SC and HC Judgments Online at MyNation

Judgments of Supreme Court of India and High Courts

Ms. Eera Through Dr. Manjula … vs State (Govt. Of Nct Of Delhi) on 21 July, 2017




[Arising out of S.L.P. (Crl.) Nos. 2640­2642 of 2016]

Ms. Eera                                                           
Through Dr. Manjula Krippendorf          … Appellant(s)


State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi)  Anr.        …Respondent(s)


Dipak Misra, J.

Leave granted. 

2. The pivotal issue that emanates for consideration in

these appeals, by special leave, pertains to interpretation

of Section 2(d) of the Protection of Children from Sexual

Offences Act, 2012 (for short, “the POCSO Act”), and the

primary   argument   of   the   learned   counsel   for   the

appellant   is   that   the   definition   in   Section   2(d)   that

defines “child” to mean any person below the age of 18

years,   should   engulf   and   embrace,   in   its   connotative

expanse,   the   “mental   age”   of   a   person   or   the   age

determined   by   the   prevalent   science   pertaining   to

psychiatry   so   that   a   mentally   retarded   person   or   an

extremely intellectually  challenged person who even has

crossed   the   biological   age   of   18   years   can   be   included

within the holistic conception of the term “child”.

3. Before   I   note   the   submissions   of   Ms.   Aishwarya

Bhati, learned counsel for the appellant, the supporting

submissions   by   the   respondent   State   and   the

proponements   in   oppugnation   by   the   learned   senior

counsel   who   was   engaged   on   behalf   of   the   accused­

respondent   No.   2   by  the  Court as  the said  respondent

chose not to enter appearance, few facts are essential to

be noted.  The appellant is represented by her mother on

the foundation that she is suffering from Cerebral Palasy

(R.   Hemiparesis)   and,   therefore,   though   she   is

biologically   38   years   of   age,   yet   her   mental   age   is

approximately   6   to   8   years.   In   this   backdrop,   it   is

contended   that   the   trial   has   to   be   held   by   the   Special

Court  established   under   the  POCSO   Act.   As  the  facts

would unroll, the mother of the appellant had lodged FIR

No. 197 of 2014 at Police Station Defence Colony, New

Delhi against the respondent No. 2 alleging that he had

committed rape on her mentally retarded daughter and

on the basis of the FIR, investigation was carried on and

eventually   charge   sheet   was   laid   for   the   offence

punishable   under   Section   376(2)(l)   of   the   Indian   Penal

Code   (IPC)   before   the   concerned   Judicial   Magistrate,

who,   in   turn,   committed   the   case   to   the   Court   of   the

learned   Assistant   Special   Judge/Special   Fast   Track

Court, Saket, New Delhi for trial.  Many a fact has been

enumerated which need not be stated in detail.  Suffice it

to   mention   that   the   trial   commenced   and   when   the

question   of   examination   of   the   appellant   came   up,

various aspects such as camera trial, videography of the

trial, absence of congenial atmosphere and many other

issues emerged.  As the mother of the appellant felt that

the   trial   court   was   not   able   to   address   the   same,   the

victim through her mother, filed a petition under Section

482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) before the

High Court of Delhi praying,  inter alia, that the matter

should   be   transferred   to   the   Special   Court   under   the

POCSO   Act   as   the   functional   age   of   the   prosecutrix   is

hardly around 6 to 8 years and there is necessity for trial

to   be   conducted   in   a   most   congenial,   friendly   and

comfortable   atmosphere   and   the   proceeding   should   be

videographed.   The   High   Court   vide   order   dated

15.06.2015   issued   directions   for   making   necessary

arrangements   for   videography   of   the   proceeding   as   the

prosecutrix mainly communicates through gestures.  The

order passed in that regard read as follows:

“Vide order dated 15th  September, 2014,
the   learned   ASJ,   Special   Fast   Track   Court,
Saket had directed that the prosecutrix who is
a   physically   and   mentally   challenged   girl
suffering from cerebral palsy will be provided a
special   educator/interpreter   and   necessary
arrangements   be   made   for   videographing   the
in­camera trial at the time of recording of the
statement   of   the   prosecutrix.   When   the
evidence  of the  prosecutrix was sought to be
recorded on 15th May, 2015 the learned Judge
noted   that   the   concerned   officer   of   the
vulnerable   witness   Court   complex   submitted
that   the   videographing   of   the   proceedings   is
not   permissible.   The   learned   Additional
Sessions   Judge   has   sought   necessary
directions   regarding   videography   from   the
learned Sessions Judge (South) in this regard
and has listed the matter for 27th May, 2015. It
is   also   informed   by   the   learned   APP   on
instructions from the investigating officer that

two doctors of AIIMS have been contacted who
will be present on the date when the evidence
of the prosecutrix has to be recorded.

Learned counsel for the petitioner states
that   the   prosecutrix   is   terrified   by   the
presence   of   males   and   it   would   be   thus
appropriate   if   female doctors/interpreters are
available   at   the   time   of   the   evidence   of   the
prosecutrix.     Learned   APP   will   file   a   status
report in this regard before the next date.

In   the   meanwhile   the   learned   Sessions
Judge   (South   District)   will   make   necessary
arrangements   for   videography   of   the
proceedings   as   the   prosecutrix   mostly
communicates through gestures.”

4. The matter was finally disposed of vide order dated

29.06.2015  and  the  appellant felt aggrieved as the two

main   prayers,   namely,   (i)   transfer   of   the   case   to   the

Special Court established under the POCSO Act as the

functional age of the prosecutrix is 6 to 8 years and (ii)

the transfer of the case from P.S. Defence Colony to the

Crime Branch for proper supervisional investigation were

not   allowed.   As   the   impugned   order   would   show,   the

High Court directed that the case should be assigned to

a   trial   court   presided   over   by   a   lady   Judge   in   Saket


5. When the matter was listed on 01.04.2016, it was

contended   by   Ms.   Bhati,   learned   counsel   for   the

appellant that the prosecutrix has been suffering from a

devastating mental and physical disorder since her birth

and though she is biologically aged about 38 years, she

has not mentally grown beyond six years.  In support of

her   stand,   a   certificate   of   the   neuro­physician   and   the

psychologist   of   AIIMS,   New   Delhi   was   filed.     She   had

referred to Section 28 of the POCSO Act which deals with

Special   Courts.     She   had   also   drawn   attention   of   the

Court to Sections 24 to 27 of the POCSO Act to highlight

that there is a special procedure for recording statement

of the child and, therefore, when medical evidence had

established   the   mental   age,   the   victim’s   biological   age

should not be the governing yardstick but she should be

considered   as   a   child   because   she   is   intellectually

challenged and mentally retarded under the POCSO Act. 

6. As the respondent No. 2 did not appear, the Court

appointed Mr. Sanjay R. Hegde, learned senior counsel,

as Amicus Curiae to argue and put forth the points on

behalf   of   respondent   No.   2.   On   behalf   of   respondent

No.1,   that   is,   State   (Government   of   NCT   of   Delhi),

Mr. P.K. Dey and  Mr. Siddharth Dave, learned counsel

assisted the Court.  

7.  After   the   matter   was   heard,   the   judgment   was

reserved   and   after   some   time,   an   office   note   was

circulated that the sole accused, the respondent No. 2,

had died during the pendency of the proceeding.   When

the  matter was  listed again because of the subsequent

event, it was contended by Ms. Bhati appearing for the

appellant   that   under   the   POCSO   Act   and   the   Rules

framed   thereunder,   the   victim   would   be   entitled   to   get

compensation   and   the   procedure   would   be   different.

That apart, she also submitted that after the death of the

accused,   the   grievance   still   remains   and   as   the

procedure   for   grant   of   compensation   is   different,   this

Court   may   deal   with   the   principal   issue.   And,   I   have

thought it appropriate to address the same.  

8. Learned   counsel   for   the   appellant   submits   that

Section   2(d)   that   defines   “child”   to   mean   any   person

below the age of eighteen years should not be conferred a

restricted   meaning   to   convey   that   the   words   “eighteen

years” are singularly and exclusively associated with the

biological   or   chronological   age   and   has   nothing   to   do

with the real concept or conception of “age”.  Elaborating

the argument, she would contend that “child”, as defined

under Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the

Rights of Children, is to mean “every human being below

the   age   of   18   years   unless   under   the   law   applicable,

majority is attained earlier”.

9. It   is   urged   by   her   that   the   principle   of   purposive

construction   is   required to   be  adopted  keeping  in   view

the intrinsic perspective of POCSO Act and construction

should   be   placed   on   the   word   “age”   to   compositely

include biological and mental age so that the protective

umbrella meant and recognized for the child under the

law   to   avoid   abuse   and   exploitation   is   achieved.   It   is

contended by her that likes of the appellant who suffer

from   mental   disabilities  or   are   mentally   challenged   are

unable to keep pace with biological age and their mental

growth   and   understanding   is   arrested   and   unless   they

get   the   protection   of   law   that   the   legislature   has

conceived, it would be an anathema that the law that has

been brought in to protect the class, that is, child, leaves

out a part of it though they are worse than the children

of   the   age   that   is   defined   under   the   POCSO   Act.

Elaborating   further,   she   would   submit   that   a   mentally

retarded   person   may   have   the   body   mass,   weight   and

height  which  will be matching the chronological  age or

biological age of 30 years, but in reality behaves like a

child of 8 to 10 years, for the mental age, as it is called,

stops progressing.  She has drawn a comparison between

various   provisions   of the IPC where the legislature has

recognized a person of unsound mind to be on the same

pedestal   as   child   which   indicates   that   IPC   prescribes

protection on the basis of maturity of understanding, to

the   persons   suffering   from   unsoundness   of   mind.

Emphasis is on departure from the chronological age by

the legislature by laying stress on capacity to understand

the   nature   and   consequence   of   the   act.     She   has   also

referred to Chapter XXV of the CrPC that enumerates the

provisions as to the accused persons of unsound mind.  

10. Learned   counsel   would   contend   that   dignity   of   a

child   is   of   extreme   significance   and   this   Court   has

eloquently   accentuated   on   the   sustenance   of   such

dignity.  To buttress her submission, she has relied upon

Reena Banerjee  another v. Govt. (NCT of Delhi) and

others1,  Mofil   Khan     another   v.   State   of

Jharkhand2,  Suchita   Srivastava     another   v.

Chandigarh   Administration3,   and  Tulshidas

Kanolkar v. State of Goa4. 

11. It   is   propounded   by   her   that   to   read   mental   age

with biological age will not cause any violence to Section

2(d)  of POCSO  Act but on the contrary, it would be in

accord with the context of the scheme of the POCSO Act

and   also   inject   life   to   the   words   which   constitute   the

fulcrum of the spirit of the legislation that is meant to

protect the victims.   The legislature has used the word

“child” and restricted it to age of 18 years, but when a

mentally   retarded   child   is   incapable   of   protest   and

suffers from inadequacy to understand, chronological age

should not be the guiding factor or laser beam but the

real mental age, for the cherished purpose of the POCSO
  (2015) 11 SCC 725
  (2015) 1 SCC 67
  (2009) 9 SCC 1
  (2003) 8 SCC 590

Act  is   to   give   protection  to  the  child and  check sexual

abuse of a child.  A literal construction, according to the

learned   counsel,   would   defeat   the   intendment   of   the

legislature.     For   the   aforesaid   purpose,   she   has

commended   us   to   the   authorities   in  Bharat   Singh   v.

Management of New Delhi Tuberculosis Centre, New

Delhi   and   others5,  Githa   Hariharan   (Ms.)   and

another   v.   Reserve   Bank   of   India   and   another6,

Union   of   India   v.   Prabhakaran   Vijaya   Kumar   and

others7,  Regional   Provident   Fund   Commissioner   v.

Hooghly   Mills   Company   Limited   and   others8,

Bangalore   Turf   Club   Limited   v.   Regional   Director,

Employees’ State Insurance Corporation9.

12. Mr.   Dey,   learned   counsel   appearing   for   the   first

respondent –  State,  submits that POCSO Act has been

introduced   with   a   view   to   provide   protection   of   the

children   from   the   offences   of   sexual   assault,   sexual

harassment and abuse with due regard to safeguard the
 (1986) 2 SCC 614
 (1999) 2 SCC 228
 (2008) 9 SCC 527
 (2012) 2 SCC 489
 (2014) 9 SCC 657

interest and well being of the children at every stage of

judicial proceeding including children friendly procedure,

recording   of   evidence   and   establishment   of   Special

Courts for the speedy trial and, therefore, a person who

is mentally challenged/retarded is required to be brought

within the definition of a child so that the life is ignited to

the   piece   of   legislation.   Learned   counsel   would   submit

that when such a person is incapable of understanding

what   is   happening   to   her,   she   is   equal   to   a   child   and

when such an interpretation is placed, it serves the basic

purpose   of   behind   the   Act   that   the   legislature   has

intended   to   achieve.   It   is   his   further   submission   that

there is a distinction between two terms, namely, “age”

and   “years”,   for   “age”   signifies   mental   or

biological/physical   age   whereas   “years”   refer   to

chronology and hence, it is possible to interpret the word

“age”   in   a   particular   provision   to   mean   mental   age

without   offending   the   term   of   the   word   “year”   which

means year and “year” has been defined in the General

Clauses Act, 1897 as period of 365 days.  He has referred

to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children)

Act, 2015 to highlight that the legislative intention there

is   explicit   with   regard   to   mental   capacity   of   a   person

which   would   have   a   relevant   factor   to   determine   the

forum of trial.   It is further contended by him that if the

trial   is   held   in   case   of   mental   retarded   person   whose

biological age is more than 18 years by the Special Court

as provided under the POCSO Act, the accused is no way

affected because the punishment for the offence remains

the same even if the trial is held by the Court of Session

under the CrPC.   Learned counsel in his written note of

submissions has placed reliance upon Sheikh Gulfan 

others   v.   Sanat   Kumar   Ganguli10,  Yudhishter   v.

Ashok Kumar11, Pratap Singh v. State of Jharkhand

and another12, Directorate of Enforcement v. Deepak

Mahajan and another13.

13. Mr.   Dave,   while   supporting   the   stand   of   Mr.   Dey

has commended us to the decision in Deepak Mahajan


 AIR 1965 SC 1839
 (1987) 1 SCC 204
 (2005) 3 SCC 551
 (1994) 3 SCC 440

14. Mr.   Hegde,   learned   senior   counsel,   who   has   been

engaged by the Court to assist on behalf of respondent

No.   2,   has   referred   to   Article   1   of   the   United   Nations

Convention   on  the   Rights of the Child which  has been

acceded   to   by   India   on   11.12.1992.   Relying   on   the

definition   in   the   Black’s   Law   Dictionary   and   the

Advanced Law Lexicon by P. Ramanatha Aiyar, 3 rd  Edn.

2005 p. 175, learned senior counsel would submit that

there is distinction between mental age and chronological

age. Had it been the intention of the Parliament not to

make such a distinction, it would have included within

the protective ambit of the definition pertaining to adults

whose mental age is less than 18 years.   It is urged by

him that when the language of the dictionary clause is

clear and unambiguous, it should be given its ordinary

literal meaning. It is further argued by him that wherever

the legislature has intended to refer to other definition of

“age” including mental age, it has specifically made like

the   provisions   of   the   Juvenile   Justice   (Care   and

Protection of  Children) Act, 2015 and, therefore, in the

absence   of   a   specific   provision   in   the   POCSO   Act,   the

Court   ought   to   adopt   the   actual   grammatical   meaning

and for the said purpose, he has drawn inspiration from

Bennion   on  Statutory   Interpretation,   5th  Edn.   p.825.

He   would   put   forth   the  stand   that  if  the  term  “age”  is

interpreted   to   mean   “mental   age”,   it   would   lead   to

ambiguity,   chaos   and   unwarranted   delay   in   the

proceedings and also it would have the effect potentiality

to derail the trial and defeat the purpose of the Act, for

the   informant   will   have   the   option   to   venture   on   the

correctness of  the  mental age.   Learned senior counsel

would further urge that various Courts in other parts of

the   world   have   treated   the   child   keeping   in   view   the

chronological   age   unless   the   mental   age   has   been

specifically   considered   for   inclusion   by   the   legislature.

Mr.   Hegde,   in   his   written   notes   of   submission,   has

reproduced   passages   from  R.   v.   Sharpe14  [British

Columbia   Court   of   Appeal],  R   v.   Cockerton15  [Kings

Bench] and Ogg­Moss v. R16 [Supreme Court of Canada].

According   to   him,   when   the   definition   of   “child”   in

 BCCA 1999 416
 [1901] 1 KB 726
 [1984] 2 SCR 173

Section 2(d) is plain and intelligible, the Court ought not

add or read words into the same regard being had to the

pronouncements   in  P.K.   Unni   v.   Nirmala   Industries

and others17 and Lt. Col. Prithi Pal Singh Bedi etc. v.

Union of India and others18.

15. Learned senior counsel would submit that if mental

age   is   read   into   the   definition   of   the   “child”,   it   will   be

against the   manifest intention  of the legislature. As an

instance, he has referred to Section 5(k) of the POCSO

Act which alludes to child’s mental or physical disability

in the  context  of  aggravated penetrated sexual  assault.

He has submitted that if the term “age” is interpreted to

engulf   mental   and   biological   age,   the   scheme   of   the

POCSO   Act   shall   be   defeated   and   it   will   lead   to

inconsistencies. For the said purpose, he has referred to

the   concept   of   “mental   age”   in   respect   of   which   the

scientific views and methods vary. The eventual stand of

the   learned   senior   counsel   is   that   mental   age   with   a

proximate figure can never be constant and is likely to

 (1990) 2 SCC 378
 (1982) 3 SCC 140 : [1983] 1 SCR 393

vary   with   time   and   surrounding   circumstances   and,

therefore,   interpreting   the   word   “age”   falling   under   the

definition   of   “child”   to   include   mental   age   also   would

breach   the   settled   principles   of   criminal   jurisprudence

and usher in uncertainty.

16. Having   noted   the   rivalised   submissions,   I   shall

presently   focus   on   the   preamble,   the   Statement   of

Objects   and   Reasons   and   the   essential   features   of   the

POCSO Act.  The said piece of legislation came into effect

on   19.6.2012   and   has   a   long   Preamble.     The   relevant

parts of the  Statement of Objects and Reasons  of the

POCSO Act are as follows:

“1. …..

2. …..

3. The date collected by the National Crime
Records   Bureau   shows   that   there   has   been
increase   in   cases   of   sexual   offences   against
children.  This is corroborated by the ‘Study on
Child   Abuse:   India   2007’   conducted   by   the
Ministry   of   Women   and   Child   Development.
Moreover, sexual offences against children are
not adequately addressed by the existing laws.
A   large   number   of   such   offences   are   neither
specifically   provided   for   nor   are   they
adequately   penalized.     The   interests   of   the
child,   both   as   a   victim   as   well   as   a   witness,
need   to   be   protected.     It   is   felt   that   offences

against   children   need   to   be   defined   explicitly
and   countered   through   commensurate
penalties as an effective deterrence.
4. It  is,   therefore,   proposed  to  enact   a   self
contained comprehensive legislation inter alia
to  provide  for   protection  of children from the
offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment
and   pornography   with   due   regard   for
safeguarding the interest and well being of the
child   at   every   stage   of   the   judicial   process
incorporating   child­friendly   procedures   for
reporting,   recording   of   evidence,   investigation
and   trial   of   offences   and   provision   for
establishment   of   Special   Courts   for   speedy
trial of such offences.

5. …..

6. …..

7. …..”

17. The Preamble of the POCSO Act reads thus:

“An   Act   to   protect   children   from   offences   of
sexual   assault,   sexual   harassment   and
pornography and provide for establishment of
Special Courts for trial of such offences and for
matters   connected   therewith   or   incidental

WHEREAS   clause   (3)   of   article   15   of   the
Constitution, inter alia, empowers the State to
make special provisions for children;

AND WHEREAS, the Government of India has
acceded   on   the   11th   December,   1992   to   the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted
by   the   General   Assembly   of   the   United
Nations,   which   has   prescribed   a   set   of

standards to be followed by all State parties in
securing the best interests of the child;

AND WHEREAS it is necessary for the proper
development of the child that his or her right
to privacy and confidentiality be protected and
respected   by   every   person   by   all   means   and
through   all   stages   of   a   judicial   process
involving the child;

AND   WHEREAS   it   is   imperative   that   the   law
operates   in   a   manner   that   the   best   interest
and   well   being   of   the   child   are   regarded   as
being of paramount importance at every stage,
to   ensure   the   healthy   physical,   emotional,
intellectual   and   social   development   of   the

AND   WHEREAS   the   State   parties   to   the
Convention   on   the   Rights   of   the   Child   are
required to undertake all appropriate national,
bilateral   and   multilateral   measures   to
prevent – 

a.   the   inducement   or   coercion   of   a   child   to
engage in any unlawful sexual activity; 

b.   the   exploitative   use   of   children   in
prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;

c.   the   exploitative   use   of   children   in
pornographic performances and materials;

AND WHEREAS sexual exploitation and sexual
abuse of children are heinous crimes and need
to be effectively addressed”.

18. The purpose of referring to the Statement of Objects

and Reasons and the Preamble of the POCSO Act is to

appreciate that the very purpose of bringing a legislation

of the present nature is to protect the children from the

sexual   assault,   harassment   and   exploitation,   and   to

secure   the   best   interest   of   the  child.     On   an   avid  and

diligent discernment of the preamble, it is manifest that

it   recognizes   the   necessity   of   the   right   to   privacy   and

confidentiality of a child to be protected and respected by

every   person   by   all   means  and  through   all  stages  of  a

judicial   process   involving   the   child.     Best   interest   and

well   being   are   regarded   as   being   of   paramount

importance at every stage to ensure the healthy physical,

emotional,   intellectual   and   social   development   of   the

child.  There is also a stipulation that sexual exploitation

and  sexual abuse are heinous offences and need to be

effectively   addressed.     The   statement   of   objects   and

reasons provides regard being had to the constitutional

mandate,   to   direct  its policy  towards securing  that  the

tender age of children is not abused and their childhood

is   protected   against   exploitation   and   they   are   given

facilities   to   develop   in   a   healthy   manner   and   in

conditions   of   freedom   and   dignity.     There   is   also   a

mention   which   is   quite   significant   that   interest   of   the

child, both as a victim as well as a witness, needs to be

protected.   The   stress   is   on   providing   child­friendly

procedure.   Dignity   of   the   child   has  been   laid   immense

emphasis   in   the   scheme   of   legislation.     Protection   and

interest   occupy   the   seminal   place   in   the   text   of   the


19. Having   analysed   the   Statement   of   Objects   and

Reasons   and   the   Preamble   of   the   POCSO   Act,   it   is

necessary   to   appreciate   what   precisely   the   POCSO   Act


20. Chapter   II   of   the   POCSO   Act   deals   with   sexual

offences   against   children.   Part   A   of   the   said   Chapter

provides for penetrative sexual assault and punishment

therefor.   Section   3   stipulates   what   is   the   penetrative

sexual   assault   and   Section   4   provides   punishment   for

such   offence.   Part   B   of   the   said   Chapter   deals   with

aggravated   penetrative   sexual   assault   and   punishment

therefor.   Section   5   copiously   deals   with   what   can

constitute   aggravated   penetration   sexual   assault.     It   is

extremely   significant   to   note   that   Section   5(a)

enumerates number of circumstances where the offence

becomes aggravated one.  It includes in its ambit various

situations   and   also   certain   categories   of   persons.   The

provision   is   quite   elaborate.   Section   5(k)   to   which   my

attention has been drawn reads thus:  

“(k) whoever, taking advantage of a child’s mental
or physical disability, commits penetrative sexual
assault on the child;” 

The aforesaid provision, as is evident, lays stress on

the mental disability of the child. 

