Doctrine of Pith and Substance: Meaning, Interpretation of Statutes and Analysis| UPSC

By Aarna Tiwari|Updated : October 11th, 2022

According to the Doctrine of Pith and Substance, the legislation does not become illegal only because it affects a matter outside a legislature's purview if the substance of the legislation is within that body's legal jurisdiction. The Doctrine of Pith and Substance originated in Canada through a case named Cushing vs. Dupuy. It is legalized by Article 246 and Schedule 7 under the Indian Constitution.

The Pith and Substance Doctrine is an important concept that needs to be understood for the upcoming UPSC 2023 Exam. The topic is covered under the polity section of the UPSC Syllabus.

Table of Content

Doctrine of Pith and Substance: Meaning

The Pith and Substance 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 contradiction between the content of the topic in Listing 1 and 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 legislature's power 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.

Doctrine of Pith and Substance in Interpretation of Statutes

The Cushing vs. Dupuy case, an important ruling that laid the groundwork for ancillary and incidental encroachment, is where the Doctrine of Pith and Substance first emerged. It then slowly spread to India and is firmly supported by Article 246 and the Seventh Schedule (the Indian Constitution divides the scope of legislative authority between the Center and states through the Seventh Schedule). This schedule includes the Indian Constitution's Union, State, and Concurrent Lists. This doctrine has been used as the foundation for numerous Supreme Court rulings.

When a law passed by one legislature is contested or violated by another legislature, the Doctrine of Pith and Substance is used. According to this approach, the court considers the subject's content while deciding whether a specific law applies to a given situation. Intent intrusion by law on one of the other lists does not render it unlawful if the topic's essence falls inside one of the three lists because those lists are considered intra vires.

>> Doctrine of Pith and Substance UPSC [PDF]

Importance of Pith and Substance Rule

The Doctrine of Pith and Substance states that courts look to the substance of a particular issue in deciding whether a particular statute applies to a particular issue. Suppose the content of the problem is contained in any of the three lists. In that case, accidental legal infringement of the other list will not invalidate them as they are specified within the authority. 

  • To resolve the doctrine to its definite meaning, the pith shows the essence of something, and the substance shows the 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 center interfering with the law enforced by the state.

Features of Doctrine of Pith and Substance

The features of the Pith and Substance Doctrine are:

  • When the content of two lists appears to clash, this concept is applicable.
  • The legislative branch's authority will be severely constrained if every law is declared illegal because it infringes upon another law.
  • The doctrine separates the issue into its proper list by bringing out the genuine nature and character of the situation.

Judgments Regarding Pith and Substance Doctrine

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.

The Bengal Money Lenders Act was contested in the case of Prafulla Kumar Mukherjee v. Bank of Khulna because it restricted the interest rate and the amount that a money lender on any loan could recover. Promissory notes were said to be central rather than state issues. The Privy Council determined that the legislation was true to its letter and that the law governing "money lending and money lenders" was a concern for the states and was legal even if incidental encroachment upon Promissory notes, which is a central issue, was occurring.

Analysis of Pith and Substance Rule

This Pith and Substance 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 clarifies 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 Pith and Substance Doctrine means the essence of law that emphasizes the actual subject matter and has no influence on other disciplines/laws. The doctrine has proven useful in various situations where the center and state laws are vying for legislative advantage.

In India, center laws are more valuable than state laws, which is why many issues with union listings are so important.

Doctrine of Pith and Substance UPSC

The Pith and Substance Doctrine covers an important part of the polity section of the UPSC Syllabus. To have a clear concept about the topic, one must cover the Polity Books for UPSC. Practicing UPSC Previous Year Question Papers is also important.

Doctrine of Pith and Substance UPSC Questions

Question: Consider the following statements.

  1. The true nature of law is defined by pith and substance.
  2. The Doctrine of Pith and Substance is utilized to resolve concerns about repugnancy generated by contradictions in the legislation passed by the legislative and state legislatures.

Which of the statements given above is/ are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: Option C

Question: Within their respective spheres, the union and the state legislatures are made supreme, and they should not encroach on the sphere reserved for others. This concept is known as which of the following? 

  1. Doctrine of colorable legislation
  2. Doctrine of pith and substance
  3. Doctrine of double effect
  4. None of the above

Answer: Option B


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Doctrine of Pith and Substance FAQs

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

  • The court applies this Doctrine of Pith and Substance to determine and establish the nature of the legal act. 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 a valid law. On the contrary, if the legislature is not competent, it will be considered unauthorized (ultra vires) and invalid.

  • The characteristics of the Doctrine of Pith and Substance are:

    • The Doctrine of Pith and Substance applies when the problem appears inconsistent between the two lists.
    • The legislature's authority will be severely restricted if any law is declared invalid due to interference with other lists.
    • The doctrine extracts the essence and nature of the problem and divides it into appropriate lists.
  • The Pith and Substance Doctrine is used to see if the statute invades other areas and helps the judiciary decide whether the law is ultra vires or intra vires.

  • The Doctrine of Pith and Substance is legalized by Article 246 and Schedule 7 under the Indian Constitution. To download UPSC notes of the same, click here.

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