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Internal Aids to Construction

Updated: May 17


The Long Title is a part of the Act and is admissible as an aid to construction. This has been held in various judicial pronouncements. It should be distinguished with the Short Title. It is a good guide regarding the object, scope or purpose of the Act. The Long Title although part of the Act is in itself not an enacting provision and though useful in case of ambiguity of the enacting provisions, is ineffective to control their clear meaning. In many cases, the Long Title may supply the key to the meaning. It indicates the purpose of the enactment, but cannot control the express operative provisions of the Act.


The Preamble is expected to express the scope, object and purpose of the Act more comprehensively than the Long Title. It may recite the ground and cause of making the statute, the evils sought to be remedied or the doubts which may be intended to be settled, in the best or most satisfactory manner It is a key to open the minds of the makers of the Act and the issues redressed by them in such enactment. However, it is not to influence the meaning otherwise ascribable to the enacting part unless there is a compelling reason for it.


A Heading is to be regarded as giving the key to the interpretation of the clauses ranged under it, unless the wording is inconsistent with such interpretation, and so the headings may be treated as Preambles to the provisions following them. A contradictory view can also be taken where a heading can only be resorted to when the words are ambiguous.

The Supreme Court in Frick India Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1990 SC 689 has expressed as follows:

“It is well-settled that the headings prefixed to sections or entries cannot control the plain words of the provision; they cannot also be referred to for the purpose of construing the provision when the words used in the provision are clear and unambiguous; nor can they be used for cutting down the plain meaning of the words in the provision. Only, in the case of ambiguity or doubt the heading or sub-heading may be referred to as an aid in construing the provision but even in such a case it could not be used for cutting down the wide application of the clear words used in the provision.“

Justice Lahoti in Raichurmatham Prabhakar Rawatmal Dugar , (2004) 4 SCC has held “it is permissible to assign the Heading or Title of a section a limited role to play in the construction of statutes. They may be taken as very broad and general indicators of the nature of the subject-matter dealt with thereunder. The Heading or Title may also be taken as a condensed name assigned to indicate collectively the characteristics of the subject-matter dealt with by the enactment underneath; though the name would always be brief having its own limitations. In case of conflict between the plain language of the provision and the meaning of the Heading or Title, the Heading or Title would not control the meaning which is clearly and plainly discernible from the language of the provision thereunder.”


In the older statutes marginal notes were not inserted by the legislature and hence were not part of the statute and could not be referred to for the purpose of construing the statute. If they are also enacted by the legislature they can be referred to for the purpose of interpretation. In the case of the Indian Constitution, the marginal notes have been enacted by the Constituent Assembly and hence they may be referred to for interpreting the Articles of the Constitution. If the words used in the enactment are clear and unambiguous, the marginal note cannot control the meaning, but in case of ambiguity or doubt, the marginal note may be referred to.

\In the case of Thakurain Balraj Kunwar v. Rao Jagpatpal Singh, it was observed that it is well settled that marginal notes to the sections of an Act of Parliament cannot be referred to for the purpose of construing the Act. 

There can be no justification for restricting the contents of the section by the marginal note. The marginal note cannot affect the construction of the language used in the body of the section if it is otherwise clear and ambiguous. The marginal heading cannot control the interpretation of the words of the section particularly when the language of the section is clear and unambiguous. Where the language is clear and can admit of no other meaning, the marginal note cannot be read to control the provisions of the statute.


‘Punctuation’ means to mark with points and to make points with usual stops. It is the art of dividing sentences by point or mark. Punctuation is considered as a minor element in the construction of statutes. The English Courts paid little or no attention to punctuation while interpreting while interpreting the statutes. The same is not the cases in Indian Courts. If a statute in question is found to be carefully punctuated, punctuation may be resorted for the purpose of construction.

B. K. MUKHERJEE, J., in Aswini Kumar Ghose v. Arabinda Bose, expressed himself as follows: “Punctuation is after all a minor element in the construction of a statute, and very little attention is paid to it by English Courts-. It seems, however, that in the vellum copies printed since 1850, there are some cases of punctuation, and when they occur they can be looked upon as a sort of contemporanea expositio. When a statute is carefully punctuated and there is doubt about its meaning, a weight should undoubtedly be given some cases, but it cannot certainly be regarded as a controlling element and cannot be allowed to control the plain meaning of a text.”


Illustrations appended to a section from part of the statute and although forming no part of the section, are of relevance and value in the construction of the text of the section and they should not be readily rejected as repugnant to the section. 

As held in Mahomed Sydeol Ariffin v. Yeah Oai Gark, “The great usefulness of the Illustrations which have, although not part of the sections, been expressly furnished by the Legislature as helpful in the working and application of the statute, should not be thus imparied.” 

In a case before the Supreme Court which involved the interpretation of section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the Court held that the said provision was not intended to relieve the prosecution of the burden of proof and was designed to meet certain exceptional cases and had no application to those cases where the information was as much within the knowledge of the prosecution as of accused. Referring to the Illustration to section 106, BOSE J., observed: 

“We recognize that an Illustration does not exhaust the full content of the section which it illustrates but it can neither curtail nor expand its ambit.”


