Article 14 of the Indian constitution grants every person equality before
and equal protection of laws
. However, article 14 is not
absolute, there can be certain exceptions for the betterment of citizens and in favour of the public interest. In the following article, the writer attempts to
make the audience understand as to why reasonable classification is important
with respect to article 14.
There are various aspects that you can read as to the origin of the terms equal
protection of law
and equality before law
and also the meaning of
rule of law which relates to the topic of the article. Furthermore, the writer
has explained the meaning of doctrine of reasonable classification citing
various case laws to make the audience understand the doctrine and has concluded
by expressing his opinions about the same.
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution states that:
The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal
protection of the laws within the territory of India.
This expression of equal protection of law and equality before the law are
enshrined in the constitution. They guarantee the fundamental rights and aim to
establish equality of status.
The term equality before law
has its origin from America and is
somewhat a negative concept aiming at the implication of an absence of some
special privileges. This can be by the reason of place of birth, religion,
caste, sex, etc. and by the ordinary law in favour of persons and all the equal
subject of classes.
The term equal protection before law
has its origin from Britain and is
somewhat a positive concept aiming at equal treatment in identical situations.
In other words, the President or the Prime Minister of the country should be
dealt in the same manner in law as that of a common citizen.
Rule of Law
The concept of Rule of Law is an animation of natural law and remains as a
historical ideal which makes a powerful appeal even today to be ruled by law,
not by a powerful man. Rule of Law
is to be understood neither as a
nor as a law
. It is generally understood as a doctrine of
state political morality
which concentrates on the rule of law in securing correct balance
individuals, and between individuals and the State in any free and civil
This balance may be drawn by law based on freedom, justice, equality and
accountability. Therefore, it infuses in law with moral qualities. Rule of
proper law balances the needs of society and the individual.
In India, the concept of rule of law can be traced to the Upanishads.
Law is the King of Kings. It is more powerful and rigid than the Kings. There is
nothing Higher than the law. By its powers the weak shall prevail over the
strong and the justice shall triumph.
Thus, in monarchy, the concept of law developed to control the exercise of
arbitrary powers of the monarchs who claimed divine powers to rule.
The basic concept of the rule of law is not a well-defined legal concept. The
courts generally would not invalidate any positive law on the ground that it
violates the contents of rule of law. However, in ADM Jabalpur v. Shivakant
, popularly known as Habeas Corpus case, an attempt was made to
challenge the detention orders during the emergency on the ground that it
violates the principles of the rule of law as the:
obligation to act in accordance with the rule of law… is a central feature of
our constitutional system and is a basic feature of the constitution.
Though the contention did not succeed and some justices even went to suggest
that during an emergency, the emergency provisions themselves constitute the
rule of law, yet if the reasoning of all five opinions is closely read, it
becomes clear that the contention was accepted, no matter it did not reflect in
the final order passed by the court. Therefore, despite the unfortunate order to
the effect that the doors of the court during an emergency are completely shut
for the detenus, it is gratifying to note that the concept of rule of law can be
used as a legal concept.
In the opinion of some Judges constituting the majority in Kesavananda
Bharati v. State of Kerela
, the rule of law was considered as an:
Aspect of the doctrine of basic structure of the constitution, which even the
plenary power of parliament cannot reach to amend.
The modern concept of rule of law is fairly wide and, therefore, sets up an
ideal for any government to achieve. This concept was developed by the
International Commission of Jurists, known as Delhi Declaration, 1959, which was
later confirmed at Lagos in 1961. According to this formulation, the rule of law
implies that the functions of the government in a free society should be so
exercised as to create conditions in which the dignity of man as an individual
This dignity requires not only the recognition of certain civil or political
rights but also creation of certain political, social, economic, educational and
cultural conditions which are essential to the full development of his
personality and the protection of his dignity.
Rule of law doctrine is a complicated and demanding criterion for evaluating the
legitimacy of governance in any state. Nevertheless, it cannot be a ground to
ignore it if the benefits of the constitutional democracy are to be secured for
the present and future generations of the people.