21. Part C of Chapter II deals with sexual assault and

punishment   therefor.   Section   7   lays   down   about   the

sexual   assault.   Part   D   deals   with   aggravated   sexual

assault   and   punishment   therefor.   Section   9   deals   with

aggravated   sexual   assault   which   is   akin   to   Section   5.

Part   E   deals   with   sexual   harassment   and   punishment

therefor.   The   said   harassment   lays   down   various   acts

which will amount to sexual harassment. 

22. On a reading of the aforesaid Chapters, it is quite

manifest and limpid that the legislature has intended to

protect   the   child   from   any   kind   of   sexual   assault   and

harassment.  It has also laid stress upon the mental and

physical   disability   of   the   child.     The   child,   as   per   the

definition,   is   the   principal   protagonist   and   the   POCSO

Act protects the child from any sexual act and also takes

into   consideration   his   mental   disability.   Thus,   the

legislature was alive to the condition of mental disability.

Chapter III of the POCSO Act deals with using child for

pornographic   purposes   and   punishment   therefor.

Chapter   IV   deals   with   abetment   of   and   attempt   to

commit an offence.  Chapter V deals with the procedure

for   reporting   of   cases   and   Chapter   VI   provides   for

procedure for recording statement of the child.  Sections

24   to   27,   which   have   been   pressed   into   service   by

Ms.   Bhati,   relate   to   recording   of   statement   of   a   child;

recording   of   statement   of   a   child   by   Magistrate;

additional provisions regarding statement to be recorded

and medical examination of a child. 

23. Section 27 stipulates that medical examination of a

child in respect of whom any offence has been committed

under   the   Act   is   to   be   conducted   in   accordance   with

Section 164A of the CrPC.   It is also significant to note

that   the   said   examination   has   to   be   done

notwithstanding   an   FIR   or   complaint   has   not   been

registered for the offences under the POCSO Act.  I shall

refer to Section 164A CrPC at a later stage.  Section 28 of

the   POCSO   Act  deals  with   Special  Courts.    Section  31

provides   that   the   CrPC   shall   apply   to   the   proceedings

before   a   Special   Court.     Section   32   requires   the   State

Government   to   appoint   a   Special   Public   Prosecutor   for

every Special Court for conducting the cases under the

provisions of the POCSO Act. Chapter VIII deals with the

procedure   and   powers   of   the   Special   Courts   and

recording of evidence.   Section 35 provides for a period

for  recording  of  evidence of child and disposal  of case.

Section   36   stipulates   that   child   should   not   see   the

accused   at   the   time   of   testifying.     The   said   provision

protects the child and casts an obligation on the Special

Court to see that the child, in no way, is exposed to the

accused at the time of recording of evidence.   Recording

of the statement of a child is through video conferencing

or by utilizing single visibility mirrors or curtains or any

other device is permissible.   This provision has its own

sanctity.  Section 37 deals with trials to be conducted in

camera   and   Section   38   provides   assistance   of   an

interpreter or expert while recording evidence of a child.

Section 42A lays the postulate that POCSO Act is not in

derogation of the provisions of any other law.  

24. Section   45   empowers   the   Central   Government   to

make rules for carrying out the purposes of the POCSO

Act.   In exercise of powers conferred under Section 45, a

set   of   rules,   namely,   the   Protection   of   Children   from

Sexual   Offences   Rules,   2012   (‘2012   Rules’)   has   been

framed   and   the   said   Rules   have   come   into   force   on

14.11.2012. Rule 7 which deals with compensation reads

as under:

“7.  Compensation  ­  (1)   The   Special   Court
may, in appropriate cases, on its own or on an
application filed by or on behalf of the child,
pass   an   order   for   interim   compensation   to
meet the immediate needs of the child for relief
or rehabilitation at any stage after registration
of the First Information Report. Such interim
compensation   paid   to   the   child   shall   be
adjusted   against   the   final   compensation,   if

(2)   The Special Court may, on its own or on
an   application   filed   by   or   on   behalf   of   the
victim, recommend the award of compensation
where the accused is convicted, or where the
case   ends   in   acquittal   or   discharge,   or   the
accused is not traced or identified, and in the

opinion   of   the   Special   Court   the   child   has
suffered   loss   or   injury   as   a   result   of   that

(3) Where the Special Court, under sub­section
(8)   of   section   33   of   the   Act   read   with   sub­
sections (2) and (3) of section 357A of the Code
of   Criminal   Procedure,   makes   a   direction   for
the   award   of   compensation   to   the   victim,   it
shall   take   into   account   all   relevant   factors
relating   to   the   loss   or   injury   caused   to   the
victim, including the following:­ 
(i)  type of abuse, gravity of the offence and the
severity   of   the   mental   or   physical   harm   or
injury suffered by the child; 

(ii)  the   expenditure   incurred   or   likely   to   be
incurred on his medical treatment for physical
and/or mental health; 

(iii)  loss   of   educational   opportunity   as   a
consequence of the offence, including absence
from   school   due   to   mental   trauma,   bodily
injury,   medical   treatment,   investigation   and
trial of the offence, or any other reason; 

(iv)   loss   of   employment   as   a   result   of   the
offence,   including   absence   from   place   of
employment   due   to   mental   trauma,   bodily
injury,   medical   treatment,   investigation   and
trial of the offence, or any other reason; 

(v)     the   relationship   of   the   child   to   the
offender, if any; 

(vi)   whether  the abuse was a single isolated
incidence or whether the abuse took place over
a period of time; 

(vii)   whether the child became pregnant as a
result of the offence; 

(viii)  whether   the   child   contracted   a   sexually
transmitted   disease   (STD)   as   a   result   of  the

(ix)  whether   the   child   contracted   human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as a result of the

(x)   any   disability   suffered   by   the   child   as   a
result of the offence; 

(xi)   financial   condition   of   the   child   against
whom the offence has been committed so as to
determine his need for rehabilitation; 

(xii)  any   other   factor   that   the   Special   Court
may consider to be relevant. 

(4)  The compensation awarded by the Special
Court is to be paid by the State Government
from the Victims Compensation Fund or other
scheme   or   fund   established   by  it  for   the
purposes   of   compensating   and   rehabilitating
victims   under   section   357A   of   the   Code   of
Criminal Procedure or any other laws for the
time   being   in   force,   or,   where   such   fund   or
scheme   does   not   exist,   by   the   State

(5)  The   State   Government   shall   pay   the
compensation   ordered   by   the   Special   Court
within 30 days of receipt of such order. 
(6)  Nothing in these rules shall prevent a child
or his parent or guardian or any other person
in   whom   the   child   has   trust   and   confidence
from   submitting   an   application   for   seeking

relief under any other rules or scheme of the
Central Government or State Government.”

25. I   have   extracted   the   relevant   provisions   of   the

POCSO Act and referred to the schematic content in its

perspective   context.     The   enthusiastic   submissions   of

Ms.   Bhati  and   the   submission advanced in support by

Mr.   Dey   are   meant   to   urge   the   Court   to   adopt   the

purposive approach regard being had to the centripodal

interest   of   the   “child”   that   can,   in   its   connotative

contextual   expanse,   include   a   person   who   has   not

mentally grown in age, though may have felt the sketchy

shadow of biological years.   Their accent is not only on

the provisions of the Act but also on the methodology of

computation under the POCSO Act. 

26. Presently,   I   shall   refer   to   certain   authorities   as

regards   the   purposive  interpretations   and   its   contours,

for   learned   counsel   for   the   appellant   would   like   us   to

perceive the provision through the said magnified glass

using   different   lens.   In  Cabell   v.   Markhan19  Learned

 148 F 2d 737 (2d Cir 1945)

Hand,   J.   articulated   the   merits   of   purposive


“Of course it is true that the words used, even
in   their   literal   sense,   are   the   primary,   and
ordinarily   the   most   reliable,   source   of
interpreting the meaning of any writing: be it a
statute, a contract, or anything else. But it is
one   of   the   surest   indexes   of   a   mature   and
developed jurisprudence not to make a fortress
out   of   the   dictionary;   but   to   remember   that
statutes  always have some purpose or object
to   accomplish,   whose   sympathetic   and
imaginative   discovery   is   the   surest   guide   to
their meaning.”

27.  The   House   of   Lords   in  Regina   (Quintavalle)   v.

Secretary of State for Health20 observed:

“The pendulum has swung towards purposive
methods of construction. This change was not
initiated   by   the   teleological   approach   of
European Community jurisprudence, and the
influence of European legal culture generally,
but it has been accelerated by European ideas:
see, however, a classic early statement of the
purposive   approach   by   Lord   Blackburn   in
River   Wear   Commissioners   v.   Adamson21.   In
any   event,   nowadays   the   shift   towards
purposive   interpretation  is  not  in  doubt. The
qualification   is   that   the   degree   of   liberality
permitted   is   influenced   by   the   context,   e.g.
social welfare legislation and tax statutes may
have   to   be   approached   somewhat   differently.

  [2003] UKHL 13 : [2003] 2 AC 687 : [2003] 2 WLR 692 (HL)
 (1877) LR 2 AC 743 at p. 763 (HL)

28.  The   above   expansion   of   purposive   interpretation

has been approvingly quoted by the majority in Abhiram

Singh   v.   C.D.   Commachen   (dead)   by   legal

representatives  and  others22  and that is why  Section

123(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 has

been   construed   keeping   in   view   electorate­centric

interpretation   rather   than   candidate­centric   one.   The

submission   is   that   the   purposive   interpretation   has

become the elan vital of statutory interpretation because

of progressive social climate and Judges’ statesmanship.

Krishna Iyer, J., in his inimitable style, had said “when

legislative purpose or intention is lost, then the process

of interpretation is like to adorn the skin, and to miss the

soul”.   A court has to be progressive in its thought and

should   follow   the   path   of   construction   that

comprehensively   meets   the   legislative   intention.     If   a

Judge gets stuck with the idea that construction is the

safest,   the   enactment   is   not   fructified,   the   purpose   is

missed and the soul is dismissed. A narrow construction

 (2017) 2 SCC 629

of a concept invites a hazard whereas a broad exposition

enlarges the sweep and achieves the statutory purpose.

These are certain abstractions.  It will apply in a different

manner   in   different   statutes,   like   tax   law,   penal   law,

social   welfare   legislation,   excise   law,   election   law,   etc.

That apart, the law intends to remedy a mischief.  It also

sets goal and has a remedial intent. It also states certain

things which clearly mean what has been said.   In that

case, there is no room for the Judge and solely because

he is a constructionist Judge, cannot possess such tool

to fly in the realm of fanciful area and confer a different

meaning.   His   ability   to   create   in   the   name   of   judicial

statesmanship   is   not   limitless.   It   has   boundaries.   He

cannot afford to romance all the time with the science of

interpretation.   Keeping   these   aspects   in   mind,   I   shall

presently   refer   to   some   authorities   where   purposive

construction   has   been   adopted   and   where   it   has   not

been taken recourse to and the cardinal principle for the


29. In  Gurmej   Singh   v.   Pratap   Singh   Kairon23,   the

Constitution   Bench   was   dealing   with   the   true

construction   of   Section  123(7)  of   the  Representation   of

the People Act, 1951. The question that arose before the

Constitution Bench was whether a Lambardar, a person

in   the   service   of   Government   or   covered   by   any   of   the

clauses of Section 123(7) of the 1951 Act.   The Election

Tribunal had held that Lambardar was a revenue officer.

The High Court set at naught the finding recorded by the

Election   Tribunal   by   opining   that   Lambardars   though

appointed   by   the   Government   for   the   purpose   of

collecting   the   land   revenue   and   receiving   a   statutory

percentage   of   the   sums   realized   by   them   as   their

remuneration for so doing, yet they were included along

with village accountants who are called Patwaris in State

and hence, they are clearly excluded by the provisions of

clause   (f).     It   was   contended   before   this   Court   that

Lambardar   is   a   revenue   officer   and   village   accountant

within   the   meaning   of   clause   (f)   of   sub­section   (7)   of

Section   123   of   the   1951   Act.     While   dealing   with   the

  AIR 1960 SC 122

submission, the Court held that it is an elementary rule

that   construction   of   a   section   is   to   be   made   of   all   the

parts together and not of one part only by itself and that

phrases   are   to   be   construed   according   to   the   rules   of

grammar.  Proceeding further, the Court observed that:

“The   words   “revenue   officers”,   in   whatever
sense   they   are   used,   cannot   obviously
comprehend   officers   who   are   not   revenue
officers,   and   in   that   situation   there   is   no
necessity   to   exclude   such   officers   from   the
group   of   revenue   officers.   The   Legislative
device of exclusion is adopted only to exclude
a   part   from   the   whole,   which,   but   for   the
exclusion,   continues   to   be   part   of   it.   This
interpretation   must be rejected as it involves
the   recognition   of   words   which   are

The aforesaid analysis clearly shows that a section

has to be construed in entirety and not of one part only

and   further   there   should   be   no   attempt   to   recognize

words which are surplusage. 

30. In  State   of   Himachal   Pradesh     another   v.

Kailash Chand Mahajan  others24, the Court referred

to   a   passage   from   Francis   Bennion’s  Statutory

Interpretation  (1984   edn.)   which   illustrates   the
  1992 Supp. (2) SCC 351

distinction   between   the   legislative   intention   and   the

purpose   or   object   of   the   legislation.     The   said   passage

reads as follows:

“The distinction between the purpose or object
of   an  enactment  and the legislative intention
governing   it  is   that   the  former   relates  to   the
mischief   to   which   the   enactment   is   directed
and its remedy, while the latter relates to the
legal meaning of the enactment.”

31. After   reproducing   the   same,   the   Court   observed

that there  is a great distinction between the two. While

the   object   of   legislation   is   to   provide   a   remedy   for   the

malady, on the contrary, the legislative intention relates

to   the   meaning   from   the   exposition   of   the   remedy   as

enacted. The Court further ruled that for determining the

purpose of legislation,   it is permissible to look into the

circumstances  which  were prevalent at that time when

the law was enacted and which necessitated the passing

of   that   enactment   and   for   the   limited   purpose   of

appreciating the background and the antecedent factual

matrix leading to the legislation, it is open to the court to

look into the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ of the

Bill   which   accentuated   the   statement   to   provide   a

remedy for the then existing malady.  

32. It   is   worthy   to   state   here   that   where   a   purposive

construction   is   conceived   of   or   the   said   principle   is

sought to be applied, the context becomes an important

and influential aspect and when one tries to understand

the legislative intention, the meaning from the exposition

of the purpose or the effort to have the remedy through

the enactment has to be appositely perceived. 

33. In  R.M.D.   Chamarbaugwalla   and   another   v.

Union of India and another25,  Sections 4 and 5 of the

Prize   Competitions   Act   (42   of   1955)   were   impugned   as

unconstitutional.     The object  of the  said legislation,  as

stated   in   the   preamble   was   “to   provide   for   the   control

and regulation of prize competitions.”  Section 2(d) of the

said   Act   defined   “prize   competition”   as   meaning   “any

competition   (whether   called   a   cross­word   prize

competition, a missing­word prize competition, a picture

prize competition or by any other name), in which prizes

are offered for the solution of any puzzle based upon the

 AIR 1957 SC 628

building up, arrangement, combination or permutation of

letters,   words   or   figures.”   The   question   arose   whether

that   applies   to   prize   competition   in   which   success

depends   on   a   substantial   degree   of   skill.       It   was

contended before the Court that the language employed

in Section 2(d) being clear and unambiguous, it was not

open to the Court to read into any limitations which are

not   there   by   reference   to   other   and   extraneous

considerations.     Dealing   with   the   same,   the   Court

observed   that   when   a   question   arises   as   to   the

interpretation to be put on an enactment, what the Court

has to do is to ascertain “the intent of them that make

it”, and that must, of course, be gathered from the words

actually   used   in   the   statute.   That,   however,   does   not

mean   that   the   decision   should   rest   on   a   literal

interpretation of the words used in disregard of all other

materials.   The   Court   further   opined   that   “The   literal

construction   then”,   says   Maxwell   on  Interpretation   of

Statutes, 10th Edn., p. 19, “has, in general, but  prima

facie  preference.   To   arrive   at   the   real   meaning,   it   is

always necessary to get an exact conception of the aim,

scope and object of the whole Act; to consider, according

to Lord Coke: (1) What was the law before the Act was

passed; (2) What was the mischief or defect for which the

law had not provided; (3) What remedy Parliament has

appointed; and (4) The reason of the remedy”.  Turning to

the   history   of   the   legislation,   various   provisions   of   the

said Act and doctrine of severability, the Court came to

hold that it will not be questioned that competitions in

which success depends to a substantial extent on skill

and competitions in which it does not so depend, form

two   distinct   and   separate   categories.   The   difference

between the two classes of competitions is as clear­cut as

that   between  commercial and  wagering  contracts.   The

Court   further   held   that   whether   the   Parliament   would

have enacted the law in question if it had known that it

would fail as regards competitions involving skill, there

can   be   no   doubt,   having   regard   to   the   history   of   the

legislation,  as  to what  gives the answer.   Nor  does the

restriction of the impugned provisions to competitions of

a   gambling   character   affect   either   the   texture   or   the

colour   of   the   Act;   nor   do   the   provisions   require   to   be

touched   and   re­written before they  could be applied to

them.   They   will   squarely   apply   to   them   on   their   own

terms and in their true spirit, and form a code complete

in   themselves   with   reference   to   the   subject.   The

conclusion, the Court said, was that it was inescapable

that the impugned provisions, assuming that they apply

by virtue of the definition in Section 2(d) to all kinds of

competitions,   were   severable   in   their   application   to

competitions in which success did not depend upon any

substantial extent on skill. 

34. The aforesaid authority has identified two clear cut

classes of prize competitions and ultimately applied the

doctrine of severance.  The Court was not persuaded by

the   laudable   object   that   the   Parliament   intended   to

control and regulate the prize competition but keeping in

view   all   the   factors   that   can  legitimately   be   taken   into

account, interpreted the provision.  Thus, the Court was

cautious and only tried to take into account what could

legitimately be taken into consideration. 

35.  In  Commissioner   of   Income­tax,   Madhya

Pradesh v. Shrimati Sodra Devi26 the Court ruled that

unless there is any such ambiguity it would not be open

to   the   Court   to   depart   from   the   normal   rule   of

construction which is that the intention of the legislature

should be primarily gathered from the words which are

used. 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.   For the said purpose, the Court

referred   to   the   view   of   Lord   Ashbourne   in  Nairn  v.

University of St. Andrews27. 

36. In the said case, the Court referred to the objects

and reasons of the Income­Tax Act, 1922 and turned to

Section   16(3)   to   understand   the   intention   of   the

legislature and stated thus: 

“27. … If this background of the enactment of
Section   16(3)   is   borne   in   mind,   there   is   no
room   for   any   doubt   that   howsoever   that
mischief   was   sought   to   be   remedied   by   the
amending   act,   the   only   intention   of   the
Legislature   in   doing   so   was   to   include   the
 AIR 1957 SC 832
 1909 AC 147

income derived by the wife or a minor child, in
the   computation   of   the   total   income   of   the
male assessee, the husband or the father, as
the   case   may   be,   for   the   purpose   of

  If that was the position, howsoever wide
the words “any individual” or “such individual”
as used in Section 16(3) and Section 16(3)(a)
may appear to be so as to include within their
connotation the male as well as the female of
the species taken by themselves, these words
in the context could only have been meant as
restricted   to   the   male   and   not   including   the
female of the species. If these words are used
as referring only to the male of the species the
whole   of   the   Section   16(3)(a)   can   be   read
harmoniously   in   the   manner   above
comprehending   within   its   scope   all   the   four
cases specified in sub­clauses (i) to (iv) thereof
and so also Section 16(3)(b).

   We   are   therefore   of   opinion   that   the
words   “any   individual”   and   “such   individual”
occurring in Section 16(3) and Section 16(3)(a)
of the Act are restricted in their connotation to
mean only the male of the species, and do not
include the female of the species, even though
by a disjunctive reading of the expression “the
wife” or “a minor child” of “such individual” in
Section   16(3)(a)  and  the   expression  “by   such
individual”   for   the   benefit   of   his   wife   or   a
minor child or both in Section 16(3)(b), it may
be possible in the particular instances of the
mothers   being   connected   with   the   minor
children   in   the   manner   suggested   by   the
Revenue   to   include   the   mothers   also   within
the   connotation   of   these   words.   Such
inclusion   which   involves   different
interpretations of the words “any individual” or

“such   individual”   in   the   different   contexts
could   never   have   been   intended   by   the
legislature and would in any event involve the
addition   of   the   words   “as   the   case   may   be”
which addition is not normally permissible in
the interpretation of a statute.”
37. Though the   case related to  the interpretation  of a

taxing statute and not a social welfare legislation, yet the

Court kept in view the surrounding circumstances and

the reasons that led to the passing of the legislation and

further opined that the meaning sought to be placed by

the revenue could not be conceived of without addition of

words which is not normally permissible in the statute. It

had   also   ruled   that   the   Court   should   avoid   bringing   a

particular   category  within  the expansive connotation  of

the words used.

38. In  Sheikh Gulfan  (supra), the controversy related

to   construction   of   Section   30(c)   of   the   Calcutta   Thika

Tenancy Act, 1949.  I need not state the facts of the case.

Section 30(c) of the said Act read as follows: 

“Section   30:   Nothing   in   this   Act   shall   apply
to —
x x x x 

(c) any land which is required for carrying out
any   of   the   provisions   of   the   Calcutta
Improvement Act, 1911.”

39. While   interpreting   the   said   provision,   the   Court

observed that the words used in the statute were simple,

but their construction was not easy and in that context,

it held, on a careful consideration and scrutiny of Section

30(c), the inevitable conclusion was that the words used

in   Section   30(c)   did   not   justify   the   conclusion   that   a

private   landholder   was   intended   to   be   equated   with

Government   or   with   the   other   special   bodies   or

authorities   whose   lands   were   exempted   from   the

operation   of   the  Act by  Section 30.   The Court further

ruled   that   the   legislature   never   intended   that   the

provisions of the Act should cease to apply to all lands

which   were   comprised   in   the   scheme,   because   such   a

provision   would   appear   to   be   inconsistent   with   the

categories   of   cases   covered   by   clauses   (a)   and   (b)   of

Section 41.   Addressing on the issue of the intention of

the legislature in enacting Section 30(c), the Court held

that   it  would   have   been easy  for  the  legislature to  say

that   lands   comprised   in   the   improvement   schemes

should   be   exempted   from   the   application   of   the   Act.

