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Equality before Law

(Article 14)
Submitted By: Dilraj Singh Bhinder 125/10


Concept of Fundamental Rights

The historical and political developments in India made it inevitable that a bill of rights or fundamental rights, as we call them, should be enacted in our constitution. Our constitution followed the United States precedent, and enacted fundamental rights in constitution itself. In enacting fundamental rights in part III of our constitution(art 12-35) the founding fathers showed that the will and were ready to adopt the means, to confer legally enforceable fundamental rights. 1 Part III of our constitution secures to the people of India, certain basic, natural and inalienable rights. These rights have been declared essential rights in order that human liberty may be preserved, human personality developed and effective social and democratic life promoted.2 In the case of Maneka Gandhi v/s Union of India 3 justice Bhagwati observed that, these fundamental rights represent the basic values cherished by the people of India since the Vedic times and they are calculated to protect the dignity of individual and to create conditions in which very individual can develop his personality to the fullest. Broadly speaking the fundamental rights are available against the state not as ordinarily understood by as widely defined by the Art. 12 of the constitution of India. Therefore, the fundamental rights become also enforceable against local or other authorities.

Seervai H.M., Constitunal Law of India, Fourth Edition, Universal law Publishing Co., pg 349 2 Jain M.P., Indian Constitunal Law, 3 AIR 1978 SC 597

Article 14
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution provides: The state shall not deny to any person equality before law or equal protection of laws within the territory of India The term state in Article 14 means as defined by Article 12. Thus, it includes not only the legislative as well as the executive organs of the state, but also the local authorities, the instrumentalities and agencies of the Government. The obligation imposed on the state by article 14 is for the benefit of all persons, within the territory of India. The benefit of Article 14 is therefore, not limited to citizens. Every one whether natural or artificial, weather he is citizen or an alien, is entitled to protection of this article. It may however be noticed that an alien cannot claim equal rights under article 14 with that of Indian nationals, so far as the grant of Citizenship in India.

Equality before Law and Equal Protection of Law

Equality before law and equal protection of seems to indicate the same fact that is concerned with the notion of equality. However, there is basic difference between these two concepts. The term equality before law is originated under the English Common Law. It constitutes the essence of the doctrine of the Rule of Law enunciated by Professor Dicey. According to one of the three attributes of this law, no one is above law and everyone is subject to the same law irrespective of his rank, status or any other ground. According to Dicey, equality before law means the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary law courts. In other words, equality before law declares that everyone is equal before law that no one can claim special privileges regarding rights of life and liberty, political rights, right to access to public office or employment, or any other rights because of his or her birth, rank, profession or status. They are equally subjected to the ordinary law of the land. However, equality before law does not mean absolute equality. In fact, it is impossible. Equality simply means that among equals the law should be equal and equally administered. This can be better understood as the U.S. Supreme Court has mentioned that the equality clause requires that all persons shall be treated alike under the like circumstances and conditions both in the privileges conferred and the liabilities imposed. The guarantee of quality was intended to secure equality of protection not only for all but against all similarly situated. It did not, however, mean that every law must have universal application for

persons who are not by nature, attainment of circumstances in the same position. On the other hand equal protection means that no authority shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. It signifies that there shall not be any discrimination made by the laws themselves in their administration. Likewise, the concept postulates an equal protection of all alike in the same situation and under like circumstances. It implies equality of access to the courts, which means that all persons are equally entitled to seek the assistance of the court of law for the protection of their rights and interests. This clause also signifies equality of procedural rights, which means that all persons are entitled to claim the same rights with regard to judicial proceedings under the similar situations. Similarly this concept also advocates same rights for remedy. Thus, though the concept of equality before law has existed from English legal system and the concept of equal protection of law has existed from American legal system and the first one deals with existence of equality and the second one deal with equal protection, both are concerned with the concept of equal justice and for the both concepts there should be equal circumstances among equals.4 Later, in Srinivasa Theater v/s Government of Tamil Nadu5 the Supreme Court held that the expressions equality before law and equal protection of laws in article 14, did not mean the same thing, even though there was much in common between them. The court explained that the term law in the former expression was used in generic sense, whereas in the latter expression, the word laws denoted specific laws in force.6

