Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis

Know all about Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis in this Article.

INTRODUCTION

“No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding.” – Plato

Even when the legislature drafts laws with utmost care and precision, keeping in mind all the present situations and the future scenarios that might arise, often there are times when an unexpected situation might come up. But sometimes, the legislature purposely leaves lacunae in the law, either because of lack of common consensus in the Parliament or because it feels that the legal policy can be implemented better if decided on a case by case basis. Because of these reasons, a need for interpretation and construction of statutes and their provisions arises. There are many rules for the judiciary to adhere to during the interpretation and construction of statutes and the doctrine of the rule of Ejusdem Generis is one of the rules of construction.

Every individual living in a society understands the value of law. Law may be understood as a tool to keep the society peaceful and problem free and to prevent conflicts between people by regulating their behaviour. The laws enacted to regulate the society are drafted by legal experts and it can very well be anticipated that many of the laws enacted will not be specific and will contain ambiguous words and expressions.

Quite often we find that the courts and lawyers are busy in unfolding the meaning of such words and expressions and in resolving inconsistencies. All this has led to the formulation of certain rules of interpretation of statutes. We are all aware that the government has three wings, namely, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The role of interpretation of statutes comes into play and is of utmost importance for the judiciary to render justice correctly by interpreting the statutes in the way the situation demands[1].

This assignment will focus on the importance of  Ejusdem generis as rule of construction in the interpretation and construction of statutes. Ejusdem Generis is a Latin term which means “of the same kind”. For example: if a law refers to automobiles, trucks, tractors, motorcycles and other motor-powered vehicles, “vehicles” would not include airplanes, since the list was of land-based transportation. The term ‘Ejusdem Generis’ in other words means words of a similar class. The rule is that where particular words have a common characteristic (i.e. of a class) any general words that follow should be construed as referring generally to that class; no wider construction should be afforded.

MEANING AND IMPORTANCE OF EJUSDEM GENERIS

The principle underlying Ejusdem generis is applied when the statutory provision concerned contains an enumeration of specific words, the subject of the enumeration thereby constituting a class or category but which class of category is not exhausted at the same time by the enumeration and the general term follows the enumeration with no specific indication of any different legislative intention. It has been described in the words of  LOPES LJ in Smelting Co of Australia V Commisiomer[2]of inland revenue as meaning: ‘where general words immediately follow or are closely associated with specific words, their meaning must be limited by reference to the preceding words.

Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis is not a rule of law but a rule of construction, which enables a court to ascertain the intention of legislature when the intention is not clear, and does not warrant the court in subverting or defeating the legislative will by confining the operation of a statute within narrower limit than intended by the law makers. it is not one of the universal application. it is merely a rule of construction and as such may be of no assistance when the intention of the legislature is plain as to require no resort to canons of construction .the rule is to be made use  of only where the language under the statute is vague or uncertain.

The rule of Ejusdem generis is that where general words follow particular and specific words of the same nature ,the general words must be confined to things of the same kind as those specified’ but is clearly decided by the laid cases that the specific words must form a distinct class or genus. It is not a inviolable rule of law but is only a permissible inference in an absence of an indication to the contrary.

The Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis is an attempt to reconcile an incompatibility between specific and general words in view of other rules of construction that all words in a statute are to be given  effect ,if possible that part of the state are to be constructed together ;and the legislature is presumed not to have used superfluous words. The general words are given full and natural meaning, that is, the meaning they would receive in abstract, they would include the object designed by the specific words, making the latter superfluous.

If on the other hand the series of specific words is given its full and natural meaning, the general words are redundant, the rule accomplishes the purpose of giving effect to both the particular and general word by treating the particular words as indicating the class and the general words as extending the provision of the statute to everything embraced in that class, though not specifically named by the particular words. The doctrine of Ejusdem Generis was only a part of wider principle of construction, namely that, where reasonably possible, some significance and meaning should be attributed to each  and every word and phrase in a written document.

ORIGIN OF THE DOCTRINE FROM NOSCITUR A SOCIIS

The principle of ejusdem generis is a part of a wider principle – noscitur a sociis which is a principle used in the interpretation of statutes. According to Maxwell, this means that when two or more words have a similar meaning and can be put in the same category, they are understood in a correlated sense. This rule is used to reconcile the incongruous relationship between a specific word and a general word to which category the specific word belongs. The general word must be confined to the things of the same kind as those specified.

