Doctrine of Pith and Substance

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Apr 4, 2022, 10:04

The Doctrine of Pith and Substance originated in Canada through an incident called Cushing Vs Dupuy. This was a significant decision as it opened the roots of Ancillary and incidental interventions, gradually finding a way to India. It is legalized by Article 246 and Schedule 7 under the Indian Constitution.

Schedule 7 is all about dividing the scope of legislative power between the centre and the state. This schedule consists of all concurrent lists and the ones related to the Union and the State.

Concept Of Doctrine of Pith and Substance

This doctrine is the basis of many Supreme Court decisions and it first appeared in the Canadian Constitution.

  • This happens when a dispute arises between two or more subjects from different lists.
  • The Doctrine of Pith and Substance is specifically used if there is any kind of contradiction between the content of the topic in Listing 1 compared to the topic in Listing 2.
  • The main reason for adopting this core and substantive doctrine is that if all laws are found to be illegal as they violate power, the power of the legislature will be significantly reduced.
  • Under this doctrine, it becomes essential to determine its "true nature and character" and determine where it belongs on the list. If the test is successful, and there is no interference with other lists, then the law is considered within the authority.
  • This is often used to determine if a state has the authority to legislate issues on the Constitution's union list.
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The Doctrine of Pith and Substance Importance

To resolve the doctrine to its definite meaning, the pith shows the essence of something, and the substance shows the most essential part of something. This doctrine definition indicates that the state and federal legislatures are the highest in their respective territories and must not invade each other and other territories.

The core and substance doctrine applies when a law created by a legislator is challenged or violated by another legislator; let us take an example of a law of the centre interfering with the law enforced by the state.

This doctrine states that courts look to the substance of a particular issue in deciding whether a particular statute applies to a particular issue. If the content of the problem is contained in any of the three lists, accidental legal infringement of the other list will not invalidate them as they are specified within the authority.

The Doctrine of Pith and Substance Example

Bombay State vs FN Balsara was a case that challenged the Bombay Prohibition Act because the border drinking ban was a central government issue. Although the law affected the import of spirits, it was verified by the courts as per the Doctrine of Pith and Substance and was on the list of states.

Analysis of Doctrine of Pith and Substance

This doctrine is an important aspect of the decisions of various courts. Whenever the issue of duplication or interference arises, the Doctrine of Pith and Substance gives clarity to the subject and the list to which it belongs.

This doctrine eases the strict federal structure that divides power between the central and state governments. Separation of powers is important as legislation can be declared invalid if it violates other legislative territories, and if the purpose of such separation of powers is lost due to extreme rigidity.

In summary, the Doctrine of Pith and Substance means the essence of law that emphasizes the actual subject matter and has no influence on other disciplines/laws. Overall, the doctrine has proven useful in a variety of situations where the centre and state laws are vying for legislative advantage.

In India, centre laws are more valuable than state laws, which is why many issues with union listings are so important. The state is obliged to legislate only on issues that affect the state itself still there could be some overlap as it may directly or indirectly be connected with the centre law. The court must fulfil its obligations correctly.

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FAQs on Doctrine of Pith and Substance

Q.1. What does the Doctrine of Pith and Substance mean?

The true meaning of the Doctrine of Pith and Substance is establishing "true nature and substance," and this doctrine works when there is a power conflict between the union and the state legislature.

Q.2. When does the court apply the Doctrine of Pith and Substance?

The court applies this Doctrine of Pith and Substance to determine and establish the nature of the legal act in question. When applying this doctrine to a particular law, if the legislator who enacted the law proves to have jurisdiction, the law is considered intra vires and will be termed as a valid law. On the contrary, if the legislature is not competent, it will be considered unauthorized (ultra vires) and invalid.

Q.3. What are the Characteristics of Doctrine of Pith and Substance?

  • The Doctrine of Pith and Substance applies when the problem appears to be inconsistent between the two lists.
  • If any law is declared invalid due to interference with other lists, the legislature's authority will be severely restricted.
  • The doctrine extracts the essence and nature of the problem and divides it into appropriate lists.

Q.4. What is the Importance of the Doctrine of Pith and Substance?

The Doctrine of Pith and Substance is used to see if the statute invades in other areas and helps the judiciary decide whether the law is ultra vires or intra vires.