Recent aggressive judicial activism can only be seen as a part of the efforts of
the constitutional goals in India to establish a rule of law society which
implies that no matter how high a person may be, the law is always above him.
Court is also trying to identify the concept of rule of law with human rights of
As stated in Ashutosh Gupta v. State of Rajasthan
, the doctrine of
equality before law is a necessary corollary of Rule of Law which pervades the
Though the concept of rule of law has all the merits, the only negative side of
the concept is that respect for law degenerates into legalism from which its
very rigidity works injury to the nation.
Doctrine of reasonable classification
Though Article 14 mandates that State shall not discriminate between similarly
situated persons, that does not mean that all persons should be subjected to
similar treatment. Article 14 prescribes equality before law, but the fact
remains that all the persons are not equal in nature, attainment or
circumstances, and therefore, a mechanical equality before the law may result in
injustice. Thus, the guarantee against the denial of equal protection of the law
does not mean that identically the same rules of law should be made applicable
to the persons in spite of differences in circumstances or conditions.
The principle of equality of law does not mean that the same law should apply to
everyone but that a law should deal alike with all-in-one class, that there
should be an equality of treatment under equal circumstances. It means that
equals should not be treated unlike and the unlikes should not be treated alike.
Likes should be treated alike.
To apply the principal of equality in a practical manner, the courts have
evolved the principle that if the law in question is based on rational
classification, it is not regarded as discriminatory.
A Legislature is entitled to make reasonable classification for purposes of
legislation and treat all-in-one class on an equal footing. The Supreme Court
has thus underlined this principle under Western U.P. Electric Power and
Supply Corporation Limited V. State of Uttar Pradesh
Article 14 of the constitution ensures equality among equals: its aim is to
protect persons similarly placed against discriminatory treatment. It does not
however operate against rational classification. A person setting up a grievance
of denial of equal treatment by law must establish that between persons
similarly circumstanced, some were treated to their prejudice and the
differential treatment had no reasonable relation to the object sought to be
achieved by the law.
When the validity of legislation is challenged on the ground of violation of
Article 14, each case has to be examined independently in the context of Article
14, and not by applying any general rule. Article 14 declares equality of rights
to all persons within the territory of India and enjoins equal protection to all
persons in the enjoyment of their rights and liberties without discrimination or
As stated in Subramanian Swamy v. CBI
, it is pledge of
protection of equal laws, that is, laws that operate alike on all persons under
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. When there is no reasonable basis for
classification, such classification may be declared discriminatory as stated
in S. Seshachalam v. Bar Council of Tamil Nadu
Classification to be reasonable should fulfill the following 2 tests:
- It should not be arbitrary, artificial or evasive. It should be based on
an intelligible differentia, some real and substantial distinction, which
distinguishes persons or things grouped together in the class from others
left out of it.
- The differentia adopted as the basis of classification must have a
rational or reasonable nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the
statute in question.
Article 14 in its ambit and sweep involves two facets, viz, it permits
reasonable classification which is founded on intelligible differentia and
accommodates the practical needs of society and the differential must have a
rational relation to the objects sought to be achieved. Further, it does not
allow any kind of arbitrariness and ensures fairness and equality of treatment.
It is the 'fon juris
' of our constitution, the fountainhead of justice.
It is necessary that there should be some rational nexus between the basis of
classification and the object intended to be achieved. Therefore, mere
differentiation of inequality of treatment does not per se amount to
discrimination within the inhibition of the equal protection clause.
The Supreme Court has explained in Re Special Courts Bill,:
The differentia which is the basis of classification and the Act are distinct
things and what is necessary is that there must be nexus between them.
The Supreme Court has also observed in K. Thimmappa v. Chairman Central Board of
When a law is challenged to be discriminatory essentially on the ground that it
denies equal treatment or protection, the question for determination by the
court is not whether it has resulted in inequality but whether there is some
difference which bears a just and reasonable relation to the object of
legislation. Mere differentiation does not per se amount to discrimination
within the inhibition of the equal protection clause. To attract the operation
of the clause it is necessary to show that the selection or differentiation is
unreasonable or arbitrary, that it does not rest on any rational basis having
regard to the object which the legislature has in view.