This maxim contemplates that a statutory phrase is recognized by the words that surround it. This can clearly be inferred by the word ‘sociis’ which means ‘society.’ Thus, when general terms are juxtaposed with specific terms, they cannot be read in isolation and derive their colour from the context. This rule will apply unless it is seen that there is contrary legislative intent.

EJUSDEM GENERIS IN THE CONSTITUTION

The constitution of India is the supreme law of the land and lays down the framework for enacting legislations regarding policies, laws, procedures, structures, directive principles, powers etc. of government authorities and sets out the basic fundamental rights and duties of every individual. Constitution of India has followed this principle

· Article 12

Before using the doctrine to interpret article 12, we must ascertain whether it can be used in the first place. As mentioned earlier, only when there is a distinct genus can this doctrine be put into play. Article 12 reads as:

“Unless the context otherwise requires, the State includes the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India”

 The genus constituted under this Article can be identified through the words “government,” “Parliament” of India,” “legislature of each State,” and “local authorities.” These words give meaning to the word “other authorities” which must be interpreted in relation to these phrases. The doctrine of ejusdem generis is mainly applied under article 12. This article gives the definition of “state” i.e. what bodies or authorities come under the purview of the government and can be termed as organs of the state. This has led to a lot of debate and has been shaped by various interpretations by using the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis. The most problematic expression under Article 12 is “other authorities” as this expression is not defined in the Constitution. Thus, it is for the courts to interpret this term, and it is clear that the wider this term is interpreted, the wider the ambit of fundamental rights would be.

This latin phrase was actually first used by Justice V. Ayyar Rajmannar in the case of University of Madras v. Shanta Bai[3] where he said that those bodies that carry out government functions will come under the term “state.” This means that any authority carrying out the sovereign functions of the state is a functionary of the state and is With regard to the application of the doctrine of ejusdem generis to interpret the term “other authorities,” there are many opinions that have evolved through various case laws and doctrines.

The most followed belief is that the words preceding “other authorities” are all related to those that carry out functions of the central or state government. This means that any authority that carries out state functions comes within this phrase on application of this doctrine.

 In the case of Sukhdev Singh v. Bhagat Ram[4], the court held that corporations like ONGC, IFC and LIC are instrumentalities of the state as they have all been constituted by statutes and carry out state functions. Justice Matthew also stated that any action carried out by these instrumentalities would amount to state action. His concurring opinion led the courts to lay down a framework for deciding the same in the case of RD Shetty v. International Airport Authority.[5]

The test that was laid down has certain factors that must be considered:

1. Entire share capital must be owned and managed by the state

2. The company must enjoy monopoly status

 3. The governmental department is transferred to the corporation

4. Functional character must be governmental in nature.

There must be deep and pervasive state control. The aims and objectives of the authority must be considered.  If the financial assistance of the state is so much as to meet almost entire expenditure of the corporation. This test however is not exhaustive but is only inclusive. In many cases, the court uses the above test to determine whether a body comes under article 12. The principle of ejusdem generis may also be used. For example, in the case of Zee Telefilms Ltd. v. Union of India, the word the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was said not to come within the ambit of “state” because the words that preceded other authorities only included governmental bodies which constituted a genus.

The BCCI did not fit in as a specie of that genus and was therefore excluded from being a part of the state as the government only regulates its functioning and exercises no control over it. A similar view was also taken in the case of Lt. Governor of Delhi v V.K. Sodhi,[6] where the State Council of Education, Research and Training (SCERT) did not come within the ambit of the state as it was not a governmental authority. Application of this doctrine leads to easy determination as to whether a body falls within the ambit of the state. For example, it was an issue of great debate that the judiciary must also be a part of the state. But on reading

Article 31 A

This article relates to acquisition of estates and clause 2 consists of enumeration of words relation to the meaning of the term “estate.”

Article 31A (2)(i) reads as: (2) The expression “estate”, shall, in relation to any local area, have the same meaning as that expression or its local equivalent has in the existing law relating to land tenures in force in that area and shall also include- (i) any jagir, inam or muafi or other similar grant and in the States of[Tamil Nadu] and Kerala, any janmam right; Here, the words “jagir,” “inam,” “maufi” form a genus according to which the term “similar grant” must be understood.

An example of this can be seen in the case before the Supreme Court,  where the validity of the Rajasthan Land Reforms and Resumption of Jagirs Act, 1952[7] was impugned. It was contended that land holders were not jagirdars. The court agreed with his contention however, they did not base this conclusion on the ground put forward that the word ‘Jagir’ in Article 31-A of the Constitution should be read Ejusdem Generis with ‘other similar grants’, because, the true scope of the rule of Ejusdem Generis is that words of a general nature following specific and particular words should be limited to things which are of the same nature as those specified and not its reverse, that specific words which precede are controlled by the general words which follow.

