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Article 14: Right to Equality

Fundamental rights are the rights having a noble pedigree. They are the natural rights which are in the nature of external conditions necessary for the greatest possible unfolding of the capacities of a human being. It is generally agreed that these natural rights are inherent in man and cannot be taken away by the State.[1] Part III of the Constitution contains a long list of fundamental rights.

The inclusion of Chapter of Fundamental Rights in the Constitution of India is in accordance with the trend of modern democratic thought, the idea being to preserve that which is an indispensable condition of a free society. The aim of having a declaration of fundamental rights is that certain elementary rights, such as, right to life liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of faith and so on, should be regarded as inviolable under all conditions and that the shifting majority of Legislative of the country should not have a free hand in interfering the fundamental rights.[2]

Equality is one of the magnificent corner-stones of Indian democracy.[3] The doctrine of equality before law is a necessary corollary of Rule of Law which pervades the Indian Constitution.[4]

Articles 14 to 18 of the Constitution guarantee the right to equality to every citizen of India. Article 14 embodies the general principles of equality before law and prohibits unreasonable discrimination between persons. Article 14 embodies the idea of equality expressed in the Preamble. The succeeding Articles 15, 16, 17 and 18 lay down specific application of the general rules laid down in Article 14. Article 15 relates to prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 16 guarantees equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. Article 17 abolishes 'Untouchability'. Article 18 abolishes title.[5]

Principle of equality is fundamental in formulation of any policy by the State and the glimpse of it can be seen in Articles 38, 39, 39-A, 43 and 46 of the Constitution embedded in Part IV of the Constitution.[6]

Article 14
Equality is a basic feature of the Constitution. The underlying purpose of Article 14 is to treat all persons similarly circumstanced alike, both in privileges conferred and liabilities imposed. Classification must not be arbitrary but must be rational, that is to say it must not only be based on some qualities or characteristics which are found in all persons grouped together and not in others who are left out, but those qualities and characteristics must have reasonable relation to object of legislation.[7]

Article 14 run as follows:
Article 14: Equality before law:
The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.[8]

Two concepts are involved in Article 14, viz, 'equality before law' and 'equal protection of laws'.

Equality before law:
It is of English origin and is a negative concept which ensures that there is no special privilege's in favour of any one, that all are equally subject to the ordinary law of the land and that no person, whatever be his rank or condition, is above the law. This is equivalent to the second corollary of the Dicean concept of the Rule of Law in Britain. This however, is not an absolute rule and there are number of exceptions to it, eg, foreign diplomats enjoy immunity from the country's judicial process; Article 361 extends immunity to the President of India and the State governors; public officers and judges also enjoy some protection, and some special groups and interests, like the trade unions, have been accorded special privileges by law.[9]

Equal protection of law:
It is taken from American Constitution and is a positive content. The guarantee of equal protection of laws is similar to one embodied in the 14th Amendment to the American Constitution.[10] It does mot mean that identically the same law should apply to all persons, or that every law must have a universal application within the country irrespective of differences of circumstances.

Equal Protection of the laws does not postulates equal treatment of all persons without distinction. What it postulates is the application of the same laws alike and without discrimination to all persons similarly situated. It denotes equality of treatment in equal circumstances. It implies that among equals the law should be equal and equally administered, that the like should be treated alike without distinction of race, religion, wealth, social status or political influence.[11] Thus, the rule is that the like should be treated alike and not that unlike should be treated alike.[12]

Exceptions to the Rule of Law
The above rule of equality is however, not an absolute rule and there are number of exceptions to it:[13]
  1. 'Equality before the law' does not mean that the "powers of the private citizens are same as the powers of the public officials". Thus, a police officer has the power to arrest while, as a general rule, no private person has this power
  2. The rule of law does not prevent certain classes of persons being subject to special rules. Thus, members of the armed forces are controlled by military laws.
  3. Ministers and other executive bodies are given very wide discretionary powers by the statutes. A Minister may be allowed by the law 'to act as he thinks fit' or 'if he is satisfied'.
  4. Certain members of society are governed by special rules in their profession, i.e., lawyers, doctors' nurses, members of armed forces and police.

