ejusdem generis

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Introduction The word ‘ejusdem generis’ means ‘of the same kind or nature’.[1] The rule of ejusdem generis is that where particular words are followed in general, the general words should not be construed in their widest sense but should be held as applying to objects, persons or things or the same general nature or class as those specifically enumerated,[2] unless, there is a clear manifestation of a contrary purpose. To put in a slightly different language, where general and special words, which are capable of analogous meaning are associated together, they take colour from each other and the general words are restrained and limited to a sense analogous to the less general.[3] 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 or 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. This rule which normally envisages words of general nature following specific and particular words to be construed as limited to things which are of the same nature as those specified, also requires to be applied with great caution and not pushed too far so as to unduly or unnecessarily limit general and specific words to dwarf size[4]. The ejusdem generis doctrine has been described in the words of Lopes LJ in Smelting Co. of Australia v. Commissioner of Inland Revenue,[5] as meaning: ‘that where general words immediately follow or are closely associated with specific words, their meaning must be limited by reference to the preceding words’. Ejusdem generis is not a rule of law but a rule of construction,[6] which enables a court to ascertain the intention of the legislature when the intention is not clear, and does not warrant the court is subverting or defeating the legislative will by confining the operation of a statute within narrower limit than intended by the law-maker. It should be resorted to not for the purpose of defeating the intention of the legislature but for the purpose of elucidating its words and giving effect to its intentions. It is based on the idea that if the legislature intended its general words to be used in an unrestricted sense so as to embrace the objects, persons or things covered by the particular words, it would not have taken the trouble of using particular words at all.[7]Whether the rule of ejusdem generis should be applied to a particular provision depends on its terms and the purpose and object the provision is intended to achieve. The fact that this particular rule has been applied to one provision is not indication that it should be applied to another provision, even if it recurs in the same enactment.[8] The rule of ejusdem generis is not of universal application. It is merely a rule of construction and as such it may be of no assistance when the intention of the legislature is not plain as to require no resort to canons of construction. The rule is to be made use of only where the language of the statute under consideration is somewhat vague and uncertain. The rule of ejusdem generis is applicable when particular words pertaining to a class, category or genus are followed by general words. In such a case the general words are construed as limited to things of the same kind as those specified. The rule applies only when:
  1. The statute enumerates the specific words;
  2. The subjects of enumeration constitute a class or category;
  3. The class or category is not exhausted by the enumeration
  4. The general terms following the enumeration, and
  5. There is no different indication of a different legislative intention.
If the preceding words do not constitute mere specifications of a genus but constitute description of a complete genus, the rule has no application. If the subjects of enumeration belong to a broad-based genus, as also to a narrower genus there is no principle that the general words should be confined to a narrower genus.[9] In order to attract the doctrine of ejusdem generis it may be rightly said to be necessary that following factors must be taken into account;
  1. The statute contains an enumeration of specific words which constitute a class or genus;
  2. The said class or genus is not exhausted by the enumeration;
  3. The general words follow the specific words;
  4. The legislative intent is not clearly manifest in favour of according broader meaning to the general words.
It may however be said that since the class of enumeration may often be an artificial creation the rule of ejusdem generis is at times described as a dangerous yardstick with which measure the legislative intent, requiring caution in its application.[10] The doctrine of ejusdem generis should not be invoked;
  1. Where the intention of legislature is clear;
  2. Where it would result in disregarding the plain language of the statute;
  3. Where the perusal of the statute as a while indicates that the legislature intended the general words to go beyond the class specially designated;
  4. Where the specific things enumerated have no common characteristic and differs greatly from one another; or
  5. Where the particular words embrace all objects of their class so that the general words must bear a different meaning from the particular words or be meaningless.[11]
