Doctrine of Colorable Legislation like all other constitutional law may be a tool devised and applied by the Supreme Court of India to interpret various constitutional provisions. It is a guideline of immense utility while construing provisions concerning legislative competence.

Before knowing what this doctrine is and the way it’s applied in India, allow us to first understand the genesis of Doctrine of Colorable Legislation.

Doctrine of Colorable Legislation is made upon the founding stones of the Doctrine of Separation of Power. Separation of Power mandates that a balance of power is to be struck between the various components of the State i.e. between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The primary function of the legislature is to form laws. Whenever Legislature tries to shift this balance of power towards itself then the Doctrine of Colorable Legislation is interested in lookout of Legislative Accountability.

The literal meaning of Colorable Legislation is that under the ‘colour’ or ‘guise’ of the power conferred for one particular purpose, the legislature cannot seek to achieve some other purpose which it is otherwise not competent to legislate on.

‘Colourable’ isn’t tainted with bad faith or evil motive; it’s not pejorative or crooked. Conceptually, ‘colourability’ is bound with incompetency. ‘Colour’ is an appearance, semblance or simulacrum, as distinguished from that which is real…a deceptive appearance…a lack of reality. A thing is colorable which is, in appearance only and not actually , what it purports to be. Therefore, the underlying idea of the Doctrine of Colourable Legislation is that a legislature while passing a statute is obligated to act within the bounds of its powers, however, if the legislature in substance and actually , transgressed these powers, the transgression being veiled or coloured by outward show but on proper examination, seems bent be mere a pretense or disguise. In those cases, the legislation in question are going to be held invalid. The legislature can only make laws that are within its legislative competency. The legislative field is restricted by the scheme of distribution of powers and violating this restriction under any cover would cause ‘fraud of constitution’. The legislature cannot overstep this field of competency, directly or indirectly. It is the court’s responsibility to work out whether a law which though in forms appears to be within its sphere, in effect or substance, reaches beyond it.


  • The Doctrine has no application where the powers of a legislature aren’t fettered by any Constitutional limitation.
  • The Doctrine is also not applicable to Subordinate Legislation.
  • The Doctrine doesn’t involve any question of bona fides or mala fides on the a part of the legislature. The whole doctrine revolves itself into the, question of competency of a specific legislature to enact a specific law.
  • A logical corollary of the above-mentioned point is that the legislature doesn’t act on Extraneous Considerations. There are always a presumption of constitutionality in favor of the statute. The principle of presumption of constitutionality was succinctly enunciated by constitutional bench in Ram Krishna Dalmia v. Shri Justice S.R. Tendolkar and Ors.
  • When a legislature has the facility to form law with reference to a specific subject, it also has all the ancillary and incidental power to form that law an efficient one.
  • The transgression of constitutional power by legislature could also be patent, manifest or direct, but can also disguised, covert and indirect and it’s only to the present latter class of cases that the expression “colorable Legislation” is being applied.


In the sense that, when the legislature had the facility to form a law with reference to any subject it had all the ancillary and incidental power to form that law effective, So, the colourable legislation is needed to fix the legislative accountability with references to some modifications in legislative functions. This doctrine comes into play when a Legislature doesn’t possess the facility to form law upon a specific subject but nonetheless indirectly makes one. By applying this principle the fate of the Impugned Legislation is set .

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