Statutes must always be interpreted prospectively. [ The State Of Maharashtra vs Vishnu Ramchandra ]

The State Of Maharashtra vs Vishnu Ramchandra, 1961 AIR 307

Before the Supreme Court of India

Decided on: 18 October 1960

Author of the judgement: Hidayatullah M.

Bench: Hidayatullah, M. and Shah, J.C.

Counsel for the appellant: H. Dhebar.

The respondent did not appear.

Sr. No. Title Sections
1 Bombay Police Act, (22 of 1951) Section 142 and 57(a)
2 Indian Penal Code, 1860 Section 380, 114, and 411.


This is an appeal by the State of Bombay, with the special leave of this Court, against the order of acquittal by the High Court of Bombay of the respondent, Vishnu Ramchandra, who was prosecuted under s. 142 of the Bombay Police Act and sentenced to six months’ rigorous imprisonment by the Presidency Magistrate, 2nd Court, Mazagaon, Bombay.

Brief Facts and Procedural History:

On November 16, 1949, Vishnu Ramchandra was convicted under s. 380 and 114 of the Indian Penal Code, and sentenced to one month’s rigorous imprisonment.

On October 15, 1957, the Deputy ‘Commissioner of Police, Bombay, acting under s. 57(a) of the Bombay Police Act (22 of 1951), passed an order against Vishnu Ramchandra which was to operate for one year, externing him from the limits of Greater Bombay.

At that time, a prosecution under s. 411 of the Indian Penal Code was pending against Vishnu Ramchandra, and he was not immediately externed, to enable him to attend the case. This prosecution came to an end on July 10, 1958, and resulted in his acquittal.

 Immediately afterward, a constable took him outside the limits of Greater Bombay and left him there. The prosecution case was that he returned to Greater Bombay, and was arrested at Pydhonie on August 24, 1958. He was prosecuted under s. 142 of the Bombay Police Act. His plea that he was forcibly brought back to Pydhonie and arrested was not accepted by the Presidency Magistrate, and he was convicted.

He filed a revision application, which was heard by a learned single Judge of the High Court of Bombay. Three contentions were raised before the High Court:

  1. The Deputy Commissioner of Police had not applied his mind to the facts of the case before making the order of externment.
  2. 57 of the Bombay Police Act was prospective, and could not be made applicable, unless the conviction on which the action of externment was based, took place after the coming into force of that Act.
  3. The belief entertained by the Deputy Commissioner that Vishnu Ramchandra was likely in engaging himself in the commission of an offence similar to that for which he was prosecuted was based on the prosecution which was then pending and that that ground disappeared after his acquittal.

The High Court did not consider the first and the third grounds because it held that the second ground was good.

Section 57 of the Bombay Police Act reads as: ” Removal of persons convicted of certain offenses”.  In reaching his conclusion the learned single Judge observed that the legislature had used the present participle ” has been ” and not the past participle in the opening portion of the section and that this indicated that the section was intended to be used only where a person was convicted subsequent to the coming into force of the Act. He further observed that being a penal section, it had to be interpreted prospectively. Observing further that the Deputy Commissioner of Police at the time of the passing of the order could not be said to have entertained a belief about the activities of Vishnu Ramchandra based upon his conviction in the year 1949, he held that the order of externment must be regarded as invalid for that reason and also on the ground that the conviction was not after the coming into force of the Act.

Ratio of Supreme Court:

According to the Supreme Court, the High Court was not right in the view it had taken of s. 57 of the Act. The question whether an enactment is meant to operate prospectively or retrospectively has to be decided in accordance with well- settled principles.

The cardinal principle is that statutes must always be interpreted prospectively, unless the language of the statutes makes them retrospective, either expressly or by necessary implication.

Penal statutes which create new offenses are always prospective, but penal statutes which create disabilities, though ordinarily interpreted prospectively, are sometimes interpreted retrospectively when there is a clear intendment that they are to be applied to past events.

The Act in question was thus not applied retrospectively but prospectively. It remains only to consider if the language of the section bars an action based on past actions before the Act was passed. The verb “has been” is in the present perfect tense, and may mean either “shall have been ” or ” shall be “. Looking, however, to the scheme of the enactment as a whole and particularly the other portions of it, it is manifest that the former meaning is intended. The verb “has been” describes past actions.

The requirements of s. 57 of the Bombay Police Act, must be made bona fide, taking into account a conviction which is sufficiently proximate in time. Since no absolute rule can be laid down, each case must depend on its own facts.


As a result, the court set aside the acquittal and remitted the case back to the High Court for disposal of other points. Thus the appeal was allowed.


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