Specific words which precede general words not controlled by the latter which follows the former The principle underlying this approach to statutory construction Is that subsequent general words were only to guard against some accidental omission in the objects of the kind, mentioned earlier and were not intended to extend to objects of a wholly different kind. This is a presumption and operates unless there is some contrary indication. But the preceding words or expression of restricted meaning must be susceptible of the import that they represent a class. If no class can be found, ejusdem generis rule is not attracted and such broad construction as the subsequent words may admit will be favoured. If a class can be found but the specific words exhaust the class, then rejection of the rule may be favoured because its adoption may make the general words unnecessary; if however the specific words do not exhaust the class then adoption of the rule may be favoured because its rejection would make specific words unnecessary.[12] Francis Benion further opined that the ejusdem generis principle be applicable only when there is sufficient indication of a category that can properly be described a class or genus, even though not specified as such in enactment. The genus must be narrower than the words, it is said to regulate. The nature of the genus is gathered by implication from the express words which suggest it. McCardie J. said in SS Magnhild (owners) v. Mclyntyre Bros and Co.[13]: “So far as I can see the only test seems to be whether the specified thing which precede the general words can be placed under some common category. By this I understand that the specified things must possess some common and dominant feature.”[14] Where meaning is plain If the intention of legislature is clear, the occasion for introduction of this rule would not arise.[15] General and comprehensive words should receive their full and natural meaning unless they are clearly restrictive in their indictment.[16] In Commissioner of Income Tax v. Laxmidas Devidas[17], Beaumont C.J. observed: “The so- called ejusdem generis rule which, I cannot help thinking is sometimes misapplied in India – is merely a rule of construction. When you have general words following particular words, the general words are limited to things which are ejusdem generis with the particular word. But that rule being one of construction should never be involved where its application appears to defeat the general intent of the instrument to be construed.” Where the object of the legislature has been clearly expressed and the intention is to extend the scope of the general words, a wider meaning should be given to the succeeding words.[18] This rule ought to be applied with great caution, because it implies departure from natural meaning of the words, in order to give them a meaning which may or may not have been the intention of the legislature.[19] To ascertain intent The rule of ejusdem generis that words are to be interpreted by the association in which they are found, is applied as an aid in ascertaining the intent of the legislature and not to subvert it when ascertained, and gives no warrant of narrowing alternate provisions which the legislature has adopted with the purpose of affording added safeguards.[20] Hence there is no room for the application of ejusdem generis unless there is genus or class or category.[21] Application of the doctrine for interpretation of statutes The doctrine of ejusdem generis may be applied when following conditions exist:
  1. The statute contains an enumeration by specific words;
  2. The members of the enumeration constitute a class or category;
  3. The class is not exhausted by the enumeration;
  4. A general term follows the enumeration;
  5. There is distinct a genus which comprises more than one species;
  6. There is not clearly manifested an intent that the general term be given a broader meaning than the doctrine requires.[22]
The doctrine of ejusdem generis should be restricted only to cases where the generic words follow specific words in the very same clause or sentence. But where the object of the legislature had been clearly expressed and the intention is to extend the scope of the general words, a wider meaning should be given to the succeeding words. The doctrine of ejusdem generis not only applies when there is more than one thing mentioned and then an expression of general import and intent added in the end, but also where there is only one[23]. Limitation on application of the doctrine The rule of ejusdem generis has to be applied with care and caution. This is not an inviolable rule of law, but it is only permissible inference, in the absence of any indication to the contrary.[24]If some words are specific and general words follow them, the general words should be restricted to the same genus or category as the specific word. This rule of ejusdem generis will not apply:
  1. If the specific words do not come under a genus or category[25]; or
  2. Where the context of the whole scheme of the enactment and the object and mischief of the enactment do not require such a restricted meaning to be attached to the words of general import.[26]
It is only when generic words follow the more specific that the rule of ejusdem generis comes into play and not when the specific words follow a general term.[27] Role of Ejusdem Generis in interpretation of statutes The doctrine is an attempt to reconcile a 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 parts of a state are to be construed together; and that the legislature is presumed not to have used superfluous words. If the general words are given their full and natural meaning, that is, the meaning they would receive in the abstract, they would include the objects designed by the specific words, making the latter superfluous. 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.[28] The rule of ejusdem generis is founded upon the idea that if the legislature intended the general words to be used in an unrestricted sense, the particular classes would not have been mentioned. By application of this principle the legislature is presumed to use general words in a restricted sense. The effect is the same as if the specific or the particular word was actually enacted by the legislature itself. Hence whenever this doctrine is applied certain words of limitation or restriction is read in a stature that should be treated as having been enacted.