Article 14 permits classification but prohibits class legislation
The equal protection of laws guaranteed by Article 14 does not mean that all laws must be general in character. It does not mean that the same laws should apply to all persons. It does not mean that every law must have universal application for, all persons are not, by nature, attainment or circumstances in the same position.

The varying needs of different classes of persons often require separate treatment.[14] From the very nature of society there should be different laws in different places and the Legislature controls the policy and enacts laws in the best interest of the safety and security of the State.[15] So, a reasonable classification is not on;y permitted but is necessary if society is to progress.[16]

Thus, what Article 14 forbids is class-legislation but it does not forbid reasonable classification. The classification, however must not be "arbitrary, artificial or evasive" but must be based on some real and substantial distinction bearing a just and reasonable relation to the object sought to be achieved by the legislature.[17]

Test of Reasonable Classification[18]
While Article 14 forbids class legislation it does not forbid reasonable classification of persons, objects, and transactions by the legislature for the purpose of achieving specific ends. But classification must not be "arbitrary, artificial or evasive". It must always rest upon some real upon some real and substantial distinction bearing a just and reasonable relation to the object sought to be achieved by the legislation.

Classification to be reasonable must fulfil the following two conditions:
  1. The classification must be founded on the intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or thing that are grouped together from others left out of the group and
  2. The differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the act.

The differentia which is the basis of the classification and the object of the act are two distinct things. What is necessary is that there must be nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the act which makes the classification. It is only when there is no reasonable basis for a classification that legislation making such classification may be declared discriminatory. Thus, the legislature may fix the age at which persons shall be deemed competent to contract between themselves, but no one will claim that competency. No contract can be made to depend upon the stature or colour of the hair. Such a classification will be arbitrary.[19]

The true meaning and scope of Article 14 have been explained in several cases by the supreme court. In view of this the propositions laid down in Dalmia's case still hold good governing a valid classification and are as follows[20]:
  1. A law may be constitutional even though it relates to a single individual if on account of some special circumstances or reasons applicable to him and not applicable to others, that single individual may be treated as a class by itself
  2. There is always presumption in favour of the constitutionality of a statute and the burden is upon him who attacks it to show that there has been a clear transgression of constitutional principles.
  3. The presumption may be rebutted in certain cases by showing that on the fact of the statue, there is no classification and no difference peculiar to any individual or class and not applicable to any other individual or class, and yet the law hits only a particular individual or class.
  4. It must be assumed that Legislature correctly understand and appreciates the need of its own people that its law are directed to problem made manifest by experience and that its discrimination are based on adequate grounds.
  5. In order to sustain the presumption of constitutionality the court may take into consideration maters of common knowledge, matters of report, the history of the times and may assume every state of facts which can be conceived existing at the time of the legislation.
  6. Thus, the legislation is free to recognize degrees of harm and may confine its restriction to those cases where the need is deemed to be the clearest.
  7. While good faith and knowledge of the existing conditions on the part of a legislature are to be presumed, if there is nothing on the face of the law or the surrounding circumstances brought to the notice of the court on which the classification may reasonable be regarded as based, the presumption of constitutionality cannot be carried to extent always that there must be some undisclosed and unknown reason for subjecting certain individuals or corporation to be hostile or discriminating legislation.
  8. The classification may be made on different bases e.g. geographical or according to object or occupation or the like.
  9. The classification made by the legislature need not be scientifically perfect or logically complete.[21] Mathematical nicety and perfect equality are not required.[22]
  10. There can be discrimination both in the substantive as well as the procedural law. Article 14 applies to both.[23]

If the classification satisfies the test laid down in the above propositions, the law will be declared constitutional. The question whether a classification is reasonable and proper and not must however, be judged more on common sense than on legal subtitles.