4 5 6 AIR 1992 SC 999 Kumar Narender, Constitunal Law of India, Allahabad Law Agency, 7th edition, Pg 108

Reasonable Classification
Equality secured by article 14 does not mean absolute equality, which is a human impossibility. It does not mean that all laws must be universal in application or general in character. It does not mean that the same laws should apply to all persons. Article 14 does not make it incumbent on the Legislature to make laws applicable to all persons generally. Article 14 permits reasonable classification nut prohibits class legislation Classification is merely a systematic arrangement of things into groups or classes, usually in accordance with some definite scheme. The Supreme Court in National Council for Teacher Education V/s Shri Shyam Shiksha Prashikshan Sansthan has re-iterated the Concept of 'Right to Equality' as enshrined in our Constitution. The Supreme Court has re-iterated that the Constitution doesn't allow class legislation but permits reasonable classification, based upon an 'intelligible differentia'. Article 14 forbids class legislation but permits reasonable classification provided that it is founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from those that are left out of the

group and the differentia has a rational nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the legislation in question. Transport & Dock Workers Union v. Mumbai Port Trust7 declared that it was incumbent upon the judiciary not to overstretch situations. The Court was dealing with the challenge to the correctness of the decision of Bombay High Court which had interfered in a writ petition brought about by a section of workers challenging their larger working hours in comparison to those appointed earlier. The Principles of reasonable classification have been consistently adopted and further elaborated in RE Special Courts Bill, 1978 case by Chandrachud, J. The Learned Judge explained(i) That, the underlying principle of the guarantee of Article 14 was that all persons similarly circumstances should be treated alike both in privileges conferred and liabilities imposed; (ii) That, b y the process of classification, the State had the power of determining, who should be regarded as a class for the purposes of legislation and in relation to a law, enacted on a particular subject; (iii) That, classification meant segregation in classes which had a systematic relation, usually found in common properties and characteristics. It postulated a rational basis and did not mean herding together of certain persons and classes arbitrarily; (iv) That, the law could make and set apart the classes according to the needs and experience of the society and as suggested by experience. It could recognize even degree of evil, but the classification should never be arbitrary, artificial or evasive; (v) That, if the legislative policy was clear and definite and as an effective method of carrying out that

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policy, a discretion was vested by the Statue upon a body of administrators or officers to make selective application of the law to certain classes or groups or persons, the Statue itself could not be condemned as a piece of discriminatory legislation; that, mere assumption that the authority conferred with discretion by law, would act in an arbitrary manner in exercising the law. Discretionary power would not necessarily be a discriminatory power; that, mere inequality in no manner would determine the matter of constitutionality, for the very idea of classification implied inequality; that, a practical assessment of the operation of the law in the particular circumstance would not necessary; that, a rule of procedure laid down by law came as much within the purview of Article 14 as any rule of substantive law.

Holding that reasonable classification was permissible and since the differential treatment was on account of certain policy decisions taken by the management, the Supreme Court declared that the challenge to the differences on grounds of Article 14 was unfounded. The Supreme Court went on to declare that if the differentiation was "conductive for functioning of modern society", the classification was reasonable enough so as to sustain any challenge on grounds of discrimination. 8 In E.P Royappa v/s State of Tamil Nadu,9 gave a dynamic connotation to the equalizing principle enunciated in Article 14. The Supreme Court declared that the equalizing principle contained in Article 14 is a founding faith and for that reason it must not be subjected to a narrow approach. Further in Maneka
8 9 AIR 1974 SC 555

Gandhi v/s Union of India10 , the Supreme Court emphasized on the content and reach of the great equalizing principle enunciated in Article 14. The Court observed that equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and it cannot be imprisoned within traditional and doctrinaire limits. In Mithu Ram v/s State of Punjab11 the Supreme Court struck down section 303 of the Indian Penal Code as unconstitutional on the ground of violation of Article 14. The section provided for permanent death penalty for murder committed by a life convict while section 302 of IPC conferred discretion on the court to impose life imprisonment or death penalty for a murder committed by a free man.

