preamble : internal aids to interpretation

“If the Constitution was a movie, the Preamble would be the trailer”


The Act’s main aims and reasons are contained in the preamble, which serves as an internal aid to interpretation.

The rule of preamble interpretation is that when an enactment’s wording is plain and unambiguous, the preamble has no role to play; but, if more than one interpretation is feasible, the preamble can be used to determine the true meaning of the provision.

The preamble is mentioned on the opening page of the act, although recent acts do not include it, indicating that it is becoming less important.

In the case of State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali, the constitutionality of Section 5 of the West Bengal special courts act,1950, was challenged on the grounds that it violated Article 14 of the constitution, because the provision in the act allows the state government to choose a specific case that deserves to be tried by special courts with special procedures. The Supreme Court relied on the Act’s preamble to rule that the state government has discretion in selecting such cases.


The process by which the judiciary ascertains or determines the meaning of legislation or legal provisions is known as interpretation. It is a procedure in which a court attempts to identify the genuine meaning of an expression, word, or phrase in question in any statute before it, as well as the true intent of the legislator behind such legislative provision.

The judiciary can use a variety of instruments or principles of statutory interpretation, such as requesting assistance from internal or external aids to interpretation and applying fundamental or secondary rules of interpretation that the court has developed over time.

According to Salmond:

Interpretation and construction is the process by which the court seeks to ascertain the meaning of the legislature through the medium of authoritative forms in which it is expressed.

According to Blackstone:

The most fair and rational method for interpreting a statute is by exploring the intention of the legislature through texts, the subject matter, the effect and consequences or the spirit and reason of law.

In a strict sense, construction is the process by which courts assign meaning to ambiguous provisions that go beyond the letter of the law in order to reconcile inconsistencies. After considering the facts presented before the court, the judges assign a specific meaning to the statement, word, or phrase in question. However, any interpretation must be within the scope of the act’s goal and cannot be defined directly by the statute.

Although the terms interpretation and construction are often used interchangeably, there is a fine line between the two notions.

According to Cooley, “Interpretation is the art of finding out the true sense of any form of words and enabling others to drive from them the same meaning which the author intended to convey, whereas, construction is the process of drawing conclusions, respecting subjects that lie beyond the direct expression of the text, which are in the spirit though not within the letter of law.

Basically, interpretation is the process of discovering the legislature’s meaning and intent from permissible data, and if interpretation reveals the legislature’s clear meaning and intention, it will be directly applied to factual circumstances, but if interpretation does not reveal the meaning in context of factual circumstances, construction will be used to try to assign meaning. It is obvious that construction is more concerned with applying the meaning to the facts than with determining the meaning of the provision’s words.


A law has numerous other parts, such as a short title, a long title, a preamble, marginal comments, and so on, in addition to its different sections. It’s crucial to know whether these sections can assist courts in interpreting a section. To put it another way, the question is whether they can be used as internal interpretive aids.

Internal aids to interpretation are those that may or may not be present in the statute itself, forming a part of it. When the language of a statute is ambiguous and the meaning of the words is unclear, they are commonly used as a vital assistance to interpretation. In cases where the meaning of the statute is obvious, they have no role to play. They are far more beneficial than external interpreting assistance. Preamble is one such internal assistance.

The Act’s principal objectives are listed in the preamble, which is a part of the act. It deserves to be treated by the courts as an internal help to interpretation for this reason. The preamble is thought to be the key to the legislature’s mind being opened. However, it has been firmly stated that if an enactment’s text is plain and unambiguous, the prologue has no bearing on the interpretation. However, if more than one reading of a provision is possible, the preamble of the Act can be used to determine its true meaning. The present practise is to avoid including a preamble in the Act. As a consequence, the importance of the Preamble as an aid to construction is declining.

In Attorney General v. H.R.H Prince Earnest Augustus of Hanover, Maxwell mentions Lord Normomd’s comment. When there is a Preamble, the damage to be repaired and the scope of the Act are usually detailed in the recitals. As a result, it is plainly permissible to use it as a tool for interpreting the enacting clauses. The Preamble, on the other hand, does not carry the same weight as a construction assistance in a part of the Act or even in linked Acts. There may be no exact relationship between the preamble and the enactment, and the enactment may go beyond, or fall short of, the preamble’s indications. Again, the Preamble is useless in construing clauses that contain qualifications or exceptions to the Act’s general aim. The Preamble may lawfully prevail only when it provides a clear and defined meaning in comparison to comparatively obscure or indefinite enacting phrases.

The courts are concerned with the practical business of deciding a lis, and when the plaintiff proposes one interpretation of an enactment and the defendant proposes another, it is the courts’ business, in any case of difficulty, to consider whether the enacting words admit of this interpretation after informing itself of what I have referred to as the legal and factual context, including the Preamble.  If they allow just one construction, that construction will take effect even if it is in conflict with the Preamble; however, if the enacting words allow for either of the proposed constructions, the one that best fits the Preamble may be preferred. The court decided that because the enacting words might be construed in any way, the meaning was plain and the Preamble, which was already ambiguous, had no role to play.

In Burrakur Coal Co. v. Union Of India, the Supreme Court was required to interpret section 4(1) of the Coal Bearing Area (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957 according to which whenever it appears to the Central Government that coal is likely to be obtained from land in any locality, it may by notification in the Official Gazette, give notice of its intention to prospect for coal therein. The Preamble of the Act, however, reads, an Act to established in the economic interest of India greater public control over the coal mining industry and its development providing for the acquisition by the state of unworked land containing or likely to contain coal deposits or of rights in or over such land for the extinguishment or modification of such rights accruing by virtue of any agreement, lease, license or otherwise, and for matters connected therewith.

