This Article is written by Vibhanshi Shakya from National Law Institute, Bhopal and the article has been edited by Khushi Sharma (Trainee Associate, Blog iPleaders).

Introduction

For knowing the meaning of the statute, the statutory interpretation is done by the Courts. There are many rules for the interpretation of the statutes. One of them is “the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis”. This doctrine is applied when there are some specified words which are been followed by the general words. If there is any ambiguity in the meaning of the general words then this doctrine is applied. This doctrine provides that the general words which follow the specified words will be restricts to the same class of the specified words. This is very important doctrine through which the purpose or the objectives of the statute can be achieved and a proper justice can be given. 

In this Article, the following topics will be covered: what is interpretation of statutes and the rules of interpretations, then the meaning of ejusdem generis doctrine will be discussed and its necessity and when it is applied, next thing which is discussed is the essentials of the doctrine which will cover what conditions are necessary for its application, next the limitation of this doctrine is been provided so as to when is doctrine is not applicable. At last the improper use of this doctrine by the courts is been discussed that how courts does not use this doctrine properly sometime and thus justice is not provided.

Statement of problem

The Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis is a canon of interpretation, which is used by the Courts for providing the Justice, by interpreting according to the intention of the legislation so as to make the provision of legislation clear and unambiguous and thus fulfilling the purpose of the legislation. But the matter of concern is that whether the Courts are using the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis in a proper manner, to properly interpret the legislations and fulfill its purpose  or the Courts are using this doctrine improperly where it is not required thus defeating the purpose and causing the miscarriage to the Justice?

Objectives

  • To understand the meaning of the statutory interpretation.
  • To understand the meaning of “Ejusdem Generis”.
  • To study the applicability and the non-applicability of the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis.
  • To study the cases where this doctrine were applied and where not.
  • To examine whether the Courts are using this doctrine in a proper manner or not.

Hypothesis

  • For the application of this doctrine the general words must follow the specific words and the specific words must necessarily constitute a genus/class
  • There must be an intention of the statute for restricting the general word to the genus/class of the specified words it follows. 
  • As this doctrine has to be used very cautiously by the Courts but sometimes the Courts may  not use this doctrine properly and apply it where it is not necessary thus defeating the purpose of the statute and causing a miscarriage to Justice.

Research questions

  • What is Ejusdem Generis?
  • When this doctrine can be applied and when it cannot?
  • Does the Court apply this doctrine of ejusdem generis properly or not?

Interpretation of statutes and rules of interpretation

“The essence of law lies in the spirit, not in its letter, for the letter is significant only as being the external manifestation of the intention that underlies it” – Salmond 

Parliament creates the Law and then those Laws are interpreted by the Judges by the use of the canons of Statutory Interpretations. While drafting the statues draftsmen makes sure that those statutes are not ambiguous and clear. However, those statutes can include the words which have uncertain meanings and with the progression of the society, the old statutes may include words which are not used in the present day. Further, Parliament may have left some errors unnoticed. Hence it is required by the Judges to interpret the statutes. 

The right understanding of the legislation is known as the Interpretation of statutes. For the determination of the intent of the legislation, this process is used. As the purpose of the Court is not only the reading of the legislation, but also to understand its intent and in a meaning way to apply it. The objective behind the statutory interpretation is to clarify the ambiguous words and their meaning, according to the intention of the legislation, which was not clear before the interpretation.

It is not expected by the Courts to arbitrarily interpret the stats. Hence, there are certain principles of interpretations, which are exercised by the Courts. These principles are sometimes called ‘rules of interpretation’ or ‘the canons of interpretations’. These rules of interpretations are:

Primary rules

  • The Literal Rule.
  • Mischief Rule : Heydon’s Rule
  • Golden Rule.
  • Harmonious Construction
  • Rule of beneficial construction
  • Rule of exceptional construction

Secondary rules

  • Noscitur a sociis 
  • Ejusdem Generis
  • Reddendo Singula Singulis

In this Article, a further and detailed discussion will be on the “principle of ejusdem generis”, which is one of the principles of the rules of interpretations.

Doctrine of ejusdem generis

Meaning and definition

‘Ejusdem Generis’ is a Latin term and the meaning of it is “of the same kind and nature”. 

According to the Black’s Law Dictionary (8th edition, 2004.), “the principle of Ejusdem Generis is where general words follow an enumeration of persons or things by particular and specific words. Not only these general words are construed but also held as applying only to persons or things of the same general kind as those specifically enumerated.”