Again, the Supreme Court has observed in Union of India v. MV Valliappan
It is settled law that differentiation is not always discriminatory. If there is
a rational nexus on the basis of which differentiation has been made with the
object sought to be achieved by particular provision, then such differentiation
is not discriminatory and does not violate the principles of Article 14 of the
The Supreme Court has however warned against over-emphasis on classification.
The court has explained in the cases of L.I.C. of India v. Consumer Education
and Research Centre
 and EV Chinnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh
was an instance of over classification) that:
The doctrine of classification is only a subsidiary rule evolved by the courts
to give practical content to the doctrine of equality, over-emphasis on the
doctrine of classification or anxious or sustained attempt to discover some
basis for classification may gradually and imperceptibly erode the profound
potency of the glorious content of equity enshrined in Article 14 of the
Constitution. The over-emphasis on classification would inevitably result in
substitution of doctrine of classification for doctrine of equality… Lest, the
classification would deny equality to the larger segments of society.
It is also stated in Basheer alias NP Basheer v. State of Kerela
marginal over inclusiveness or under inclusiveness will not vitiate the
As stated in Jagdish Pandey v. Chancellor, Bihar University
, it is not
necessary that for a classification to be valid, its basis must always appear on
the face of the law. To find out the reasons and the justification for the
classification, the court may refer to relevant material, eg. objects and
reasons appended to a Bill, parliamentary debates, affidavits of the parties of
the parties, matters of common knowledge, the background circumstances leading
to the passage of the Act, etc
In Deepak Sibal v. Punjab University
, the Supreme Court has
observed that a classification need not be made with mathematical precision
. But if there is
little or no difference between the persons or things which have been grouped
together and those left out of the group, then classification cannot be regarded
The Court has also observed that to consider reasonableness of
classification, it is necessary to take into account the objective for such
classification. If the objective be illogical, unfair and unjust,
necessarily, the classification will have to be held as unreasonable.
circumstances may be taken into consideration in support of the
constitutionality of the law which may otherwise be hostile or discriminatory in
nature. But the circumstances must be such as to justify the discriminatory
treatment or the classification subserving the object sought to be achieved.
The effect of these various principles is to enable the courts to uphold
legislation in most of the cases and give the benefit of doubt as to the purpose
of classification to the legislature. On the whole, the courts show reluctance
to void legislation on the ground of its incompatibility with Article 14.
judicial self-limitation has been taken to such length that, at times, voices of
protest have been raised from the bench itself against too much judicial anxiety
'to discover some basis for classification'. A warning has been sounded that
such an approach would substitute the doctrine of classification for the
doctrine of equality and deprive it of much of its content.
The Supreme Court
in Mohd. Shujat Ali v. Union of India
 has stated:
Over emphasis on the
doctrine of classification or an anxious and sustained attempt to discover some
basis for classification may gradually and imperceptibly deprive the guarantee
of equality for its spacious content. But the fact remains that many a time the
Supreme Court itself has ignored this warning and upheld legislation, by finding
some policy within the law.
Article 14 would be treated as violated only when equal protection is denied
even when the two persons belong to the same class or category. Therefore, the
person challenging the act of State as violative of Article 14 has to show that
there is no reasonable basis for the differentiation between the two classes
created by the State.
The benefit of 'equality before law' and 'equal protection of law' accrues to
every person in India whether a citizen or not. As the Supreme Court has
observed on this point in the case of Faridabad CT Scan Centre v. DG Health
, We are a country governed by rule of law. Our
constitution confers certain rights on every human being and certain other
rights on citizens. Every person is entitled to equality before the law and
equal protection of the laws.
