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Repugnancy under Article 254



Article 254 of Constitution

Article 254 of the Indian Constitution addresses the inconsistency or repugnancy between Union and State laws. 

Clause (1) stipulates that if any provision of a State law conflicts with a provision of a Union law or an existing law related to matters in the Concurrent List, the Union law shall prevail, rendering the conflicting portion of the State law void.

This principle applies regardless of whether the Union law was enacted before or after the State law.

The rationale is that when both the Union and State legislatures are competent to legislate on the same subject, the Union law should take precedence.

'Repugnancy' between laws generally arises when applying State and Union laws related to the Concurrent List to the same set of facts.

The term 'existing law' refers to legislation enacted before the commencement of the Constitution, such as criminal law, civil procedure, evidence, and contracts.

However, if there is a conflict between State and Union laws regarding matters in the Union List, the State legislation will be ultra vires under Article 246.

Repugnancy may also arise when both legislatures are within their exclusive jurisdictions but are dealing with the same subject matter. In such cases, the doctrine of pith and substance is used to resolve conflicts.

Clause (2) of Article 254 provides an exception to the rule in Clause (1). It states that if a State law conflicts with an earlier Union law or an existing law related to matters in the Concurrent List, the State law can prevail in that State if it is reserved for the President's consideration and receives his assent.

However, Parliament retains the authority to supersede such State legislation by enacting a law on the same matter.

It is important to note that in cases of repugnancy, only the conflicting portion of the State law becomes void, not the entire law.

The State law may be amended or repealed by Parliament, either directly or by enacting a law that is repugnant to it on the same matter.

Whether Parliament should enact substantive provisions on the same subject when repealing a State law remains an open question.



In the case of Deep Chand v State of U.P. (AIR 1959 SC 648), the issue revolved around the validity of the U.P. Transport Services Act, which empowered the State government to formulate schemes for the nationalisation of motor transport.

This law was enacted due to the absence of provisions for the nationalisation of motor transport services in the Central Motor Vehicles Act, 1939. Subsequently, Parliament amended the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939, to include a new chapter, enabling State governments to devise and implement nationalisation schemes.

The Supreme Court ruled that both laws pertained to the same field, and hence, to the extent of their inconsistency, the State law was deemed void.

The addition of a new chapter to the Act did not imply the reopening of previously finalised schemes. The U.P. Act remained valid to support schemes framed under it and became void only concerning schemes framed under the Central Act.

It is crucial to note that only the conflicting portions of the law are void, not the entire legislation. When both the essence and duration of operation coincide, complete repugnancy arises, rendering the entire Act void.

The Union law may operate entirely prospectively, leaving the State law effective concerning past actions.

The tests of repugnancy established in this case are as follows:

  1. Direct Conflict: When there is a direct conflict between the State and Union laws, with inconsistencies in their terms.

  2. Occupied Field: Even in the absence of apparent conflict, repugnancy may exist if both laws cover the same field. This occurs when it is evident from the nature or subject matter of the Union law that it intended to provide a comprehensive legal framework for a specific matter.

  3. Intended Occupation: If Parliament intended to establish an exhaustive code regarding a subject matter, any State law pertaining to the same subject matter is regarded as inconsistent, regardless of direct conflict.


In the case of M. Karunanidhi v Union of India (AIR 1979 SC 898), the appellant, a former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, faced prosecution under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Prevention of Corruption Act for abusing his official position. The State of Tamil Nadu had previously enacted the Public Men (Criminal Misconduct) Act, which was subsequently repealed after obtaining the President's assent. The question arose whether the prosecution could proceed under the central laws, namely the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The appellant argued that the State Act, though repealed, was repugnant to the central laws, and therefore, under Article 254(2), the central laws were repealed when the State Act was passed and could not be applied for prosecution unless re-enacted after the repeal of the State Act. The issue centred on whether there was repugnancy between the State Act and the central laws.

The Supreme Court held that the State Act was not repugnant to the central laws. Despite the substantial similarity in the definition of criminal misconduct between the two laws, the State Act had created distinct and separate offences with different elements and penalties.

Hence, there was no collision between the two laws, and the central laws continued to be operative. The State Act was considered a complementary legislation, explicitly providing for the application of central laws after the completion of an investigation. It mandated that "public men" must be prosecuted under the central laws.

The tests of repugnancy laid down in this case are as follows:

  1. Clear and Direct Inconsistency: If there is clear and direct inconsistency between State and Union laws that is irreconcilable, rendering them unable to stand or operate together in the same field.

  2. No Repeal by Implication: Repeal by implication occurs only if inconsistency is evident on the face of the two statutes.

  3. Possibility of Coexistence: If two statutes occupy the same field but can operate simultaneously without conflict, there is no repugnancy.

  4. Creation of Separate Offences: If a statute in the same field seeks to create distinct and separate offences, there is no repugnancy. However, a State law is repugnant to a Union law if the latter is intended to be a complete exhaustive code on the subject matter, or if there is no intention but the same subject matter creates repugnancy.

Hoechst Pharmaceuticals Ltd. v State of Bihar (AIR 1983 SC 1019)

In the case of Hoechst Pharmaceuticals Ltd. v State of Bihar (AIR 1983 SC 1019), the Supreme Court dismissed a petition seeking the application of Article 254(1) to cases of repugnancy arising from overlapping between List II on one hand, and List I and List III on the other.

Instead, the Court held that such conflicts should be resolved through Article 246 with the assistance of the doctrine of pith and substance.

The dispute centred around whether there was repugnancy between the Drugs (Price Control) Order issued under Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act (a Union Act) and Section 5 of the Bihar Finance Act (a State Act).

While the former allowed manufacturers or producers to transfer the liability for sales tax to consumers, the latter prohibited such action.

The Union enacted its law under Entry 33 of List III (Concurrent List), while the State legislated under Entry 54 of List II (State List). 

Hoechst Ltd., the appellant, argued that the State law, which prevented dealers liable for surcharge from collecting it from purchasers, encroached upon the Union's power to regulate the prices of essential commodities.

Therefore, if both laws were valid, the Parliament's law should prevail, and the State law should yield.

The Court observed that the principle of the supremacy of the Center in Article 246 could only be invoked in cases of an irreconcilable conflict between the entries in the Union and State lists.

In cases of apparent conflict, the entries should be construed together without narrowly interpreting either of them.

The non-obstante clause in Article 246(1) should only operate if reconciliation proves impossible.

Moreover, the Court emphasised that conflicts between two lists would not arise if the impugned legislation fell exclusively under one list, and any encroachment upon another list was merely incidental.

This approach should be applied when resolving conflicts arising from overlapping powers in mutually exclusive lists.

The Court rejected the argument that the two enactments could be inconsistent if one statute deprived the right conferred by the other, as obedience to each was possible without violating the other.

Ultimately, the Court concluded that there was no repugnancy between the two Acts, as they operated in separate and distinct fields, and both could be complied with without conflict. Therefore, the question of repugnancy did not arise.


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