In S.R. Chaudhuri v. State of Punjab and others, a three-Judge Bench has opined that constitutional provisions are required to be understood and interpreted with an object-oriented approach and a Constitution must not be construed in a narrow and pedantic sense. The Court, while holding that the Constituent Assembly debates can be taken aid of, observed the following: ¬
“The words used may be general in terms but, their full import and true meaning, has to be appreciated considering the true context in which the same are used and the purpose which they seek to achieve.”
The Court further highlighted that the Constitution is not just a document in solemn form but a living framework for the government of the people exhibiting a sufficient degree of cohesion and its successful working depends upon the democratic spirit underlying it being respected in letter and in spirit.
In Ashok Kumar Gupta and another v. State of U.P. and others, the Court observed that while interpreting the Constitution, it must be borne in mind that words of width are both a framework of concepts and means to the goals in the Preamble and concepts may keep changing to expand and elongate the rights.
The Court further held that constitutional issues are not solved by mere appeal to the meaning of the words without an acceptance of the line of their growth and, therefore, the judges should adopt purposive interpretation of the dynamic concepts of the Constitution and the Act with its interpretative armoury to articulate the felt necessities of the time. Finally, the Court pointed out:¬
“To construe law one must enter into its spirit, its setting and history.”
“In M. Nagaraj, Kapadia J., (as he then was) speaking for the Court, recognized that one of the cardinal principles of constitutional adjudication is that the mode of interpretation ought to be the one that is purposive and conducive to ensure that the constitution endures for ages to come. Eloquently, it was stated that the “Constitution is not an ephemeral legal document embodying a set of rules for the passing hour”.”
The emphasis on context while interpreting constitutional provisions has burgeoned this shift from the literal rule to the purposive method in order that the provisions do not remain static and rigid. The words assume different incarnations to adapt themselves to the current demands as and when the need arises. The House of Lords in Regina (Quintavalle) v. Secretary of State for Health ruled:¬
“The pendulum has swung towards purposive methods of construction. This change was not initiated by the teleological approach of European Community jurisprudence, and the influence of European legal culture generally, but it has been accelerated by European ideas: see, however, a classic early statement of the purposive approach by Lord Blackburn in River Wear Commissioners v. Adamson (1877) LR 2 AC 743 at p. 763 (HL). In any event, nowadays the shift towards purposive interpretation is not in doubt. The qualification is that the degree of liberality permitted is influenced by the context. …”
Emphasizing on the importance of determining the purpose and object of a provision, Learned Hand, J. in Cabell v. Markham enunciated:¬
“Of course it is true that the words used, even in their literal sense, are the primary, and ordinarily the most reliable, source of interpreting the meaning of any writing: be it a statute, a contract, or anything else. But it is one of the surest indexes of a mature and developed jurisprudence not to make a fortress out of the dictionary; but to remember that statutes always have some purpose or object to accomplish, whose sympathetic and imaginative discovery is the surest guide to their meaning.”
The components of purposive interpretation have been elucidated by Former President of the Supreme Court of Israel, Aharon Barak, who states:¬
“Purposive interpretation is based on three components: language, purpose, and discretion. Language shapes the range of semantic possibilities within which the interpreter acts as a linguist. Once the interpreter defines the range, he or she chooses the legal meaning of the text from among the (express or implied) semantic possibilities. The semantic component thus sets the limits of interpretation by restricting the interpreter to a legal meaning that the text can bear in its (public or private) language.”
As per the observations made by Aharon Barak, judges interpret a Constitution according to its purpose which comprises of the objectives, values and principles that the constitutional text is designed to actualize. Categorizing this purpose into objective and subjective purpose, he states:¬
“Subjective component is the goals, values, and principles that the constituent assembly sought to achieve through it, at the time it enacted the constitution. It is the original intent of the founding fathers. Purposive interpretation translates such intent into a presumption about the subjective purpose, that is, that the ultimate purpose of the text is to achieve the (abstract) intent of its authors. There is also, however, the objective purpose of the text – the goals, values, and principles that the constitutional text is designed to achieve in a modern democracy at the time of interpretation. Purposive interpretation translates this purpose into the presumption that the ultimate purpose of the constitution is its objective purpose.”
It is also apt to reproduce the observations made by him in the context of the ever changing nature of the Constitution:-
“A constitution is at the top of a normative pyramid. It is designed to guide human behavior for a long period of time. It is not easily amendable. It uses many open ended expressions. It is designed to shape the character of the state for the long term. It lays the foundation for the state’s social values and aspirations.
In giving expression to this constitutional uniqueness, a judge interpreting a constitution must accord significant weight to its objective purpose and derivative presumptions. Constitutional provisions should be interpreted according to society’s basic normative positions at the time of interpretation.”
He has further pointed out that both the subjective as well as the objective purposes have their own significance in the interpretation of constitutional provisions:¬
“The intent of the constitutional founders (abstract subjective intent” remains important. We need the past to understand the present. Subjective purpose confers historical depth, honoring the past and its importance. In purposive interpretation, it takes the form of presumption of purpose that applies immediately, throughout the process of interpreting a constitution. It is not, however, decisive. Its weight is substantial immediately following the founding, but as time elapses, its influence diminishes.
It cannot freeze the future development of the constitutional provision. Although the roots of the constitutional provision are in the past, its purpose is determined by the needs of the present, in order to solve problems in the future. In a clash between subjective and objective purposes, the objective purpose of a constitution prevails. It prevails even when it is possible to prove subjective purpose through reliable, certain, and clear evidence. Subjective purpose remains relevant, however, in resolving contradictions between conflicting objective purposes.”
Govt of NCT of Delhi v. Union of India (2018)
 (2001) 7 SCC 126
 (1997) 5 SCC 201
 (2011) 7 SCC 179
 (2006) 8 SCC 202
 (2003) UKHL 13 : (2003) 2 AC 687 : (2003) 2 WLR 692 (HL)
 148 F 2d 737 (2d Cir 1945)
 Aharon Barak, Purposive Interpretation in Law, Princeton University Press,
2005 – Law