Section   30   had   provided   for   an   exception   to   the

application of the beneficent provisions of the Act and it

would not be unreasonable to hold that even if Section

30(c)   was   reasonably   capable   of   the   construction,   the

Court should prefer the alternative construction which is

also   reasonably   possible.   In   construing   the   provisions

which   provide   for   exceptions   to   the   applicability   of

beneficent legislation, if two constructions are reasonably

possible, the Court would be justified in preferring that

construction   which   helps   to   carry   out   the   beneficent

purpose of the Act and does not unduly expand the area

or the scope of the exception.  

40.   On a proper analysis of the aforesaid authority, it

is   clear   as   crystal   that   when   two   constructions   are

reasonably possible, preference should go to one which

helps to carry out the beneficent purpose of the Act; and

that   apart,   the   said   interpretation   should   not   unduly

expand the scope of a provision.  Thus, the Court has to

be   careful   and   cautious   while   adopting   an   alternative

reasonable   interpretation.   The   acceptability   of   the

alternative reasonable construction should be within the

permissible ambit of the Act.  To elaborate, introduction

of   theory   of   balance   cannot   be   on   thin   air   and   in   any

case, the Courts, bent with the idea to engulf a concept

within   the   statutory   parameters,   should   not   pave   the

path   of   expansion   that   the   provision   by   so   stretch   of

examination envisages. 

41. In  Pratap   Singh  (supra),   the   Constitution   Bench

was   required   to   resolve   the   conflicting   views   between

Arnit Das v. State of Bihar28  and  Umesh Chandra v.

State   of   Rajasthan29  and   in   that   context,   the   issue

before   the   larger   Bench   was   whether   the   date   of

occurrence will be the reckoning date for determining the

age of the alleged offender as juvenile offender or the date

when  he   is   produced in  the court/competent authority

under   the   Juvenile   Justice   Act,   1986.     The   Court

adverted   to   Section   2   of   the   said   Act   that   dealt   with

presumption   and   determination  of  age,  and Section   32

 (2000) 5 SCC 488 
 (1982) 2 SCC 202

that   provided   presumption   and   determination   of   age.

Referring to the said Section, it was contended that the

word “is” used in two places of the Section and that the

word   “is”   suggests   that   for   determination   of   age   of

juvenile the date of production would be the reckoning

date as the inquiry with regard to his age begins from the

date he  is brought before the court and not otherwise.

The Court held that the word “is” employed in Section 32

is referable to a juvenile who is said to have committed

an offence on the date of the occurrence.  To arrive at the

said   conclusion,   the   Court   ruled   that  the   legislative

intendment underlying Sections 3 and 26 read with the

preamble,   aims   and   objects   of   the   Act   is   clearly

discernible   and   a   conjoint   reading   of   the   sections,

preamble, aims and objects of the Act leaves no manner

of   doubt   that   the   legislature   intended   to   provide

protection, treatment, development and rehabilitation of

neglected   or   delinquent   juveniles   and   for   the

adjudication thereof.  It further proceeded to say that the

whole   object   of   the   Act   is   to   provide   for   the   care,

protection, treatment, development and rehabilitation of

juveniles and the Act being a benevolent legislation, an

interpretation   must   be   given   which   would   advance   the

cause   of   the   legislation,   that   is,   to   give   benefit   to   the


42. This   decision   has   to   be   carefully   understood.     It

dissected   the   provision   from   which   it   was   discernible

that the age of the juvenile is the date of occurrence and

the   said   construction   is   in   consonance   with   the

legislative   objective.   There   is   neither   abnormally

stretched interpretation nor the subject of the Act is read

out of context.   Thus, the context and the exposition of

intention  of   words   in  the  schematic backdrop  struck a

harmonious bond.

43.  In  Shankar   Kisanrao   Khade   v.   State   of

Maharashtra30, the Court, taking into consideration the

conduct   of   the   police   for   not   registering   a   case   under

Section   377   IPC   against   the   accused,   the   agony

undergone   by   a   child   of   11   years   with   moderate

intellectual   disability,   non­reporting   of   offence   of   rape

committed   on   her   after   having   witnessed   the   incident

 (2013) 5 SCC 546

either to the local police or to the Juvenile Justice Board,

gave   certain   directions   for   compliance   in   future   which

are necessary to protect the children from such sexual

abuses.   The   Court   ruled   that   it   has   a   duty   to   do   so

because the Court has guardianship over minor children,

especially with regard to the children having intellectual

disability, since they are suffering from legal disability.  

44. I   may   hasten   to   state   here   that   observations   and

directions given in the said case are absolutely within the

permissible limits of  Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 and as

well   as   CrPC.     Accentuation   on   duty   and   role   of   the

Court in the said case do not throw any laser beam or

show the guiding principle for interpreting the definition

of the word “child” as used in Section 2(d) of the POCSO


45.  In  Chandra   Mohan   v.   State   of   Uttar   Pradesh

and   others31,   Subba   Rao,   CJ,   while   speaking   for   the

Bench,   had   a   pragmatic   approach.   The   learned   Chief

Justice held that if  two constructions are possible then

the Court must adopt that which will ensure smooth and

 AIR 1966 SC 1987

harmonious working of the Constitution and eschew the

other which will lead to absurdity or give rise to practical

inconvenience   or   make   well   established   provisions   of

existing law nugatory. I have referred to this decision as

it used the words, “give rise to practical inconvenience”. 

46.  In Deepak Mahajan (supra), the Court referred to a

passage   from   Maxwell   on   Interpretation   of   Statutes,

Tenth Edn., at p. 229 which is extracted below:

“Where   the   language   of   a   statute,   in   its
ordinary   meaning   and   grammatical
construction, leads to a manifest contradiction
of the apparent purpose of the enactment, or
to some inconvenience or absurdity, hardship
or   injustice,   presumably   not   intended,   a
construction   may   be   put   upon   it   which
modifies the meaning of the words, and even
the   structure   of   the   sentence.   …   Where   the
main   object   and   intention   of   a   statute   are
clear,  it  must  not be reduced to a nullity  by
the draftsman’s unskilfulness or ignorance of
the law, except in a case of necessity, or the
absolute intractability of the language used.”

47. The  Court also referred to  various other  decisions

and finally ruled that it is permissible for courts to have

functional   approaches   and   look   into   the   legislative

intention and sometimes it may be even necessary to go

behind the words and enactment and take other factors

into   consideration   to   give   effect   to   the   legislative

intention and to the purpose and spirit of the enactment

so   that   no   absurdity   or   practical   inconvenience   may

result   and   the   legislative   exercise   and   its   scope   and

object may not become futile.

48. As   the   aforesaid   statement   would   show   that   the

Court has been inclined to adopt a functional approach

to   arrive   at   the   legislative   intention.     Needless   to

emphasise, there has to be a necessity to do so. 

49.    In  Reserve   Bank   of   India   v.   Peerless   General

Finance   and   Investment   Co.   Ltd.     others32,

Chinnappa Reddy, J., emphasizing on the importance of

the text and context in which every word is used in the

matter of interpretation of statutes, opined:  

“Interpretation   must   depend   on   the   text   and
the   context.   They   are   the   bases   of
interpretation. One may well say if the text is
the texture, context is what gives the colour.
Neither   can   be   ignored.   Both   are   important.
That   interpretation   is   best   which   makes   the
textual interpretation match the contextual. A
statute is best interpreted when we know why
it   was   enacted.   With   this   knowledge,   the
statute must be read, first as a whole and then
section by section, clause by clause, phrase by
 (1987) 1 SCC 424

phrase   and   word   by   word.   If   a   statute   is
looked at, in the context of its enactment, with
the glasses of the statute­maker, provided by
such   context,   its   scheme,   the   sections,
clauses,   phrases  and   words  may   take  colour
and appear different than when the statute is
looked at without the glasses provided by the
context.   With   these   glasses   we   must   look   at
the   Act   as   a   whole   and   discover   what   each
section,   each   clause,   each   phrase   and   each
word   is   meant   and   designed   to   say   as   to   fit
into the scheme of the entire Act. No part of a
statute   and   no   word   of   a   statute   can   be
construed   in   isolation.   Statutes   have   to   be
construed so that every word has a place and
everything is in its place.”
  The aforesaid passage by Chinnappa Reddy, J. had

been referred to and placed reliance upon to appreciate

the   context   and   the   purpose   regard   being   had   to   the

nature   of   the   text.     The   learned   Judge   has   also

emphasized   that   no   words   of   a   statute   should   be

construed in isolation.

50.  In  Union of India v. Elphinstone Spinning and

Weaving Co. Ltd. and others33, the Constitution Bench,

while dealing with the concept of interpretation and the

duty   of   the   Judge,   opined   that   while  examining   a

particular statute for finding out the legislative intent it

 (2001) 4 SCC 139

is   the   attitude   of   Judges   in   arriving   at   a   solution   by

striking   a   balance   between   the   letter   and   spirit   of   the

statute without acknowledging that they have in any way

supplement the statute would be the proper criteria. The

duty   of   Judges   is   to   expound  and   not  to  legislate  is  a

fundamental rule. There is, no doubt, a marginal area in

which the courts mould or creatively interpret legislation

and   they   are   thus   finishers,   refiners   and   polishers   of

legislation   which   comes   to   them   in   a   state   requiring

varying degrees of further processing. Reference in this

context was made to  Corocraft Ltd. v. Pan American

Airways   Inc.34 and  State   of   Haryana     others   v.

Sampuran   Singh    others35.   The   Court   further

observed   that   by   no   stretch   of   imagination   a   Judge   is

entitled to add something more than what is there in the

statute by way of a supposed intention of the legislature.

The cardinal principle of construction of statute is that

the true or legal meaning of an enactment is derived by

considering   the   meaning   of   the   words   used   in   the

enactment   in   the   light   of   any   discernible   purpose   or
 (1968) 3 WLR 714, p.732,
 (1975) 2 SCC 810

object which comprehends the mischief and its remedy

to   which   the   enactment   is   directed.  In   the   said   case,

dwelling upon the concept of context, the larger Bench

opined that the context means; the statute as a whole,

the previous state of law, other statutes in  pari materia,

the general scope of the statute and the mischief that it

was   intended   to   remedy. It was further  ruled that  long

title   which   precedes   is   a   part   of   an   Act   itself   and   is

admissible as an aid to its construction. That apart, the

preamble   of   an   Act,   no   doubt,   can   also   be   read   along

with other provisions of the Act to find out the meaning

of   the   words   in   enacting   provisions   to   decide   whether

they  are  clear   or  ambiguous but the preamble in itself

not being an enacting provision is not of the same weight

as an aid to construction of a Section of the Act as are

other relevant enacting words to be found elsewhere in

the   Act.   The   utility   of   the   preamble   diminishes   on   a

conclusion   as   to   clarity   of   enacting   provisions.   It   is

therefore said that the preamble is not to influence the

meaning   otherwise   ascribable   to   the   enacting   parts

unless there is a compelling reason for it.   

51. In Central Bank of India v. State of Kerala and

others36,   the   three­Judge   Bench,   speaking   through

Singhvi,   J.,   quoted   Professor   H.A.   Smith   as   has   been

quoted by Justice G.P. Singh in his book  Principles of

Statutory   Interpretation.   The   said   passage   is

reproduced below: 

“‘No word’, says Professor H.A. Smith ‘has an
absolute meaning, for no words can be defined
in   vacuo,   or   without   reference   to   some
context’.   According   to   Sutherland   there   is   a
‘basic   fallacy’   in   saying   ‘that   words   have
meaning in and of themselves’, and ‘reference
to   the   abstract   meaning   of   words’,   states
Craies, ‘if there be any such thing, is of little
value   in   interpreting   statutes’.   …   in
determining   the   meaning   of   any   word   or
phrase   in   a   statute   the   first   question   to   be
asked   is   —   ‘What   is   the   natural   or   ordinary
meaning of that word or phrase in its context
in the  statute?  It is only  when that  meaning
leads to some result which cannot reasonably
be supposed to have been the intention of the
legislature, that it is proper to look for some
other possible meaning of the word or phrase.’
The   context,   as   already   seen,   in   the
construction of statutes, means the statute as
a  whole,   the   previous  state  of  the  law,  other
statutes in pari materia, the general scope of
the   statute   and   the   mischief   that   it   was
intended to remedy.”

 (2009) 4 SCC 94

52. The   Court  thereafter  referred to  the authorities  in

Poppatlal   Shah   v.   State   of   Madras37  and  Peerless

General Finance and Investment Co. Ltd. (supra) and

quoted   observations  of   Lord  Steyn   in  R   (Westminister

City Council) v. National Asylum Support Service38. I

think it apposite to reproduce the same:

“5. … The starting point is that language in all
legal  texts   conveys  meaning  according  to  the
circumstances in which it was used. It follows
that the context must always be identified and
considered before the process of construction
or during it. It is, therefore, wrong to say that
the   court   may   only   resort   to   evidence   of   the
contextual   scene   when   an   ambiguity   has

53. In Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh  others v.

L.V.A. Dixitulu  others39, it has been ruled that the

primary   principle   of   interpretation   is   that   a

constitutional or statutory provision should be construed

‘according to the intent of they that made it’ (Coke), and

normally, such intent is gathered from the language of

the   provision.   If   the   language   or   the   phraseology

employed by the legislation is precise and plain and thus
 AIR 1953 SC 274
 (2002) 1 WLR 2956 : (2002) 4 All ER 654 (HL)
 (1979) 2 SCC 34

by itself, proclaims the legislative intent in unequivocal

terms, the same must be given effect to, regardless of the

consequences that may follow, but if the words used in

the provision are imprecise, protean or evocative or can

reasonably   bear   meanings   more   than   one,   the   rule   of

strict grammatical construction ceases to be a sure guide

to reach at the real legislative intent. In such a case, in

order   to   ascertain   the   true   meaning   of   the   terms   and

phrases   employed,   it   is   legitimate   for   the   court   to   go

beyond the arid literal confines of the provision and to

call   in   aid   other   well­recognised   rules   of   construction,

such   as   its   legislative   history,   the   basic   scheme   and

framework   of   the   statute   as   a   whole,   each   portion

throwing light on the rest, the purpose of the legislation,

the object sought to be achieved, and the consequences

that may flow from the adoption of one in preference to

the   other   possible   interpretation.   Thus,   the   Court   in

certain situations allows room to go beyond the confines

of the literal meaning and to take recourse to other aids

for   construction.   Consequence   of   preference   of   one   on

the other also gets accent. 

54. In  Kehar Singh  Ors v. State (Delhi Admn.)40,

the Court ruled that the Court should not consider any

provision   out   of   the   framework   of   the   statute   and   not

view the provisions as abstract principles separated from

the   motive   force   behind.  It  is  the   duty  of  the  Court  to

consider   the   provisions   in   the   circumstances   to   which

they   owe   their   origin   and   to   ensure   coherence   and

consistency   within   the   law   as   a   whole   and   to   avoid

undesirable   consequences.   That   apart,   the   said

adventure, no doubt, enlarges the discretion of the Court

as   to   interpretation,   but   it   does   not   imply   power   to

substitute   individual   notions   of   legislative   intention.   It

implies   only   a   power   of   choice   where   differing

constructions   are   possible   and   different   meanings   are

available.   As is manifest, the individual notions should

not come in the way of legislative intention. 

55.  In   this   regard,   reference   to  Gem   Granites   v.

Commissioner of Income Tax, T.N.41 would be fruitful.

In the said case, the Court observed that an argument

founded   on   what   is   claimed   to   be   the   intention   of
 (1988) 3 SCC 609
 (2005) 1 SCC 289

Parliament  may   have appeal but a court of  law  has to

gather the object of the statute from the language used,

but what one may believe or think to be the intention of

Parliament cannot prevail if the language of the statute

does   not  support  that  view.   In  Padma  Sundara   Rao

(Dead)  and others  v. State of T.N. and  others42, the

Constitution   Bench   referred   to   two   principles   of

construction – one relating to casus omissus and other in

regard to reading the statute as a whole.  I am referring

to   the   authority   to   appreciate   the   principle   of   “casus

omissus”. In that context, the Court has ruled that:

“14. … a casus omissus cannot be supplied by
the court except in the case of clear necessity
and   when   reason   for   it   is   found   in   the   four
corners   of   the   statute   itself   but   at   the   same
time   a   casus   omissus   should   not   be   readily
inferred and for that purpose all the parts of a
statute or section must be construed together
and   every   clause   of   a   section   should   be
construed   with   reference   to   the   context   and
other clauses thereof so that the construction
to   be   put   on   a   particular   provision   makes   a
consistent enactment of the whole statute. …”
56.  In  Hindustan  Lever   Ltd.   v.   Ashok  Vishnu   Kate

and   others43,   the   question   arose   for   entertaining
 AIR 2002 SC 1334
 (1995) 6 SCC 326

complaint filed under Section 28(1) of the Maharashtra

Recognition   of   Trade   Union   and   Prevention   of   Unfair

Labour Practices Act, 1971. In the said case, the Labour

Court in which the complaints were filed took the view

that   such   complaints   were   not   maintainable   as   the

actual   orders   of   discharge   or   dismissal   were   not   yet

passed   by   the   employer.     The   learned   single   Judge

confirmed that view, but the appellate Bench of the High

Court   dislodged   the   same.     Dealing   with   the   appeal

preferred   by   the   employer,   while   interpreting   the   said

Act, the Court took note of the background of the Act,

examined the scheme of the enactment and referred to

the   preamble   in   extenso   and   various   other   provisions

and   interpreting   the   words   which   were   used   in   the

provisions   opined   that   the   scheme   of   the   legislation

intends to prevent commission of unfair labour practices

through   the   intervention   of   the   Court   and   for   that

purpose, the said Act has been enacted. The two­Judge

Bench referred to the decision in Workmen of American

Express   International   Banking   Corporation   v.

Management   of   American   Express   International

Banking   Corporation44  wherein   Chinnappa   Reddy,   J.

had made the following observations:

“The   principles   of   statutory   construction   are
well   settled.   Words   occurring   in   statutes   of
liberal import such as social welfare legislation
and human rights’ legislation are not to be put
in   Procrustean   beds   or   shrunk   to   Lilliputian
dimensions.   In   construing   these   legislations
the imposture of literal construction must be
avoided   and   the   prodigality   of   its
misapplication   must   be   recognised   and
reduced. Judges ought to be more concerned
with the ‘colour’, the ‘content’ and the ‘context’
of such statutes (we have borrowed the words
from   Lord   Wilberforce’s   opinion   in  Prenn  v.
Simmonds45).   In   the   same   opinion   Lord
Wilberforce pointed out that law is not to be
left   behind   in   some   island   of   literal
interpretation   but   is   to   enquire   beyond   the
language, unisolated from the matrix of facts
in   which   they   are   set;   the   law   is   not   to   be
interpreted   purely   on   internal   linguistic
57. In Githa Hariharan (supra) the Court was dealing

with the Constitutional validity of Section 6(a) of Hindu

Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 and Section 19(b)

of the Guardian and Wards Act, 1890. A contention was

raised that the said provision violated Articles 14 and 15

 (1985) 4 SCC 71
 (1971) 3 All ER 237 : (1971) 1 WLR 1381

of the Constitution.  Section 6(a) of the HMG Act reads as


“6.  Natural   guardians   of a  Hindu  minor.—The
natural guardian of a Hindu minor, in respect of
the   minor’s   person   as   well   as   in   respect   of   the
minor’s property (excluding his or her undivided
interest in joint family property), are—

a) in the case of a boy or an unmarried girl —
the father, and after him, the mother: Provided
that   the   custody   of   a   minor   who   has   not
completed the age of five years shall ordinarily
be with the mother;”

Be it noted, in the said case, the Reserve Bank of

India had questioned the authority of the mother, even

when she had acted with the concurrence of the father,

because   in   its   opinion   she   could   function   as   guardian

only   after   the   lifetime   of  the   father  and   not   during  his

lifetime.     The   question   arose,   what   meaning   should   be

placed ‘after the lifetime’? The Court observed that if this

question is answered in affirmative, the section has to be

struck   down   as   unconstitutional   as   the   same   is

undoubtedly violates of gender equality, one of the basic

principles   of   our   Constitution.     Interpreting   the   said

provision, the Court came to hold that:

“16.   While   both   the   parents   are   duty­bound   to
take   care   of   the   person   and   property   of   their
minor   child   and   act   in   the   best   interest   of   his
welfare, we hold that in all situations where the
father is not in actual charge of the affairs of the
minor   either   because   of   his   indifference   or
because   of   an   agreement   between   him   and   the
mother   of   the   minor   (oral   or   written)   and   the
minor is in the exclusive care and custody of the
mother   or   the   father   for   any   other   reason   is
unable to take care of the minor because of his
physical   and/or   mental   incapacity,   the   mother
can act as natural guardian of the minor and all
her   actions   would   be   valid   even   during   the
lifetime of the father, who would be deemed to be
“absent”   for   the  purposes  of   Section   6(a)  of   the
HMG Act and Section 19(b) of the GW Act.”

       Be it noted, the said interpretation was placed to

keep the statutes within the constitutional limits. 