Subramanian Swamy v. Director, Central Bureau Investigation[24]
The constitutionality of Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1964 and Section 26(6) of the Central Vigilance Commission Act were involved. The provision required the previous approval of the Central Government for conduct of any inquiry or investigation for any offence alleged to have been committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 where the allegations related to officers of the level of the Join Secretary and above which the Supreme Court through a five bench judge held:
The provision are invalid being discriminatory as the classification of corrupt public servants cannot be said to be based on intelligible differentia. The classification made by Section 6A cannot be justified on the ground that one set of officers is decision-making while other set of officers are not so.

Where there are allegations against a public servant which amount to an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, no factor of expertise of decision-making is involved. It is the vice which renders the impugned legislation violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. Moreover, the result of the impugned legislation is that very group pf persons, namely high-ranking bureaucrats whose misdeeds and illegalities may have to be inquired into would decide whether the C.B.I. should start even an inquiry or investigation against them. The C.B.I. is not able to proceed even to collect the material to unearth prima facie substance into the merits of allegations.

Thus, the object of Section 6 is itself discriminatory. The discrimination cannot be justified on the ground of a reasonable classification having a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved. Based on the position or status in service, no distinction can be made between public servants against whom these are allegations amounting to an offence under Prevention of Corruption Act. The classification made neither eliminates public mischief nor achieves some positive public good rather it advances the public mischief and prevents crime-doer.

Kedar Nath v. State of West Bengal[25]
The Court decision was about the presumption that the classification is reasonable can be assumed on the basis that the Legislature understands the necessity of the public and so can take the rational decision. The provisions of Fundamental Rights relating to right to Equivalence and the reasonable classifications does not insist that such type of classification must be perfect or complete on the basis of scientific or logical reasons.

A single individual may constitute a class
In a situation where the law is made for a single individual in that case the law made will be valid for that single individual. Under Article 14 laws made for single person is valid. People have a believe that law made for a single individual is discriminatory, but it is not like that, if the law, made is rational and have reasonable nexus then the law made is valid.

Ammeerunnisa Begum v. Mahboob[26]
On the death of the Nawab of Hyderabad a dispute between two rival parties regarding succession to his property arose which resulted in protracted litigation. In order to put to an end to his long-standing litigation the Hyderabad Legislature passed the Walid-ud-Dowla Succession Act, 1950. By this Act the claims of one party, i.e., two ladies were dismissed, and the property was adjusted to the other party.

The Act was challenged on the ground that it deprived the petitioners the right to enforce their claims in a court of law and thus discriminated them from the rest of the community in respect of a valuable right which the law secures to all. The Government justified the classification mainly on the ground that the Act was passed to put an end to a long-standing litigation. The Supreme Court held the Act unconstitutional on ground that it did not furnish any reasonable basis for the discrimination made by it. The Court said that the continuance of a dispute even for a long time between two sets of rival claimants of the property of a private person is not such an unusual circumstance by itself justifying its differentiation from all other case of succession dispute.

The exceptional case which was present in the Chiranji Lal's[27] case were not present in this case. Where the law affects the community as a whole the court will assume the existence of some reasonable ground for sustaining the classification made by it. In Chiranji Lal's case the court justified its decision on the ground that the closure of the company had affected the production of an essential commodity and caused serious unemployment amongst labourers. In the present case, the dispute was between private parties and no interest of community was involved.

Ram Prasad v. State of Bihar[28]
The appellants were granted a lease of land by the Court of Wards in 1946. There was an agitation by the tenants of the locality against the lease and matter was referred to the Congress Working Committee. The Congress Committee took the view that the settlement was illegal and accordingly the lessees were asked to vacate the land. The lessees refused to vacate the land thereupon the Bihar Legislature passed the impugned Act, e.g., the Bihar Sathi Land (Restoration) Act, 1950.