These do not take away the ordinary and natural meaning of the words, but as used: (i) to extend the meaning of a word to include or cover something, which would not normally be covered or included; and (ii) to interpret ambiguous words and words which are not plain or clear.

The definition must ordinarily determine the application of the word or phrase defined; but the definition itself must first be interpreted before it is applied.

When the definition of a word gives it an extended meaning, the word is not to be interpreted by its extended meaning every time it is used, for the meaning ultimately depends on the context; and a definition clause does not, ordinarily enlarge the scope of the Act.

Definitions in an Act are to be applied only when there is nothing repugnant in the subject or context, and this is so even if such a qualifying provisions is not expressly stated by the legislature.

The words ‘that is to say’ are not words of restriction. They are words of illustration, and the instances that follow operate as a guide for interpretation.

An interpretation clause may used the very ‘includes’ or ‘means’ or ‘means and includes’, or ‘denotes’ or ‘deemed to be’.

The words ‘includes’ is generally used in the interpretation clause to enlarge the meaning of words or phrases occurring in the body of the statute; and when it is so used, those words and phrases must be considered as comprehending, not only such things as they signify according to their natural import, but also those things which the interpretation clause declares that they shall include.

If the words ‘means’ or ‘means and includes’ are used it affords a exhaustive explanation of the meaning which, for the purposes of the Act, must inevitably be attached to those words or expressions.

If the word ‘denotes’ is used it has the same significance as ‘includes’.

If the word ‘deemed to be’ is used it creates a fiction and a thing is treated to be that which in fact it is not.

In the absence of such a definition, the General Clauses Act of the particular legislature which enacted the statute should be referred to. If the word is not defined there also, the rules of interpretation would come into play.

The word ‘include’ is very generally used in interpretation clauses in order to enlarge the meaning of words or phrases occurring in the body of the statute; and when it is so used those words or phrases must be construed as comprehending, not only such things, as they signify according to their natural import, but also those things which the interpretation clause declares that they shall include.


The proper function of a proviso is to except and to deal with a case which would otherwise fall within the general language of the main enactment and its effect is confined to that case. It is a qualification of the preceding enactment which is expressed in terms too general to be quite accurate. As a general rule, a proviso is added to an enactment to qualify or create an exception to what is in the enactment and ordinarily, a proviso is not interpreted as stating a general rule. Normally, a proviso does not travel beyond the provision to which it is a proviso. It craves out an exception to the main provision to which it has been enacted as a proviso and to no other.

When one finds a proviso to a section the natural presumption is that, but for the proviso, the enacting part of the section would have included the subject-matter of the proviso. A proviso must be construed with reference to the preceding parts of the clause to which it is appended.

When one finds a proviso to a section the natural presumption is that, but for the proviso, the enacting part of the section would have included the subject-matter of the proviso. A proviso must be construed with reference to the preceding parts of the clause to which it is appended.

The proviso is subordinate to the main section. A proviso does not enlarge an enactment except for compelling reasons. Sometimes an unnecessary proviso is inserted by way of abundant caution. A proviso may sometimes contain a substantive provision.

A construction placed upon a proviso which brings it into general harmony with the terms of section should prevail.

Coming to the interpretation of proviso and explanation, judgment of the Supreme Court in S. Sundaram Pillai v. V.R. Pattabiraman may be referred. After exhaustively referring to the earlier case law on scope and interpretation of a proviso as well as explanation to a section, the Supreme Court laid down as under:

“A proviso may serve four different purposes:

(1) qualifying or excepting certain provisions from the main enactment; 

(2) it may entirely change the very concept of the intendment of the enactment by insisting on certain mandatory conditions to be fulfilled in order to make the enactment workable; 

(3) it may be so embedded in the Act itself as to become an integral part of the enactment and thus acquire the tenor and colour of the substantive enactment itself; and 

(4) it may be used merely to act as an options addenda to the enactment with the sole object of explaining the real intendment of the statutory provision.


The object of an Explanation to a statutory provision is

(a) to explanation the meaning and intendment of the Act itself, 

(b) where there is any obscurity or vagueness in the main enactment, to clarify the same so as to make it consistent with the dominant object which it seems to subserve, 

(c) to provide an additional support to the dominant object of the Act in order to make it meaningful and purposeful, 

(d) an Explanation cannot in any way interfere with or change the enactment or any part thereof but where some gap is left which is relevant for the purpose of the Explanation, in order to suppress the mischief and advance the object of the Act it can help or assist the court in interpreting the true purport and intendment of the enactment, and

(e) it cannot, however, take away a statutory right with which any person under a statute has been clothed or set at naught the working of an Act by becoming an hindrance in the interpretation of the same.


It forms part of the statute and it can be interpreted independently as well as with the aids of interpretation of statutory provision. They are added towards the end and their use is made to avoid encumbering the sections in the statute with matters of excessive detail. The division of a statute into sections and schedules is a mere matter of convenience and a Schedule therefore may contain substantive enactment.


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