58.  Recently,   in  Ajitsinh   Arjunsinh   Gohil   v.   Bar

Council   of   Gujarat   and   another46,   the   Court,   while

interpreting   Section   36­B   of   the   Advocates   Act,   1961,

quoted   the   following   observations   of   Sabyasachi

Mukharji,  J.  (as  his  Lordship then  was) in  Atma  Ram

Mittal v. Ishwar Singh Punia47:

“9.   …   Blackstone   tells   us   that   the   fairest   and
most rational method to interpret the will of the
legislator   is   by   exploring   his   intentions   at   the
time   when   the   law   was   made,   by   signs   most
(2017) 5 SCC 465
(1988) 4 SCC 284

natural and probable. And these signs are either
the   words,   the   context,   the   subject­matter,   the
effects and consequence, or the spirit and reason
of   the   law.   See  Commentaries   on   the   Laws   of
England (facsimile of 1st Edn. of 1765, University
of Chicago Press, 1979, Vol. 1, p. 59). Mukherjea,
J.   as   the   learned   Chief   Justice   then   was,   in
Poppatlal Shah v. State of Madras48 said that each
word, phrase or sentence was to be construed in
the light of purpose of the Act itself. But words
must  be  construed with  imagination  of purpose
behind   them,   said  Judge  Learned  Hand, a  long
time   ago.   It   appears,   therefore,   that   though   we
are  concerned  with seeking of intention,  we are
rather looking to the meaning of the words that
the legislature has used and the true meaning of
those words as was said by Lord Reid in  Black­
Clawson   International   Ltd.  v.  Papierwerke
Waldhof­Aschaffenburg   A.G.49    We   are   clearly   of
the opinion that having regard to the language we
must find the reason and the spirit of the law.”
(Emphasis in original)

59. Thereafter, the Court referred to S. Gopal Reddy v.

State   of   A.P.50  and  High   Court   of   Gujarat   and

another v. Gujarat Kishan Mazdoor Panchayat and

others51 and opined: 

“28.   The   aforesaid   authorities   give   stress   on
textual   interpretation   that   would   match   context
and   further   to   explore   the   intention   of   the
legislature.   The   authorities   further   emphasise
that   the   words   have   to   be   understood   regard
AIR 1953 SC 274
1975 AC 591 : (1975) 2 WLR 513 (HL)
(1996) 4 SCC 596
(2003) 4 SCC 712

being   had   to   the   purpose   behind   it   and   hence,
the   concern   with   the   intention   is   basically   to
decipher   the   meaning   of   the   word   that   the
legislature has placed on it. …”

60. In  Raghunandan Saran Ashok Saran v. Pearey

Lal   Workshop52,   it   has   been   held   that   if   the   words   of

statute   are   clear,   there  is  no   question  of   interpretation

and in that context, grammatical construction is required

to be accepted as the golden rule.   In Commissioner of

Income   Tax,   Bangalore   v.   J.H.   Gotla53,   it   has   been


“46.   Where   the   plain   literal   interpretation   of   a
statutory provision produces a manifestly unjust
result which could never have been intended by
the   Legislature,   the   Court   might   modify   the
language used by the Legislature so as to achieve
the   intention   of   the   Legislature   and   produce   a
rational   construction.  The  task of interpretation
of a statutory provision is an attempt to discover
the intention of the Legislature from the language
used. …”

61. In  Polestar   Electronic   (Pvt.)   Ltd.   v.   Additional

Commissioner,  Sales  Tax and another54, it has been


(1986) 3 SCC 38
(1985) 4 SCC 343
(1978) 1 SCC 636

“11. … If the language of a statute is clear and
explicit, effect must be given to it, for in such a
case the words best declare the intention of the
law­giver. It would not be right to refuse to place
on   the   language   of   the   statute   the   plain   and
natural   meaning   which   it   must   bear   on   the
ground   that   it   produces   a   consequence   which
could not have been intended by the legislature.
It  is   only   from   the language  of the  statute  that
the intention of the Legislature must be gathered,
for   the   legislature   means   no   more   and   no   less
than   what   it   says.   It   is   not   permissible   to   the
Court   to   speculate   as   to   what   the   Legislature
must have intended and then to twist or bend the
language of the statute to make it accord with the
presumed intention of the legislature. …”

62. I   have   referred   to   the   aforesaid   authorities   to

highlight that legislative intention and the purpose of the

legislation regard being had to the fact that context has

to  be   appositely   appreciated. It is the  foremost duty  of

the Court while construing a provision to ascertain the

intention of the legislature, for it is an accepted principle

that   the   legislature   expresses   itself   with   use   of   correct

words   and   in   the   absence   of   any   ambiguity   or   the

resultant   consequence   does   not   lead   to   any   absurdity,

there is no room to look for any other aid in the name of

creativity. There is no quarrel over the proposition that

the method of purposive construction has been adopted

keeping   in   view   the   text   and   the   context   of   the

legislation, the mischief it intends to obliterate and the

fundamental intention of the legislature when it comes to

social   welfare   legislations.     If   the   purpose   is   defeated,

absurd   result   is   arrived   at.   The   Court   need   not   be

miserly   and   should   have   the   broad   attitude   to   take

recourse   to   in   supplying   a   word   wherever   necessary.

Authorities   referred   to   hereinabove   encompass   various

legislations   wherein   the   legislature   intended   to   cover

various fields and address the issues. While interpreting

a  social   welfare   or   beneficent   legislation   one   has   to   be

guided   by   the   ‘colour’,   ‘content’   and   the   ‘context   of

statutes’ and if it involves human rights, the conceptions

of   Procrustean   justice   and   Lilliputtian   hollowness

approach   should   be   abandoned.   The   Judge   has   to

release   himself   from   the   chains   of   strict   linguistic

interpretation and pave the path that serves the soul of

the legislative intention and in that event, he becomes a

real creative constructionist Judge. I have perceived the

approach in Hindustan Lever Ltd. (supra) and Deepak

Mahajan  (supra),  Pratap   Singh  (supra)   and   many

others.     I   have   also   analysed   where   the   Court   has

declined   to   follow   the   said   approach   as   in  R.M.D.

Chamarbaugwalla  (supra)   and   other   decisions.     The

Court   has   evolved   the   principle   that   the   legislative

intention must be gatherable from the text, content and

context of the statute and the purposive approach should

help   and   enhance   the   functional   principle   of   the

enactment.   That   apart,   if   an   interpretation   is   likely   to

cause inconvenience,  it should be avoided, and further

personal   notion   or   belief   of   the   Judge   as   regards   the

intention   of   the   makers   of   the   statute   should   not   be

thought   of.   And,   needless   to   say,   for   adopting   the

purposive approach there must exist the necessity. The

Judge,   assuming   the   role   of   creatively   constructionist

personality, should not wear any hat of any colour to suit

his thought and idea and drive his thinking process to

wrestle   with   words   stretching   beyond   a   permissible   or

acceptable   limit.     That   has   the   potentiality   to   cause

violence   to   the   language used by  the  legislature. Quite

apart  from,   the   Court  can take  aid of  causus  omissus,

only in a case of clear necessity and further it should be

discerned   from   the   four   corner   of   the   statute.   If   the

meaning is intelligible, the said principle has no entry. It

cannot   be   a   ready   tool   in   the   hands   of   a   Judge   to

introduce as and what he desires. 

63. Keeping   in   view   the   aforesaid   parameters,   I   am

required   to   scrutinize   whether   the   content   and   the

context   of   the   POCSO   Act   would   allow   space   for   the

interpretation   that   has   been   canvassed   by   the   learned

counsel   for   the   appellant,   which   has   also   got   support

from   the   State,   before   us.   The   POCSO   Act,   as   I   have

indicated   earlier,   comprehensively   deals   with   various

facets that are likely to offend the physical identity and

mental   condition   of   a   child.     The   legislature   has   dealt

with sexual assault, sexual harassment and  abuse with

due regard to safeguard the interest and well being of the

children   at   every   stage   of   judicial   proceeding  in   an

extremely   detailed   manner.     The   procedure   is   child

friendly   and   the   atmosphere   as   commanded   by   the

provisions of the POSCO Act has to be congenial.   The

protection of the dignity of the child is the spine of the

legislation.   It   also   lays   stress   on   mental   physical

disadvantage   of   a   child.     It   takes   note   of   the   mental

disability. The legislature in its wisdom has stipulated a

definition of the “child” which I have noted hereinbefore.

The   submission   is   that   the   term   “age”   should   not   be

perceived   through   the   restricted   prism   but   must   be

viewed with the telescope and thereby should include the

mental age.

64. Learned   counsel   for   the   appellant   has   drawn

support   from  Daniel   Johannes   Stephanus   Van   Der

Bank v. The State55  wherein the High Court of South

Africa was dealing with an appeal against the conviction

and, in appeal there issues arose, two of which are – (1)

the appointment of an intermediary in accordance with

the provisions of Section 170A of the Criminal Procedure

Act   51   of   1977   and   (2)   that   the   court   a  quo  erred   in

accepting   the   evidence   of   the   complainant   who,   to   all

intents   and   purpose, was  a single witness.  In the  said

case,   the   High   Court   of   South   Africa   was   dealing   with

mental age of a victim.  At the time of her testimony, she

[2014] ZAGPPHC 1017

was 19 years old and the State led evidence of a clinical

psychologist who had consulted and conducted tests on

her   on   several   occasions.   The   evidence   was   led   with

regard   to   her   lack   of   understanding   and   various   other

aspects. The High Court posed the question with regard

to object of Section 170A (1) of the said Act. Though the

amendment   of   Section   170A   (1)   which   included   the

mental   age   had   not   come   into   existence,   yet   the   court

accepted   the   stand   of   the   prosecution   that   the   victim

though 19 years of age, could give the assistance of an

intermediary. The aforesaid judgment of the High Court

of South Africa shows that mental age can be considered

by the Court though the relevant amendment in relation

to   a   crime   that   had   occurred   before   the   amendment

came into force. 

65. The   matter   travelled   to   the   Supreme   Court   of

Appeal of South Africa in  Daniel Johannes Stephanus

Van Der Bank v. The State56 which took note of the fact

that   intermediary   was   appointed   and   how   he   had

[2016] ZASCA 10

assisted the complainant in testifying.  Leave granted by

the Supreme Court was limited to the following:

“Leave to appeal is limited to the issue whether
the complainant’s evidence was inadmissible on
the   basis   that   it   was   given   through   an
intermediary in conflict with the provisions of s
170A of the Criminal Procedure Act as applicable
at the time she gave evidence.”

The   Supreme   Court   referred   to   Section   170A.   On

the date the complainant testified, the said Section read

as follows:

“Section 170A. Evidence through intermediaries.
— (1) Whenever criminal proceedings are pending
before   any   court   and   it   appears   to   such   court
that it would expose any witness under the age of
eighteen   years   to   undue   mental   stress   or
suffering   if   he   or   she   testifies   at   such
proceedings,   the   court   may,   subject   to
subsection (4), appoint a competent person as an
intermediary in order to enable such witness to
give   his   or   her   evidence   through   that

  It   was   contended   before   the   Court   that   once   the

witness reached the age of 18 years, there was no power

or   discretion   to   invoke   Section   170A.   The   Apex   Court

took note  of the subsequent amendment made in 2007

by   Section   68   of   Act   32   of   2007   to   include   not   only

witnesses who were biologically under the age of eighteen

but   also   those   who   were   mentally   under   the   age   of

eighteen.   The   Court   referred   to   the   decision   in

S v Dayimani57 and dealt with the same by stating thus:

“In  Dayimani, the complainant was regarded as
‘moderately   mentally   retarded’   and   s   170A   was
nonetheless invoked (wrongly so that court held)
because the complainant was eighteen years old
at   the   time   of   testifying.   It   is   not   necessary   to
consider   whether  Dayimani  has   been   correctly
decided. The proper approach, in my view, would
be   to   consider   the   evidence   other   than   that
adduced   by   the   complainant   and   assess   it   to
establish   whether   the   convictions   should   be
sustained or set aside.”

 Thereafter the Court held thus:

“By definition, common law rape is the unlawful
and   intentional   sexual   intercourse   by   a   person
without the consent of the other. Consent has to
be free, voluntary and consciously given in order
to   be   valid.   In   our   law,   valid   consent   requires
that the consent itself must be recognised by law;
the consent must be real; and the consent must
be given by someone capable of consenting.2 The
first   two   requirements   do   not   need   to   be
discussed   since   the   issue   is   whether   the
complainant   was   capable   of   giving   consent   ­
related to the third requirement. Where a person
in intellectually challenged, his or her  condition
must  be  expertly  assessed and only then can a
finding as to such capability be made. …”

2006 (2) SACR 594 (E)

In   the   ultimate   analysis,   the   Supreme   Court   of

Appeal   of   South   Africa   confirmed   the   view   of   the   High

Court   by   holding   that   the   trial   court   was   correct   in

rejecting the appellant’s contention that the complainant

had   consented   to   engage   in   these   activities   and   it   was

known that she was backward with a mental age of far

less than 16 years ­ her biological age in 1999. Moreover,

there was overwhelming evidence on record that she was

incapable of giving required consent. 

66. In  Director of Public Prosecutions, Transvaal v.

Minister of Justice  and Constitutional Development

and   others58  the   Constitutional   Court   of   South   Africa

while   considering   the   challenge   to   the   South   African

Criminal   Law   (Sexual   Offences   and   Related   Matters)

Amendment Act observed:

“74. Courts are now obliged to give consideration
to the effect that their decisions will have on the
rights   and   interests   of   the   child.   The   legal   and
judicial   process   must   always   be   child
sensitive. As we held in S v M, statutes “must be
interpreted   .   .   .   in   a   manner   which   favours
protecting   and   advancing   the   interests   of
children;   and   that   courts   must   function   in   a
manner which at all times shows due respect for
(2009) ZACC 8 ; (2009) 4 SA 222 (CC) ; (2009) 2 SACR 130 (CC); (2009) 7 BCLR 637 (CC)

children’s rights.” Courts are bound to give effect
to the provisions of section 28(2) in matters that
come before them and which involve children. …”

67. The   learned   counsel   for   the   appellant   has

emphasized on the same to bolster the proposition that

the   POCSO   Act   being   child   friendly   and   meant   for

protecting the dignity of the child regard being had to her

physical   and   mental   or   body   and   mind   integrity

interpretation   of   the   term   “age”   should   include   mental

age so that statute becomes purposively child sensitive.  

68. In  Her   Majesty  The  Queen   v.  D.A.I.59, before the

Supreme   Court   of   Canada   the   question   arose   whether

the   trial   Judge   had   incorrectly   interpreted   the

requirements of Section 16 of the Canada Evidence Act

for the testimonial competence of persons of 14 years of

age   or   older   (adults)   with   mental   disabilities.   Section

16(3)  of   the  said   Act imposes two  requirements  for  the

testimonial   competence   of   an   adult   with   mental

disabilities: (1) the ability to communicate the evidence;

and (2) a promise to tell the truth. In the said case, the

[2012] 1 RCS 149

victim was an adult aged about 26 years and her mental

age   was   assessed   at   6   years   old.   She   was   sexually

assaulted.   The trial court acquitted the accused which

was   confirmed   by   the   Court   of   Appeal.     The   Supreme

Court   of   Canada   by   majority   judgment   unsettled   the

conclusion of the trial court and the Court of Appeal after

dealing   with   provisions   pertaining   to   Section   16   of   the

Canada Evidence Act as introduced in 1987.   The trial

Judge excluded her evidence and acquitted the accused

which was confirmed by the Court of Appeal, as stated

earlier.  The majority while disagreeing speaking through

the   learned   Chief   Justice   adverted   to   the   principle   of

competence   to   testify,   concept   of   admissibility   and   the

responsibility   of   the   trial   Judge   under   the   said   Act   to

decide what evidence, if any, to be accepted. Thereafter

reference was made to competence of adult witness with

mental   disability   and   Section   16   which   governs

competence   of   adult   witnesses   with   mental   disabilities

was analysed.  A contention was raised that Section 16(3)

should   be   supplemented   by   the   requirement   that   an

adult witness with mental disability who cannot take an

oath or affirm must not only be able to communicate the

evidence   and   promise   to   tell   the   truth,   but   must   also

understand the nature of a promise to tell the truth.  The

majority  disagreeing with the said submission analysed

the   historical   background,   legislative   content   and   the

intention of the Parliament and ultimately held thus:

“34.   The   foregoing   reasons   make   a   strong   case
that s.
    16(3)   should   be   read   as   requiring   only
two   requirements   for   competence   of   an   adult
with   mental   disabilities:   (1)   ability   to
communicate the evidence; and (2) a promise to
tell the truth. …” 

It is apt to note here that two other arguments were

raised in support of this interpretation – first, without a

further requirement of an understanding of the obligation

to tell the truth, a promise to tell the truth is an “empty

gesture”; second, Parliament’s failure in 2005 to extend

to   adults   with   mental   disabilities   the   Section   16.1(7)

prohibition on the questioning  of  children  means  that

it intended   this   questioning   to   continue   for   adults.

The   Court,   dealing   with   the   first   aspect,   held   that   the

shortcoming in the said submission was that it departed

from the plain words of Section 16(3), on the basis of an

assumption that it was unsupported by any evidence and

contrary to Parliament’s intent.   Imposing an additional

qualitative condition for competence that is not provided

in   the   text   of Section  16(3)
    would   demand   compelling

demonstration   that   a   promise   to   tell   the   truth   cannot

amount to a meaningful procedure for adults with mental

disabilities. That apart, when such a witness promises to

tell the truth, it reinforces the seriousness of the occasion

and the need to do so.   In dealing with the evidence of

children in Section 16.1, Parliament held that a promise

to tell the truth was all that is required of a child capable

of responding to questions.   Parliament did not think a

child’s promise, without more, is an empty gesture.  

69. The   second   argument,  raised   in   support   of   the

proposition   that   “promising   to   tell   the   truth”   in 

Section   16(3)   implies   a   requirement   that   the   witness

must   show   that   she   understands   the   nature   of   the

obligation   to   tell   the   truth   is   that   Parliament   has   not

enacted   a   ban   on   questioning   adult   witnesses   with

mental disabilities on the nature of the obligation to tell

the truth, as it did for child witnesses in 2005 in Section

16.1(7).   To   understand   this   said   argument,   the   Court

briefly traced the history of Section 16.1., and noted the


“[52]  The   final   and   most   compelling   answer   to
the equivalency argument is simply this: When it
comes to testimonial competence, precisely what,
one may ask, is the difference between an adult
with the mental capacity of a six­year­old, and a
six­year­old   with   the   mental   capacity   of   a   six­
year­old?  Parliament, by applying essentially the
same   test   to   both   under s.     16(3)   and s.
 16.1(3)   and (6)
     of   the Canada
    Evidence   Act  ,
implicitly finds no difference.  In my view, judges
should not import one.

[53]   I   conclude   that s.    16(3)   of   the Canada
 Evidence   Act  ,   properly   interpreted,   establishes
two   requirements   for   an   adult   with   mental
disabilities   to   take   the   stand:   the   ability   to
communicate the evidence and a promise to tell
the truth.  A further requirement that the witness
demonstrate that she understands the nature of
the obligation to tell the truth should not be read
into the provision.

x x x x

[63]     I conclude that, insofar as the authorities
suggest   that   “promising   to   tell   the   truth”   in s.
 16(3)   should   be   read   as   requiring   an   abstract
inquiry into an understanding of the obligation to
tell the truth, they should be rejected.  All that is
required   is   that   the   witness   be   able   to
communicate the evidence and promise to tell the

  Eventually, the majority ruled that the threshold of

reliability for hearsay evidence differs from the threshold

ability   to   communicate   the   evidence   for   competence;   a

ruling   on   testimonial   capacity   cannot   be   subsequently

justified   by   comments   in   a   ruling   on   hearsay

admissibility.  Had the competence hearing been properly

conducted, this might have changed the balance of the

trial,   including   the   hearing   (if   any)   on   hearsay

admissibility.     Ultimately, the Court allowed the appeal

and set aside the acquittal and directed for new trial.

70. I have already dealt with in extenso the decisions as

cited by the learned counsel for the appellant.  The South

African   view,   as   I   find,   by   adopting   the   interpretative

process  justifies  the  appointment of an intermediary  in

respect of an adult woman who is mentally retarded.  It is

a   different   situation   altogether.   The   rule   of   evidence

which   was   not   there   but   amended   later   on   by   the

Parliament,   the   Supreme  Court  of  South   Africa  looking

into various aspects of the statute applied the principle of

inherent inclusiveness in the words and interpreted the

provision. The Constitutional Court of South Africa has

spoken   about   the   requirement   of   sensitivity   to   a   child.

Both  the aspects, according to me, are distinguishable.

As   far   as   the   majority   view   of   the   Supreme   Court   of

Canada is concerned, it interpreted Section 16(3) of the

Canada   Evidence   Act   and   appreciated   the   various

aspects   of   the   evidence   tendered   by   an   adult   who   is

mentally challenged and has declined to add something

which   the   Parliament   has   not   envisaged.   It   has   only

elaborated the process of adequate, proper and sensitive

appreciation   keeping   in   view   the   words   used   in   the


71. In   this   context,   a   passage   from  Tulshidas

Kanolkar (supra) will be appropriate to refer.  In the said

case, the victim of rape was an adult who was a mentally

challenged person and her IQ was not even 1/3 rd of what

a normal person has. She had become pregnant, and on

being asked by her parents, as to who was responsible

for her pregnancy, she on her own way pointed out finger

at   the   appellant   therein.   During   the   trial,   the   accused

indirectly   took   the   stand   of   consent   apart   from   other

pleas.   The trial court repelled the plea of consent and

found   the   appellant   guilty.   In   appeal,   the   High   Court

negatived the contention raised by the accused­appellant

by upholding the conviction but reduced the sentence to

seven years. Before this Court, it was contended that in

the   absence   of   any   other   person   being   examined,   the

testimony of the prosecutrix could not be placed reliance

upon.   The   Court   analysed   the   evidence   and   placed

reliance on the version of the victim and rejected the plea

of   consent   stating   it   as   absolutely  shallow.     The   Court

held that a mentally challenged person cannot give legal

consent which would involve understanding of the effect

of   such   consent   and   it   has   to   be   a   conscious   and

voluntary act. A distinction was drawn between “consent”

and “submission” and ruled that every consent involves a

submission but the converse does not follow and an act

of helpless resignation could not be treated as a consent.

Proceeding   further,   the   Court   said   for   constituting

consent there must be exercise of intelligence based on

the knowledge of the significance and the moral effect of

the  Act.   While  parting with the case, the Court added

one aspect which requires to be noted:

“8. … a few words are necessary to be said about
prescription   of   sentence   in   a   case   where   a
mentally   challenged   or   deficient   woman   is   the
victim. In sub­section (2) of Section 376, clause
(f) relates to physical age of a woman under 12
years of age. In such a case sentence higher than
that  prescribed for  one under  sub­section (1) is
provided for. But what happens in a case when
the mental age of the victim is not even 12 years?
Such a woman is definitely in a more vulnerable
situation. A rapist in such a case in addition to
physical   ravishment   exploits   her   mental   non­
development   and   helplessness.   The   legislature
would   do   well   in   prescribing   higher   minimum
sentence in a case of this nature. The gravity of
offence   in   such   case   is   more   serious   than   the
enumerated   categories   indicated   in   sub­section
(2) of Section 376.”

As it seems, the Court left it to the legislature for

prescribing   a   higher   minimum   sentence.   The   said

passage,   as   I   perceive,   does   not   help   the   proposition

canvassed in the instant case. 

72.  The learned counsel for the appellant has drawn my

attention to various Sections of IPC, namely, Sections 89,

90, 98, 228A, 305, 361 and 491.   Section 89 IPC deals

with   an   act   done   in   good   faith   for   benefit   of   child   or

insane person by or by consent of guardian. It stipulates

that nothing would be done in good faith for the benefit

of a person under twelve years of age or of unsound mind

by   or   by   consent   either   express   or   implied   of   the

guardian   or   other   person   having   lawful   charge   of   that

person would be an offence by reason of any harm which

it may cause or be intended by the doer to cause or be

known by the doer to be likely to cause to that person.

