The doctrine of harmonious construction is a crucial principle employed for interpreting statutes when conflicts arise between provisions of different laws. This method entails giving a comprehensive interpretation to the “words” within these provisions, while considering the entirety of the legislative act or constitution. This approach aims to prevent inconsistencies within provisions and maintain equilibrium. The inception of this doctrine was marked by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Commissioner of Income Tax vs Hindustan Bulk Carriers case. This doctrine has also been instrumental in reconciling conflicts between the right to religion and other fundamental rights, as exemplified in the following instances:


Sabarimala Verdict 2018:

  • The Supreme Court expanded the interpretation of religious freedom under Article 25(1) by linking it to the right to equality under Article 15(1).
  • This interpretation led to the decision to open the Sabarimala temple for women of all age groups, striking a balance between religious practices and gender equality.

Shayara Bano Case 2017:

  • The SC declared the practice of triple talaq unconstitutional as it contradicted the rights to equality (Article 14 & 15) and the right to life (Article 21).
  • This decision underscored the necessity to harmoniously interpret religious practices with fundamental rights to ensure a balanced approach.

Venkataramana Devaru Case 1957:

  • The SC applied the doctrine to address the tension between Article 25(2)(b) (reasonable restrictions) and the right under Article 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs).
  • The court ruled that the right under Article 26 is subject to laws made by the state for social welfare and reform, maintaining equilibrium between religious autonomy and societal concerns.

Maulana Mufti Vs State of Bengal Case 1998:

  • The Calcutta High Court navigated the balance between the right to religion and the right to life under Article 21.
  •  It recognized that Azan is integral to religion, but using a loudspeaker early in the morning for Azan impinges upon citizens’ fundamental right to sleep and leisure.


“Essentially Religious Practice” Test:

  • Determining essential religious practices often requires intricate understanding of the intricacies of a religion, which judges might lack, leading to discretionary judgments.

Contrasting Judgments:

  • Instances like the Gulrukh Gupta case illustrate inconsistent interpretations of fundamental rights.
  • Gujarat High Court upheld the loss of Parsi status for a Parsi woman marrying a non-Parsi man, but not for a Parsi man marrying a non-Parsi woman, thus neglecting the principle of equality.

The doctrine of harmonious construction serves as a potent tool for resolving intricate legal dilemmas and alleviating ambiguities between provisions of different laws. It fosters a cohesive legal framework that promotes broader constitutional principles and morality. However, the challenges, such as the potential for discretionary judgment and inconsistent interpretations, necessitate vigilant consideration to refine and enhance the effectiveness of this doctrine in maintaining equilibrium between religious rights and other fundamental rights.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish April 20, 2024