Defined: The Doctrine of Colorable Laws

This article takes a brief look at the doctrine of colorable legislation. The doctrine of colorable legislation is explained here using case law and illustrations.


If something is directly prohibited, it is also indirectly prohibited. Under the color or the guise of power given for one purpose, the legislature cannot attempt to achieve any other purpose for which it is not otherwise competent. This doctrine applies to the “legislative” organ that comes from the three organs of the state.

The relevance of the doctrine of colorable legislation

Article 246 of the Indian Constitution contains separate topics for legislation in three lists in accordance with Annex VII. That is, numerous topics have been separated, with each topic assigned to either the state, the center, or both.

For example: if the central government has been granted the use of the army in the union list, the state government cannot claim such rights.


The following are the lists under Appendix VII of the Indian Constitution on which the Center, the State, or both may legislate on any subject:

  1. Union List (List I)
  2. Status list (List II)
  3. Concurrent list (List III)

A question

If an item is on the state list, the Union cannot legislate on the matter. and if an item is on the Union list, the state cannot legislate on the matter.

But what if an incompetent legislator tries to legislate on something outside of its jurisdiction?


What if an attempt is made to include a law that is a different color, but the main intention is to legislate on the matter that is outside its jurisdiction?


This is where the doctrine of colorable legislation comes into play.

When the legislature tries to legislate on such subject matter which is outside its jurisdiction, indirectly so that it does not appear to have legislated outside of its jurisdiction; then such an instance is called Colorable Legislation.

In such a situation, constitutional courts such as the Supreme Court or the Supreme Court can invalidate such a law by applying this doctrine. (Doctrine of Colorable Legislation)

Example: Under Union List, Entry 2A, the deployment of armed forces is the responsibility of the central government. The state government cannot legislate on such issues. In-state list, entry 1, makes the aspect of “public order” under the state list. Now the state cannot enact a public order law that involves the use of armed forces. Legislation can be colored. In such a situation, the constitutional court can be like the Supreme Court or the Supreme Court; Due to the Doctrine of Colorable legislation, this law is no longer valid.

Limitations of the Doctrine of Colorable Legislation

This doctrine does not work in those cases where the legislature has no constitutional restriction.

It does not apply to subordinate legal provisions

Not affected if the law is relevant or irrelevant

The presumption always speaks in favor of the constitutionality of the law and the burden of proof rests on the petitioner.

Jurisprudence on the doctrine of colorable legislation

KC Gajapati Narayana Deodorant and Ors. v. The state of Orissa

If the constitution of a state distributes the legislative powers to different bodies that have to act in their respective area, which is characterized by certain legislative entries, or if the legislative authority is restricted in the form of fundamental rights, questions arise as to whether the legislature in a certain case has or has not exceeded the limits of its constitutional powers in relation to the subject matter of the law or in relation to the manner in which it was enacted.

Bihar State versus Kameshwar Singh

In this case, the court applied the concept of the Doctrine of Colorable Laws and invalidated a law. The invalidated law was the Bihar Land Reforms Act of 1950. It allegedly purported to establish the principle of compensation, did not establish such a principle, and therefore implicitly sought to withdraw compensation from the petitioner.

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