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Dr. Sanjiv Agarwal, FCA, FCS
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Any law and tax laws in particular, use many words and expressions in statutory provisions. Each word has importance as well as relevance in a statutory provision and it must be read as per the text as well as context.

Two such words are ‘and’ and ‘or’. While ‘and’ conjoins two words or phrases or sentences, ‘or’ separates the two words, (e.g. either this or that).

An attempt has been made to legally interpret the two words which are of great significance.

And/or

The word ‘and’ signifies two forms or two words to be read together. In contrast to ‘or’ where of the two either of them can be used, in and, both are relevant. The word ‘and’ signifies conjuction and not disjunction. [(see Sahara India (Form) v. CIT (2008) 300 ITR 403 (SC)]

The word “and” has generally a cumulative sense requiring the fulfillment of all the conditions that it joins together, and herein it is the antithesis of ‘or’. Sometimes, however, even in such a connection, it is, by force of a context, read as “or”. [Ishwar Singh Bindra v. State of U.P., AIR 1968 SC 1450, 1454; Chandra v. Nabadwip, AIR 1931 Cal 476].

In Raghunath International Ltd v. Union of India (2012) 280 ELT 321 (Allahabad), High Court held that it was well established principle of statutory interpretation that the word “or” is normally disjunctive and the word “and” is normally conjunctive. Both of them could be read as vice-versa, but that interpretation was adopted only where the intention of legislature was manifest. As stated by Scrutton, LJ:

“You do sometimes read ‘or as ‘and’ and in a statute. But you do not do it unless you are obliged because ‘or’ does not generally mean ‘and’ and ‘and’ does not generally mean ‘or’. As pointed out by Lord Halsbury, the reading of ‘or’ as ‘and’ is not to be resorted to, “unless some other part of the same statute or the clear intention of it requires that to be done”. Where provision is clear and unambiguous the work ‘or’ cannot be read as ‘and’ by applying the principle of reading down. But if the literal reading of the words produces an unintelligible or result of so modifying the words is less favorable to the subject provided that the intention of the legislature is otherwise quite clear. Conversely if reading of ‘and’ and ‘or’ produces grammatical distortion and makes no sense of the portion following cannot be read in place of ‘and’. The alternatives joined by ‘or’ need not always be mutually exclusive.”

In Rajasthan Textile Mills v. Union of India (2014) 46 GST 103; 46 taxmann.com 133 (Rajasthan), relying upon decision of the Supreme Court Babu Manmohan Das Shah v. Bishun Das [ AIR 1967 SC 643], regarding ‘or’ and ‘and’ used generally, it was held that the ordinary rule of construction is that a provision of a statute must be construed in accordance with the language used therein unless there are compelling reasons, such as, where a literal construction would reduce the provision to absurdity or prevent the manifest intention of the Legislature from being carried out. The Apex Court in Manmohan Das Shah (supra) had laid down thus :—

“(6)…The ordinary rule of construction is that a provision of a statute must be construed in accordance with the language used therein unless there are compelling reasons, such as, where a literal construction would reduce the provision to absurdity or prevent the manifest intention of the Legislature from being carried out. There is no reason why the word “or” should be construed otherwise than in its ordinary meaning. If the construction suggested by Mr. Desai were to be accepted and the word “or” were to be construed as meaning “and” it would mean that the construction should not only be such as materially alters the accommodation but is also such that it would substantially diminish its value. Such an interpretation is not warranted for the simple reason that there may conceivable be material alterations which do not, however, diminish the value of the accommodation and on the other hand there may equally conceivably be alterations which are not material alterations but nevertheless would substantially diminish the value of the premises. It seems to us that the Legislature intended to provide for both the contingencies and where one or the other exists, it was intended to furnish a ground to the landlord to sue his tenant without having to obtain the previous permission of the District Magistrate. The construction of cl. (c) placed by the High Court is, therefore, not correct.’

Accordingly, owing to use of word ‘or’ in Rule 18 of the Central Excise Rules, 2002, rebate was not available on both inputs as well as finished goods and rebate was available on either of two. [Case distinguished: Prof. Yashpal. v. State of Chhattisgarh (2005) 5 SCC 420].

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