This article was written by Apurva Mittal a student of Jindal global law school.


While interpreting the meaning of any provision the Courts, judges and lawyers count on certain constructions that enable them to apprehend the intentions of the Legislature at the time of the enactment of that particular provision or law. Internal and external aids are two methods adopted by the Courts for the above mentioned construction. “Internal aids” refers and includes the help available within the statute itself like the long title, preamble, illustrations, headings, marginal notes, punctuation, transitory provisions etc.

This article will make an analysis of the significance of one of the above-mentioned internal aids which are the illustrations with the help of relevant case laws. A fundamental rule that must be understood is that illustrations have some effect and they must not be understood as meaningless; if the Legislature has made them a part of the statute then they have their own role in the discourse of interpretation.


An illustration unlike a marginal note to the Section is considered to be a part of the Section itself and equally relevant and valuable in practically applying the provision of the Section. In a 1970 case, when the appellant made a contention based upon illustration (a) of Section 113 of the Transfer of Property Act, the Court held, “Illustrations are useful aids to construction and for securing the proper meaning of the section, but they cannot control the plain meaning of the section. Illustrations appended to sections of a statute are useful to show how sections may operate and are of relevance and value in construing the text1.

In LalaBalla Mal v. Ahad Shah, the appellant filed a suit for recovery of the amount due onPromissory notes executed by the respondent. The respondent contended that the notes wereprocured by the exercise of undue influence. The Privy Council rejected the contention and said,“the question such as those raised by the written statement must be decided on the provisions ofthe Indian Contract Act, 1872; that Section 16 of the Contract Act is the relevant section; that the4 illustrations to the section are to be taken as a part of the statue and that illustrations (c) and (d) applied to the facts of the case.”2

Another case law that can be referred to for realising the role of illustrations in the decision taking and the decision giving process is the case of Y. Venkatachalapathi Reddy v. Bank of India and Anr3:

In this case, the principle debtor wanted a loan from the Bank to buy mini-van and thus promised to pay back. A third person became a surety to ensure timely payment of instalments. On 28-09-1976, the Bank gave the loan to the principle debtor and on 29-09-1976 the surety executed a bond to the Bank. The debtor defaulted in making a payment because of which the Bank sent a legal notice to the surety but he denied his responsibility as he executed the bond one day later than the date of loan sanctioning. Thus there was no consideration and it was void.

The issue in this case was whether illustration (c) of Section 127 a limitation over Section 126/127 i.e. Section for consideration for guarantee where illustration (c) talks about a void contract if – A sells and delivers goods to B. Later C agrees to pay A in case B defaults. The contract will be void as there is no consideration.

The court looked at what illustration (c) meant in the light of Section 126 and Section 127. It held that the execution of the surety bond subsequent to the principal agreement, if it was in compliance with the terms of the principal agreement, was itself a sufficient consideration for the surety. In this case P had clearly indicated that S would furnish third party surety as per the principal agreement which in this case was application made by P to the Bank.Thus, after applying all the relevant sections to this case, the court held that the suit was not maintainable. Section 127 is not curtailed by illustration (c).

The various case laws mentioned in the above paragraphs not only expresses the approach of the Courts while taking into consideration the importance of illustrations but also how illustrations can be used in coming up to a decision when the section cannot enable a clear meaning.


In another case law dated 1938(a case on the right of the creditor to recover the interest upon a debt), the Court clearly stated that an illustration does not have an effect of modifying the language of the section which alone forms an enactment4.

It is the duty of a court of law to accept, if that can be done, the illustrations given as being both of relevance and value in the construction of the text. The illustrations should in no case be rejected because they do not square with ideas possibly derived from another system of jurisprudence as to the law with which they are the sections deal. And it would require a very special case to warrant their rejection on the ground of their assumed repugnancy to the sections themselves. It would be the very last resort of construction to make any such assumption. The great usefulness of the illustrations, which have, although no part of the sections, been expressly furnished by the Legislature as helpful in the working and application of the statute, should not be thus impaired.”5

A note must be taken that the language employed in the statute must be considered the determinative factor of the ulterior intent of the Legislature while passing any law. First step of interpretation must always be finding the rule of law on an issue from its Legislature itself. If the terms are unambiguous, then there exists no need of other aids to interpretation. Consequently, each word of a statute, be it the section or illustrations, nothing can be ignored.

Though illustrations are an essential part of the statutes and cannot be discounted, there are certain limitations to their use. Illustrations cannot be resorted to for constructing the meaning of a provision if its wordings are clear, precise and unambiguous; they cannot have the effect of modifying the language of the section; they cannot be used to curtail or expand the ambit of a section which is alone in the enactment; they cannot control the real context of the section and if there occurs contradiction among the illustration and a section, the section will prevail.


            There are abundant procedures used by the Courts considering a challenge to the constitutionality, applicability etc. of a statute. Every day Courts are called upon to interpret the statutes and looking at the Illustrative Interpretation of the words used. Unfortunately, compared to almost every other area of the law, there are few authoritative treatises on statutory construction and much of the academic writing is as hypothetical as to be useless to the practitioner and one suspect to the courts as well. It is an essential point to remember that the Legislature did not want to do a vain and a useless thing by adding up numerous illustrations with each section. A word or clause contained in a statute may only be rejected as surplusage if it appears to have been inserted through inadvertence or mistake, and which is incapable of any sensible meaning or is otherwise repugnant to the rest of the statute.


[1] Saleh Bros. v K. Rajendran and Anr., AIR 1970 Mad 165.

[2] AIR 1918 PC 249, as referred in Sarathi, P. Vepa, Interpretation of Statutes, 4th Edn.,2003, Eastern Book

Company, Lucknow.

[3] Y. Venkatachalapathi Reddy v. Bank of India and Anr, AIR 2002 113 Comp. Cases 368 (A.P.).

[4] Nagpur Railway Co. Ltd. v. Ruttanji Ramji, AIR 1938 PC 67.

[5] Mercara v. KodimaniandraDeviah, AIR 1962 SC 847.

One Comment

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *