From the resolution of contentious issues regarding distribution of legislative powers by the courts, ‘Principle of Federal Supremacy’ and ‘Harmonious Construction’ have emerged. Explain.

From the resolution of contentious issues regarding distribution of legislative powers by the courts, ‘Principle of Federal Supremacy’ and ‘Harmonious Construction’ have emerged. Explain.

Constitution has provided for division of legislative powers between the Centre and state in the seventh schedule under union list, state list, concurrent list. However, this division cannot be watertight and rigid. This has led to frequent conflicts between Centre and states regarding their legislative powers.

Principle of federal supremacy refers to the principle wherein the Centre will have predominance in legislative powers and even if there is any conflict between them central law will prevail.

Constitution itself has provided for it:
  1. Central law vs State law: central law will prevail
  2. Conflict on a concurrent subject between union and state law, union law will prevail.

Unitary nature of Indian constitution provides for such principle. Even Supreme Court has upheld it many times.

Principle of harmonious construction

According to this principle, the provision of a statute should not be interpreted in isolation but as a whole in order to remove any inconsistency or repugnancy.

The Supreme Court laid down five principles of rule of Harmonious Construction in the landmark case of CIT v Hindustan Bulk Carriers:

  1. The courts must avoid a head on clash of seemingly contradicting provisions and they must construe the contradictory provisions so as to harmonize them.
  2. The provision of one section cannot be used to defeat the provision contained in another unless the court, despite all its effort, is unable to find a way to reconcile their differences.

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.

3. Courts must also keep in mind that interpretation that reduces one provision to a useless number or dead is not harmonious construction.

Supreme Court has invoked this principle in various cases to resolve legislative disputes like in Venkataramana Devaru v. State of Mysore, Calcutta Gas Company Pvt. Limited v State of West Bengal etc. Hence, Supreme Court by evolving these doctrines has ensured that federal coordination has prevailed between center and state.

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