Study Notes: Doctrine of Ancillary Legislation

By Mohd. Sahil Khan 22 Minutes Read

Introduction

The doctrine of ancillary legislation, also known as the doctrine of incidental powers, occupies a critical space within the intricate architecture of a quasi-federal system like India’s. It serves as a delicate bridge, navigating the potential for conflict between the delineated powers of the Central and State legislatures. To grasp this concept, consider two Venn diagrams: each representing the distinct legislative spheres of the Union and the States as outlined in the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution. While these spheres possess a well-defined ambit, a crucial overlap exists – a common ground where the authority to legislate may seemingly appear ambiguous. This very overlap becomes the fertile ground for the doctrine of ancillary legislation to flourish.

The doctrine recognizes that the complexities of modern governance necessitate a nuanced approach to legislative power. The strict letter of the law, as enshrined in the Constitution, may not always encompass the dynamic needs of a burgeoning nation. Ancillary legislation emerges as a crucial tool to address this very gap. It empowers legislatures to enact laws that are reasonably connected to their core functionalities, even if not explicitly mentioned in the enumerated lists. This allows for a more adaptable and responsive legislative framework that is able to address contemporary challenges without transgressing the boundaries of constitutional authority.

Genesis of the doctrine

The doctrine of ancillary legislation, a vital concept in federal systems across the globe, arose from the inherent limitations of codified law. While statutes meticulously outline the specific powers granted to legislatures, the ever-evolving complexities of governance often necessitate additional, implicit authorities. The early common law principles that emerged in England recognized this need for flexibility in legal interpretation.

A core principle encapsulated by the Latin maxim “omnes res quae ad principle pertinent sunt concession” (translated as “all things that are necessary for the principal thing are conceded”) perfectly captures the essence of this concept. It posits that when a specific power is granted, the authority to undertake actions necessary for its effective execution is inherently included.

The Indian Constitution, with its meticulous division of legislative powers outlined in the Seventh Schedule (Union, State, and Concurrent Lists), presented a unique challenge. Strict adherence to enumerated powers could potentially hinder effective governance in a rapidly evolving nation. The doctrine of ancillary legislation emerged as a crucial tool to address this lacuna. It allowed legislatures (both Union and State) to enact laws that were reasonably connected to their core functionalities, even if not explicitly mentioned in the enumerated lists.

The doctrine of ancillary legislation did not emerge from a single landmark case but rather evolved through a series of judicial pronouncements. Early judgments hinted at the principle. In N.A. Subrahmania Aiyar v. Queen-Empress[1], the Madras High Court recognized the need for incidental powers for effective legislation, stating that “a statute dealing with a main subject may also deal with other matters which are so connected with it as to be regarded as part of it.”

Core principles of the doctrine

The power to legislate on a topic also includes the power to legislate on an ancillary matter which seems to have a reasonable connection with the subject matter.[2] For instance, the power to collect rent also includes the power with regards to the remission of rent.[3] In a similar vein of thought, legislation pertaining to land also provides ancillary power to legislate upon the mortgage of land.[4]

Justice Gajendragadkar has provided the essence of the doctrine in his words that ‘it is an elementary cardinal rule of interpretation that the words used in the Constitution which confer legislative power must receive the most liberal construction and if they are words of wide amplitude, they must be interpreted so as to give effect to that amplitude.[5]’[6]

The meticulously crafted division of legislative powers in the Indian Constitution, as outlined in the Seventh Schedule (Union List, State List, and Concurrent List), presented a unique challenge for effective governance. The Constitution meticulously divides powers between the central (Union) government and the state governments, creating a quasi-federal system. While this division ensures a balance of power, strict adherence to the enumerated powers in each list could potentially hinder effective governance in a rapidly evolving nation like India. Imagine a scenario where the Union List explicitly grants the power to regulate inter-state trade, but remains silent on the authority to define “inter-state trade” or establish regulatory bodies to enforce such regulations. This rigidity could lead to legislative gridlock and hinder the government’s ability to address contemporary challenges. the doctrine of ancillary legislation emerges as a crucial tool to bridge this divide. It allows legislatures, both at the Union and State levels, to enact laws that are demonstrably connected to their core functionalities, even if not explicitly mentioned in the enumerated lists. This essentially provides a degree of flexibility within the framework of the Constitution. For instance, the power to regulate interstate trade (Entry 33, Union List) might be deemed to encompass the authority to establish food safety standards applicable across the nation, even though food safety is not explicitly mentioned in the Union List. This ancillary power allows the Union government to ensure the safety of food products traveling across state borders, thereby fulfilling its core responsibility of regulating interstate trade.

The doctrine essentially recognizes that the effective execution of a granted power often necessitates additional, implicit powers. This ensures that the legislature is not hamstrung by overly rigid interpretations of the Seventh Schedule, allowing for a more nuanced and adaptable approach to governance. However, it is important to note that this flexibility is not limitless. The doctrine emphasizes that the ancillary provision must be demonstrably necessary and reasonably connected to the core power. Additionally, it cannot encroach upon the core legislative domain of another government entity (Union or State).