By the Act the appellant's lease was cancelled. The Supreme Court held the Act unconstitutional on the ground that the dispute was a legal dispute between two private parties, and it was a matter of determination by duly constituted courts in accordance with normal procedure. But what the Legislature has done was to single out certain individuals and deprived them of the right which every Indian citizen possesses to have its rights adjudicated upon by a court of law according to law applicable to him. On behalf of the Government, the Attorney-General contended the presumption is always in favour of the constitutionality of the enactment.

But the court said that:
where on the fact of a statute there is no classification at all, and no attempt has been made to select any individual or group with reference to any differentiating attribute peculiar to that individual or group and not possessed by others, this presumption is of little or no assistance to the State and to carry the presumption to the extent of holding that there must be some undisclosed and unknown reason for subjecting certain individuals or corporations to hostile and discriminatory legislations is to make the protection of Article 14 a mere mock of sand.

Special Courts and Special Procedure
Under Article 246(2) Parliament by law is empowered to set up Special Courts and to special procedure for the trial of certain 'offences' or 'classes offences. Such a law will not be violative of Article 14, if it lay downs proper guidelines for classifying 'offences' 'classes of offences' or 'classes' of cases to be tried by Special Court.[29] But the special procedure prescribed by such a law should not be substantially different from the procedure prescribed under an ordinary law.

The first leading case in this topic is:
State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar[30]
Special Courts were introduced in West Bengal under section 3 of the West Bengal Special Courts ordinance, 1949, (Ordinance No. 3 of 1949) which was replaced in March, 1950, by the West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950, (West Bengal Act X of 1950), for the speedier trials of some cases which were to be referred to Special Courts by the State Government.

A case, the Special court tried under a notification under section 5 of the said Act, and Mr. Anwar Ali and 49 others were tried for various offences alleged to be committed by them in the course of raiding a factory, known as Jessop Factory, as an armed gang, and were convicted and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonments.

The accused applied in High Court under Article 226[2] of Constitution of India for the issue of a writ of certiorari quashing the conviction and sentence on the ground that the Special Court had no jurisdiction to try the case as section 5 of the said act is unconstitutional and void under Article 13(2)[3] of constitution of India, as it denied to the respondent, equal protection of laws enjoined by Article 14[4] of constitution of India. The High court by a full bench consisting of the Chief Justice and four other judges quashed the conviction and directed the trial of the respondent and the other accused people according to law.

The Supreme Court held that Section 5(1) of the West Bengal Special Courts Act contravened Article 14 and was void since it conferred arbitrary power on the Government to classify offences or cases at its pleasure and the Act didn't lay down any policy or guideline for the exercise of discretion to classify cases or offences at its pleasure and the act didn't lay down any policy or guidelines for the exercise of discretion to classify cases or offences.

The procedure laid down by the Act for the trial by the special courts varied substantially from the procedure laid down for the trial of offences generally by the criminal procedure court. The differentia which is the basis of classification and the object of the Act are two distinct things. What is necessary is that there must be a nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the Act which makes the classification. It is only when there is no reasonable basis for a classification that legislation making such classification may be declared discriminatory.

Thus, legislature may fix the age at which persons shall be deemed contempt to contract between themselves, but no one will claim that competency. No contract can be made to depend upon the stature or colour of the hair. Such a classification will be arbitrary. Law doesn't include administrative directions or instructions issued by the government for the guidance of its officers. There can be no discrimination both in substantive as well as procedural law.

Kathi Ranning v. State of Saurashtra[31]
The validity of a similar Act was upheld on the ground that it had laid down proper guidelines for the exercise of discretion by the executive to refer to cases to Special Courts for trial. The object as mentioned in the Ordinance was to provide for "public safety, public order and preservation of peace and tranquillity" in the State of Saurashtra.

It thus referred to four distinct categories of 'offences' or cases which could be directed by the Government to be tried by the Special Courts established under Ordinance. The Supreme Court held that the Act was not violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. The Court said the main distinction between the West Bengal case and the Saurashtra Ordinance was that while in former there was no principle to be found to control the application of discriminatory provision or to correlate these provisions to some reasonable, tangible and rational objective; the latter clearly laid down the guiding principle, that is, to provide for public safety, maintenance of public order and preservation of peace and tranquillity in State. The mere mention of the speedier trial as the object in the West Bengal Act did not cure the defect, because the expression afforded no help in determining what cases required speedier trial. Thus the main object to the West Bengal Act was that it permitted discrimination without reason or without any rational basis.

Immunities to person investing unaccountable money
R.K. Garg v. Union of India[32]
In this case, the constitutional validity of Special Bearer Bonds (Immunities and Exception) Act, 1981 was under challenge. The legislation was enacted by the Indian Parliament, with the object of putting to productive use, the unaccounted money held by citizens. In furtherance of this, the Government, proposed to issue instruments called Special Bearer Bonds and provided incentives for people to invest in them.

The controversial provisions of this legislation were section 3 and section 4, which provided that, any person who subscribes to these bonds will not be required to disclose the source of money for his investment in such bonds and he will not be interrogated or subjected to any investigation, or admissible as evidence in any inquiry or proceedings or levied any penalty on the basis of his investment. The Act was challenged inter alia on the ground that it made an unreasonable classification between persons who illegally evaded payment of tax as against those who abided by the law.

It was argued that such a provision in the law was against morality as it afforded tax evaders, immunities and exemptions, and placed them at an advantageous position in comparison to those who abided by the law. Unfortunately, by a majority of four against one, the Bench brushed aside this contention, and held that morality was not an element to be considered while judging the constitutional validity of a statute. This is an attempt to analyse the strength of 'morality of the legislation' as a ground for determining its constitutional validity as gathered from the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India.

New concept of Equality: Protection against arbitrariness
Until 1970 we saw that whether the law satisfy the test of Article 14 or not of it does not satisfy then it is irrational. But after 1971 the right to equality under Article 14 got new dimension and different prospective. And it all happened because of J. Bhagwati in E.P. Rao case.

E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu[33]
The Supreme court has drifted from the traditional concept of equality which was based on reasonable classification and has laid down a new concept of equality. Bhagwati J., delivering the judgement on behalf of himself, Chandrachud and Krishna Iyer, JJ. propounded the new concept of equality in the following words- "Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions, and it cannot be 'cribbed, cabined and confined' within traditional and doctrinaire limits.

From a positivistic point of view, equality is antithesis to arbitrariness. In fact, equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic while the other, to the whim caprice of an obsolete monarch. Where an act is arbitrary, it is implicit in it that it is unequal both according to political logic and constitutional law and is therefore violative of Article 14".

In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[34] Bhagwati, J., again quoted with approval the new concept of equality propounded by him in the E.P. Royappa case. He said: -
"Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions, and it cannot be imprisoned within traditional and doctrinaire limits. Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in State action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment. The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophy, is an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness, pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence.

In International Airport Authority case[35] Bhagwati, J., reiterated the same principle in the following words:
"It must ...therefore, now be taken to be well-settled that what Article 14 strikes at is arbitrariness because an action that is arbitrary, must necessarily involve negation of equality. The doctrine of classification which is involved by the court is not paraphrase of Article 14 nor is it the objective and end of that Article. It is merely a judicial formula for determining whether the legislative or executive action in question is arbitrary and therefore constituting denial of equality. If the classification is not reasonable and does not satisfy the two conditions referred to above, the impugned legislation or executive action would plainly be arbitrary and the guarantee of equality under Article 14 would be breached.

Central Inland Water Transport Corpn. Ltd. V. Brojo Nath[36]
The Supreme Court has held the Service Rules empowering the Government Corporation to terminate services of permanent employees without giving reasons on three months' notice or pay in lieu of notice period is violative of Article 14 being unconscionable, arbitrary, unreasonable and against public policy as it wholly ignores the audi alteram rule (i.e., hear the parties). The service rule confers an absolute, arbitrary and unguided power upon the corporation to terminate the services of its employees without giving reasons. This decision will go along way in protecting lakhs of employees of public corporations working under contract of service from arbitrary termination of their services without assigning any reasons.