EXPLAINING THE IMPORTANCE OF EJUSDEM GENERIS THROUGH VARIOUS CASE LAWS

It is an ancient doctrine, commonly called Lord Tenterden’s Rule, dating back to Archbishop of Canterbury’s Case in 1596, it provides that when general words follow specific words in a statute, the general words are read to embrace only objects similar to those objects of the specific words. The rule recognizes and gives effect to both the specific and general words by using the class indicated by the specific words to extend the scope of the statute with the general words to include additional terms or objects within the class. In using the doctrine as an interpretative aid, it is important to keep in mind that it is not applied in a vacuum, and disputes cannot be resolved by merely tying the issue to the procrustean bed of Ejusdem Generis. In fact, there are several conditions that have been identified for the doctrine to apply, but none more important than the identification of the class. There are five conditions that have been identified:

  • The statute contains an enumeration by specific words;
  • The members of the enumeration suggest a class;
  • The class is not exhausted by the enumeration;
  • A general reference supplementing the enumeration, usually following it; and
  • There is not clearly manifested an intent that the general term be given a broader meaning than the doctrine requires.

Classes can be defined in a vast number of ways, but the key to unlocking the true value of the doctrine is to ensure that the identified class has some objective relationship to the aim of the statute. In other words, the basis for determining, which among various semantically correct definitions of the class should be given effect is found in the purpose and subject of the statute as revealed in the legislative intent.

In Thakur Amar Singhji v. State of Rajasthan, 1955 SCR (2) 303[8], the validity of the Rajasthan Land Reforms and Resumption of Jagirs Act, 1952 was impugned. One of the tenures was known as Bhomichar tenure and it was contended that its holders were not jagirdars. It was held: We agree with the petitioners that a jagir can be created only by a grant, and that if it is established that Bhomichara tenure is not held under a grant, it cannot be classed as a jagir. We do not base this conclusion on the ground put forward that the word ‘Jagir’ in Article 31-A of the Constitution should be read Ejusdem Generis with ‘other similar grants’, because, the true scope of the rule of ‘Ejusdem Generis’ is that words of a general nature following specific and particular words should be construed as limited to things which are of the same nature as those specified and not its reverse, that specific words which precede are controlled by the general words which follow.

In Lilavati Bai v. Bombay State, 1957 AIR 521[9] , the petitioner was the widow of a tenant of certain premises and she had vacated from such premises. Finding the premises vacant, the respondent requisitioned the premises under Section 6(4)(a) of the Bombay Land Requisition Act, 1948, for the public purpose of housing a government servant. One of the contentions of the petitioner was that under the Explanation to the sub-section there would be deemed to be a vacancy when the tenant ‘ceases to be in occupation upon termination of his tenancy, eviction or assignment or transfer in any other manner of his interest in the premises or otherwise’, and that the words ‘or otherwise’ should be construed as Ejusdem Generis with the words immediately preceding them.

It was held that the Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis sought to be expressed in aid of the petitioner can possibly have no application. The legislature, when it used the words ‘or otherwise’, apparently intended to cover other cases which may not come within the meaning of the preceding clauses, for example, a case where the tenant’s occupation has ceased as a result of trespass by a third party. The legislature intended to cover all possible cases of vacancy occurring due to any reasons whatsoever. Hence, far from using those words Ejusdem Generis with the preceding clauses of the explanation, the legislature used those words in an all-inclusive sense. The rule of Ejusdem Generis is intended to be applied where general words have been used following particular and specific words of the same nature on the established rule of construction that the legislature presumed to use the general words in a restricted sense that is to say, as belonging to the same genus as the particular and specific words.

In Western India Theatres v. Municipal Corporation, Poona, AIR 1959 SC 586[10], the respondent levied a tax of Rs. 2 per day as license fee on the appellants, who were lessees of a cinema house. The levy was under Section 59(1)(xi) of the Bombay District Municipal Act, 1901, which provides that the municipality could levy ‘any other tax to the nature and object of which the approval of the Governor shall have been obtained’.

It was contended that Section 59(1)(xi) is unconstitutional in that the legislature had completely abdicated its-functions and delegated the power to the municipality to determine the nature of the tax to be imposed. The contention was rejected by the Supreme Court and one of the reasons given for the decision is: Although the rule of construction based on the principle of Ejusdem Generis cannot be invoked in this case, for items (i) to (x) do not, strictly speaking, belong to the same genus, they do indicate, to our mind, the kind and nature of tax which the municipalities are authorized to impose.