Section 90 deals with consent known to be given under

fear   or   misconception.   It   also   encapsulates   of   insane

person   and   consent   of   child   which   is   a   person   who   is

under   twelve   years   of   age.   Section   98   covers   right   of

private  defence against the act of a person of unsound

mind   and   when   an   act   which   would   otherwise   be   an

offence   is   not   offence  by  reason  of  want  of  maturity  of

understanding, the unsoundness of mind.   Section 305

deals with abetment of suicide of child or insane person

and provides punishment with death or imprisonment for

life, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

Section   361   deals   with   kidnapping   of   minor   under   the

age   of   16   years   of   age   from   lawful   guardianship.     The

learned counsel for the appellant relying upon the said

provisions would contend that IPC prescribes protection

on the basis of maturity of understanding to a child, and

the   same   protection   has   been   extended   to   persons

suffering from unsoundness of mind and, therefore, it is

limpid that a penal law sometimes makes departure from

the   chronological   age   by   placing   more   emphasis   on

capacity to understand the nature and consequences of

an act.  On that basis, an argument has been structured

to treat the mental age of an adult within the ambit and

sweep of the  term “age” that pertains to age under the

POCSO Act.   In this regard, I am obligated to say what

has been provided in the IPC is on a different base and

foundation.   Such   a   provision   does   treat   the   child

differently and carves out the nature of offence in respect

of an insane person or person of unsound mind. There is

a   prescription   by   the   statute.     Learned   counsel   would

impress upon us that I can adopt the said prescription

and apply it to dictionary clause of POCSO Act so that

mental age is considered within the definition of the term

“age”.  I am not inclined to accept the said submission. 

73. In   this   regard,   it   is   worthy   to   note   that   the

legislature despite having the intent in its Statement of

Objects   and   Reasons   and   the   long   Preamble   to   the

POCSO Act, has thought it wise to define the term “age”

which does not only mention a child  but adds the words

“below the age of 18 years”. Had the word “child” alone

been mentioned in the Act, the scope of interpretation by

the Courts could have been in a different realm and the

Court might have deliberated on a larger canvass. It is

not so. 

74.  There is distinction between mental retardation and

mentally ill person.   In this regard, it would be fruitful to

analyse the concept.  In Suchita Srivastava (supra), the

assail was to the orders passed by the Division Bench of

the High Court which had ruled that it was in the best

interests of  a mentally retarded women to undergo   an

abortion.   The   said   woman   was   an   inmate   at   a

government­run welfare institution and after discovery of

her pregnancy, the administration of the Union Territory

of   Chandigarh   had   approached   the   High   Court   for   the

termination   of   her   pregnancy   keeping   in   mind   that   in

addition   to   being   mentally   retarded   she   was   also   an

orphan who did not have any parent or guardian to look

after her or her prospective child.     The High Court had

appointed an expert body who had given a finding that

the victim had expressed her willingness to bear a child.

As the High Court, as already stated earlier, directed the

woman to undergo abortion, Special Leave to Appeal was

preferred   before   this   Court.   The   three­Judge   Bench

referred   to   The   Metical   Termination   of   Pregnancy   Act,

1971   (for   short,   ‘the   1971   Act’)   which   clearly   indicates

that consent is an essential condition for performing an

abortion   on   a   woman   who   has   attained   the   age   of

majority  and does  not suffer from any “mental illness”.

The   Court   observed   that   there   is   clear   distinction

between “mental illness” and “mental retardation” for the

purpose   of   the   1971   Act.   The   next   issue   the   Court

addressed is the exercise of “parens patriae” jurisdiction.

The   Court   opined   that   the   victim’s   reproductive   choice

has to be respected in spite of other factors such as lack

of   understanding   of   the   sexual   act   as   well   as

apprehensions about her capacity to carry the pregnancy

with   full   term   and   the   assumption   of   maternal

responsibilities therefor. The Court adopted the said view

as   the   applicable   statute   contemplates   that   even   a

woman who is found to be mentally retarded should give

her consent for termination of her pregnancy.  Analysing

Section   3   of   the   1971   Act,   the   Court   ruled   that   the

legislative   intention   was   to   provide   a   qualified   right   to

abortion   and   the   termination   of   pregnancy   has   never

been   recognized   as   a   normal   recourse   for   expecting

mothers.  In the said context, the Court held: 

“22.  There is  no doubt that a woman’s right to
make reproductive choices is also a dimension of
“personal liberty” as understood under Article 21
of   the   Constitution   of   India.   It   is   important   to
recognise   that   reproductive   choices   can   be
exercised to procreate as well as to abstain from
procreating.   The   crucial   consideration   is   that   a
woman’s   right   to   privacy,   dignity   and   bodily
integrity   should   be   respected.   This   means   that
there should be no restriction whatsoever on the
exercise   of   reproductive   choices   such   as   a
woman’s   right   to   refuse   participation   in   sexual
activity or alternatively the insistence on use of
contraceptive methods. Furthermore, women are
also free to choose birth control methods such as
undergoing   sterilisation   procedures.   Taken   to

their   logical   conclusion,   reproductive   rights
include   a   woman’s   entitlement   to   carry   a
pregnancy   to   its   full   term,   to   give   birth   and   to
subsequently raise children. However, in the case
of   pregnant   women   there   is   also   a   “compelling
State   interest”   in   protecting   the   life   of   the
prospective child. Therefore, the termination of a
pregnancy is only permitted when the conditions
specified   in   the   applicable   statute   have   been
fulfilled.   Hence,   the   provisions   of   the   MTP   Act,
1971   can   also   be   viewed   as   reasonable
restrictions that have been placed on the exercise
of reproductive choices.”
 And again: 

“25.   In   all   such   circumstances,   the   consent   of
the pregnant woman is an essential requirement
for proceeding with the termination of pregnancy.
This position has been unambiguously stated in
Section 3(4)(b) of the MTP Act, 1971.”
  Dealing with the exceptions to the rule, the Court

referred   to   Section   3(4)(a)   of  the   1971   Act  which   reads


“(4)(a)   No   pregnancy   of   a   woman,   who   has   not
attained   the   age   of   eighteen   years,   or,   who,
having   attained   the   age   of   eighteen   years,   is   a
mentally   ill   person,   shall   be   terminated   except
with the consent in writing of her guardian.”
  The Court took  note of the fact that the 1971 Act

was amended in 2002 by way of which the word “lunatic”

was  replaced   by  the  expression  “mentally  ill person” in

Section 3(4)(a) of the 1971 Act. “Mentally ill person” has

been defined under Section 2(b) of the 1971 Act which

means a person who is in need of treatment by reason of

any mental disorder other than mental retardation.

75.  Dealing with the definition, the Court referred to the

Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection

of   Rights   and   Full   Participation)   Act,   1995   (for   short,

‘1995 Act’) and opined that in the said Act also “mental

illness” has been defined as mental disorder other than

mental   retardation.   The   Court   also   took   note   of   the

definition   of   “mental   retardation”   under   the   1995   Act.

The definition read as follows:

“2(r)   ‘mental   retardation’   means   a   condition   of
arrested or incomplete development of mind of a
person   which   is   specially   characterised   by
subnormality of intelligence.”

76. The Court also took note of the fact that the same

definition   of   “mental   retardation”   has   also   been

incorporated under Section 2(g) of the National Trust for

Welfare  of Persons  with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental

Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999.   In that

context,   the   Court   further   expressed   the   view   that   the

legislative   provisions   in   the   various   Acts   clearly   show

that   persons   who   are   in   a   condition   of   “mental

retardation” should ordinarily be treated differently from

those   who   are   found   to   be   “mentally   ill”.     While   a

guardian can make decisions on behalf of a “mentally ill

person” as per Section 3(4)(a) of the 1971 Act, the same

cannot   be   done   on   behalf   of   a   person   who   is   in   a

condition   of   “mental  retardation”.    After  so   stating,  the

Court   opined   that   there   cannot   be   a   dilution   of   the

requirement of consent since the same would amount to

an   arbitrary   and   unreasonable   restriction   on   the

reproductive rights of the victim. The Court analysed the

reasoning  enumerated by the High Court and reversing

the view of the High Court held: 

“32. Besides placing substantial reliance on the
preliminary medical opinions presented before it,
the   High   Court   has   noted   some   statutory
provisions in the Persons with Disabilities (Equal
Opportunities,   Protection   of   Rights   and   Full
Participation)   Act, 1995 as well as the National
Trust   for   Welfare   of   Persons   with   Autism,
Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple
Disabilities   Act,   1999   where   the   distinction
between   “mental   illness”   and   “mental
retardation”   has   been   collapsed.   The   same   has
been   done   for   the   purpose   of   providing
affirmative   action   in   public   employment   and

education   as   well   as   for   the   purpose   of
implementing anti­discrimination measures. The
High Court has also taken note of the provisions
in   IPC   which   lay   down   strong   criminal   law
remedies   that   can  be  sought  in   cases  involving
the sexual assault of “mentally ill” and “mentally
retarded” persons. The High Court points to the
blurring   of   these   distinctions   and   uses   this   to
support its conclusion that “mentally ill” persons
and   those   suffering   from   “mental   retardation”
ought to be treated similarly under the MTP Act,
1971. We do not agree with this proposition.

33. We must emphasise that while the distinction
between   these   statutory   categories   can   be
collapsed   for   the   purpose   of   empowering   the
respective   classes   of   persons,   the   same
distinction   cannot   be   disregarded   so   as   to
interfere   with   the   personal   autonomy   that   has
been   accorded   to  mentally   retarded persons  for
exercising their reproductive rights.” 

In the said case, the Court referred to the United Nations

Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons,

1971 and reproduced the principles contained therein.  I

think it appropriate to reproduce the same: 

“1.   The   mentally   retarded   person   has,   to   the
maximum degree of feasibility, the same rights as
other human beings.
2.   The   mentally   retarded   person   has   a   right   to
proper medical care and physical therapy and to
such   education,   training,   rehabilitation   and
guidance as will enable him to develop his ability
and maximum potential.
3.   The   mentally   retarded   person   has   a   right   to
economic   security   and   to   a   decent   standard   of
living. He has a right to perform productive work

or to engage in any other meaningful occupation
to the fullest possible extent of his capabilities.
4.   Whenever   possible,   the   mentally   retarded
person   should   live   with   his   own   family   or   with
foster parents and participate in different forms
of community life. The family with which he lives
should   receive   assistance.   If   care   in   an
institution   becomes   necessary,   it   should   be
provided   in   surroundings   and   other
circumstances   as   close   as   possible   to   those   of
normal life.
5. The mentally retarded person has a right to a
qualified   guardian   when   this   is   required   to
protect his personal well­being and interests.
6.   The   mentally   retarded   person   has   a   right   to
protection   from   exploitation,   abuse   and
degrading   treatment.   If   prosecuted   for   any
offence, he shall have a right to due process of
law with full recognition being given to his degree
of mental responsibility.
7.   Whenever   mentally   retarded   persons   are
unable, because of the severity of their handicap,
to exercise all their rights in a meaningful way or
it   should   become   necessary   to   restrict   or   deny
some   or  all  of  these rights, the procedure used
for   that   restriction   or   denial   of   rights   must
contain   proper   legal   safeguards   against   every
form of abuse. This procedure must be based on
an   evaluation   of   the   social   capability   of   the
mentally   retarded   person   by   qualified   experts
and must be subject to periodic review and to the
right of appeal to higher authorities.”
77. The   two­Judge   Bench   laid   emphasis   on   principle

No. 7, as reproduced above, for it prescribes that a fair

procedure should be used for the “restriction or denial” of

the rights guaranteed to mentally retarded persons which

should   ordinarily   be   the   same   as   those   given   to   other

human beings. It is significant to note that in the said

decision,   the   Court   referred   to  ‘eugenics   theory’   which

was used in the past to perform forcible sterilizations and

abortions on mentally retarded persons.  Commenting on

the same, it was observed that such measures are anti­

democratic   and   violative   of   the   guarantee   of   “equal

protection before the law” as laid down in Article 14 of

our   Constitution.     The  Court  referred  to  a   condition   of

“mental retardation” and in that context, observed:

“55. It is also pertinent to note that a condition of
“mental   retardation”   or   developmental   delay   is
gauged   on   the   basis   of   parameters   such   as
intelligence   quotient   (IQ)   and   mental   age   (MA)
which   mostly   relate   to   academic   abilities.   It   is
quite possible that a person with a low IQ or MA
may possess the social and emotional capacities
that will enable him or her to be a good parent.
Hence, it is important to evaluate each case in a
thorough manner with due weightage being given
to   medical   opinion   for   deciding   whether   a
mentally   retarded   person   is   capable   of
performing parental responsibilities.”
78. I have copiously referred to the said authority as it

has analysed the distinction between “mental illness” and

“mental retardation”.   It has also noted that a condition

of   mental   retardation  or  developmental  delay  is gauged

on the basis of parameters such as intelligence quotient

(IQ) and mental age (MA) which mostly relate to academic

abilities.  The Court has narrated about the possibility of

late   IQ   or   MA   may   possess   the   social   and   emotional

capacities that will enable him or her to be a good parent.

Persons   with   borderline,   mild   or   moderate   mental

retardation   are   capable   of   living   in   normal   social

conditions even though they may need some supervision

and assistance from time to time. It observed:

“40.   We   must   also   be   mindful   of   the   varying
degrees   of   mental   retardation,   namely,   those
described   as   borderline,   mild,   moderate,   severe
and   profound   instances   of   the   same.   Persons
suffering   from   severe   and   profound   mental
retardation   usually   require   intensive   care   and
supervision and a perusal of academic materials
suggests   that   there   is   a   strong   preference   for
placing   such   persons   in   an   institutionalised
environment.   However,  persons  with  borderline,
mild or moderate mental retardation are capable
of living in normal social conditions even though
they may need some supervision and assistance
from time to time.

41. A developmental delay in mental intelligence
should   not   be   equated   with   mental   incapacity
and as far as possible the law should respect the
decisions made by persons who are found to be
in   a   state   of   mild   to   moderate   “mental

79.   Be   it   noted,   similar   distinction   has   been

maintained in The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act,

2016.  The   purpose   of referring to the said judgment is

that this Court has kept itself alive to the fact that the

Parliament has always kept the mental retarded person

and mentally ill person in two different compartments.  

80. Mr.   Hegde,     learned   senior   counsel   appearing   for

respondent No. 2, would contend that degree of mental

retardation   or   the   IQ   test   may   not   always   be   a

determinative factor and, therefore, the principle of casus

omissus would not be applicable to the case at hand.  

81. I   have   already   referred   to   the   judgment   of   the

Constitution Bench in  Padma Sundara Rao  (supra). In

the said case, the Court mentioned the situations where

the principle of casus omissus would be applied. Applying

the   said   principle,   it  can be stated  without   any  fear  of

contradiction that the said principle cannot be applied to

the provision that has arisen for consideration. 

82. The   situation   can   be   viewed   from   another   aspect.

The POCSO Act has identified minors and protected them

by   prescribing   the   statutory   age  which   has  nexus  with

the   legal   eligibility   to   give  consent.  The  Parliament  has

felt it appropriate that the definition of the term “age” by

chronological   age   or   biological   age   to   be   the   safest

yardstick   than   referring   to   a   person   having   mental

retardation. It may be due to the fact that the standards

of mental retardation are different and they require to be

determined   by   an   expert   body.   The   degree   is   also

different. The Parliament, as it seems, has not included

mental age. It is within the domain of legislative wisdom.

Be   it   noted,   a   procedure   for   determination   of   age   had

been   provided   under   Rule   12   of   the   Juvenile   Justice

(Care   and   Protection   of   Children)   Rules,   2000.   The

procedure was meant for determination of the biological

age.   It   may   be   stated   here   that   Section   2(12)   of   the

Juvenile   Justice   (Care   and   Protection   of   Children)   Act,

2015 (2 of 2016) defines “child” to mean a person who

not completed eighteen years of age. There is a procedure

provided   for   determination   of   the   biological   age.   The

purpose   of   stating   so   is   that   the   Parliament   has

deliberately   fixed   the   age   of   the   child   and   it   is   in   the

prism of biological age. If any determination is required,

it only pertains to the biological age, and nothing else.  

83.  The purpose of POCSO Act is to treat the minors as

a   class   by   itself   and   treat   them   separately   so   that   no

offence   is   committed   against   them   as   regards   sexual

assault,   sexual   harassment   and   sexual   abuse.   The

sanguine   purpose   is   to  safeguard   the   interest   and  well

being of the children at every stage of judicial proceeding.

It provides for a child friendly procedure. It categorically

makes a distinction between a child and an adult. On a

reading   of   the   POCSO   Act,   it   is   clear   to   us   that   it   is

gender   neutral.   In   such   a   situation,   to   include   the

perception   of   mental   competence   of   a   victim   or   mental

retardation as a factor will really tantamount to causing

violence   to   the   legislation   by   incorporating   a   certain

words   to   the   definition.   By   saying   “age”   would   cover

“mental   age”   has   the   potential   to   create   immense

anomalous situations without there being any guidelines

or statutory provisions. Needless to say, they are within

the sphere of legislature.  To elaborate, an addition of the

word   “mental”   by   taking   recourse   to   interpretative

process   does   not   come   within   the   purposive

interpretation as far as the POCSO Act is concerned.   I

have   already   stated   that   individual   notion   or   personal

conviction should not be allowed entry to the sphere of

interpretation. It has to be gathered from the legislative

intention   and   I   have   already   enumerated   how   the

legislative   intention   is   to   be   gathered.   Respect   for   the

dignity of a person, as submitted, has its own pedestal

but that conception cannot be subsumed and integrated

into   a   definition   where   the   provision   is   clear   and

unambiguous   and   does   not   admit   of   any   other

interpretation. If a victim is mentally retarded, definitely

the   court   trying   the   case   shall   take   into   consideration

whether   there   is   a   consent   or   not.   In   certain

circumstances,   it   would   depend   upon   the   degree   of

retardation or degree of understanding. It should never

be put in a straight jacket formula. It is difficult to say in

absolute terms.  

84. In this regard, I may profitably refer to Section 164

CrPC   which   deals   with   recording   of   confessions   and

statement. Section 164(5A)(b), which is pertinent, reads

as under:

“(b)   A   statement   recorded   under   clause   (a)   of   a
person,   who   is   temporarily   or   permanently
mentally   or   physically   disabled,   shall   be
considered a statement in lieu of examination­in­
chief,   as   specified   in   section   137   of   the   Indian
Evidence   Act,   1872 such that  the maker  of the
statement   can   be   cross­examined   on   such
statement,   without   the   need   for   recording   the
same at the time of trial.”

  The purpose of referring to the said provision is to

highlight that the Parliament has legislated to safeguard

the interest of mentally disabled person. 

85. Needless   to   emphasise   that   courts   sometimes

expand   or   stretch   the   meaning   of   a   phrase   by   taking

recourse to purposive interpretation. A Judge can have a

constructionist approach but there is a limitation to his

sense of creativity.   In the instant case,   I am obliged to

state that stretching of the words “age” and “year” would

be encroaching upon the legislative function. There is no

necessity.   In  Census   Commissioner     others   v.   R.

Krishnamurthy60, the three­Judge Bench has ruled:

“No adjudicator or a Judge can conceive the idea
that the sky is the limit or for that matter there is
no   barrier   or   fetters   in   one’s   individual
perception,   for   judicial   vision   should   not   be
allowed   to   be   imprisoned   and   have   the
potentiality   to   cover   celestial   zones.   Be   it
ingeminated,   refrain   and   restrain   are   the
essential   virtues   in   the   arena   of   adjudication
because   they   guard   as   sentinel   so   that
virtuousness   is   constantly   sustained.   Not   for
nothing,   centuries  back   Francis   Bacon61  had  to
say thus:
“Judges   ought   to   be   more   learned   than
witty,   more   reverend   than   plausible,   and
more   advised   than   confident.   Above   all
things, integrity is their portion and proper
virtue. … Let the Judges also remember that
Solomon’s throne was supported by lions on
both sides: let them be lions, but yet lions
under the throne.”

In  the   said   case,  a   passage  from   Frankfurter,  J.62

was reproduced which I think it apt to quote:

“For   the   highest   exercise   of   judicial   duty   is   to
subordinate  one’s private personal pulls and one’s
private   views   to   the   law   of   which   we   are   all
guardians—those impersonal convictions that make
a society a civilised community, and not the victims
of personal rule.”

(2015) 2 SCC 796
Bacon, “Essays: Of Judicature in Vol. I The Works of Francis Bacon” [Montague, Basil, Esq
(Eds.), Philadelphia: A Hart, Late Carey Hart, 1852], pp. 58-59.
Frankfurter, Felix in Clark, Tom C., “Mr Justice Frankfurter: ‘A Heritage for all Who Love the
Law’ ” (1965) 51 ABAJ 330 at p. 332

86. In State of Uttar Pradesh and others v. Subhash

Chandra Jaiswal and others63, it has been held:

“17. A Judge should not perceive a situation in a
generalised manner. He ought not to wear a pair
of spectacles so that he can see what he intends
to see. There has to be a set of facts to express an
opinion   and   that   too,   within   the   parameters   of

 x x x x

19. In Vemareddy Kumaraswamy Reddy v. State
of A.P.64 the Court observed that:  

“15. … the Judges should not proclaim that
they   are   playing   the   role   of   a   law­maker
merely   for   an   exhibition   of   judicial   valour.
They have to remember that there is a line,
though   thin,   which   separates   adjudication
from   legislation.   That   line   should   not   be
crossed or erased.”

87. In   view   of   the   aforesaid   principles,   the   only

conclusion   that   can   be   arrived   at   is   that   definition   in

Section   2(d)   defining   the   term   “age”   cannot   include

mental age.

88. Having   said   so,   I   would   have   proceeded   to   record

the   formal   conclusion.   But,   in   the   instant   case,   I   am

disposed   to   think,   more   so,   when   the   accused   has

(2017) 5 SCC 163
(2006) 2 SCC 670

breathed his last and there is a medical certificate from

AIIMS as regards the mental disability of the victim, there

should be no further enquiry as envisaged under Section

357A of the CrPC. The said provision reads as follows:

“357A   Victim   compensation   scheme.   ­ (1) Every
State Government in co­ordination with the Central
Government   shall   prepare   a   scheme   for   providing
funds for the purpose of compensation to the victim
or his dependents who have suffered loss or injury
as   a   result   of   the   crime   and   who   require

(2)   Whenever   a   recommendation   is   made   by   the
Court   for   compensation,   the   District  Legal   Service
Authority   or   the   State   Legal   Service   Authority,   as
the   case   may   be,   shall   decide   the   quantum   of
compensation   to   be   awarded   under   the   scheme
referred to in sub­section (1). 

(3) If the trial Court, at the conclusion of the trial, is
satisfied,   that   the   compensation   awarded   under
section 357 is not adequate for such rehabilitation,
or where the cases end in acquittal or discharge and
the   victim   has   to   be   rehabilitated,   it   may   make
recommendation for compensation. 

(4)   Where   the   offender   is   not   traced   or   identified,
but the victim is identified, and where no trial takes
place,   the   victim   or  his   dependents  may  make  an
application   to   the   State   or   the   District   Legal
Services Authority for award of compensation. 

(5) On receipt of such recommendations or on the
application under sub­section (4), the State or the
District   Legal   Services   Authority   shall,   after   due

enquiry   award   adequate   compensation   by
completing the enquiry within two months. 

(6)   The   State   or   the   District   Legal   Services
Authority,   as   the   case   may   be,   to   alleviate   the
suffering   of   the   victim,   may   order   for   immediate
first­aid   facility   or   medical   benefits   to   be   made
available free of cost on the certificate of the police
officer not below the rank of the officer in charge of
the   police   station   or   a   Magistrate   of   the   area
concerned,   or   any   other   interim   relief   as   the
appropriate authority deems fit.”

