Doctrine of Pith and Substance: Under Indian Constitution

Doctrine of Pith and Substance: Under Indian Constitution

This article on ‘Doctrine of Pith and Substance: Under Indian Constitution‘ was written by Riya Chaudhary, an intern at Legal Upanishad.


India’s constitution is based on the idea of Federalism, which says that the Union Parliament and the state legislatures both have the authority to establish laws. In the 7th schedule of the constitution, the Union Parliament, state legislatures, and both were given certain responsibilities. There are three lists of these subjects: the central list, the state list, and the concurrent list. In this article, we’ll talk in-depth about where the doctrine of pith and substance came from, what it means, and what it looks like. Also, with the help of important verdicts, we will talk about its scope and how it applies to the present.

Origin of the doctrine of pith and substance

Numerous people think that the doctrine of pith and substance came from Canada and was first used in an 1880 case called Cushing v. Dupuy. Later, the doctrine ended up in India. Article 246 of the Constitution and the Seventh Schedule strongly back it up. In India, it has become a well-known doctrine that has been used as the basis for many essential rulings by Supreme Court.

What is the doctrine of pith and substance?

The doctrine says that the state legislatures and the union legislatures are supreme in their areas and shouldn’t get into the areas set aside for the other. However, the courts will utilize the Doctrine of Pith and Substance to determine who is correct if either the state or the Center enters the other’s area. Even though the law may unintentionally encroach into areas outside the purview of the legislature that passed it, it should be regarded as intra vires because it pertains to a subject within that body’s purview. This is known as the ”Doctrine of pith and substance.” In Profulla Kumar Mukherjee v. Bank of Khulna, the Privy Council used this concept.

In this case, the State Legislature’s Bengal Money Lenders Act, 1946 was challenged because parts of it dealt with promissory notes, which is a very essential element. The Privy Council upheld the legality of the challenged law and said that the Bengal Money Lenders Act was a law about moneylenders and lending money, which is a state matter, even though it touches on promissory notes, which is a union matter.

In State of Bombay v. FN Balsara, the Bombay Prohibition Act was challenged on the grounds that it accidentally interfered with the import and export of alcohol across customs borders, which is a central issue. While upholding the challenged law, the court said that the Act was about a State subject, even though it inadvertently touched on a union subject.

Features of the doctrine of pith and substance

  • The idea behind the doctrine is that what needs to be debated is the primary concern, not how it affects another field in a way that wasn’t planned. The word “pith” means the “essence” or “real nature” of something, while “substance” means the “most important or fundamental part” of something.
  • This doctrine must be utilized because, without it, every law would be found to be unconstitutional if it touched on something that belonged to another realm.
  • The true nature of law is shown by pith and substance. In this case, the real topic is being questioned, not how it might affect another field in a way that wasn’t planned. The idea has also been used in India to add some flexibility to an otherwise rigid structure for distributing electricity.
  • The doctrine looks at the actual nature and substance of a piece of legislation to figure out which list it belongs on.
  • It looks at whether or not the state has the power to enact laws that affect something on another list.
Doctrine of Pith and Substance: Under Indian Constitution
The Doctrine of Pith and Substance: Under Indian Constitution

The doctrine of Pith and Substance in the Indian Constitution

In India, this doctrine originated with the Government of India Act of 1935, and it is still a part of our current constitution. There are 3 lists in the seventh schedule. These lists are used to divide the legislative power and scope between Parliament and the state legislatures. Article 246 says that the government can only make laws about the things on the list. But if there is a disagreement, this doctrine is used to decide which department of the government has the power to make the law.

The core principle behind this doctrine is that the parliament and the state legislatures should only do things that are in their 7th scheduled areas. If they try to get in, the court will use the doctrine of pith and substance to figure out who has the power and ability to make laws.

Landmark Judgments

Let’s take a gander at some of the most important case laws to get a clear and complete picture of the doctrine:

State of Rajasthan v. G Chawla

In this case, it was crucial to the general public because using sound amplifiers in the state was against the law. The court had to decide which legislature has the right to make laws about things that are important to public health and interest.

State Government’s Argument: According to Entry 6 of List II, The state government has the authority to regulate the use of amplifiers to reduce loud noises. Union Government’s claim: Entry 31 of List I, which clarifies different ways to communicate, like phones, wireless broadcasting, telegraphs, etc., gives the Union Government the power to make laws about how amplifiers can be used.

Held: The court decided that using an amplifier doesn’t fall under List I, Entry 31. It was said that, even though an amplifier is a part of the equipment used for communication and broadcasting, the state government, not the Union Government, has the “pith” and “substance” of the law.

Gujarat University v. Krishna Ranganath Madholkar

According to the facts of the case, the Union List talks about the medium of instruction at the university level, but the center hasn’t made any plans for that medium yet. Then, Gujarat University (the petitioner) created a scheme and chose “English” as the language of instruction. But the question is whether the petitioner had any power at all to choose the language of instruction. The Supreme Court heard about the case.

The majority opinion in the case was that neither the original law nor any changes that have been made since then give the Petitioner the right to choose the language of instruction. Jus. Subba Rao said that he didn’t agree with this. He said that there can’t be education without a way for people to share what they know and that the State government has the authority to establish laws about education.

So, if we use the Doctrine of Pith and Substance to look at the law in question, it is clear that it falls under the State Government’s authority.


From what we’ve discussed so far, it’s clear that the doctrine of Pith and Substance has now become a permanent part of Indian constitutional law. The most important legal doctrine helps judges decide whether a law is valid and legal. If it couldn’t be used, the legislature’s power would be severely limited, but the fact that it gives them the freedom to take a balanced approach is certainly a good thing.

Reference List

  1. Anamika Gandhi. (2020,December 31). Doctrine of pith and Substance: Applicability in the Indian Constitution. Retrieved:
  2. Oishika Banerji. (2022,March 19). Doctrine of Pith and Substance. Retrieved:
  3. Byju’s. Doctrine of Pith and Substance Notes. Retrieved:
  4. Mayank Bansal. (2022, May 2). Doctrine of Pith and Substance. Retrieved: