In the intricate tapestry of legal frameworks, the Explanation appended to a statutory provision assumes a role of paramount importance. Its function is not to rewrite the law but to illuminate the dark corners of ambiguity that might lurk within its provisions. Section 3 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) stands as a testament to this intricate dance between the core legislative text and its elucidating Explanation. This article delves into the nuances of the Explanation under the PMLA, exploring its role as a guiding light in the interpretation and application of the law.

The Judicial Clarion Call

In the legal annals of India, the case of S. Sundaram Pillai vs V.R. Pattabiraman1 stands as a pivotal moment of enlightenment. The Hon'ble Supreme Court, drawing from earlier precedents, emphasized that an Explanation isn't an autonomous provision; rather, it is a clarifying aid meant to dissipate ambiguities that may shroud the parent provision. It was explicitly stated that an Explanation does not have the potency to alter or supplant the parent provision. This judicial doctrine brings forth the essence that the wording of the original provision holds sway over the Explanation, reserving the power to override it in case of conflicting interpretations.

The Continuity Conundrum

An intriguing facet of the PMLA, nestled within the Explanation, is the concept of money laundering as a continuing offense. The insertion of Explanation (ii) to Section 3 brings this idea to the forefront. This marks a shift in the landscape of interpretations, particularly concerning the nature of the offense. Prior to this amendment, the question of whether money laundering was a continuing offense was a subject of divergent opinions. While certain High Courts asserted that it was not a continuing offense, the recent legislative amendment has breathed new life into the debate.

An Evolving Lexicon: Explanation at Play

The PMLA doesn't exist in isolation; it's embedded in a dynamic and ever-evolving legal ecosystem. In line with this, the lawmakers have incorporated various explanations to expound upon specific terms and concepts within the Act. One such term is "payment system operator2," which is elucidated further by the introduction of the term "overseas principal3." This intricate web of definitions and clarifications ensures that no term is left to subjective interpretation. Another example lies in the elucidation of "proceeds of crime" under Section 2(u)4 of the PMLA. The added explanation leaves no room for ambiguity, including property derived not just from the scheduled offense but also from criminal activities tangentially related to it. These intricate clarifications serve as guiding stars, illuminating the path of legal understanding.

The Tripartite Stages: Foundation of Money Laundering

Central to comprehending money laundering is unraveling the tripartite stages that constitute its core. The Andhra Pradesh High Court, in B. Rama Raju vs Union of India5, encapsulated these stages as quintessential components of the offense. The Placement Stage entails the injection of ill-gotten funds into the legitimate financial system. Following this, the Layering Stage is a complex dance of transactions, spreading the tainted money across various financial activities to obfuscate its origins. Finally, the Integration Stage consummates the process by seamlessly merging the tainted funds into the financial system, effectively erasing any traces of their illicit origins.

Conclusion: The Symphony of Law and Explanation

In the symphony of legislative text and elucidating Explanation, the PMLA emerges as a composition of intricate legal harmonies. The elucidations within the PMLA's framework serve as guiding lights, illuminating the path for judicial interpretation. It's a dynamic relationship where the parent provision remains the locus of authority, guiding the contours of the Explanation. Moreover, the recent amendment introduces novel dimensions, turning the spotlight on the continuing nature of money laundering. As the legal landscape evolves, these clarifications remain steadfast, ensuring that the dance between words and meanings remains harmonious, upholding the essence of justice and legal coherence.


1. 1985 AIR 582

2. Section 2(1)(rc), PMLA, 2002.

3. Explanation to Section 2(1)(rc) , PMLA, 2002.

4. "proceeds of crime" means any property derived or obtained, directly or indirectly, by any person as a result of criminal activity relating to a scheduled offence or the value of any such property [or where such property is taken or held outside the country, then the property equivalent in value held within the country [or abroad]];

5. MANU/AP/0125/2011


Vijay Pal Dalmia, Advocate

Supreme Court of India & Delhi High Court

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Article by Vijay Pal Dalmia, Advocate, Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court, Partner & Head of Intellectual Property Laws Division, Vaish Associates Advocates, India

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