The Supreme Court of India has never been hesitant in applying the theory of
reasonable classification while determining the constitutional validity of any
legislation impugned under Article 14 of the Constitution. Moreover, in order to
implement some welfare schemes and for the development of particular classes of
people, the State may sometimes be under an urge to come up with laws that deal
differently with different classes of people.
Doctrine of reasonable
classification is thus important in this respect. But, at the same time, the
courts and the government must ensure that such classification is reasonable and
free from arbitrariness.
The question of reasonableness of classification with respect to Article 14 has
arisen before the courts in a large number of cases. Some of the cases are as
- Subramanian Swamy v. Raju:
Inclusion of all under the age of 18
into a class called 'juveniles' under Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of
Children) Act, 2000 was held valid as it provides a separate scheme of
investigation, trial and punishment for offences committed by them.
Differences inter se and within the under-18 category may exist, but so long as
the board features of the categorization made are reasonably connected with the
object targeted, Article 14 does not forbid such a course of action.
- Yogendra Kumar Jaiswal v. State of Bihar:
Particular offences were
made triable under Special Courts set up specifically under the Orissa Act,
2006. The fact that in other states there is no such special court, does not
make the act ultra vires Article 14.
- Quareshi v. State of Bihar:
A state law passed with a view to
preserve and improve livestock permitted the killing of buffaloes, sheep and
goats, but totally banned the killing of cows, bulls and calves. Cows and their
calves, bulls and bullocks are important for the agricultural economy of the
country, female buffaloes are milch cattle, bullocks are more useful as drought
animals than male buffaloes, sheep and goat have not much utility as draught or
milch animals. The different categories of animals being thus, susceptible of
classification into separate groups on the basis of their usefulness to society,
the butchers killing each category may also be placed in distinct classes
according to the effect their occupations produce on the society, and,
accordingly, the Act was held valid.
- Madhu Limaye v Supdt, Tihar Jail, Delhi:
Difference between Indian
and European prisoners in the matter of treatment and diet violates Article 14.
- RL Arora v State of Uttar Pradesh:
Under the Land Acquisition Act,
the government can acquire land for a government company or a public company but
for not a private company or an individual. This is a valid classification. The
intention of the legislature clearly is that private companies should not have
the advantage of acquiring land in as much as the profit of their venture goes
to a few hands.
- Manchegowda v State of Karnataka:
Special provisions can be made by
a legislature to protect and preserve the economic interests of persons
belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and to prevent their
- Chairman & MD BPL ltd. v SP Gururaja:
When a statute provides for
consultation but procedure for holding such consultation, the competent
authority can evolve its own procedure and such provision cannot be held as
- Udai Ram v Union of India:
Whenever an act is amended, there is
bound to be some difference in treatment between transactions completed before
the amendment and those which are to take place in the future, but this is not
discriminatory under Article 14.
- Indian Airlines Limited v Prabha D Kanan:
Mere absence of provision
for representation or appeal would not render discretionary power arbitrary or
discriminatory when such power was exercised by the highest authority and for
Personally, if you asked me if the doctrine of reasonable classification was
constitutional or unconstitutional, my answer would be that the doctrine is
constitutional and completely justifiable. However, a question arises between
individuals on whether this doctrine violates the Article 14 of the constitution
or not. The answer to this question is simply that the doctrine would violate
article 14 of the constitution only if the classification was unreasonable.
example, the Prime Minister of India is a citizen of India, just like us, yet
the Prime Minister gets a very strong security for which he doesn't even have to
pay and we being common men and women don't. Does that mean that the Prime
Minister himself is violating the Right to Equality? Of course not. The Prime
Minister has a higher chance of threat to his/her life; hence it is only
reasonable that he/she gets more security than any other citizen of India.
Right to equality doesn't mean that the same law should apply to everyone, but
that a law should deal alike with all in one class and that there should be an
equality of treatment under equal circumstances. The varying needs of different
classes or sections of people require different and separate treatment. The
legislature is required to deal with diverse problems arising out of an infinite
variety of human relations.