[29] Indian Cases involving ejusdem generis in Taxation matters Western India Theatres v. Municipal Corporation, Poona In Western India Theatres v. Municipal Corporation, Poona[30] , 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’. M/s Siddeshwari Cotton Mills Private Limited v. Union of India In the present case, 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 it’s meaning from that context.[31] Amar Chandra vs. Collector of Excise, Tripura In the present case, the appellant challenged that the words “any cause other than” in Section 43 of Bengal Excise Act, 1990 must be read ejusdem generis with the causes in mentioned in Sec.42 of the Act. The Supreme Court held that this rule applies when — (a) The statute contains an enumeration of specific words; (b)The subjects of enumeration constitute a class or category; (c) That class or category is not exhausted by the enumeration; (d)The general terms follow the enumeration; (e)There is no indication of a different legislative intent. Furthermore it was held that in the present case. it is not easy to construe the various clauses of S. 42 as constituting one category or class. But that apart, the very language of the two sections and the objects intended respectively to be achieved by them also negative any intention of the legislature to attract the rule of ejusdem generis. Therefore the expression 'any cause other than' in Sec. 43(1) could not be considered ejusdem generis with the causes specified in clauses (a) to (g) of Sec. 42(1).[32] Commissioner of Central Excise, Meerut v. M/s Sundstrand Forms P. Ltd. In the present case, the question was raised with regard to Headings 48.09 and 48.16 of Schedule to Central Excise Act, that whether the “carbonless paper emerging at intermediate stage” would be classifiable under Tariff Heading 48.16 or not. According to him goods covered under Headings 48.09 and 48.16 are of same kind except that in latter heading the goods, other than in roll form or in rectangular sheet with at least one side exceeding 36 cm fall and that applying the principle of ejusdem generis, the carbonless paper whether printed or not which is not in roll form or in the sheet form with one side exceeding 36 cm would be covered under sub heading No. 48.16.[33] Sales Tax Commissioner v. Ram Kumar Agarwal In the present case it was argued that the term “cash” is narrower than “money”. The words “deferred payment or other valuable consideration” as per Sec. 2(h) of U.P. Sales Tax Act, merely enlarges the ambit of the consideration beyond “cash”, but they do not, carry it outside the scope of term “money”. The words “other valuable consideration” are general as compared to the two preceding more specific terms “cash” or “deferred payment”. “Cash” and “deferred payment” are also considerations, hence all the conditions for the applicability of the ejusdem generis rule are satisfied and the expression “other valuable consideration” can and must be interpreted restrictively here.[34] G.Radhakrishna Murthy and Ors. V. Commercial Tax Officer In the present case, the common question involved in all those writ petitions was whether “aggarbatti's” were to be included for Sales Tax under Item 36 of the First Schedule to the Andhra Pradesh General Sales Tax Act. It was held by the court that, an inclusive definition has to be taken while clarifying, that as per Entry 36 “cosmetic and toilet preparations would include scents, perfumes, face powders, talcum powders, hair tonics, hair oils, hair lotions, face creams and snows, pomades, depilatories, tooth powder, toothpaste, toothbrushes and shaving creams.” The things specially mentioned in the entry "cosmetic and toilet preparations" are all of the nature of personal application. Incense sticks or aggarbattis are goods of a different character altogether. These may emit a pleasant odour when burnt. That, however, will not bring aggarbattis within the class of articles mentioned in Item 36 of the First Schedule. All these goods are articles of personal application. Hence the "Perfume" in this context has to be construed ejusdem generis.[35]
[1] Municipal Corpn v Saw Willie AIR 1942 Rang 70, p 72 [2] Rajaram Baijnath v Nandikishore Sheobux Rai (1975) MP LJ 419 [3] State of Punjab v Meluchand AIR 1968 Raj 72, p 76 [4] Grasim Industries Ltd. v Collector of Customs, Bombay (2002) 2 SCC 297 [5] Haji Mohammad v Province of Bengal (1942) ILR 1 Cal 343, p 347 [6] Bangalore Electric Supply Co. Ltd v CIT, West Bengal AIR 1978 SC 1272, p 1275 [7]Thakurani Gulabkunverba v State of Gujarat AIR 1966 Guj 1 [8] Hyderabad (Sind) Electric Supply Co v Union of India AIR 1959 Punj 199, p 202 [9]Municipal Corp of Greater Bombay v Bharat Petroleum Corpn Ltd (2002) 4 SCC 219 [10] Amarchandra v. Collector of Excise AIR 1972 SC 1863. [11] State of Punjab v. Mehrachand AIR 1959 Punj.222, at p.224. [12] Francis Bennion, Statutory Construction, pp.829-30. [13] [1920] 3 KB 321. [14] Siddeshwari Cotton Mills Pvt. Ltd. V. Union of India AIR 1989 SC 1019. [15] Kallingal Mosa Kutti v. Secretary of State (1920) ILR 43 Mad.65, at p.67. [16] Ali Gulshan v. State of Bombay AIR 1955 SC 810. [17] (1937) ILR Bom.830, at p.834. [18] Atul v. Ram Kishore AIR 1936 Orissa 77. [19] Smetling Co. v. Commrs. (1879) QB 175, at p.182. [20] United States v. Gilliland 312 US 86. [21] Indramani Pyarelal Gupta v. W.R. Nathu AIR 1963 SC 274. [22] Amarchand v Collector of excise (1972) 2 SCC 442, p 447 [23] Anil Kumar v Corpn of Calcutta AIR 1937 All. 603, p 617 [24] Municipal Corpn of Greater Bombay v Bharat Petroleum Corpn Ltd (2002) 4 SCC 219 [25] Maharashtra State Electricity Board v Talegaon Dabhade Municipality AIR 1967 Bom 75 [26] Lilavati Bai v. State of Bombay AIR 1957 SC 521, p 529 [27] In Re Ashraya AIR 1991 Kar. 10 [28] Brownsea Haven Properties Ltd. V. Poole Corpn. (1958) 2 WLR 137. [29] Usman (MHD) v. Union of India AIR 1965 All.269, at p.272. [30] AIR 1959 SC 586. [31] AIR 1989 SC 1019. [32] AIR 1972 SC 1863. [33] [2011] 271 ELT 326 SC. [34] (1967) 19 STC 400 All. [35] (1999) 113 STC 161 SC.
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