This doctrine is also called Lord Tenterden’s Rule (See here), which is an ancient doctrine. The Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis provides that when a list of  specific words are being followed by the general words, the general words are  interpreted in a way so as to restrict them to include the items or things  which will be of same type as those of the specific words. In other words, “where a law lists specific classes of persons or things and then refers to them in general, the general statements only apply to the same kind of persons or things specifically listed.” (See here) For example if a law makes reference to cars, trucks, tractors, bikes and other motor-powered vehicles, then the general word which is ‘other motor powered vehicles’ will not include any planes or ships because the specific words preceding are of the kind of land transports and when doctrine of ejusdem generis is applied then that general word will be restricted to includes the things of same category as that of the specific words.

In case of Evans v. Cross [(1938) 1 KB 694], the Court had applied the ejusdem generis rule. The issue was in relation to the interpretation of the word “other devices”. It was under the definition of “traffic signals” under Section 48(9) Road Traffic Act, 1930, to include “all signals, warning sign posts, signs, or other devices”. The Court held that a painted line on a road cannot be included in the “other devices” as a traffic signs because devices are here indicating a thing, whereas painted line on a road is not.

Need for the doctrine of ejusdem generis

The need for interpretation of statute by the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis arises when-

  • There is ambiguity in the language of the provisions of statutes, or
  • When in the provision, there is a possibility of two views, or
  • The meaning which the provision of a statute gives, defeats the purpose of the statute.

There is no need for the interpretation if in the language there is no ambiguity and it is clear. (See here)

WHEN APPLIED: Unless the context requires, the natural meaning should be given to the general words normally.  In the case of Lilawati Bai v. Bombay State, 1957 Supreme Court (See here), the Court observed that “where the context and the object and mischief of the enactment do not require restricted meaning to be attached to words of general import, the Court must give those words their plain and ordinary meaning.”

But when on reading, it is found that there is some ambiguity in the provisions of the statute and the intent of the statute is to restrict the general words to the category of the specifics words, then this doctrine of ejusdem generis is applied. Therefore, when general words follows the specified words and those specified words have a genus/category then the general words will be restricted to the same genus/category. This is done because the legislation had shown it intention by using such words of class/category and is the Court will go in contrary to that intention and gives wider meaning to the general words then the purpose of the legislation will be defeated. 

Ejusdem generis: a facet of noscitur a sociis

As been observed by the Court in the case of Maharashtra University of Health and others Vs Satchikitsa Prasarak Mandal & Others, 2010 Supreme Court (See here) soccis” is a Latin word, which means “society”. “Noscitur a sociis is a Latin maxim which means that “the term in a statute is to be recognized by the associated words”. The doctrine of ejusdem generis is a facet of Noscitur a sociis. “Therefore, when general words are juxtaposed with specific words, general words cannot be read in isolation. Their color and their contents are to be derived from their context.” Same observation was been made by the Court in the case of Viscount Simonds in Attorney General v. Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover, (1957) AC 436 at 461 of the report.

Essentials of the doctrine of ejusdem generis

In the case of  Amar Chandra Chakraborty v. Collector of Excise, 1972 Supreme Court (See here) and Uttar Pradesh State Electicity Board v. Harishanker, 1979 Supreme Court (See here) the five essential conditions for the application of this rule were laid.  “The conditions or the elements are as follows: 

  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.”

Thus, it can be seen that for the application of the doctrine of ejusdem generis, there has to an enumeration of specific words and those words should necessarily be of a class or a genus and there such genus or class should not be exhausted. Also such specific words must be followed by the general words. And most importantly there was no contrary intention of the legislation. That means that the intention of the legislation was there to restrict the general words by the doctrine of ejusdem generis.

As can be seen from the above discussion the most two important elements for the application of the doctrine of ejusdem generis are: the specific words should constitute a particular class or genus and the intention of the legislation should be there for such restriction of the general words.

Class or genus of the specific words

In order to invoke the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis for its application, a distinct ‘category’ or ‘genus’ must be present. “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” (See here).  This implies that the enumeration of specific words preceding the general should necessarily constitute a distinct genus: it must be of some class. Then only after the application of ejusdem generis the general words can be restricted to the same class or genus.

In various ways, classes can be defined, however, in order to unlock the true value of this doctrine, the key is to make sure that the class which is identified should have some objective relationship with the purpose of the statute. If we say in a different manner, in the aim of the statute and in its subject (which are revealed in the intention of the legislation), the basis is there which determines which among various definitions of classes is correct. 