On a perusal of the aforesaid provision, it is quite vivid

that   when   Court   makes   a   recommendation   for

compensation,   the   District   Legal   Services   Authority   or

the  State  Legal  Services Authority  is required to decide

the quantum of compensation to be awarded under the

Scheme   prepared   by   the   State   Government   in

coordination   with   the   Central   Government.   The

State/District Legal Services Authority has to conduct an

inquiry   and   award   the   adequate   compensation   by

completing the inquiry.  Had the accused been alive, the

trial   would   have   taken   place   in   a   Court   of   Session   as

provided under the CrPC.   As the accused has died and

the   victim   is   certified  to  be  a mentally  disabled person

and is fighting the  lis  for some time to come within the

purview of the POCSO Act wherein the trial is held in a

different   manner   and   the   provisions   relating   to   the

compensation are different, I direct that the State Legal

Services Authority, Delhi shall award the compensation

keeping   in   view   the   Scheme   framed   by   the   Delhi

Government.   As   regards   the   quantum,   I   am   of   the

convinced opinion  that it is a fit case where the victim

should   be   granted   the   maximum   compensation   as

envisaged   under   the   Scheme.   I   clarify   that   it   is   so

directed regard being had to the special features of the


89. The appeals are disposed of, accordingly.  

        [DIPAK MISRA] 

JULY 21, 2017




Ms. Eera through Dr. Manjula Krippendorf …Petitioner


State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi) and Anr. …Respondents


R.F.NARIMAN, J. (concurring)

1. Having read the erudite judgment of my

learned brother, and agreeing fully with him on the

conclusion reached, given the importance of the

Montesquiean separation of powers doctrine where

the judiciary should not transgress from the field of

judicial law making into the field of legislative law

making, I have felt it necessary to add a few words

of my own.

2. Mr. Sanjay R. Hegde, the learned Amicus

Curiae, has argued before us that the interpretation

of Section 2(1)(d) of the Protection of Children from

Sexual Offences Act, 2012 cannot include “mental”

age as such an interpretation would be beyond the

‘Lakshman Rekha’ – that is, it is no part of this

Court’s function to add to or amend the law as it

stands. This Court’s function is limited to

interpreting the law as it stands, and this being the

case, he has exhorted us not to go against the plain

literal meaning of the statute.

3. Since Mr. Hegde’s argument raises the

constitutional spectre of separation of powers, let it

first be admitted that under our constitutional

scheme, Judges only declare the law; it is for the

legislatures to make the law. This much at least is

clear on a conjoint reading of Articles 141 and 245

of the Constitution of India, which are set out


“141. Law declared by Supreme Court
to be binding on all courts.

The law declared by the Supreme Court
shall be binding on all courts within the
territory of India.

245. Extent of laws made by Parliament
and by the Legislatures of States.


(1) Subject to the provisions of this
Constitution, Parliament may make laws
for the whole or any part of the territory
of India, and the Legislature of a State
may make laws for the whole or any part
of the State.

(2) No law made by Parliament shall be
deemed to be invalid on the ground that
it would have extra-territorial operation.”

4. That the Legislature cannot ‘declare’ law is

embedded in Anglo Saxon jurisprudence. Bills of

attainder, which used to be passed by Parliament in

England, have never been passed from the 18 th

century onwards. A legislative judgment is

anathema. As early as 1789, the U.S. Constitution

expressly outlawed bills of attainder vide Article I

Section 9(3). This being the case with the

Legislature, the counter argument is that the

Judiciary equally cannot ‘make’ but can only

‘declare’ law. While declaring the law, can Judges

make law as well? This interesting question has

haunted Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence for at least 500

years. Very early in the history of this jurisprudence,

Heydon’s case, 76 E.R. 637 [1584] declared as



“And it was resolved by them, that for
the sure and true interpretation of all
Statutes in general (be they penal or
beneficial, restrictive or enlarging of the
common law,) four things are to be
discerned and considered:-

1st. What was the common law before
the making of the Act,
2nd. What was the mischief and defect
for which the common law did not
3rd. What remedy the Parliament hath
resolved and appointed to cure the
disease of the commonwealth,
And, 4th. The true reason of the remedy;
and then the office of all the Judges is
always to make such construction as
shall suppress the mischief, and
advance the remedy, and to suppress
subtle inventions and evasions for
continuance of the mischief, and pro
privato commodo, and to add force and
life to the cure and remedy, according to
the true intent of the makers of the Act,
pro bono publico.”

5. Several centuries later, the Privy Council, (in a

case which came up from the Bombay High Court,

construing the Ship Registry Act of 1841) in

Crawford v. Spooner, Moore’s Indian Appeals,

Volume 4 (1846 to 1850) 179, held as follows:-

“Their Lordships are clearly of opinion,
that the Judgment of the Court of
Bombay cannot stand. The construction
of the Act must be taken from the bare
words of the Act. We cannot fish out

what possibly may have been the
intention of the Legislature; we cannot
aid the Legislature’s defective phrasing
of the Statute; we cannot add, and
mend, and, by construction, make up
deficiencies which are left there. If the
Legislature did intend that which it has
not expressed clearly; much more, if the
Legislature intended something very
different; if the Legislature intended
something pretty nearly the opposite of
what is said, it is not for Judges to invent
something which they do not meet with
in the words of the text (aiding their
construction of the text always, of
course, by the context); it is not for them
so to supply a meaning, for, in reality, it
would be supplying it: the true way in
these cases is, to take the words as the
Legislature have given them, and to
take the meaning which the words given
naturally imply, unless where the
construction of those words is, either by
the preamble or by the context of the
words in question, controlled or altered;
and, therefore, if any other meaning was
intended than that which the words
purport plainly to import, then let another
Act supply that meaning, and supply the
defect in the previous Act.”
“It appears to their Lordships, therefore,
that this is a case, free from all
reasonable doubt, and that they must
construe the words of the Act, as they
find them.” (at pages 187 189)

6. About a decade later, in Grey v. Pearson,

1857 (6) HLC 61, Lord Wensleydale declared:-

“I have been long and deeply impressed
with the wisdom of the rule, now, I
believe, universally adopted, at least in

the Courts of Law in Westminster Hall,
that in construing wills and indeed
statutes, and all written instruments, the
grammatical and ordinary sense of the
words is to be adhered to, unless that
would lead to some absurdity, or some
repugnance or inconsistency with the
rest of the instrument, in which case the
grammatical and ordinary sense of the
words may be modified, so as to avoid
that absurdity and inconsistency, but no
farther. This is laid down by Mr. Justice
Burton, in a very excellent opinion,
which is to be found in the case of
Warburton v. Loveland (see ante, p. 76.
n.).” (at page no.1234)

7. This celebrated passage has since come to

represent what has been described as the ‘Golden

Rule’ of interpretation of statutes. The construction

of a clause in a will was before the House of Lords

and not the construction of a statute. Nevertheless,

the “Golden Rule” was held to cover the

construction of wills, statutes and all other written


8. It will be noticed, that both the Privy Council

and the House of Lords emphasized the literal

meaning of the text of a statute. Interestingly, the

Privy Council added that the text must necessarily

be construed with the aid of the context of the words

that are to be construed, and that the words in

question could be controlled or altered by the

context or the Preamble of the statute. The House

of Lords went further, and stated that the

grammatical and ordinary sense of the words to be

construed would be given effect to unless it would

lead to some absurdity, repugnance, or

inconsistency with the rest of the statute, in which

case the grammatical and ordinary sense of the

words may be modified so as to avoid such

absurdity or inconsistency, but no further. It is

important to note that, even under this rule, the

literal meaning of the text of a statute is not

sacrosanct, and can, in certain exceptional

circumstances, be modified. However, the

immediate consequence of applying the literal rule

of construction of a statute is that words must be

understood in their ordinary grammatical sense.

One obvious problem with this is that words often

have different shades of meaning and are not fixed

in their content. This was put rather well by Justice

Holmes in Towne v. Eisner, 245 U.S. 418:


“But it is not necessarily true that
income means the same thing in the
Constitution and the Act. A word is not a
crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is
the skin of a living thought and may vary
greatly in color and content according to
the circumstances and the time in which
it is used.” 65

9. Judge Learned Hand of the Court of Appeals

New York also conveyed the same thought rather

felicitously in Commissioner of Internal Revenue

v. Ickelheimer, 132 Federal Reporter, 2d Series,

660 as follows:

“Compunctions about judicial legislation
are right enough as long as we have
any genuine doubt as to the breadth of
the legislature’s intent; and no doubt the
most important single factor in
ascertaining its intent is the words it
employs. But the colloquial words of a
statute have not the fixed and artificial
content of scientific symbols; they have
a penumbra, a dim fringe, a connotation,
for they express an attitude of will, into
which it is our duty to penetrate and
which we must enforce ungrudgingly
when we can ascertain it, regardless of
imprecision in its expression.” (at page


Interestingly, Charles Evans Hughes argued the case on behalf of the appellant just
after he stepped down from the Supreme Court as a Justice thereof in order to fight a
Presidential election. He fought the election and lost. Thereafter, he went to New
York and set up an extremely lucrative law practice. He eventually became the 11 th
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, being appointed in 1930 and
having retired in 1941.


10. In an illuminating article by Archibald Cox in

60 Harv. Law Rev. 370, 1946-47, the learned author

put the dilemma between literal and purposive

construction thus:-

“The task of interpretation, thus
conceived, presents a second insoluble
dilemma. Since the words of a statute
are chosen by the legislature to express
its meaning, they are “no doubt the most
important single factor in ascertaining its
intent.” Our belief in the supreme
importance of a public, fixed, and
ascertainable standard of conduct
requires, moreover, a measure of
adherence to what those subject to a
statute would understand to be the
meaning of its terms. Yet “there is no
surer way to misread any document
than to read it literally.” Common speech
is not exact and often does not precisely
fit those situations, and those only,
which a statute seeks to cover.

Indispensable words have gathered up
connotations in the past which cling
persistently in new surroundings. And
even if some technical terminology like
that of science were available,
legislatures could not anticipate and
provide with particularity for each set of
circumstances comprehended within a
general purpose. The result is that “in
every interpretation we must pass
between Scylla and Charybdis.” No one
has ever suggested that the courts must
always follow the letter of a statute
regardless of the outcome, nor does
anyone contend that the words may be
entirely disregarded. The issue is where

to strike the balance.” (at page
Nos.375 and 376)

11. Added to these problems is the problem of

inept draftsmanship. In Kirby v. Leather, 1965(2)

All E.R. 441, Danckwerts, L.J., criticised the

language of the Limitation Act, 1939 when he spoke

of the custody of a parent. He wrote:

“The custody of a parent”: what a
strange conception that is in regard to a
capable young man of twenty-four years
and over. This is such an extraordinary
provision that at times it seemed to me
that the draftsman must have been of
unsound mind. Of course that is
absurd. The same provision has been
repeated in the Law Reform (Limitation
of Actions, c.) Act, 1954, and the
Limitation Act 1963. We must strain
ourselves to give it a sensible meaning.
The idea behind this provision is, I
suppose, that the parent in such a case
will be capable of taking proceedings as
the next friend of the person in
question.” (at page 445)

12. Similarly, in Vandyk v. Oliver [1976] 1 All ER

466, Lord Lord Wilberforce, lamented:

“It is said, however, that this result, far-
reaching as it is, follows from the
wording of the section. As to this I would
say two things: first, if ever there was a
case for preferring a purposive to a
literal interpretation, this is such a case.
The section is a labyrinth, a minefield of
obscurity. The key subsection (d) refers

back to (a), (b) or (c) with a connecting
link described as similarity in kind: yet
no criterion of similarity is given; so we
are offered criteria based on “purpose”
or “function”, or on these words in
combination. But this introduces yet
further difficulties, for there is acute
dispute, if purpose is the test, whose
purpose is meant and whether this must
be the sole or dominant purpose, or any
purpose: if function is meant whether
this is the same thing as actual use, or
whether the word again introduces the
conception of purpose. Then on the
incorporated subsections, there is a
difference of view whether a National
Health authority had power to provide
accommodation for a person in the
position of the ratepayer or whether the
power (conferred by the 1968 Act) is an
ancillary power to the provision of care.
Similar difficulties arise under para (c).
My Lords, I revolt against a step by step
approach, from one doubtful expression
to another, where each step is
hazardous, through referential
legislation, towards a conclusion, to my
mind so far out of accord with any
credible policy. The fact that Parliament
for its own purposes chooses to
legislate in this obscure manner does
not force us to be the blind led by the
blind.” (at page No.470)

13. The Indian Income Tax Act, 1960 has also

been the subject matter of judicial criticism. Often,

amendment follows upon amendment making the

numbering and the meaning of its sections and sub-

sections both bizarre and unintelligible. One such

criticism by Hegde, J. in Commissioner of Income

Tax v. Distributor (Baroda) (P) Ltd., (1972) 4 SCC

353, reads as follows:

“We have now to see what exactly in the
meaning of the expression “in the case
of a company whose business consists
wholly or mainly in the dealing in or
holding of investments” in the main
Section 23-A and the expression “in the
case of a company whose business
consist wholly or mainly in the dealing in
or holding of investments” in clause (i) of
Explanation 2 to Section 23-A. The Act
contains many mind-twisting formulas
but Section 23-A along with some other
sections takes the place of pride
amongst them. Section 109 of the 1961
Income Tax Act which has taken the
place of old Section 23-A of the Act is
more understandable and less abstruse.
But in these appeals we are left with
Section 23-A of the Act.” (Para 15)

14. All this reminds one of the old British ditty:

“I’m the Parliament’s draftsman,
I compose the country’s laws,
And of half the litigation
I’m undoubtedly the cause!”

15. In order that inept draftsmanship be

explained, in the old days sometimes the Judges

themselves enquired of the King’s Council what a

statute meant. (See Dias’ jurisprudence Second

edition – see page 110 footnote 2). The whole

difficulty lies in defining the limits of the ‘Lakshman

Rekha’. In a House of Lord’s judgment, in Boyse v.

Rossborough, 1857 6 HLC 61 which dealt with

whether a will was valid, Lord Cranworth held:

“The inquiries must be: First, was the
alleged testator at the time of its
execution a person of sound mind? And
if he was, then, secondly, was the
instrument in question the expression of
his genuine will, or was it the expression
of a will created in his mind by coercion
or fraud?

On the first head the difficulty to be
grappled with arises from the
circumstance that the question is almost
always one of degree. There is no
difficulty in the case of a raving madman
or of a drivelling idiot, in saying that he
is not a person capable of disposing of
property. But between such an extreme
case and that of a man of perfectly
sound and vigorous understanding,
there is every shade of intellect, every
degree of mental capacity. There is no
possibility of mistaking midnight for
noon; but at what precise moment
twilight becomes darkness is hard to

16. All this leads to whether Judges do creatively

interpret statutes and are unjustifiably criticized as

having in fact legislated, or whether in the guise of

creative interpretation they actually step outside the

‘Lakshman Rekha’. As Justice Cardozo has

picturesquely put it: the Judge is not to innovate at

pleasure. He is not a knight errant roaming at will in

pursuit of his own ideal of beauty or of goodness

(See: Cardozo, Nature of Judicial Process, P. 141).

Opposed to this rather conservative view is the view

of Justice Holmes, in a celebrated dissent, in

Southern P. Co. v. Jensen, 244 US 205 at page


“I recognize without hesitation that
judges do and must legislate, but they
can do so only interstitially; they are
confined from molar to molecular

17. The Supreme Court of India has echoed the

aforesaid statement in at least two judgments. In

V.C. Rangadurai v. D. Gopalan Others, 1979 1

SCR 1054, Krishna Iyer, J. when confronted with

the correct interpretation of Section 35(3) of the

Advocates Act, 1961, held:

“Speaking frankly, Section 35(3) has a
mechanistic texture, a set of punitive
pigeon holes, but we may note that
words grow in content with time and
circumstance, that phrases are flexible
in semantics, that the printed text is a
set of vessels into which the court may
pour appropriate judicial meaning. That
statute is sick which is allergic to change

in sense which the times demand and
the text does not countermand. That
court is superficial which stops with the
cognitive and declines the creative
function of construction. So, we take the
view that “quarrying” more meaning is
permissible out of Section 35(3) and the
appeal provisions, in the brooding
background of social justice sanctified
by Article 38, and of free legal aid
enshrined by Article 39-A of the

xx xx xx

Judicial “Legisputation” to borrow a
telling phrase of J. Cohen, is not
legislation but application of a given
legislation to new or unforeseen needs
and situations broadly falling within the
statutory provision. In that sense,
“interpretation is inescapably a kind of
legislation” [Dickerson: The
Interpretation and Application of
Statutes, p. 238]. This is not
legislation stricto sensu but application,
and is within the court’s province.” (at
pages 1059 and 1060)

18. Similarly, in C.I.T. v. B.N. Bhattacharjee,

1979 (3) SCR 1133 the same learned Judge in

construing Section 245M of the Income Tax Act


“We are mindful that a strictly
grammatical construction is departed
from in this process and a mildly
legislative flavour is imparted by this
interpretation. The judicial process does
not stand helpless with folded hands but

engineers its way to discern meaning
when a new construction with a view to
rationalisation is needed.” (at page

19. In Directorate of Enforcement v. Deepak

Mahajan, 1994 3 SCC 440, this Court held:

“Though the function of the Courts is
only to expound the law and not to
legislate, nonetheless the legislature
cannot be asked to sit to resolve the
difficulties in the implementation of its
intention and the spirit of the law. In
such circumstances, it is the duty of the
court to mould or creatively interpret the
legislation by liberally interpreting the

25. In Maxwell on Interpretation of
Statutes, Tenth Edn. at page 229, the
following passage is found:

“Where the language of a statute, in its
ordinary meaning and grammatical
construction, leads to a manifest
contradiction of the apparent purpose of
the enactment, or to some
inconvenience or absurdity, hardship or
injustice, presumably not intended, a
construction may be put upon it which
modifies the meaning of the words, and
even the structure of the sentence. …
Where the main object and intention of a
statute are clear, it must not be reduced
to a nullity by the draftsman’s
unskilfulness or ignorance of the law,
except in a case of necessity, or the
absolute intractability of the language

26. In Seaford Court Estates
Ltd. v. Asher [(1949) 2 All ER 155, 164]
Denning, L.J. said:

“[W]hen a defect appears a judge
cannot simply fold his hands and blame
the draftsman. He must set to work on
the constructive task of finding the
intention of Parliament … and then he
must supplement the written word so as
to give ‘force and life’ to the intention of
the legislature. A Judge should ask
himself the question how, if the makers
of the Act had themselves come across
this ruck in the texture of it, they would
have straightened it out? He must then
do as they would have done. A judge
must not alter the material of which the
Act is woven, but he can and should iron
out the creases.”

27. Though the above observations of
Lord Denning were disapproved in
appeal by the House of Lords in Magor
and St. Mellons v. Newport
Corpn. [(1951) 2 All ER 839 (HL)]
Sarkar, J. speaking for the Constitution
Bench in M. Pentiah v. Muddala
Veeramallappa [(1961) 2 SCR 295 : AIR
1961 SC 1107] adopted that reasoning
of Lord Denning. Subsequently also,
Beg, C.J. in Bangalore Water Supply
and Sewerage Board v. A.

Rajappa [(1978) 2 SCC 213: 1978 SCC
(LS) 215 : AIR 1978 SC 548] approved
the observations of Lord Denning stating
thus: (SCC p. 285, para 148)

“Perhaps, with the passage of time,
what may be described as the extension
of a method resembling the ‘arm-chair
rule’ in the construction of wills, Judges
can more frankly step into the shoes of

the legislature where an enactment
leaves its own intentions in much too
nebulous or uncertain a state.”
(emphasis supplied)

28. It will be befitting, in this context, to
recall the view expressed by Judge
Frank in Guiseppi v. Walling [144 F 2d
608, 620, 622 (CCA 2d, 1944) quoted in
60 Harvard Law Review 370, 372] which
read thus:

“The necessary generality in the
wordings of many statutes, and
ineptness of drafting in others frequently
compels the court, as best as they can,
to fill in the gaps, an activity which no
matter how one may label it, is in part
legislative. Thus the courts in their way,
as administrators perform the task of
supplementing statutes. In the case of
courts, we call it ‘interpretation’ or ‘filling
in the gaps’; in the case of
administrators we call it ‘delegation’ or
authority to supply the details.”

29. Subba Rao, C.J. speaking for the
Bench in Chandra Mohan v. State of
U.P. [(1967) 1 SCR 77 : AIR 1966 SC
1987 : (1967) 1 LLJ 412] has pointed
out that the fundamental rule of
interpretation is that in construing the
provisions of the Constitution or the Act
of Parliament, the Court “will have to
find out the express intention from the
words of the Constitution or the Act, as
the case may be …” and eschew the
construction which will lead to absurdity
and give rise to practical inconvenience
or make the provisions of the existing
law nugatory.


A.P. Sen, J. in Organo Chemical
Industries v. Union of India [(1979) 4
SCC 573 : 1980 SCC (LS) 92 : (1980)
1 SCR 61] has stated thus: (SCR p. 89 :
SCC p. 586, para 23)

“A bare mechanical interpretation of the
words ‘devoid of concept or purpose’ will
reduce most of legislation to futility. It is
a salutary rule, well established, that the
intention of the legislature must be
found by reading the statute as a

30. Krishna Iyer, J. has pointed out in
his inimitable style in Chairman, Board
of Mining Examination and Chief
Inspector of Mines v. Ramjee [(1977) 2
SCC 256 : 1977 SCC (LS) 226 : AIR
1977 SC 965] : “To be literal in meaning
is to see the skin and miss the soul of
the Regulation.”” (at page Nos.453 to


20. All this has led to what may be called the

theory of Creative Interpretation. This theory was

reiterated in Union of India v. Elphinstone

Spinning and Weaving Co. Ltd. and Ors, 2001 (4)

SCC 139:-

“While examining a particular statute for
finding out the legislative intent it is the
attitude of Judges in arriving at a
solution by striking a balance between
the letter and spirit of the statute without
acknowledging that they have in any
way supplemented the statute would be
the proper criterion. The duty of Judges
is to expound and not to legislate is a

fundamental rule. There is no doubt a
marginal area in which the courts mould
or creatively interpret legislation and
they are thus finishers, refiners and
polishers of legislation which comes to
them in a state requiring varying
degrees of further processing.
(See: Corocraft Ltd. v. Pan American
Airways Inc. [(1968) 3 WLR 714 : (1968)
2 All ER 1059 : (1969) 1 QB 616] WLR,
p. 732 and State of
Haryana v. Sampuran Singh [(1975) 2
SCC 810].) But by no stretch of
imagination a Judge is entitled to add
something more than what is there in
the statute by way of a supposed
intention of the legislature. It is,
therefore, a cardinal principle of
construction of statutes that the true or
legal meaning of an enactment is
derived by considering the meaning of
the words used in the enactment in the
light of any discernible purpose or object
which comprehends the mischief and its
remedy to which the enactment is
directed.” [at para 17]

21. Instances of creative interpretation are when

the Court looks at both the literal language as well

as the purpose or object of the statute in order to

better determine what the words used by the

draftsman of legislation mean. In D.R.

