This decision reviews and explains the Doctrine of Pith & Substance, as applicable in India;
35. One of the proven methods of examining the legislative competence of a legislature with regard to an enactment is by the application of the doctrine of pith and substance. This doctrine is applied when the legislative competence of the legislature with regard to a particular enactment is challenged with reference to the entries in various lists. If there is a challenge to the legislative competence, the courts will try to ascertain the pith and substance of such enactment on a scrutiny of the Act in question. In this process, it is necessary for the courts to go into and examine the true character of the enactment, its object, its scope and effect to find out whether the enactment in question is genuinely referable to a field of the legislation allotted to the respective legislature under the constitutional scheme. This doctrine is an established principle of law in India recognized not only by this Court, but also by various High Courts. Where a challenge is made to the constitutional validity of a particular State Act with reference to a subject mentioned in any entry in List I, the Court has to look to the substance of the State Act and on such analysis and examination, if it is found that in the pith and substance, it falls under an entry in the State List but there is only an incidental encroachment on any of the matters enumerated in the Union List, the State Act would not become invalid merely because there is incidental encroachment on any of the matters in the Union List.
36. A Constitution Bench of this Court in A.S. Krishna v. State of Madras [AIR 1957 SC 297], held as under:
“8. … But then, it must be remembered that we are construing a federal Constitution. It is of the essence of such a Constitution that there should be a distribution of the legislative powers of the Federation between the Centre and the Provinces. The scheme of distribution has varied with different Constitutions, but even when the Constitution enumerates elaborately the topics on which the Centre and the States could legislate, some overlapping of the fields of legislation is inevitable. The British North America Act, 1867, which established a federal Constitution for Canada, enumerated in Sections 91 and 92 the topics on which the Dominion and the Provinces could respectively legislate. Notwithstanding that the lists were framed so as to be fairly full and comprehensive, it was not long before it was found that the topics enumerated in the two sections overlapped, and the Privy Council had time and again to pass on the constitutionality of laws made by the Dominion and Provincial Legislatures. It was in this situation that the Privy Council evolved the doctrine, that for deciding whether an impugned legislation was intra vires, regard must be had to its pith and substance. That is to say, if a statute is found in substance to relate to a topic within the competence of the legislature, it should be held to be intra vires, even though it might incidentally trench on topics not within its legislative competence. The extent of the encroachment on matters beyond its competence may be an element in determining whether the legislation is colourable, that is, whether in the guise of making a law on a matter within it competence, the legislature is, in truth, making a law on a subject beyond its competence. But where that is not the position, then the fact of encroachment does not affect the vires of the law even as regards the area of encroachment.”37. Again, a Constitutional Bench of this Court while discussing the said doctrine in Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab [(1994) 3 SCC 569] observed as under:
“60. This doctrine of ‘pith and substance’ is applied when the legislative competence of a legislature with regard to a particular enactment is challenged with reference to the entries in the various lists i.e. a law dealing with the subject in one list is also touching on a subject in another list. In such a case, what has to be ascertained is the pith and substance of the enactment. On a scrutiny of the Act in question, if found, that the legislation is in substance one on a matter assigned to the legislature enacting that statute, then that Act as a whole must be held to be valid notwithstanding any incidental trenching upon matters beyond its competence i.e. on a matter included in the list belonging to the other legislature. To say differently, incidental encroachment is not altogether forbidden.”38. It is common ground that the State Legislature does not have power to legislate upon any of the matters enumerated in the Union List. However, if it could be shown that the core area and the subject-matter of the legislation is covered by an entry in the State List, then any incidental encroachment upon an entry in the Union List would not be enough so as to render the State law invalid, and such an incidental encroachment will not make the legislation ultra vires the Constitution.
39. In Bharat Hydro Power Corpn. Ltd. v. State of Assam [(2004) 2 SCC 553], the doctrine of pith and substance came to be considered, when after referring to a catena of decisions of this Court on the doctrine it was laid down as under:
“18. It is likely to happen from time to time that enactment though purporting to deal with a subject in one list touches also on a subject in another list and prima facie looks as if one legislature is impinging on the legislative field of another legislature. This may result in a large number of statutes being declared unconstitutional because the legislature enacting law may appear to have legislated in a field reserved for the other legislature. To examine whether a legislation has impinged on the field of other legislatures, in fact or in substance, or is incidental, keeping in view the true nature of the enactment, the courts have evolved the doctrine of ‘pith and substance’ for the purpose of determining whether it is legislation with respect to matters in one list or the other. Where the question for determination is whether a particular law relates to a particular subject mentioned in one list or the other, the courts look into the substance of the enactment. Thus, if the substance of the enactment falls within the Union List then the incidental encroachment by the enactment on the State List would not make it invalid. This principle came to be established by the Privy Council when it determined appeals from Canada or Australia involving the question of legislative competence of the federation or the States in those countries. This doctrine came to be established in India and derives its genesis from the approach adopted by the courts including the Privy Council in dealing with controversies arising in other federations. For applying the principle of ‘pith and substance’ regard is to be had (i) to the enactment as a whole, (ii) to its main objects, and (iii) to the scope and effect of its provisions. For this see Southern Pharmaceuticals & Chemicals v. State of Kerala [(1981) 4 SCC 391], State of Rajasthan v. G. Chawla [AIR 1959 SC 544], Amar Singhji v. State of Rajasthan [AIR 1955 SC 504], Delhi Cloth and General Mills Co. Ltd. v. Union of India [(1983) 4 SCC 166] and Vijay Kumar Sharma v. State of Karnataka [(1990) 2 SCC 562]. In the last-mentioned case it was held:‘(3) Where a law passed by the State Legislature while being substantially within the scope of the entries in the State List entrenches upon any of the entries in the Central List the constitutionality of the law may be upheld by invoking the doctrine of pith and substance if on an analysis of the provisions of the Act it appears that by and large the law falls within the four corners of the State List and entrenchment, if any, is purely incidental or inconsequential.’"