However, legislative overreach shall be restricted, that is, the doctrine of ancillary legislation cannot be used as a cloak to extend the power of legislature to enact a law which is included in a separate entry[7]. For instance, the power to legislate on betting and gambling as provided under Entry 34 of List II cannot be extended to impose taxation on matters pertaining to gambling and betting which is explicitly provided under Entry 62 of List II.[8]

Similarly, if the legislature has the power to impose taxes or to prevent the evasion of tax, it cannot apply it upon those class of individuals who do not fall within the ambit of such specified enactment.[9]

Test to determine the applicability

The Indian courts have established a two-pronged test that serves as an essential framework for assessing the validity of ancillary legislation. It allows for flexibility in governance while ensuring that legislators stay within their constitutional boundaries. Courts play a crucial role in applying this test with a nuanced understanding of legislative intent, the evolving needs of governance, and the importance of safeguarding individual rights and the federal balance.

Prong 1: Necessity

The first prong of the test focuses on the necessity of the ancillary provision. The provision must be demonstrably necessary for the effective execution of the primary power granted to the legislature. A mere convenience or tangential benefit wouldn’t suffice. The court will scrutinize the nexus between the primary power and the ancillary provision. Here are some key considerations:

1. Intrinsic Necessity

Intrinsic Necessity determines if the power of ancillary legislation has been exercised in accordance with the due process of law. The primary question is does the ancillary provision inherently flow from the primary power? For example, it is necessary to ascertain the residence of foreigners within India’s territory for purposes such as national security, providing welfare services, etc. In such a scenario registration of such individuals is necessary. Without a registration system, it would be challenging for the central government to effectively regulate foreigners or fulfill its core responsibility under Entry 17. The registration data allows for better monitoring of foreign nationals, ensures their adherence to visa conditions, and facilitates the provision of essential services they may be entitled to.

2. Subsidiary Nature:

Is the ancillary provision a secondary or subordinate element that supports the primary power? It should not overshadow or usurp the core function of the primary power. For instance, the Union Government has the power to regulate banking and financial institutions (Entry 44, Union List). Does this mean that the government has the power to take over a private bank which is struggling with its finances. The test of necessity of subsidiary nature provides that it falls within the ancillary power of the Central Government to regulate functioning of private banks during turbulent times, even though it might not be specifically empowered to do so.

Following the above test in the State of West Bengal v. Egon Erwin Kesh (1961):[10] This case upheld the central government’s authority to set food safety standards, even though food safety is not explicitly mentioned in the Union List. The court reasoned that such standards were necessary for the effective regulation of inter-state trade in food products.

Prong 2: Reasonableness

Courts undertake a meticulous balancing act, carefully weighing the need for effective governance against potential pitfalls. A critical concern is whether the ancillary provision infringes upon the fundamental rights enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution. Here, the courts scrutinize the provision to ensure it is not overly intrusive or places an undue burden on individual liberties. Furthermore, the doctrine must not disrupt the delicate balance of power within the federal system. This necessitates a close examination of whether the provision encroaches upon the core legislative domain of another government entity, be it the Union or State governments. Finally, the court assesses proportionality. Is the chosen method the least restrictive means of achieving the objective? This involves a rigorous evaluation of whether less burdensome alternatives exist to achieve the same legislative goal. Through this multifaceted analysis, the “reasonableness” prong safeguards that ancillary legislation remains a proportionate tool for effective governance, one that is respectful of individual rights and the federal balance of power.

State of Bombay v. F. N. Balsara (1951)[11] case established the two-pronged test. The court struck down a provision under the Bombay Prohibition Act[12] that empowered authorities to enter and search private residences without a warrant. While the power to regulate alcohol consumption was valid, the search provision was deemed unreasonable and an excessive intrusion on individual privacy.

Foreign Perspective

The doctrine of ancillary legislation transcends national borders. It serves as a vital tool in numerous federal systems around the world.

United States

The doctrine finds its foundation in the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution. This clause, interpreted broadly by the Supreme Court, empowers Congress to enact laws that, while not explicitly listed, are deemed essential and appropriate for executing its expressly granted powers. A cornerstone case is McCulloch v. Maryland[13] (1819). Here, the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Second Bank of the United States, even though the power to create a national bank wasn’t explicitly enumerated. The Court reasoned that the bank was a necessary instrument for fulfilling Congress’ enumerated powers to regulate interstate commerce and collect taxes.

Canada

It employs a similar principle known as “implied ancillary powers.” The Supreme Court of Canada has leveraged this principle to uphold the validity of federal legislation demonstrably necessary for the effective execution of its enumerated powers. A prime example is Canadian Pacific Railway v. Attorney General of Saskatchewan[14]. In this case, the Court upheld the federal government’s authority to regulate railway rates, even though transportation was primarily a provincial power. The Court recognized that effective regulation of a national railway system necessitated a centralized approach, highlighting the importance of ancillary powers in bridging legislative gaps within a federal system.