Basis of Classification
It has been held that classification to be reasonable must be founded on some intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons of things that are grouped together from those left out

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AIR 1974 SC 1631 AIR 1983 SC 473

of the group. There may be different basis of classification referable to different considerations in each case. Geographical Basis Article 14 does not that uniform laws be enacted for the whole of the territory of India. A law may be applicable to one part of the territory of India and not to the other parts depending on particular circumstances and peculiar geographical conditions pervading in that are. A classification may be therefore, properly made, on geographical basis. Thus, favoured treatment to those situated in backward and tribal area, cannot be held, to be illegal or arbitrary. In Ram Chandra V. State of Orissa, the State made two Acts for nationalization of road transport business. One of the Acts applied to the part of the State which was previously a part of British India and the other Act applied to that part of the State which was previously a Princely State. As the conditions in the two parts were materially different, The Acts were upheld as not violative of Article 14.

Historical Consideration A classification may be made on the basis of historical reasonsn. Section 87-B of the Civil procedure Code, 1908, granted immunity from civil process to the e-xRulers of India Princely State. This Section was upheld in Mohanlal Jain v. Man Singhji, as the ex-Rulers constituted a separate class on account of historical consideration. Likewise, the Madreeas H.R.C.E Act, 1951, which was applicable to only that Malabar area, which formerly formed part of Madras State, was held not discriminatory, since the classification was based on geographical/historical reasons. Nature of Business A Classification may be made depending upon the nature of business . The Gold (Control) Act, 1968 was made with the

object to provide, in the economic and financial interest of the community, for the control of the production, manufacture, supply, distribution, use and possession of, and business in gold ornaments. The Act distinguished between licensed dealers in gold and certified. It was held in Harakchad Ratanchand Banthia v. Union of India, that the Act was not violative of Article 14 since the licensed dealers essentially were traders doing business of buying and selling ornaments, while the goldsmiths were essentially craftsmen doing the actual manufacture of ornaments. Time as the basis of Classification A Classification may be made with reference to time. A law may exempt the houses built after a particular date from the operation of the Rent Control Act, for encouraging the construction of new houses. Persons who had transferred assets between August, 14, 1947 and October 18, 1949 may be treated differently from those who transferred assets after October 18,1949. Different dates may be fixed for holding general election in various parliamentary constituencies, depending upon weather conditions prevailing there. Likewise, persons appointed in pursuance of the order made by the Military Government of Goa, Daman, and Diu, on temporary basis, on a fixed pay rate after the liberation of Goa 1961, were held no entitled to claim benefit of the relevant rules, in force prior to the coming into force of the new rules. Classification on the basis of Nature of Persons

Public officials and non-public officials belong to different classes. Tehrefore, Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which requires prior sanction from the appropriate authority before a public servant is prosecuted, while no sanction is needed for prosecuting private persons, has been held not violative of Article 14. Law may validly distinguish between citizens and aliens, between civil population and military

personnel, in-service employees and retired employees. Employees of Central Government and State Governmnet on the one hadn and other employees i.e. employee of companies, corporation or other public sector undertakings on the other hand. The representation of People Act, 1951 read with Article 326 of the Constitution, entitles only those citizens to cast vote in the elections who have attained the age of 18 years. Classification on the Basis of Nature of Offences. Gravity of the offence can form the basis of valid classification. In State of Haryana V. Jain Singh, on the eve of the Independence Day, the Government of Haryana issued a Notification dated 14-8-1995, in exercise of its power vested under S. 432 of the Criminal Procedure code, 1974, granting remission of prison sentence to all convicts except those excluded in the said Notification.

Classification on the Basis of Educational Qualification Classificaiotn on the basis of educational qualifications has been held to be reasonable, said to satisfy the doctrine of equality as adumbrated in Article. The State, as an employer, therefore, is entitled to fix separate quota of promotion for the degree holders, diploma holders and certificate holders, separately in the exercise of its rule making power under Article 309.