Venkatachalam v. Deputy Transport

Commissioner, (1977) 2 SCC 273, an early

instance of this is found in the concurring judgment

of Beg, J. The learned Judge put it rather well when

he said:

“It is, however, becoming increasingly
fashionable to start with some theory of
what is basic to a provision or a chapter
or in a statute or even to our
Constitution in order to interpret and
determine the meaning of a particular
provision or rule made to subserve an
assumed “basic” requirement. I think
that this novel method of construction
puts, if I may say so, the cart before the
horse. It is apt to seriously mislead us
unless the tendency to use such a mode
of construction is checked or corrected
by this Court. What is basic for a section
or a chapter in a statute is provided:
firstly, by the words used in the statute
itself; secondly, by the context in which a
provision occurs, or, in other words, by
reading the statute as a whole; thirdly,
by the preamble which could supply the
“key” to the meaning of the statute in
cases of uncertainty or doubt; and,
fourthly, where some further aid to
construction may still be needed to
resolve an uncertainty, by the legislative
history which discloses the wider
context or perspective in which a
provision was made to meet a particular
need or to satisfy a particular purpose.
The last mentioned method consists of
an application of the Mischief Rule laid
down in Heydon’s case long ago.” [para

22. In the celebrated judgment of Reserve Bank

of India v. Peerless General Finance

Investment Co. Ltd. and Others, (1987) 1 SCC

424, O. Chinnappa Reddy, J. stated:-

“Interpretation must depend on the text
and the context. They are the bases of
interpretation. One may well say if the
text is the texture, context is what gives
the colour. Neither can be ignored. Both
are important. That interpretation is best
which makes the textual interpretation
match the contextual. A statute is best
interpreted when we know why it was
enacted. With this knowledge, the
statute must be read, first as a whole
and then section by section, clause by
clause, phrase by phrase and word by
word. If a statute is looked at, in the
context of its enactment, with the
glasses of the statute-maker, provided
by such context, its scheme, the
sections, clauses, phrases and words
may take colour and appear different
than when the statute is looked at
without the glasses provided by the
context. With these glasses we must
look at the Act as a whole and discover
what each section, each clause, each
phrase and each word is meant and
designed to say as to fit into the scheme
of the entire Act. No part of a statute and
no word of a statute can be construed in
isolation. Statutes have to be construed
so that every word has a place and
everything is in its place. It is by looking
at the definition as a whole in the setting
of the entire Act and by reference to
what preceded the enactment and the
reasons for it that the Court construed
the expression “Prize Chit”
in Srinivasa [(1980) 4 SCC 507 : (1981)
1 SCR 801 : 51 Com Cas 464] and we

find no reason to depart from the Court’s
construction.” [para 33]

23. Indeed, the modern trend in other

Commonwealth countries, including the U.K. and

Australia, is to examine text as well as context, and

object or purpose as well as literal meaning. Thus,

in Oliver Ashworth Ltd. V. Ballard Ltd., [1999] 2

All ER 791, Laws L.J. stated the modern rule as


“By way of introduction to the issue of
statutory construction I should say that
in my judgment it is nowadays
misleading — and perhaps it always
was — to seek to draw a rigid distinction
between literal and purposive
approaches to the interpretation of Acts
of Parliament. The difference between
purposive and literal construction is in
truth one of degree only. On received
doctrine we spend our professional lives
construing legislation purposively,
inasmuch as we are enjoined at every
turn to ascertain the intention of
Parliament. The real distinction lies in
the balance to be struck, in the
particular case, between the literal
meaning of the words on the one hand
and the context and purpose of the
measure in which they appear on the
other. Frequently there will be no
opposition between the two, and then no
difficulty arises. Where there is a
potential clash, the conventional English
approach has been to give at least very
great and often decisive weight to the

literal meaning of the enacting words.

This is a tradition which I think is
weakening, in face of the more
purposive approach enjoined for the
interpretation of legislative measures of
the European Union and in light of the
House of Lords’ decision in Pepper
(Inspector of Taxes) v. Hart [1993] 1 All
E. R. 42, [1993] A.C 593. I will not here
go into the details or merits of this shift
of emphasis; save broadly to recognise
its virtue and its vice. Its virtue is that the
legislator’s true purpose may be more
accurately ascertained. Its vice is that
the certainty and accessibility of the law
may be reduced or compromised. The
common law, which regulates the
interpretation of legislation, has to
balance these considerations.”

And in R. (Quintavalle) v. Secretary of State for

Health, [2003] 2 All E.R.113, Lord Steyn put it thus:

“On the other hand, the adoption of a
purposive approach to construction of
statutes generally, and the 1990 Act in
particular, is amply justified on wider
grounds. In Cabell v Markham (1945)
148 F 2d 737 at 739 Learned Hand J
explained the merits of purposive

‘Of course it is true that the
words used, even in their literal
sense, are the primary, and
ordinarily the most reliable,
source of interpreting the
meaning of any writing: be it a
statute, a contract, or anything
else. But it is one of the surest
indexes of a mature developed
jurisprudence not to make a

fortress out of the dictionary; but
to remember that statutes always
have some purpose or object to
accomplish, whose sympathetic
and imaginative discovery is the
surest guide to their meaning.’

The pendulum has swung towards
purposive methods of construction. This
change was not initiated by the
teleological approach of European
Community jurisprudence, and the
influence of European legal culture
generally, but it has been accelerated by
European ideas: see, however, a classic
early statement of the purposive
approach by Lord Blackburn in River
Wear Comrs v Adamson (1877) 2 App
Cas 743 at 763, [1874-80] All ER Rep 1
at 11. In any event, nowadays the shift
towards purposive interpretation is not in
doubt. The qualification is that the
degree of liberality permitted is
influenced by the context, e.g. social
welfare legislation and tax statutes may
have to be approached somewhat
differently. For these slightly different
reasons I agree with the conclusion of
the Court of Appeal that s 1(1) of the
1990 Act must be construed in a
purposive way.” (at 122, 123)66

We find the same modern view of the law in CIC

Insurance Limited v. Bankstown Football Club

Limited, F.C. (1997) 187 CLR 384, where the High

Court of Australia put it thus:


In a recent judgment by a 7 Judge Bench of this Court , the
majority, speaking through Lokur, J., referred to the aforesaid
judgment with approval. See Abhiram Singh v. C.D. Commachen –
2017 (2) SCC 629 at Para 37.


“It is well settled that at common law,
apart from any reliance upon 15AB of
the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth),
the court may have regard to reports of
law reform bodies to ascertain the
mischief which a statute is intended to
cure. [Black-Clawson International
Ltd v Papierwerke Waldhof-

Aschaffenburg [1975] UKHL 2; [1975]
AC 591 at 614, 629, 638; Wacando v
The Commonwealth [1981] HCA 60;
(1981) 148 CLR 1 at 25-26; Pepper v
Hart [1992] UKHL 3; [1993] AC 593 at

630.]. Moreover, the modern approach
to statutory interpretation (a) insists that
the context be considered in the first
instance, not merely at some later stage
when ambiguity might be thought to
arise, and (b) uses “context” in its widest
sense to include such things as the
existing state of the law and the mischief
which, by legitimate means such as
those just mentioned, one may discern
the statute was intended to remedy
[Attorney-General v Prince Ernest
Augustus of Hanover [1957] AC 436
at 461, cited in K S Lake City
Freighters Pty Ltd v Gordon Gotch
Ltd [1985] HCA 48; (1985) 157 CLR
309 at 312, 315.]. Instances of general
words in a statute being so constrained
by their context are numerous. In
particular, as McHugh JA pointed out in
Isherwood v Butler Pollnow Pty Ltd.
[(1986) 6 NSWLR 363 at 388.], if the
apparently plain words of a provision are
read in the light of the mischief which
the statute was designed to overcome
and of the objects of the legislation, they
may wear a very different appearance.
Further, inconvenience or improbability
of result may assist the court in
preferring to the literal meaning an

alternative construction which, by the
steps identified above, is reasonably
open and more closely conforms to the
legislative intent. [Cooper Brookes
(Wollongong) Pty Ltd v Federal
Commissioner of Taxation (1981) 147
CLR 297 at 320-321].”

24. It is thus clear on a reading of English, U.S.,

Australian and our own Supreme Court judgments

that the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ has in fact been

extended to move away from the strictly literal rule

of interpretation back to the rule of the old English

case of Heydon, where the Court must have

recourse to the purpose, object, text, and context of

a particular provision before arriving at a judicial

result. In fact, the wheel has turned full circle. It

started out by the rule as stated in 1584 in Heydon’s

case, which was then waylaid by the literal

interpretation rule laid down by the Privy Council and

the House of Lords in the mid 1800s, and has come

back to restate the rule somewhat in terms of what

was most felicitously put over 400 years ago in

Heydon’s case.

25. Coming to the statute at hand, it was argued

before us that even though the statute is a

beneficial one, it is penal as well, and that therefore

its provisions ought to be strictly construed. Here

again, the modern trend in construing penal statutes

has moved away from a mechanical incantation of

strict construction. In Lalita Jalan v. Bombay Gas

Co. Ltd. and Ors., (2003) 6 SCC 107, this Court

referred to the correct principle of construction of

penal statutes as follows:

“We would like to mention here that the
principle that a statute enacting an
offence or imposing a penalty is to be
strictly construed is not of universal
application which must necessarily be
observed in every case. In Murlidhar
Meghraj Loya v. State of
Maharashtra [(1976) 3 SCC 684 : 1976
SCC (Cri) 493 : AIR 1976 SC 1929]
Krishna Iyer, J. held that any narrow and
pedantic, literal and lexical construction
of food laws is likely to leave loopholes
for the offender to sneak out of the
meshes of law and should be
discouraged and criminal jurisprudence
must depart from old canons defeating
criminal statutes calculated to protect
the public health and the nation’s
wealth. The same view was taken in
another case under the Prevention of
Food Adulteration Act in Kisan Trimbak
Kothula v. State of Maharashtra [(1977)
1 SCC 300 : 1977 SCC (Cri) 97 : AIR
1977 SC 435] . In Supdt. and
Remembrancer of Legal Affairs to Govt.
of W.B. v. Abani Maity [(1979) 4 SCC 85
: 1979 SCC (Cri) 902 : AIR 1979 SC

1029] the word “may” occurring in
Section 64 of the Bengal Excise Act was
interpreted to mean “must” and it was
held that the Magistrate was bound to
order confiscation of the conveyance
used in commission of the offence.

Similarly, in State of
Maharashtra v. Natwarlal Damodardas
Soni [(1980) 4 SCC 669 : 1981 SCC
(Cri) 98 : AIR 1980 SC 593] with
reference to Section 135 of the Customs
Act and Rule 126-H(2)(d) of the Defence
of India Rules, the narrow construction
given by the High Court was rejected on
the ground that they will emasculate
these provisions and render them
ineffective as a weapon for combating
gold smuggling. It was further held that
the provisions have to be specially
construed in a manner which will
suppress the mischief and advance the
object which the legislature had in view.

The contention raised by learned
counsel for the appellant on strict
interpretation of the section cannot
therefore be accepted.” [para 18]

This was followed in Iqbal Singh Marwah and

Another vs. Meenakshi Marwah and Another,

(2005) 4 SCC 370 at pages 388 and 389.

26. In fact, interestingly enough, a judgment of

this Court in S. Gopal Reddy vs. State of A.P.,

(1996) 4 SCC 596 construed the Dowry Prohibition

Act, which is undoubtedly a beneficial legislation

containing drastic penal provisions, as follows:


“It is a well-known rule of interpretation
of statutes that the text and the context
of the entire Act must be looked into
while interpreting any of the expressions
used in a statute. The courts must look
to the object which the statute seeks to
achieve while interpreting any of the
provisions of the Act. A purposive
approach for interpreting the Act is
necessary. We are unable to persuade
ourselves to agree with Mr. Rao that it is
only the property or valuable security
given at the time of marriage which
would bring the same within the
definition of ‘dowry’ punishable under
the Act, as such an interpretation would
be defeating the very object for which
the Act was enacted. Keeping in view
the object of the Act, “demand of
dowry” as a consideration for a
proposed marriage would also come
within the meaning of the expression
dowry under the Act. If we were to agree
with Mr. Rao that it is only the ‘demand’
made at or after marriage which is
punishable under Section 4 of the Act,
some serious consequences, which the
legislature wanted to avoid, are bound
to follow. Take for example a case where
the bridegroom or his parents or other
relatives make a ‘demand’ of dowry
during marriage negotiations and later
on after bringing the bridal party to the
bride’s house find that the bride or her
parents or relatives have not met the
earlier ‘demand’ and call off the
marriage and leave the bride’s house,
should they escape the punishment
under the Act. The answer has to be an
emphatic ‘no’. It would be adding insult
to injury if we were to countenance that
their action would not attract the
provisions of Section 4 of the Act. Such

an interpretation would frustrate the very
object of the Act and would also run
contrary to the accepted principles
relating to the interpretation of statutes.”
[para 12]

27. A recent judgment, also discussing the

provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act, is reported

as Rajinder Singh v. State of Punjab, (2015) 6

SCC 477. Discussing the reach of Section 304B of

the Penal Code read with the Dowry Prohibition Act,

this Court has held:

“In order to arrive at the true
construction of the definition of dowry
and consequently the ingredients of the
offence under Section 304-B, we first
need to determine how a statute of this
kind needs to be interpreted. It is
obvious that Section 304-B is a stringent
provision, meant to combat a social evil
of alarming proportions. Can it be
argued that it is a penal statute and,
should, therefore, in case of ambiguity in
its language, be construed strictly?

The answer is to be found in two path-
breaking judgments of this Court. In M.

Narayanan Nambiar v. State of
Kerala [AIR 1963 SC 1116 : (1963) 2 Cri
LJ 186 : 1963 Supp (2) SCR 724] , a
Constitution Bench of this Court was
asked to construe Section 5(1)(d) of the
Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947. In
construing the said Act, a penal statute,
Subba Rao, J. stated: (AIR p. 1118,
para 9)

“9. The Preamble indicates that
the Act was passed as it was
expedient to make more effective
provisions for the prevention of
bribery and corruption. The long
title as well as the Preamble
indicate that the Act was passed to
put down the said social evil i.e.
bribery and corruption by public
servant. Bribery is a form of
corruption. The fact that in addition
to the word ‘bribery’ the word
‘corruption’ is used shows that the
legislation was intended to combat
also other evil in addition to
bribery. The existing law i.e. the
Penal Code was found insufficient
to eradicate or even to control the
growing evil of bribery and
corruption corroding the public
service of our country. The
provisions broadly include the
existing offences under Sections
161 and 165 of the Penal Code,
1860 committed by public servants
and enact a new rule of
presumptive evidence against the
accused. The Act also creates a
new offence of criminal
misconduct by public servants
though to some extent it overlaps
on the pre-existing offences and
enacts a rebuttable presumption
contrary to the well-known
principles of criminal
jurisprudence. It also aims to
protect honest public servants
from harassment by prescribing
that the investigation against them
could be made only by police
officials of particular status and by
making the sanction of the

Government or other appropriate
officer a pre-condition for their
prosecution. As it is a socially
useful measure conceived in
public interest, it should be
liberally construed so as to bring
about the desired object i.e. to
prevent corruption among public
servants and to prevent
harassment of the honest among

10. A decision of the Judicial
Committee in Dyke v.Elliott, The
Gauntlet [(1872) LR 4 PC 184],
cited by the learned counsel as an
aid for construction neatly states
the principle and therefore may be
extracted: Lord Justice James
speaking for the Board observes
at LR p. 191:

‘… No doubt all penal statutes are
to be construed strictly, that is to
say, the Court must see that the
thing charged as an offence is
within the plain meaning of the
words used, and must not strain
the words on any notion that there
has been a slip, that there has
been a casus omissus, that the
thing is so clearly within the
mischief that it must have been
intended to be included if thought
of. On the other hand, the person
charged has a right to say that the
thing charged, although within the
words, is not within the spirit of the
enactment. But where the thing is
brought within the words and
within the spirit, there a penal
enactment is to be construed, like
any other instrument, according to

the fair commonsense meaning of
the language used, and the Court
is not to find or make any doubt or
ambiguity in the language of a
penal statute, where such doubt or
ambiguity would clearly not be
found or made in the same
language in any other instrument.’

In our view this passage, if we may say
so, restates the rule of construction of a
penal provision from a correct

In Standard Chartered
Bank v. Directorate of
Enforcement [Standard Chartered Bank
v. Directorate of Enforcement, (2005) 4
SCC 530 : 2005 SCC (Cri) 961] at pp.
547-48, another Constitution Bench, 40
odd years later, was faced with whether
a corporate body could be prosecuted
for offences for which the sentence of
imprisonment is mandatory. By a
majority of 3:2, the question was
answered in the affirmative.
Balakrishnan, J. held: (SCC paras 23-


“23. The counsel for the appellant
contended that the penal provision
in the statute is to be strictly
construed. Reference was made
to Tolaram Relumal v. State of
Bombay [AIR 1954 SC 496 : 1954
Cri LJ 1333 : (1955) 1 SCR 158] ,
SCR at p. 164 and Girdhari Lal
Gupta v. D.H. Mehta [(1971) 3
SCC 189 : 1971 SCC (Cri) 279] . It
is true that all penal statutes are to
be strictly construed in the sense
that the court must see that the
thing charged as an offence is

within the plain meaning of the
words used and must not strain
the words on any notion that there
has been a slip that the thing is so
clearly within the mischief that it
must have been intended to be
included and would have been
included if thought of. All penal
provisions like all other statutes
are to be fairly construed
according to the legislative intent
as expressed in the enactment.
Here, the legislative intent to
prosecute corporate bodies for the
offence committed by them is
clear and explicit and the statute
never intended to exonerate them
from being prosecuted. It is sheer
violence to common sense that
the legislature intended to punish
the corporate bodies for minor and
silly offences and extended
immunity of prosecution to major
and grave economic crimes.

24. The distinction between a strict
construction and a more free one
has disappeared in modern times
and now mostly the question is
‘what is true construction of the
statute?’ A passage in Craies on
Statute Law, 7th Edn. reads to the
following effect:

‘The distinction between a strict
and a liberal construction has
almost disappeared with regard to
all classes of statutes, so that all
statutes, whether penal or not, are
now construed by substantially the
same rules. “All modern Acts are
framed with regard to equitable as

well as legal principles.” “A
hundred years ago”, said the court
in Lyons case [R. v. Lyons, 1858
Bell CC 38 : 169 ER 1158] ,
“statutes were required to be
perfectly precise and resort was
not had to a reasonable
construction of the Act, and
thereby criminals were often
allowed to escape. This is not the
present mode of construing Acts of
Parliament. They are construed
now with reference to the true
meaning and real intention of the

At p. 532 of the same book,
observations of Sedgwick are quoted as

‘The more correct version of the doctrine
appears to be that statutes of this class
are to be fairly construed and faithfully
applied according to the intent of the
legislature, without unwarrantable
severity on the one hand or unjustifiable
lenity on the other, in cases of doubt the
courts inclining to mercy.’

Concurring with Balakrishnan, J.,
Dharmadhikari, J. added: (Standard
Chartered Bank case [Standard
Chartered Bank v. Directorate of
Enforcement, (2005) 4 SCC 530 : 2005
SCC (Cri) 961] , SCC pp. 550-51, para


“36. The rule of interpretation
requiring strict construction of
penal statutes does not warrant a
narrow and pedantic construction
of a provision so as to leave
loopholes for the offender to

escape (see Murlidhar Meghraj
Loya v. State of
Maharashtra [(1976) 3 SCC 684 :
1976 SCC (Cri) 493] ). A penal
statute has to also be so
construed as to avoid a lacuna
and to suppress mischief and to
advance a remedy in the light of
the rule inHeydon’s case [(1584) 3
Co Rep 7a : 76 ER 637] . A
common-sense approach for
solving a question of applicability
of a penal statute is not ruled out
by the rule of strict construction.

(See State of A.P. v. Bathu
Prakasa Rao [(1976) 3 SCC 301 :
1976 SCC (Cri) 395] and also G.P.
Singh on Principles of Statutory
Interpretation, 9th Edn., 2004,
Chapter 11, Synopsis 3 at pp. 754
to 756.)”

And Arun Kumar, J., concurring with
both the aforesaid Judges, followed two
earlier decisions of this Court as follows:

(Standard Chartered Bank
case [Standard Chartered

Bank v. Directorate of Enforcement,
(2005) 4 SCC 530 : 2005 SCC (Cri) 961]
, SCC p. 556, paras 49-50)

“49. Another three-Judge Bench of
this Court in a judgment in Balram
Kumawat v. Union of India [(2003)
7 SCC 628] to which I was a party,
observed in the context of
principles of statutory
interpretation: (SCC p. 635, para


‘23. Furthermore, even in
relation to a penal statute

any narrow and pedantic,
literal and lexical
construction may not always
be given effect to. The law
would have to be interpreted
having regard to the subject-
matter of the offence and the
object of the law it seeks to
achieve. The purpose of the
law is not to allow the
offender to sneak out of the
meshes of law. Criminal
jurisprudence does not say

50. In M.V. Javali v. Mahajan
Borewell Co. [(1997) 8 SCC 72 :
1997 SCC (Cri) 1239] this Court
was considering a similar situation
as in the present case. Under
Section 278-B of the Income Tax
Act a company can be prosecuted
and punished for offence
committed under Section 276-B;
sentence of imprisonment is
required to be imposed under the
provision of the statute and a
company being a juristic person
cannot be subjected to it. It was
held that the apparent anomalous
situation can be resolved only by a
proper interpretation of the
section. The Court observed:
(SCC p. 78, para 8)

‘8.Keeping in view the
recommendations of the Law
Commission and the above
principles of interpretation of
statutes we are of the
opinion that the only
harmonious construction that

can be given to Section 276-

B is that the mandatory
sentence of imprisonment
and fine is to be imposed
where it can be imposed,
namely, on persons coming
under categories (ii) and (iii)
above, but where it cannot
be imposed, namely, on a
company, fine will be the
only punishment.’”

In keeping with these principles,
in K. Prema S. Rao v.Yadla Srinivasa
Rao [(2003) 1 SCC 217 : 2003 SCC
(Cri) 271] , this Court said: (SCC p. 228,
para 27)

“27. The legislature has by
amending the Penal Code and the
Evidence Act made penal law
more strident for dealing with and
punishing offences against
married women.”