There should be an Intention of the Legislation

Further, for the application of the rule of Ejusdem Generis, there should be an intention of the legislation for the same. Meaning that when the specific words were forming a genus or a class, followed by a general word and it can be seen that the intention of the legislation was there to restrict the general words to include the thing of same class as that of specific words. Hence, it is necessary that there was a clear intention of the legislation for interpretation its provision through doctrine of ejusdem generis.

Cases where doctrine of ejusdem generis was applied:

Siddeshwari Cotton Mills (P) Ltd v. UOI, 1989 Supreme Court (See Here)

 In this case, the Supreme Court applied the rule of ejusdem generis while interpreting the general words ‘any other process’ under section 2(f) of the Central Excise & Salt Act, 1944 read with Notification Number 230 and 231 dated 15-07-1977. This general word followed the specific words which were “bleaching, mercerizing, dyeing, printing, water-proofing, rubberizing, shrink-proofing, organic processing”. The Court here by applying the doctrine of ejusdem generis held that “the specific words form a class of process which is importing a change which is of lasting nature. And therefore ‘any other word’ must share one or any other of that process/incident”.   

Kerala Cooperative Consumers’ Federation Ltd v. CIT, (1988) 170 ITR 455 (Ker).

 The Court in this case, interpreted the meaning of the phrase “‘Body of Individuals”, which was provided in the section 2(31) of the Income Tax Act. The phrase was alongside “‘Association of Persons”. The Court by applying the doctrine of ejusdem generis held that “Body of Individuals” will have to be understood with the same context, meaning and background which are provided to the words “Association of Persons”. In this decision, the court was required to interpret the meaning of the phrase ‘Body of Individuals’. It has said that in construing the words ‘Body of Individuals’ occurring in section 2(31) of the Income Tax Act along-side the words ‘Association of Persons’, the words ‘Body of Individuals’ would have to be understood in the same background, context and meaning given to the words “Association of Persons’.

Limitations for the application of doctrine of ejusdem generis

As it has been previously discussed, for the application of rule of Ejusdem Generis, some essential conditions are necessary to be fulfilled. Among which the most important are the existence of a genus/class in the specified words and that the intention of the legislation was there to read the statute in that way. The same has been held in two of the landmark cases mentioned earlier. From that it can be easily deducted that, when this doctrine is not applicable. The Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis cannot be applied in the following conditions:

  1. If the general words are there before the specified words then this doctrine cannot be applied. Therefore it is necessary that specific words must be followed by the general words. Department of Customes Vs Sharad Gandhi, 2019 Supreme Court (See here)
  2. If the specific words in the provision of the statute which are been followed by the general words do not form a distinct genus/class then this rule cannot be applied. As this is the most important factor to restrict the general word to the same genus of the specified words by using the rule of ejusdem generis. In the case of Jagdish Chandra Gupta v. Kajaria Traders (India) Ltd, 1964 Supreme Court (See here), the Court stated that whenever the  specific words are been followed by general words, the interpretation of ejusdem generis does not need to be applied. Before such interpretation, there must be a category or a genus constituted so that the general words with reference to it can be restricted, as intended.
  3. Also the doctrine of ejusdem generis cannot be applied if the general word follows only one word as that one word cannot form a distinct class/genus. 

However there is a exceptional instance to this that the general words if is following a one word genus which has been created by the court then that general word can be restricted to that genus of one word. 

  1. If the specified words exhaust the whole genus/class then this doctrine is not applicable and in these cases the general word will be given a wider meaning or a different genus/class as those specified words has already exhausted the whole genus and nothing would be left to be included in the general words. 

The same has been laid in the “Principles of Statutory Interpretation by Justice G.P. Singh (page 512)”, that if the words preceding the general words not only forms a mere specifications of a class/genus but also it forms the whole description of that genus/class then this rule of ejusdem generis cannot be applied. The insurance in the ‘policy of insurance’, were been provided an option for he termination of the policy if they so desired “by reason of such change or from any other cause whatever”. Here the words “by reason of such change” can include any and each and every act which is done to the insured property, whereby the risk of fire increased. Here Lord Watson stated that, in the case, “In the present case, there appears no room for its application. The antecedent clause does not contain a mere specification of particulars but the description of a complete genus…”

