis for coming to such a conclusion. Courts have correctly held that while the meaning of terms evolves and the context in which they are used changes with the passage of time. Dictionaries can be used as ancillary measures that can assist the Court; however, they must not be made the sole measure. Following the dictionary meaning of terms to the letter would lead to inconsistent judgments and fail the legislative intent. The terms need to be interpreted in light of the object and purpose of the particular statute all the while taking into account the legislative intent of using a particular term.

Author: Ipsita Sinha, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email chhavi@khuranaandkhurana.com or at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.


[i] AIR 1950 SC 27.

[ii] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 32(1).

[iii] The Constitution of India, 1950, Art. 19, 21, 22.

[iv](2007) 4 SCC 502.

[v] 1992 SCC OnLine Cal 339.

[vi]The Income tax Act, 1961, Section 80J.

[vii] (2007) 4 SCC 502.

[viii] (2002) 5 SCC 111.

[ix] 1976 SCC OnLine Cal 345.

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