It must, therefore, necessarily have the power of
making laws to attain particular objects and for that purpose of distinguishing,
selecting and classifying persons and things upon which its laws are to operate.
Hence, different treatment does not per se amount to violation of Article 14 of
the constitution, but it violates the Article 14 only when there is no
reasonable basis and any prudent man can classify on what is reasonable and what
is not reasonable.
Another point which I would like to raise here is that the constitution also
follows the important principles of justice, equity and good conscience which
results in not equal, but fair and much needed treatment to all the citizens of
India. These terms 'justice, equity and good conscience' in their literal sense
means 'good faith, fairness and public policy.
In India, the doctrine of
justice, equity and good conscience dates back to the late 18th century when it
was first introduced in the presidencies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras and
eventually to the other territories of India also. Since ancient times we have
seen that law cannot be found in every matter and hence, the courts have to give
their judgements on the basis of justice, equity and good conscience in order to
pass a judgement that is fair and not unjust. Hence, we should not always look
the principle of equality, but sometimes we also need to look at the principles
One example that I can think of which relates to the doctrine of reasonable
classification is the Advocates Protection Bill which was passed recently this
year on 2nd July by the Bar Council of India. This bill was passed keeping in
mind the challenges and difficulties faced by the lawyers and their families.
The main objective of this bill was the protection of advocates and the removal
of impediments to their performance of their duties.
The bill mentions a number
of factors that hinder the execution of responsibilities. A key factor is the
spike in assaults, kidnappings, intimidation, threats, murders, etc. against
lawyers. When the security of attorneys is jeopardised as a result of their
work, the government must provide sufficient protection. Such a measure is
required to safeguard advocates. It further stipulates that advocates must be
provided with social security and bare necessities of life.
The definition of
Advocate under Section 2 of the bill will be the same as in the Advocates Act of
1961. The term acts of violence
is defined in the same section. All acts
done against advocates with the purpose of bias or disrupt the process of
impartial, fair and brave litigation fall under this category. These acts
might include threats, coercion, harassment, assault, malicious prosecution,
criminal force, hurt, harm, injury, and so on, all of which could have an impact
on advocates' living and working conditions.
This also includes loss to property
or damage to property of any kind. These are to be cognizable and non-bailable
offences. Section 3 and 4 discuss punishment and restitution. Punishment can
range from 6 months to 5 years with a maximum of 10 years for repeat offences.
Penalties range from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 1 Lakh for the first offense, while fines
for consecutive offenses can reach Rs. 10 Lakh. The bill also gives the court
the authority to compensate advocates for wrongs done to them.
Section 11No Police Officer shall arrest an Advocate or investigate a case
against an advocate without the explicit direction of the Chief Judicial
Magistrate. When an advocate provides information to an Officer-in-Charge of a
police station about the commission of any offence, the Officer-in-Charge shall
enter the substance of the information in a book to be kept by such officer, and
refer the information in a book to be kept by such officer, and refer the
information with other related materials to the nearest Chief Judicial
Magistrate, who shall hold a preliminary enquiry into the case.
hearing, if the Chief Judicial Magistrate determines that the FIR was brought
against the Advocate for malicious motives arising from the discharge of the
Advocate's professional responsibilities, the Chief Judicial Magistrate will
grant bail to the Advocate. The statute also includes a significant provision
for social security. In unanticipated events like as natural catastrophe or
epidemics, the legislation recommends that the state and federal governments
establish arrangements to offer financial help to all needy advocates in the
Every month, a minimum of Rs. 15,000 should be supplied. Section 12
states that if any public servant with investigative or arrest power under the
CrPC is found in possession of or using in his investigation any privileged
communication or material that can be shown to have been obtained from an
advocate, it is presumed that such privileged communication or material was
obtained by coercion.
This act gives an advantage to the Advocates over the others, but it is
necessary and hence, cannot be held violative of Article 14 of the constitution.
Crimes can be committed against anyone of any profession, but the crimes against
Advocates were happening daily and it needed to be stopped and advocates needed
to be protected, hence, this bill was passed and it is completely constitutional
and follows the doctrine of reasonable classification.
