Citizenship and Related Issues

Explained: Doctrine of ‘Presumption of Constitutionality’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Doctrine of ‘Presumption of Constitutionality’

Mains level: Read the attached story

Recently the Supreme Court declined urgent hearing on a plea seeking to declare the CAA as constitutional and said that there was already a “presumption of constitutionality” to a law passed by Parliament.  CJI has said that the court’s role was to examine the validity, and not declare a law constitutional.

Doctrine of Presumption of Constitutionality

  • The term ‘presumption of constitutionality’ is a legal principle that is used by courts during statutory interpretation — the process by which courts interpret and apply a law passed by the legislature, such as Parliament.
  • In the 1992 Supreme Court case ‘ML Kamra v New India Assurance’, Justice K Ramaswamy said: “The court ought not to interpret the statutory provisions, unless compelled by their language, in such a manner as would involve its unconstitutionality.
  • The legislature of the rule making authority is presumed to enact a law which does not contravene or violate the constitutional provisions.
  • Therefore, there is a presumption in favour of constitutionality of a legislation or statutory rule unless ex facie it violates the fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution.
  • If the provisions of a law or the rule is construed in such a way as would make it consistent with the Constitution and another interpretation would render the provision or the rule unconstitutional, the Court would lean in favour of the former construction. ” (“ex facie” meaning ‘on the face’)

When does this apply?

  • It is a cardinal principle of construction that the Statute and the Rule or the Regulation must be held to be constitutionally valid unless and until it is established they violate any specific provision of the Constitution.
  • Further it is the duty of the Court to harmoniously construe different provisions of any Act or Rule or Regulation, if possible, and to sustain the same rather than striking down the provisions out right.
  • The presumption is not absolute, however, and does not stand when there is a gross violation of the Constitution.

Limitations to the doctrine

  • A three-judge Bench in ‘NDMC v State of Punjab’ (1996) spoke of the limitations to the doctrine.
  • The Bench observed that the Doctrine is not one of infinite application; it has recognised limitations.
  • The Court has consistently followed a policy of not putting an unnatural and forced meaning on the words that have been used by the legislature in the search for an interpretation which would save the statutory provisions.

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