Conclusion
What Article 14 forbids is discrimination by law that is treating persons similarly circumstanced differently and treating those not similarly circumstanced in the same way or as has been pithily put treating equals as unequal's and unequal's as equals. Article 14 prohibits hostile classification by law and is directed against discriminatory class legislation.

A legislature for the purpose of dealing with the complex problem that arise out of an infinite variety of human relations cannot but proceed on some sort of selection or classification of persons upon whom the legislation is to operate.

It is well settled that Article 14 forbid classification for the purpose of legislation.

Its is equally well settled that in order to meet the test of Article 14:
  1. classification must be based on intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from those that are left out of group and
  2. the differentia must have a rational nexus to the objects sought to be achieved by the executive or legislative action under challenge.

Article 14 contains a guarantee of equality before law to all persons and protection to them against discrimination by law. It forbids class legislation.

Also keeping in view of above-mentioned statements said by the different courts, it is clear that Article 14 gives the ensured of equal rights without discrimination. It says equal everyone is Equal in eye of law. Whether he belongs to different race, religion, social status or wealth.

As Dr. Jennings rightly said: "equality before the law means that among equals the law should be equal and should be equally administered, that like should be treated alike. The right to sue and be sued to prosecute and prosecuted for the same kind of action should be same for all citizens of full age and understanding without distinctions of race, religion, wealth, social status or political influence." Right to equality is a one of the most important part of our Indian constitution, which gives strengthen to all those people who belongs to Indian nationality. It is necessity of the upcoming generation to secure their right & change our developing India in to developed India.

End-Notes:
  1. B.K. Sharma, Introduction to the Constitution of India, PHI, p. 58(2007)
  2. Dr. J.N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, p. 60(2019)
  3. M.P. Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, p. 905 (8th ed.)
  4. Ashutosh Gupta v. State of Rajasthan, (2002) 4 SCC 34 : AIR 2002 SC 1533
  5. Dr. J.N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, p. 60(2019)
  6. State of Punjab v. Senior Vocational Staff Masters Association, AIR 2017 SC 4072 p. 4082
  7. M P Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, p. 907 (8th ed.)
  8. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/367586/
  9. M P Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, p. 908 (8th ed.)
  10. Dr. J. N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, p. 85(2019)
  11. M P Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, p. 908 (8th ed.)
  12. Dr. V. N. Shukla, Constitution of India, p. 27 (5th ed.)
  13. Dr. J. N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, p. 85 & 86(2019)
  14. Chiranjit Lal v. Union of India, AIR 1951 SC 41
  15. Abdul Rehman v. Pinto, AIR 1951 Hyd 11
  16. Jagjit Singh v. State, AIR 1954 Hyd 28
  17. R. K. Garg v. Union of India, AIR 1981 SC 2138
  18. Dr. J. N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, p. 88 & 89(2019)
  19. State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar, AIR 1952 SC 75
  20. Ramkrishna Dalmia v. Justice Tendolkar, AIR 1958 SC 538
  21. Kedar Nath v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1953 SC 404: 1954 SCR 30
  22. Kameshwar Singh v. State of Bihar, AIR 1954 Pat 91
  23. State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar, AIR 1952 SC 75
  24. AIR 2014 SC 2141
  25. AIR 1953 SC 404: 1954 SCR 30
  26. AIR 1953 SC 91
  27. Chiranji Lal v. Union of India, AIR 1961 SC 41
  28. AIR 1953 SC 215
  29. Re-Special Courts Bill, 1978, AIR 1979 SC 478
  30. AIR 1952 SC 75
  31. AIR 1952 SC 123
  32. AIR 1981 SC 138
  33. AIR 1974 SC 555
  34. AIR 1978 SC 597
  35. R.D. Shetty v. Airport Authority, AIR 1979 SC 1628
  36. AIR 1986 SC 1571

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