In Reema
Aggarwal v. Anupam [(2004) 3 SCC 199
: 2004 SCC (Cri) 699] , in construing the
provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act,
in the context of Section 498-A, this
Court applied the mischief rule made
immortal by Heydon’s case [(1584) 3 Co
Rep 7a : 76 ER 637] and followed Lord
Denning’s judgment in Seaford Court
Estates Ltd. v. Asher[(1949) 2 KB 481 :
(1949) 2 All ER 155 (CA)] , where the
learned Law Lord held: (Seaford Court
Estates Ltd. case[(1949) 2 KB 481 :
(1949) 2 All ER 155 (CA)] , KB p. 499)
“… He must set to work on the
constructive task of finding the
intention of Parliament, and he

must do this not only from the
language of the statute, but also
from a consideration of the social
conditions which gave rise to it
and of the mischief which it was
passed to remedy, and then he
must supplement the written word
so as to give “force and life” to the
intention of the legislature.”
(Reema Aggarwal case [(2004) 3
SCC 199 : 2004 SCC (Cri) 699] ,
SCC p. 213, para 25)
(emphasis in original)

The Court gave an expansive meaning
to the word “husband” occurring in
Section 498-A to include persons who
entered into a relationship with a woman
even by feigning to be a husband. The
Court held: (Reema Aggarwal
case [(2004) 3 SCC 199 : 2004 SCC
(Cri) 699] , SCC p. 210, para 18)

“18. … It would be appropriate to
construe the expression ‘husband’
to cover a person who enters into
marital relationship and under the
colour of such proclaimed or
feigned status of husband subjects
the woman concerned to cruelty or
coerces her in any manner or for
any of the purposes enumerated
in the relevant provisions—
Sections 304-B/498-A, whatever
be the legitimacy of the marriage
itself for the limited purpose of
Sections 498-A and 304-B IPC.
Such an interpretation, known and
recognised as purposive
construction has to come into play
in a case of this nature. The
absence of a definition of

‘husband’ to specifically include
such persons who contract
marriages ostensibly and cohabit
with such woman, in the purported
exercise of their role and status as
‘husband’ is no ground to exclude
them from the purview of Section
304-B or 498-A IPC, viewed in the
context of the very object and aim
of the legislations introducing
those provisions.”

Given that the statute with which we
are dealing must be given a fair,
pragmatic, and common sense
interpretation so as to fulfil the object
sought to be achieved by Parliament,
we feel that the judgment in Appasaheb
case [Appasaheb v. State of
Maharashtra, (2007) 9 SCC 721(2007) 9
SCC 721 : (2007) 3 SCC (Cri) 468]
followed by the judgment of Vipin
Jaiswal [Vipin Jaiswal v. State of A.P.,
(2013) 3 SCC 684 : (2013) 2 SCC (Cri)
15] do not state the law correctly. We,
therefore, declare that any money or
property or valuable security demanded
by any of the persons mentioned in
Section 2 of the Dowry Prohibition Act,
at or before or at any time after the
marriage which is reasonably connected
to the death of a married woman, would
necessarily be in connection with or in
relation to the marriage unless, the facts
of a given case clearly and
unequivocally point otherwise.” [Paras
13 to 20]

28. In the case of the Employees’ Provident

Funds Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, again

a beneficial legislation with dire consequences to

those who breach it, this Court construed a penalty

provision in the said statute by adopting a purposive

approach. Thus, in N.K. Jain v. C.K. Shah, (1991)

2 SCC 495, this Court said:

“Relying on the aforesaid principles
governing the construction of the penal
statute Shri P. Chidambaram, learned
counsel for the appellants submitted that
the provisions of Section 14(2-A) and
Section 17(4) should reasonably be
construed and if so construed Section
14(2-A) becomes inapplicable to the
facts of the case on hand. It is true that
all the penal statutes should be
construed strictly and the court must see
that the thing charged as an offence is
within the plain meaning of the words
used but it must also be borne in mind
that the context in which the words are
used is important. The legislative
purpose must be noted and the statute
must be read as a whole. In our view
taking into consideration the object
underlying the Act and on reading
Sections 14 and 17 in full, it becomes
clear that cancellation of the exemption
granted does not amount to a penalty
within the meaning of Section 14(2-A).

As already noted these provisions which
form part of the Act, which is a welfare
legislation are meant to ensure the
employees the continuance of the
benefits of the provident fund. They
should be interpreted in such a way so
that the purpose of the legislation is
allowed to be achieved
(vide International Ore and Fertilizers
(India) Pvt. Ltd. v. Employees’ State

Insurance Corporation [(1987) 4 SCC
203 : 1987 SCC (LS) 391 : AIR 1988
SC 79] ). In Seaford Court Estates Ltd.
v. Asher [(1949) 2 All ER 155 (CA)] ,
Lord Denning, L.J. observed: (All ER p.


“The English language is not an
instrument of mathematical precision.
Our literature would be much the poorer
if it were. This is where the draftsmen of
Acts of Parliament have often been
unfairly criticised. A judge, believing
himself to be fettered by the supposed
rule that he must look to the language
and nothing else, laments that the
draftsmen have not provided for this or
that, or have been guilty of some or
other ambiguity. It would certainly save
the judges trouble if Acts of Parliament
were drafted with divine prescience and
perfect clarity. In the absence of it, when
a defect appears, a judge cannot simply
fold his hands and blame the draftsman.
He must set to work on the constructive
task of finding the intention of
Parliament, and he must do this not only
from the language of the statute, but
also from a consideration of the social
conditions which gave rise to it and of
the mischief which it was passed to
remedy, and then he must supplement
the written word so as to give ‘force and
life’ to the intention of the legislature ….
A judge should ask himself the question
how, if the makers of the Act had
themselves come across this ruck in the
texture of it, they would have
straightened it out? He must then do so
as they would have done. A judge must
not alter the material of which the Act is
woven, but he can and should iron out
the creases.”

is supplied)

Therefore in a case of this nature, a
purposive approach is necessary.
However, in our view the interpretation
of the word ‘penalty’ used in Section
14(2-A) does not present any difficulty
and cancellation is not a punishment
amounting to penalty within the meaning
of this section.”

29. Bearing in mind that the Act with which we

are concerned is a beneficial/penal legislation, let us

see whether we can extend the definition of “child”

in Section 2(1)(d) thereof to include persons below

the mental age of 18 years.

30. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the

2012 Act is set out hereunder:

Article 15 of the Constitution, inter alia,
confers upon the State powers to make
special provision for children. Further,
Article 39, inter alia, provides that the
State shall in particular direct its policy
towards securing that the tender age of
children are not abused and their
childhood and youth are protected
against exploitation and they are given
facilities to develop in a healthy manner
and in conditions of freedom and dignity.

2. The United Nations Convention on
the Rights of Children, ratified by India
on 11th December, 1992, requires the

State Parties to undertake all
appropriate national, bilateral and
multilateral measures to prevent (a) the
inducement or coercion of a child to
engage in any unlawful sexual activity;

(b) the exploitative use of children in
prostitution or other unlawful sexual
practices; and (c) the exploitative use of
children in pornographic performances
and materials.

3. The data collected by the National
Crime Records Bureau shows that there
has been increase in cases of sexual
offences against children. This is
corroborated by the ‘Study on Child
Abuse: India 2007’ conducted by the
Ministry of Woman and Child
Development. Moreover, sexual
offences against children are not
adequately addressed by the existing
laws. A large number of such offences
are neither specifically provided for nor
are they adequately penalized. The
interests of the child, both as a victim as
well as a witness, need to be protected.
It is felt that offences against children
need to be defined explicitly and
countered through commensurate
penalties as an effective deterrence.

4. It is, therefore, proposed to enact
a self contained comprehensive
legislation inter alia to provide for
protection of children from the offences
of sexual assault, sexual harassment
and pornography with due regard to
safeguarding the interest and well being
of the child at every stage of the judicial
process, incorporating child-friendly
procedures for reporting, recording of
evidence, investigation and trial of
offences and provision for establishment

of Special Courts for speedy trial of such

5. The Bill would contribute to
enforcement of the right of all children to
safety, security and protection from
sexual abuse and exploitation.

6. The notes on clauses explain in
detail the various provisions contained
in the Bill.

7. The Bill seeks to achieve the
above objectives.”

Para 1 of the Statement of Objects and

Reasons makes it clear that the Act’s reach is only

towards the protection of children, as ordinarily

understood. The scope of the Act is to protect their

“childhood and youth” against exploitation and to

see that they are not abused in any manner.

31. Section 2(1)(d), with which we are directly

concerned, is set out as under :

“2. Definitions : (1) In this Act, unless the
context otherwise requires, —

(a) xxx xxx xxx

(b) xxx xxx xxx

(c) xxx xxx xxx

(d) “child” means any person below the age of
eighteen years.”

One look at this definition would show that it is

exhaustive, and refers to “any person” an elastic

enough expression, below the age of 18 years.

“Year” is defined under the General Clauses Act as


“3(66). “year” shall mean a year
reckoned according to the British

This coupled with the word “age” would make

it clear that what is referred to beyond any

reasonable doubt is physical age only.

32. Section 5(k) makes this further clear when it


“5. Aggravated penetrative sexual
assault –

(a) to (j) xxx xxx xxx

(k) whoever, taking advantage of a
child’s mental or physical disability,
commits penetrative sexual assault on
the child.”

It will be seen that when mental disability is

spoken of, it is expressly mentioned by the statute,

and what is mentioned is a “child’s” mental disability

and not an adult’s.

33. That a child alone is referred to under the

other provisions of the Act is further made clear by

Section 13(a), which reads as under:


“13. Use of child for pornographic
purposes. – Whoever, uses a child in
any form of media (including programme
or advertisement telecast by television
channels or internet or any other
electronic form or printed form, whether
or not such programme or
advertisement is intended for personal
use or for distribution), for the purposes
of sexual gratification, which includes—

(a) representation of the sexual organs
of a child.”

Obviously, the sexual organs of a child cannot

ever be the sexual organs of an adult, whose

mental age may be less than 18 years.

34. Again, when we come to Section 27(3) of the

Act, it is clear that the Act refers only to children, as

commonly understood. Section 27(3) of the 2012

Act reads as under :

“27. Medical examination of a child. –

(1) xxx xxx xxx

(2) xxx xxx xxx

(3) The medical examination shall be
conducted in the presence of the parent
of the child or any other person in whom
the child reposes trust or confidence.”

35. Section 39 again throws some light on this

knotty problem. The said Section reads as under :


“39. Guidelines for child to take
assistance of experts, etc. – Subject to
such rules as may be made in this
behalf, the State Government shall
prepare guidelines for use of non-

governmental organisations,
professionals and experts or persons
having knowledge of psychology, social
work, physical health, mental health and
child development to be associated with
the pre-trial and trial stage to assist the

Here again, “physical health” and “mental

health” are juxtaposed with the expression “child

development”, and again, therefore, refer only to the

physical and mental age of a child and not an adult.

36. A reading of the Act as a whole in the light of

the Statement of Objects and Reasons thus makes

it clear that the intention of the legislator was to

focus on children, as commonly understood i.e.

persons who are physically under the age of 18

years. The golden rule in determining whether the

judiciary has crossed the Lakshman Rekha in the

guise of interpreting a statute is really whether a

Judge has only ironed out the creases that he found

in a statute in the light of its object, or whether he

has altered the material of which the Act is woven.


In short, the difference is the well-known

philosophical difference between “is” and “ought”.

Does the Judge put himself in the place of the

legislator and ask himself whether the legislator

intended a certain result, or does he state that this

must have been the intent of the legislator and

infuse what he thinks should have been done had

he been the legislator. If the latter, it is clear that the

Judge then would add something more than what

there is in the statute by way of a supposed

intention of the legislator and would go beyond

creative interpretation of legislation to legislating

itself. It is at this point that the Judge crosses the

Lakshman Rekha and becomes a legislator, stating

what the law ought to be instead of what the law is.

37. A scrutiny of other statutes in pari materia

would bring this into sharper focus. The Medical

Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, again brings

into sharp focus the distinction between “mentally ill

persons” and “minors”. Sections 2(b), (c) of the said

Act are as follows:-


“2. Definitions.-In this Act, unless
the context otherwise requires,-

(a) xxx xxx xxx

(b) “mentally ill person” means a person
who is in need of treatment by reason of
any mental disorder other than mental

(c) “minor” means a person who, under
the provisions of the Indian Majority Act,
1875 (9 of 1875), is to be deemed not to
have attained his majority.”

38. Section 3(4)(a) of the 1971 Act reads as under


“3. When pregnancies may be
terminated by registered medical
practitioners. –

(1) xxx xxx xxx

(2) xxx xxx xxx

(3) xxx xxx xxx

(4) (a) No pregnancy of a woman, who
has not attained the age of eighteen
years, or, who, having attained the age
of eighteen years, is a mentally ill
person, shall be terminated except with
the consent in writing of her guardian.”

This provision again makes it clear that when

“the age of 18 years” occurs in a statute, it has

reference only to physical age. The distinction

between a woman who is a minor and an adult

woman who is mentally ill is again brought into

sharp focus by the statute itself. It must, therefore,

be held that Parliament, when it made the 2012 Act,

was fully aware of this distinction, and yet chose to

protect only children whose physical age was below

18 years.

39. The same result is reached if we peruse

certain provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act,

2017. Sections 2(s), 2(t), 14 and 15 of the said Act

are as under:

2(s) “mental illness” means a
substantial disorder of thinking, mood,
perception, orientation or memory that
grossly impairs judgment, behaviour,
capacity to recognise reality or ability to
meet the ordinary demands of life,
mental conditions associated with the
abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does
not include mental retardation which is a
condition of arrested or incomplete
development of mind of a person,
specially characterised by subnormality
of intelligence;

2(t) “minor” means a person who has
not completed the age of eighteen

14 (1) Notwithstanding anything
contained in clause (c) of sub-section
(1) of section 5, every person who is not

a minor, shall have a right to appoint a
nominated representative.

(2) The nomination under sub-section
(1) shall be made in writing on plain
paper with the person’s signature or
thumb impression of the person referred
to in that sub-section.

(3) The person appointed as the
nominated representative shall not be a
minor, be competent to discharge the
duties or perform the functions assigned
to him under this Act, and give his
consent in writing to the mental health
professional to discharge his duties and
perform the functions assigned to him
under this Act.

(4) Where no nominated representative
is appointed by a person under sub-
section (1), the following persons for the
purposes of this Act in the order of
precedence shall be deemed to be the
nominated representative of a person
with mental illness, namely:––

(a) the individual appointed as the
nominated representative in the
advance directive under clause (c) of
sub-section (1) of section 5; or

(b) a relative, or if not available or not
willing to be the nominated
representative of such person; or

(c) a care-giver, or if not available or not
willing to be the nominated
representative of such person; or

(d) a suitable person appointed as such
by the concerned Board; or

(e) if no such person is available to be
appointed as a nominated
representative, the Board shall appoint
the Director, Department of Social
Welfare, or his designated
representative, as the nominated
representative of the person with mental

Provided that a person
representing an organisation registered
under the Societies Registration Act,
1860 or any other law for the time being
in force, working for persons with mental
illness, may temporarily be engaged by
the mental health professional to
discharge the duties of a nominated
representative pending appointment of a
nominated representative by the
concerned Board.

(5) The representative of the
organisation, referred to in the proviso to
sub-section (4), may make a written
application to the medical officer in-

charge of the mental health
establishment or the psychiatrist in-
charge of the person’s treatment, and
such medical officer or psychiatrist, as
the case may be, shall accept him as
the temporary nominated
representative, pending appointment of
a nominated representative by the
concerned Board.

(6) A person who has appointed
any person as his nominated
representative under this section may
revoke or alter such appointment at any
time in accordance with the procedure
laid down for making an appointment of
nominated representative under sub-
section (1).


(7) The Board may, if it is of the
opinion that it is in the interest of the
person with mental illness to do so,
revoke an appointment made by it under
this section, and appoint a different
representative under this section.

(8) The appointment of a
nominated representative, or the
inability of a person with mental illness
to appoint a nominated representative,
shall not be construed as the lack of
capacity of the person to take decisions
about his mental healthcare or

(9) All persons with mental illness
shall have capacity to make mental
healthcare or treatment decisions but
may require varying levels of support
from their nominated representative to
make decisions.

15. (1) Notwithstanding anything
contained in section 14, in case of
minors, the legal guardian shall be their
nominated representative, unless the
concerned Board orders otherwise
under sub-section (2).

(2) Where on an application made
to the concerned Board, by a mental
health professional or any other person
acting in the best interest of the minor,
and on evidence presented before it, the
concerned Board is of the opinion

(a) the legal guardian is not acting
in the best interests of the minor; or

(b) the legal guardian is otherwise
not fit to act as the nominated
representative of the minor,
it may appoint, any suitable individual
who is willing to act as such, the
nominated representative of the minor
with mental illness:

Provided that in case no individual
is available for appointment as a
nominated representative, the Board
shall appoint the Director in the
Department of Social Welfare of the
State in which such Board is located, or
his nominee, as the nominated
representative of the minor with mental

A perusal of the provisions of the Mental

Healthcare Act would again show that a distinction

is made between a mentally ill person and a minor.

Under Section 14, every person who is not a minor

shall have the right to appoint a nominated

representative, whereas under Section 15, in case

of minors, the legal guardian shall be their

nominated representative unless the concerned

Board orders otherwise, if grounds are made out

under sub-section (2).


40. Similarly, the Rights of Persons with

Disabilities Act, 2016 maintains the selfsame

distinction. Sections 2(s), 4, 9, 18 and 31 of the

said Act read as under:

“2. Definitions. – In this Act, unless
the context otherwise requires –

(a) to (r) xxx xxx xxx

(s) “person with disability” means a
person with long term physical, mental,
intellectual or sensory impairment
which, in interaction with barriers,
hinders his full and effective participation
in society equally with others.”

“4. Women and children with
disabilities – (1) The appropriate
Government and the local authorities
shall take measures to ensure that the
women and children with disabilities
enjoy their rights equally with others.
(2) The appropriate Government and
local authorities shall ensure that all
children with disabilities shall have right
on an equal basis to freely express their
views on all matters affecting them and
provide them appropriate support
keeping in view their age and disability.”

“9. Home and family – (1) No child
with disability shall be separated from
his or her parents on the ground of
disability except on an order of
competent court, if required, in the best
interest of the child.


(2) Where the parents are unable to
take care of a child with disability, the
competent court shall place such child
with his or her near relations, and failing
that within the community in a family
setting or in exceptional cases in shelter
home run by the appropriate
Government or non-governmental
organisation, as may be required.”

“18. Adult education – The
appropriate Government and the local
authorities shall take measures to
promote, protect and ensure
participation of persons with disabilities
in adult education and continuing
education programmes equally with

“31. Free education for children with
benchmark disabilities. – (1)
Notwithstanding anything contained in
the Rights of Children to Free and
Compulsory Education Act, 2009, every
child with benchmark disability between
the age of six to eighteen years shall
have the right to free education in a
neighbourhood school, or in a special
school, of his choice.

(2) The appropriate Government and
local authorities shall ensure that every
child with benchmark disability has
access to free education in an
appropriate environment till he attains
the age of eighteen years.”

A perusal of the aforesaid Sections would

show that children with disabilities are dealt with

separately and differently from persons with

disabilities. Thus, Sections 4, 9 and 31 give certain

rights to children with disabilities as opposed to the

other provisions, in particular Section 18, which

speaks of adult education and participation thereof

by persons with disabilities, obviously referring to

persons who are physically above 18 years of age.

41. As a contrast to the 2012 Act with which we

are concerned, the National Trust for Welfare of

Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental

Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999

would make it clear that whichever person is

affected by mental retardation, in the broader

sense, is a “person with disability” under the Act,

who gets protection. The Statement of Objects and

Reasons of the said Act reads as under:


The Government of India has

become increasingly concerned about
the need for affirmative action in favour
of persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy,
Mental Retardation and Multiple

2. In acknowledgement of a wide
range of competencies among these
individuals, the Central Government

seeks to set up a National Trust to be
known as a National Trust for Welfare of
Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy,
Mental Retardation and Multiple
Disability. The said Trust will be
promotive, proactive and protectionist in
nature. It will seek primarily to uphold
the rights, promote the development and
safeguard the interests of persons with
Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental
Retardation and Multiple Disability and
their families.

3. Towards this goal, the National
Trust will support programmes which
promote independence, facilitating
guardianship where necessary and
address the concerns of those special
persons who do not have their family
support. The Trust will seek to
strengthen families and protect the
interest of persons with Autism, Cerebral
Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple
Disability after the death of their parents.

4. The Trust will be empowered to
receive grants, donations, benefactions,
bequests and transfers. The Central
Government will make a one-time
contribution of rupees one hundred
crores to the corpus of the Trust to
enable it to discharge its responsibilities.

5. The Bill seeks to achieve the
aforesaid objectives.”

Relevant provisions of this Act are Sections

2(g), 2(j), 14(1) and 17(1), and the same are

reproduced as under:


“2. Definitions. – In this Act, unless
the context otherwise requires –

(a) to (f) xxx xxx xxx

(g) “mental retardation” means a
condition of arrested or incomplete
development of mind of a person which
is specially characterised by sub-
normality of intelligence;

(h) (i) xxx xxx xxx

(j) “persons with disability” means a
person suffering from any of the
conditions relating to autism, cerebral
palsy, mental retardation or a
combination of any two or more of such
conditions and includes a person
suffering from severe multiple disability.”

“14. Appointment for guardianship.—

(1) A parent of a person with disability or
his relative may make an application to
the local level committee for
appointment of any person of his choice
to act as a guardian of the persons with

“17. Removal of guardian.—(1)
Whenever a parent or a relative of a
person with disability or a registered
organisation finds that the guardian is—

(a) abusing or neglecting a person with
disability; or

(b) misappropriating or neglecting the

it may in accordance with the prescribed
procedure apply to the committee for the
removal of such guardian.”

A reading of the Objects and Reasons of the

aforesaid Act together with the provisions contained

therein would show that whatever is the physical

age of the person affected, such person would be a

“person with disability” who would be governed by

the provisions of the said Act. Conspicuous by its

absence is the reference to any age when it comes

to protecting persons with disabilities under the said


42. Thus, it is clear that viewed with the lens of

the legislator, we would be doing violence both to

the intent and the language of Parliament if we were

to read the word “mental” into Section 2(1)(d) of the

2012 Act. Given the fact that it is a beneficial/penal

legislation, we as Judges can extend it only as far

as Parliament intended and no further. I am in

agreement, therefore, with the judgment of my

learned brother, including the directions given by



(R.F. Nariman)
New Delhi;

July 21, 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Not found ...? HOW TO WIN 498a, DV, DIVORCE; Search in Above link
MyNation Times Magzine

All Law documents and Judgment copies
Laws and Bare Acts of India
Landmark SC/HC Judgements
Rules and Regulations of India.


Copyright © 2021 SC and HC Judgments Online at MyNation

Free Legal Help, Just WhatsApp Away

MyNation HELP line

We are Not Lawyers, but No Lawyer will give you Advice like We do

Please read Group Rules – CLICK HERE, If You agree then Please Register CLICK HERE and after registration  JOIN WELCOME GROUP HERE

We handle Women Centric biased laws like False Sectioin 498A IPC, Domestic Violence(DV ACT), Divorce, Maintenance, Alimony, Child Custody, HMA 24, 125 CrPc, 307, 312, 313, 323, 354, 376, 377, 406, 420, 497, 506, 509; TEP, RTI and many more…

MyNation FoundationMyNation FoundationMyNation Foundation