  1. If there is a contrary intention of the legislation for the application of the rule of ejusdem generis, then this rule cannot be applied.  In many decided cases, it has been held that the doctrine of ejusdem generis is “not an inviolable rule of law”. It is “permissible inference in the absence of an indication to the contrary”.  This doctrine is also one of the cardinal canons of interpretations and therefore, no interpretation of a statute can be done in a manner so as to cause a part of it “otiose”. The State Of Maharashtra vs Jagan Gagansingh Nepali, 2011 Bombay High Court (See here)

Cases where the doctrine of ejusdem generis was not applied

It is not necessary that whenever there are some specific words, followed by the general words, then the rule has to be applied. The conditions when this rule cannot be applied are being discussed. Hence when these conditions exist, the court does not apply this doctrine of Ejusdem ‘generis. This is a rule of interpretation which may or may not be applied, depending on the intention of the legislation and the other essential conditions.

Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union Of India

Here in this case the question was regarding the interpretation of the general phrase “any other beverages containing fruit juices or fruit pulp”. This was in the Fruit Products Order, 1955, which was passed under the section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Through the order the obligation was made that in fruit syrup, peonage of fruit juice should be 25. The contention made by the petitioner was that, to its product which is Rooh Afza, the order will not be applied because the order provided “squashes, crushes, cordials, barley water, barreled juice and ready-to-serve beverages or any other beverages containing fruit juices or fruit pulp”. Further by applying the ejusdem generis, the general phrase will be restricted to the specified words.

This contention was rejected by the Supreme Court and concluded that ejusdem generis rule will not apply here because the things mentioned before the general phrase does not constitute a distinct genus. Further it is clear from the context that there was an intention that all other beverages which contain fruit juice should also be included. 

Jiyajirao Cotton Mills Ltd v. Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board  

In this case the issue was regarding the interpretation of the general words “any other relevant factors”. Section 49 (3) of the Electricity Supply Act, 1948, empowers the electricity Board to fix deposit tariff for supplying electricity to “any person having regard to the geographical position of any area, the nature of the supply and the purpose for which the supply is required and any other relevant factors”. 

Here the Supreme Court held that the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis cannot be applied because the words preceding the general words did not constitute a distinct genus/class. 

Lilavati Bai v. State Of Bombay, 1957 Supreme Court (See Here)

Here in the case the issue was regarding the interpretation of the general word “or otherwise”. In the premises the widow of the tenant was residing. Under the section 6(4)(a) of Bombay Land Requisition Act, 1948, the respondent had requisitioned the premises. Thus, this requisition was challenged by the petitioner that the premises was not vacant. For this petitioner supported the contention by explaining the section which provided that “vacancy will exist 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”. The petitioner contended that by applying the doctrine of ejusdem generis, the general term must be restricted to the terms preceding it. 

The Supreme Court by rejecting the contention held that the doctrine here cannot be applied because the words preceding the general tem does not form any identifiable genus.  

Improper use of ejusdem generis: miscarriage of justice 

The application of doctrine of ejusdem generis must be done very cautiously. As by using this rule there is a departure from the natural meaning of the words so that those meaning can be given to them which the legislation had intended so as to fulfill its purpose. This rule has to be on the basis of fundamental rule that “that the statutes must be construed so as to carry out the object sought to be accomplished”. Thus this rule requires that there must be a genus constituted by the specific words for which the general words would be restricted and if the context provides for any contrary intention so as to give the terms a wider meaning then this rule cannot be applied. Therefore, it should be applied cautiously as to where it must be applied and where not. If the conditions necessary for the application are there, then this rule can be applied. However, where the conditions are not been fulfilled and there exist those circumstances which were discussed earlier for non application of this rule, even after this if the Court applies this rule, then it will be a diversion from what the purpose of the legislation was and hence there will be a miscarriage of justice. 

There are many instances where the Courts have improperly used the rule of Ejusdem Generis, even when it cannot be applied in those cases. Even when there was no distinct genus of specified words or when genus of specified words were been exhausted or when only one words was there before general words, the rule of Ejusdem Generis were been applied by the Courts. The Courts also applied this rule in some cases where there was no legislative intent to restrict the wider meaning of the general term. 

The Courts by improperly using the rule of Ejusdem Generis, changes the whole meaning of the provision and thus defeat the purpose of the Act, as to the intent of the legislation. This results in miscarriage of Justice.

CASES:

State Of Bombay v. Ali Gulshan, 1955 Supreme Court (See Here)

The Supreme Court in this case held that the decision of the High Court was in error and therefore it rejected the decision of the High Court and concluded that High Court had not use the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis properly and the doctrine should not have been applied in this case.

