The Dictionary Meaning / The Revival of Ray XLVII

DictionaryRamnath & Co., who had been engaged in providing services to certain foreign buyers of frozen seafood and/or marine products and had received service charges from such foreign buyers/enterprises in foreign exchange, claimed deduction under Section 80-O of The Income Tax Act, 1961. As noticed, Section 80-O of the Act has a unique purpose and hence, peculiarities of its own.

It remains trite that any process of construction of a written text primarily begins with comprehension of the plain language used. In such process of comprehension of a statutory provision, the meaning of any word or phrase used therein has to be understood in its natural, ordinary or grammatical meaning unless that leads to some absurdity or unless the object of the statute suggests to the contrary. In the context of taxing statute, the requirement of looking plainly at the language is more pronounced with no room for intendment or presumption [CIT v. Yokogawa India Ltd., (2017) 391 ITR 274 (SC)]. In this process, if natural, ordinary or grammatical meaning of any word or phrase is available unquestionably and fits in the scheme and object of the statute, the same could be, rather need to be, applied. The other guiding rules of interpretation would be the internal aides like definition or interpretation clauses in the statute itself. Yet further, if internal aides do not complete the comprehension, recourse to external aides like those of judicial decisions expounding the meaning of the words used in construing the statutes in pari materi, or effect of usage and practice etc., is not unknown; and in this very sequence, it is an accepted principle that when a word is not defined in the enactment itself, it is permissible to refer to the dictionaries to find out the general sense in which the word is understood in common parlance. In fact, for the purpose of gathering ordinary meaning of any expression, recourse to its dictionary meaning is rather interlaced in the literal rule of interpretation. This aspect was amply highlighted and expounded by the Constitution Bench of this Court in the case of Commissioner of Wealth- Tax, Andhra Pradesh v. Officer-in-Charge (Court of Wards), Paigah, (1976) 105 ITR 133.”

Hon’ble Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, Ramnath & Co. v. The Commissioner of Income Tax, [Civil Appeal Nos. 2506-2509 of 2020].

My Lord, The Constitution Bench?

Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, Hon’ble Justice A.N. Ray.

Hon’ble Judges M. Hameedullah Beg, R.S. Sarkaria, P.N. Shingal and Jaswant Singh.

It is true… meanings of words used in Acts of Parliament are not necessarily to be gathered from dictionaries which are not authorities on what Parliament must have meant. Nevertheless… where there is nothing better to rely upon, dictionaries may be used as an aid to resolve an ambiguity. The ordinary dictionary meaning cannot be discarded simply because it is given in a dictionary. To do that would be to destroy the literal rule of interpretation. This is a basic rule… ordinary dictionary meaning, in the absence of some overriding or special reasons to justify a departure, must prevail.”