In light of the phrase “unworked land” in the Preamble, it was contended that purchase of only virgin land may begin under section 4(1). Rejecting the argument, the court decided that the Preamble could not be used to distort the legislature’s clear meaning as revealed by the provision’s unequivocal text. As a result, the government has the authority to issue a notification indicating its intention to prospect any territory, including virgin land.

The legitimacy of section 5 of the West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950 in relation to Article 14 of the Indian Constitution was at issue in the case of State of Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar. This clause gave the state government the authority to choose whether cases merited to be heard by a special court using unique procedures.

The Supreme Court held that the language of the provision, as well as the Preamble, clearly and unambiguously vested discretion in the state government to choose which cases should be sent to special courts for a speedy trial under a special procedure, and that the provision was thus perfectly legitimate and constitutional.

In the case of Inder Singh v. State of Rajasthan, the Preamble of the Rajasthan (Protection of Tenants) Ordinance, 1957, promulgated by the Rajpramukh of the state reads: whereas it is expedient to make provisions for the eviction or dispossession of tenants from their holdings, and the wiser national interest of increasing the production of food grains, it is expedient to put a check on the growing tendency of land holders to eject or disposses The appellant contended the ordinance was violative of article 14 of the Constitution because restrictions were placed on such land holders only who had tenants on April 1, 1948 while other land holders were not subjected to any such restrictions.

It was also contended that provision 15 of the law provided the government complete discretion in determining whether or what groups of people were exempt from the ordinance’s application. The Supreme Court concluded that the Preamble clearly stated the purpose of the ordinance, and that the legislature had complete authority to determine the effective date of the law, as well as the discretion that might be placed in the government to evaluate cases of exemption from the law’s application.

The Supreme Court ignored the Preamble in Motipur Zamindari Co. Pvt. Ltd. v. State of Bihar while interpreting the word “dealer” in the Bihar Annual Finance Act, 1950, which changed the definition of the word from the Bihar Sales Tax Act, 1947. While it is expedient to amend the Bihar Sales Tax Act, 1947 and to lay down rates of sales tax payable under the Bihar Sales Tax Act, 1947 for the financial year beginning on the first day of April, 1950, and to make further provisions in connection with the finance of the state of Bihar, the Preamble to the 1950 Act reads, whereas it is expedient to amend the Bihar Sales Tax Act, 1947 and to lay down rates of sales tax payable under the Bihar Sales Tax Act, 1947 for the financial year. It was held that it was ridiculous to think that the amendment was meant for only one year as shown by the Preamble even though the language of the amended definition of the word ‘dealer’ is unambiguous. Since the Preamble cannot have precedents over the clear language of the section, it has to be rejected.

In the case of Venkataswami v. Narasran, the Madras City Tenants Protection Act, 1922 was expanded to include a renter who was facing eviction. The tenant, who had built a structure on the land, filed an application under section 9 of the Act, requesting an order compelling the lessor to sell the land to him. Even though the Act’s Preamble stated that it was passed to protect tenants who had built structures on other people’s land in the hopes of not being evicted, the Supreme Court held that no reference to it could be made when interpreting section 2(4), which defines the term “tenant,” or section 3(9), because these provisions are clear. A tenant who is eligible to buy under section 9 of the Act must also be eligible for compensation under section 3.

The appellant in A.C Sharma v. Delhi Administration contested his conviction under Section 5 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947. His key argument was that, with the establishment of the Delhi Special Police Establishment, the Delhi Police Anti-Corruption Department gained the authority to investigate bribery charges because the Preamble of the Delhi Special Establishment Act, 1946 stated as much. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, holding that no preamble can override a statute’s clear and unambiguous words. Section 3 of Delhi Police Establishment Act, 1946 empowered the Delhi Special Police also to investigate such cases and this enactment nowhere mentioned that the Anti Corruption Branch of the regular Delhi Police had seized to have power of investigation. The 1946 Act is only a permissive legislation.

The Supreme Court was asked to interpret section 23(1) of the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1975 in Maharao Sahab Shri Bhimsinghji v. Union of India. The government is empowered under the provision to allot government land to anyone for any purpose relating to or in connection with any industry, or to provide such residential accommodation to employees of any company as the state government may allow. The Act’s Preamble stated that the purpose of the Act is to prevent urban land concentration in the hands of a few and to distribute it for the common welfare. The majority decided that the clause must be understood in light of section 23(4), which states that all unoccupied land must be distributed for the common benefit, as well as the Preamble, and that thus interpreted, vacant land could only be distributed for the general good.


  • The preamble can only be used where a provision’s language is fairly capable of alternative interpretation, i.e. when the provision is confusing, vague, or indefinite.
  • The meaning and scope of the words used in the enacting part cannot be limited or expanded by the preamble.
  • In the event of a conflict between a preamble and a section, the section takes precedence.
  • The preamble cannot be used to derive any substantive authority, prohibition, or limitation.A preamble retrospectively inserted into an earlier Act is not of much assistance for gathering the intention of the original Act. Similarly, it seems the repeal of a preamble simply will not affect the structure of the statute.


The preamble establishes the Act’s main objective, scope, and purpose, as well as the harm to be corrected. When a provision in an enactment is vague, obscure, or indefinite, it is an admissible help to construction. However, it is unable to govern the plain interpretation of a provision. In the event of a contradiction between the preamble and a section, the section takes precedence.


  3. The Interpretation Of Statutes by Prof. T. Bhattacharyya (11th Edition) (Central Law Agency)

Aishwarya Says:

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