These examples demonstrate the doctrine of ancillary legislation as a crucial bridge in federal systems. It empowers central legislatures to navigate the limitations of enumerated powers and enact laws necessary for effective governance in a dynamic and complex world.

Critical Analysis

The doctrine of ancillary legislation, while offering adaptability for federal governance, presents a complex challenge. The core test for evaluating such provisions, the “necessity” and “reasonableness” prongs, can be inherently subjective. The absence of clear, universally accepted standards for these prongs creates uncertainty for both lawmakers crafting these provisions and individuals potentially affected by them. This ambiguity can lead to an increase in litigation as courts navigate the specifics of each case.

Furthermore, can threaten the delicate power balance within a federal system. Overly broad interpretations by central legislatures, resulting in expansive ancillary provisions, risk encroaching upon the core legislative domain of state or provincial governments. This can lead to jurisdictional disputes and hinder the ability of individual states or provinces to address matters under their authority.

Finally, the potential for ancillary legislation to violate fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution necessitates close scrutiny. Intrusive provisions, enacted without due consideration for individual liberties, can lead to rights violations. Striking a balance between effective governance and protecting individual rights is paramount.

In light of these challenges, several avenues for reform can be explored. Developing clearer standards for the “necessity” and “reasonableness” prongs would provide more concrete guidance for both legislatures and courts. These standards could emphasize the demonstrably necessary connection between the primary and ancillary powers, along with the proportionality of the chosen method in achieving the desired objective. Maintaining a robust system of judicial review remains crucial to ensure the doctrine is applied within constitutional boundaries and doesn’t lead to an overreach by central legislatures. Finally, fostering transparency and open communication between central and state/provincial legislatures can help mitigate concerns about federal overreach. Through collaborative efforts and open dialogue, mutually beneficial solutions can be developed, ensuring the doctrine of ancillary legislation serves its intended purpose without jeopardizing the federal balance or individual rights.

Conclusion

The doctrine of ancillary legislation serves as a vital linchpin in the intricate machinery of federal governance, including India’s quasi-federal system. It bridges the potential chasm between the delineated powers of the central and state legislatures, fostering a more harmonious approach to lawmaking. However, navigating this tightrope walk between flexibility and potential overreach presents an ongoing challenge.

The doctrine’s strength lies in its adaptability. It allows legislatures to address the ever-evolving complexities of the modern world, even when the rigid letter of the Constitution might not explicitly grant the necessary authority. This adaptability ensures a more responsive and effective legislative framework. However, the lack of clear and universally accepted standards for the “necessity” and “reasonableness” prongs can introduce ambiguity. This ambiguity can lead to uncertainty for both lawmakers crafting legislation and individuals potentially impacted by it, potentially triggering an increase in litigation.

To mitigate these challenges and further strengthen the application of the doctrine, several avenues can be explored. Developing clearer benchmarks for the “necessity” and “reasonableness” prongs would provide more concrete guidance for both legislatures and courts. These standards could emphasize the demonstrably necessary connection between the primary and ancillary powers, along with the proportionality of the chosen method in achieving the desired objective. Additionally, fostering a robust system of judicial review remains crucial. A vigilant judiciary ensures the doctrine is applied within constitutional boundaries and doesn’t lead to an overreach by central legislatures. Finally, promoting transparency and open communication between central and state/provincial legislatures can help alleviate concerns about federal overreach. Through collaborative efforts and open dialogue, mutually beneficial solutions can be developed.


[1] N.A. Subrahmania Aiyar v. Queen-Empress, (1900) 10 M.L.J. 147.

[2] United Provinces v. Atiqa Begum,AIR 1941 FC 16.

[3] United Provinces v. Atiqa Begum AIR 1941 FC 16.

[4] Megh Raj v. Allah Rakhia, AIR 1947 PC 72.

[5] V.N. Shukla, Constitution of India (Fourteenth edition, EBC 2022).

[6] Jagannath Baksh Singh v. State of U.P., AIR 1962 SC 563.

[7] V.N. Shukla, Constitution of India (Fourteenth edition, EBC 2022).

[8] R.M.D.C (Mysore) (P) (Ltd) v. State of Mysore, AIR 1962 SC 594.

[9] State of Haryana v. Sant Lal (1993) 4 SCC 380.

[10] State of West Bengal v. Egon Erwin Kesh [1961] 2 SCR 769.

[11] State of Bombay v. F. N. Balsara 1951 SCC 1860.

[12] Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949.

[13] McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 US (4 Wheat) 316 (1819).

[14] Canadian Pacific Railway v. Attorney General of Saskatchewan, [1953] 2 S.C.R. 231.

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