In Jage Ram v. State of Haryana, reported on 28 January, 2015[11], the respondent issued a notification under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, for the acquisition of the appellant’s land. The notification directed that action under Section 17(2)(c) of the Act shall be taken on the ground of urgency and that the provisions of Section 5-A shall not apply in regard to the acquisition.

The appellant contended that though Section 17(2)(c) read by itself covers a very large field, that provision should be given a narrower meaning because of the provisions of Section 17(2)(a) and (b). It was held: The Ejusdem Generis rule is not a rule of law but is merely a rule of construction to aid the courts to find out the true intention of the legislature. If a given provision is plain and unambiguous and the legislative intent is clear, there is no occasion to call in aid that rule.

Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis is explained in HALSBURY’S LAWS OF ENGLAND thus: ‘As a rule, where in a statute there are general words following particular and specific words, the general words must be confined to things of the same kind as those specified, although this, as a rule of construction, must be applied with caution, and subject to the primary rule that statutes are to be construed in accordance with the intention of Parliament. For the Ejusdem Generis rule to apply, the specific words must constitute a category, class or genus, then only things which belong to that category, class or genus fall within the general words’.

The Supreme Court in Uttar Pradesh State Electricity Board v. Harishanker, 1980 AIR 65[12], has laid down the following five essential elements of Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis:

(1) the statute contains an enumeration of specific words;

(2) the subjects of enumeration constitute a class or category;

(3) that class or category is not exhausted by the enumeration;

(4) the general terms follow the enumeration; and

(5) there is no indication of a different legislative intent.

If the legislative purpose of a statute is such that a statutory series should be read Ejusdem Generis, so be it, the rule is helpful.  But if not, the rule is more likely to defeat than to fulfill the purpose of the statute. The rule like many other rules of statutory interpretation is a useful servant but a bad master.

In Rajasthan State Electricity Board v. Mohan Lal, 1967 AIR 1857[13], the respondent raised a question of his seniority in service and filed a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution praying that suitable directions may be given to the appellant Board. The appellant contended that it was not ‘State’ as defined in Article 12 and that therefore no direction could be given to it. The High Court rejected the appellant’s contention. In the Supreme Court the appellant relied on certain decisions46 in which ‘other authorities’ in the Article were read Ejusdem Generis with ‘State’.

However, dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court held:

“In our opinion the High Court [in these cases] fell into an error in applying the principle of Ejusdem Generis when interpreting the expression ‘other authorities’ in Article 12 of the Constitution, as they overlooked the basic principle of interpretation that, to invoke the application of Ejusdem Generis rule, there must be a distinct genus or category running through the bodies already named.”

Craies summarizes the principle as follows: ‘The Ejusdem Generis rule is one to be applied with caution and not pushed too far, to invoke the application of the Ejusdem Generis rule there must be a distinct genus or category. The specific words must apply not to different objects of a widely differing character but to something, which can be called a class or kind of objects. Where this is lacking, the rule cannot apply, but the mention of a single species does not constitute a genus’. Maxwell explained the principles by saying, ‘But the general word which follows particular and specific words of the same nature as itself takes its meaning from them, and is presumed to be restricted to the same genus as those words . . .. Unless there is a genus or category, there is no room for the application of the Ejusdem Generis doctrine.” Where the preceding words do not belong to a distinct genus, the rule of Ejusdem Generis does not apply.

In Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India, 1965 AIR 1167[14], through the Fruit Products Order, 1955, issued under Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, it was made obligatory that the peonage of fruit juice in fruit syrup should be twenty-five. The appellant argued that the order did not apply to its product Rooh Afza even though it contained fruit juices because clause 2 (d) (v) of the Order includes squashes, crushes, cordials, barley water, barrelled juice and ready-to-serve beverages or any other beverages containing fruit juices or fruit pulp and that the expression any other beverages containing fruit juices or fruit pulp should be construed Ejusdem Generis. The Supreme Court rejected the contention and held that the rule had no application here because the things mentioned before the general expression any other beverages containing fruit juices or fruit pulp did not fall under a determinable genus. Further, the context makes it clear that all beverages containing fruit juice are intended to be included.