The recent rise of assault, killing, threat, etc. caused to advocates while
honestly discharging their professional duties is an alarming situation and
causing discrepancies in rendering professional services to their clients. This
is an effective solution provided by the legislation as these recent crimes
against advocates has led to apprehension in the minds of advocates. Hence,
there was also a need to provide social security to advocates and to ensure that
the necessities and requirements of advocates are fulfilled. It has often been
seen that the advocates are often faced with threats from rival parties while
delivering the administration of justice.
Also, one of the essential tenets of
the legal profession is the safeguarding of privileged communication between the
advocate and the client. However, there is one fact about this bill which I
think should be amended. The bill does cover all the aspects of unwarranted
issues and concerns that hinder the process of justice thereby adversely
affecting the advocates to carry out their duties, but the bill fails to recognise the issue of receiving fees from the clients while rendering their
The non-payments of the bills by the clients leads to
multiple unpaid bills which adversely affects the livelihood of the advocates.
Hence, I believe that a provision for non-payment of bills should also be
introduced in this act for the collective good of the advocates.
This is a perfect example which follows the doctrine of reasonable
classification and explains my opinion on why doctrine of reasonable
classification is valid and constitutional. It also follows the principles of
'justice, equity, and good conscience' which is essential for the collective
good of the society.
- ADM Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla (1976) SCC 521.
- Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala (1973) SCC 225: AIR 1973 SC 1461.
- Ashutosh Gupta v. State of Rajasthan (2002) 4 SCC 34: AIR 2002 SC 1533.
- Western UP Electric Power and Supply Corporation Limited v. State of
Uttar Pradesh AIR 1970 SC 21, 24.
- Subramanian Swamy v. CBI (2014) 8 SCC 682: 2014 (14) SCALE 79.
- S Seshachalam v. Bar Council of Tamil Nadu (2014) 16 SCC 72.
- Re Special Courts Bill, 1978, AIR 1979 SC 478: (1979) 1 SCC 380.
- K. Thimmappa v. Chairman, Central Board of Directors, AIR 2001 SC 467:
(2001) 2 SCC 259.
- Union of India v. MV Valliappan (1999) 6 SCC 259, 269: AIR 1999 SC 2526.
- L.I.C. of India v. Consumer Education and Research Centre, AIR 1995 SC
1811, 1822: (1995) 5 SCC 482.
- EV Chinnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh (2005) 1 SCC 394: 482.
- Basheer alias NP Basheer v. State of Kerela (2004) 3 SCC 609: AIR 2004
- Jagdish Pandey v. Chancellor, Bihar University AIR 1968 SC 353: (1968) 1
- Deepak Sibal v. Punjab University AIR 1989 SC 903: (1989) 2 SCC 145.
- Mohd. Shujat Ali v. Union of India AIR, 1974 SC 1631: (1975) 3 SCC 76
- Faridabad CT Scan Centre v. DG Health Services, AIR 1997 SC 3801: (1997)
7 SCC 752
- Subramanian Swamy v. Raju (2014) 8 SCC 390: AIR 2014 SC 1649.
- Yogendra Kumar Jaiswal v. State of Bihar (2016) 3 SCC 183: 2015 (13)
- Quareshi v. State of Bihar AIR 1958 SC 731: 1959 SCR 333.
- Madhu Limaye v. Suptd, Tihar Jail, Delhi, AIR 1975 SC 1505: (1975) 1 SCC
- RL Arora v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1964 SC 1230: (1984) 6 SCR 784.
- Manchegowda v. State of Karnataka AIR, 1984 SC 1151: (1984) 3 SC 301.
- Chairman & MD BPL ltd. v. SP Gururaja (2003) 8 SCC 567: AIR 2003 SC
- Udai Ram v. Union of India AIR 1968 SC 1138
- Indian Airlines Limited v. Prabha D Kanan (2006) 11 SCC 67: AIR 2007 SC