Pith and Substance Doctrine

Pith and Substance Doctrine

The Doctrine “Pith and Substance” means, that if an enactment substantially falls within the powers conferred by the Constitution upon the legislature by which it was enacted, it does not become invalid merely because it incidentally touches upon subjects within the domain of another legislature as designated by the Constitution. Within their respective spheres, the Union and the State Legislatures are made supreme and they should not encroach into the sphere reserved to the other.

If a law passed by one encroaches upon the field assigned to the other the Court will apply the doctrine of ’pith and substance’ to determine whether the Legislature concerned was competent to make it.

If the ‘pith and substance’ of law, i.e., the true object of the legislation or a statute, relates to a matter with the competence of Legislature which enacted it, it should be held to be intra virus even though it might incidentally trench on matters not within the competence of Legislature. In order to ascertain the true character of the legislation one must have regard to the enactment as a whole, to its object and to the scope and effect of its provisions.

The Privy Council applied this doctrine in Profulla Kumar Mukerjee Vs Bank of Khulna, AIR 1947. In this case the validity of the Bengal Money Lenders’ Act, 1946, which limited the amount and the rate of interest recoverable by a money-lender on any loan was challenged on the ground that it was Ultra virus of the Bengal Legislature in so far as it related to ‘Promissory Notes’, a Central subject.

The Privy Council held that the Bengal Money-lenders’ Act was in pith and substance a law in respect of moneylending and money-lenders-a State subject, and was valid even though it trenched incidentally on “Promissory note”—a Central subject.

In 1980 in the case of Ishwari Khetal Sugar Mills Vs State of U.P., the validity of the U.P. Sugar Undertakings (Acquisition) Act,1971, was challenged on the ground that the State Legislature had no competence to enact the impugned law on the ground that it fell under Parliament’s legislative power under Entry 52 of List I.

It was contended that in view of the declaration the Parliament had made under Entry 52 List I to take the Sugar Industry under its control, that industry went out of Entry 24 of List II and hence the State Legislature was divested of all legislative power to legislate in respect of Sugar Industry and as the impugned legislation was in respect of industrial undertaking in Sugar (Entry 52 of List I) a central subject the impugned legislation was void.

The Court, however, rejected these contentions and held that there was no conflict between that State Act and the Central Act under Industries Act, 1951. The power of acquisition or requisition of property in Entry 42, List III is an independent power and the impugned Act being in pith and substance, an Act to acquire scheduled undertakings the power of the State Legislature to legislate is referable to entry 42 and its control was taken over by the Central Government.

Pith and Substance Doctrine

Read Complete Notes : Constitutional Law Unit I 

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Pith and Substance Doctrine

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