In M/s Siddeshwari Cotton Mills Private Limited v. Union of India, 1989 AIR 1019[15], the Supreme Court observed that the expressions ‘bleaching, mercerizing, dyeing, printing, water-proofing, rubberising, shrink-proofing, organdie processing, which precede the expression ‘or any other process’ in Section 2 (f) (v) of the Central Excises and Salt Act, 1944 contemplate processes which import a change of a lasting character to the fabric by either the addition of some chemical into the fabric or otherwise. ‘Any other process’ in the section must share one or the other of these incidents. The expression is used in the context of what constitutes manufacture in its extended meaning and the expression ‘unprocessed’ in the exempting notification draws its meaning from that context.

In Jagdish Chandra Gupta v. Kajaria Traders (India) Ltd., AIR 1964 SC 1882[16], interpretation of the words ‘or other proceeding’ in the phrase ‘a claim of set off or other proceeding to enforce a right arising from contract’ appearing in . Section 69 of the Partnership Act, 1932 was involved. The Supreme Court did not apply the principle of Ejusdem Generis because the preceding words /a claim of set off did not constitute a genus. The court also observed that interpretation Ejusdem Generis or Noscitur a Sociis need not always be made when words showing particular classes are followed by general words. Before the general words can be so interpreted there must be a genus constituted or a category disclosed with reference to which the general words can and are intended to be restricted.

In M. Kumar v/s Bharat Earth Movers Limited, ILR 1999 KAR 1715[17], the Supreme court observed that to invoke the application of the Ejusdem Generis rule there must be’ a distinct genus or category. The specific words must apply not to different objects of the widely different character but to something which can be called a class or kind of object; where this is lacking, the rule will not apply and mention of single specie will not constitute a genus.

Also Read: GOLDEN RULE OF INTERPRETATION AND CASES

CONCLUSION

Thus, EJUSDEM GENERIS is:-

(a) In an enumeration of different subjects in an Act, general words following specific words may be construed with reference to the antecedent matters, and the construction may be narrowed down by treating them as applying to things of the same kind as those previously mentioned, unless of course, there is something to show that a wider sense was intended.

(b) If the particular words exhaust the whole genus, then the general- words are construed as embracing a larger genus.

General words in a statute should be taken ordinarily in their usual sense. General words, even when they follow specific words, should ordinarily be taken in their general sense, unless a more reasonable interpretation requires them to be used in a sense limited to things Ejusdem Generis with those specifically mentioned. If, however, the particular words exhaust the whole genus, the general words must be understood to refer to some larger genus.

The doctrine of Ejusdem Generis is only part of a wider principle of construction, namely, that, where reasonably possible, some significance and meaning should be attributed to each and every word and phrase in a written document. That being the object of the doctrine, it is difficult to see what difference it can make whether the word ‘other’ is or is not used, provided-and this is essential-that the examples which have been given are referable to a clearly ascertainable genus

The rule of Ejusdem Generis must be applied with great caution, because, it implies a departure from the natural meaning of words, in order to give them a meaning on a supposed intention of the legislature. The rule must be controlled by the fundamental rule that statutes must be construed so as to carry out the object sought to be accomplished. The rule requires that the specific words are all of one genus, in which case, the general words may be presumed to be restricted to that genus.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

https://indiankanoon.org/search/?formInput=Thakur+Amar+Singhji+v.+State+of+Rajasthan%2C+1955+SCR+%282%29+303

https://studydriver.com/ejusdem-generis/#:~:text=Ejusdem%20generis%20is%20not%20a%20rule%20of%20law,within%20narrower%20limit%20than%20intended%20by%20the%20law-maker.

https://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/edjem.htm

https://judicature.duke.edu/articles/ejusdem-generis-what-is-it-good-for/

https://www.academia.edu/35115786/Interpretation_of_Statutes_Ejusdem_Generis


[1] Construction In The Interpretation Of Statutes, available at: https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-6955-doctrine-of-harmonious-construction-in-the-interpretation-of-statutes.html (visited on 23 November,2021)

[2] (1954) 2 Q.B. 127

[3] AIR 1954 Mad 67

[4] AIR 1967 Cal 22

[5] AIR 1628, 1979 SCR (3)1014

[6] SC 3272 of 2003

[7] Resumption of Jagirs Act, 1952, Act No.  22 of 1952

[8] AIR 504 1955 SCR (2) 303 

[9] 1957 AIR 521

[10] AIR 1959 SC 586

[11] ibid

[12] 1980 AIR 65

[13] 1967 AIR 1857

[14] 1965 AIR 1167

[15] 1989 AIR 1019

[16] AIR 1964 SC 1882

[17] ILR 1999 KAR 1715

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