The issue was regarding the interpretation of the general word “any other purpose” in the section 6 (4) (a) of the Bombay Land Requisition Act, 1948. The general words along with the specified words were “‘State Government may requisition for the purpose of State or any other public purpose”. Here the appellant contented that “under the provision the appellant was entitled to requisition premises for housing a member of the foreign consulate”.  The High Court by applying the rule of ejusdem generis restricted the word “any other purpose” with the “purpose of state”. The Supreme Court here held that this finding of High Court is wrong in applying the rule of ejusdem generis and it further  held that here “any other purpose” which is the general expression follow only one expression, which is “for the purpose of State”.  Thus it does not form a distinct genus/class and therefore, the rule of ejusdem generis cannot be applied. Futrther, the Court observed that  by the words used in the statute, the intention of the legislation was also clear  to give the words their natural meaning, which means that the expression “ any other purpose” will also include “providing accommodation to a member of  foreign consulate”.

Maharashtra University Of Health And Others v. Satchikitsa Prasarak Mandal & Others, 2010 Supreme Court (See Here)

 The Supreme Court in this case held that the High Court was wrong in its Judgment by wrongly applying the doctrine of Ejusdem Generis when there was no room for its applicability.

The issue was regarding the interpretation of “teachers means full time approved Demonstrators, Tutors, Assistant Lecturers, Lecturers, Readers, Associate Professors, Professors and other persons teaching or giving instructions on full time basis in affiliated colleges or approved institutions in the university”. The High Court applied the Doctrine of Ejusdem Generis and concluded that unapproved teachers will not fall in the definition of teachers and thus under section 53, the Grievance Committee for taking cognizance of complaint, does not have jurisdiction for unapproved teachers as they have jurisdiction to take cognizance of the teachers defined in the Act. Thus, for respondents 5th and 6th (being unapproved teachers), the grievance committee has no jurisdiction to take complaints. 

The Supreme Court held that the High Court wrongly applied the rule of ejusdem generis to the definition of teachers and not to include unapproved teachers in the definition. The Court further held that the definition of teachers is wide enough to include the unapproved teachers also. There is even a contrary intention of the legislation to not restrict the definition and first part of the definition includes the enumerated categories and the second part contains different category of persons. This intention is clearly indicated by the disjunctive “and”. Thus first part deals with the teachers mentioned in the enumerated category and the second includes the other persons who are teaching or instructing in affiliated colleges/ approved institutions in the University, on full time basis.

Further the Court held as there was a contrary intention, so the teacher definition will be given wide scope, which means rule of ejusdem generis will not be applied to restrict the definition of teacher to only approved teachers. If the restriction is applied, then the substantial part of the definition of teacher will be redundant. By doing this, it will be against the doctrine of ejusdem generis.

Conclusion

Ejusdem generis, which is one of the canons of the interpretation, is used by the Judges so as to clear the ambiguity in the provisions of a statute and further make it clear by knowing the intention of the legislature and thus properly fulfilling the purpose of the legislation. Here by applying the rule of ejusdem generis and removing the ambiguity by examining what the legislation intends, the justice is served by the Courts and thus, the purpose of the legislation is fulfilled.

 However as had been already discussed earlier in the project this doctrine has to be applied very cautiously. Therefore the existence of the essential elements is necessary for the doctrine to be applied. It is necessary that the general words follow the specified words and the specified words to necessarily constitute a distinct genus/class. Further this doctrine is not an inviolable rule of law. Hence it cannot be applied when the intention of the legislation is contrary, means if the legislation intention is to give the general terms its wider meaning. Further the exceptions which are been discussed should also be kept in mind while applying this principle. Because if there is no genus of the specified words or the intention of the legislation was not to restrict the general term then this can lead to change in the whole meaning of the provision and will defeat the whole purpose of the Act.

However, it can be concluded from the cases discussed in the project that the Courts do apply this doctrine improperly even when in the provisions the applicability of this principle was not possible. The Courts apply this principle even when the specified words do not constitute a genus/class, or when the intention of the legislation was to give the general words its wider meaning. This step of the Courts can cause a great harm. It can change the whole meaning of the provision, thus applying it in the wrong manner and defeating the whole purpose of the legislation.  Hence, it will cause a great miscarriage to the Justice.  These mistakes can lead to the opposite of what the main objective of the doctrine of ejusdem generis was. 

Therefore, it is very necessary that this doctrine should be applied very cautiously by the Courts by properly analyzing as to where this doctrine is to be applied and where not depending upon its essential element and exceptions.


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