Right to equality
Article 14 Constituition
“Article 14 embodies the general principles of equality before law and prohibits unreasonable discrimination between persons”
Article 14 declares that “ the state should not deny to any person equality before the laws within the territory of India”. Article 14 uses two expression “equality before the law” and “equal protection of the law”. The phrase “equality before the law” occurs in almost all written constitutions that guarantee fundamental rights. Equality before the law is an expression of English Common Law while “equal protection of laws” owes its origin to the American Constitution. Both the phrases aim to establish what is called the “equality to status and of opportunity” as embodied in the Preamble of the Constitution.
Article 14 Equality Before the Law Equal Protection of the Law
“While equality before the law is a somewhat negative concept implying the absence of any special privilege in favor of any individual and the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law, equal protection of laws is a more positive concept employing equality of treatment under equal circumstances.”
Dr Jennings puts it : “Equality before the law means that among equals the law should and should be equally administered, that like should be treated alike. The right to sue and be sued, to prosecute and be 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”
It only means that all persons similarly circumstanced shall be treated alike both in the privileges conferred and liabilities imposed by the laws. Equal laws should be applied to all in the same situation, and there should be no discrimination between one person and another. As regards the subject matter of the legislation their position is the same.2 Thus the rule is that the like should be treated alike and not that unlike should be treated alike. State of Bengal Vs Anwar Ali Sarkar, AIR 1952 SC 75 3. Dr VN Shukla – Constitution of India p. 27 EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAWS
Interpreting the scope of the Article, the Supreme Court of India held in Charanjit Lai Choudhury vs. The Union of India that: (a) Equal protection means equal protection under equal circumstances; (b) The state can make reasonable classification for purposes of legislation; (c) Presumption of reasonableness is in favour of legislation; (d) The burden of proof is on those who challenge the legislation.
The guarantee of equality before the law is an aspect of what Dicey calls the rule of the law in England.4 It means that no man is above the law and that every person, whatever be his rank or conditions, is subject to the jurisdiction of ordinary courts. Rule of law requires that no person shall be subjected to harsh, uncivilized or discriminatory treatment even when the object is the securing of the paramount exigencies of law and order.
Professor Dicey gave three meanings of the Rule of Law thus-
1. Absence of Arbitrary Power of the supremacy of the law: A man may be punished for a breach of law, but he can be punished for nothing else.
2. Equality before the law: It means subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of land administered by ordinary law courts. This means that no one is above law with the sole exception of the monarch who can do no wrong. Everyone in England , whether he is an official of the state or a private individual, is bond to obey the same law. 3. The constitution is the result of the ordinary law of the land: It means that the source of the right of individual is not the written Constitution but the rules as defined and enforced by the courts.
“The first and the second aspects apply to Indian system but the third aspect of the Dicey‟s rule of law does not apply to Indian system as the source of rights of individual is the Constitution of India. The Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land and all laws passes by the legislature must be consistent with the provision of the Constitution ” OBSERVATION POINT
1. First „equality before the law‟ does not mean the “power of the private citizens are the same as the powers of the public officials” Ex Police Officer
2. Secondly, the rule of law does not prevent certain class of persons being subjected to special rules. Ex Medical Practitioner by Medical Council of India. ARTICLE 361.
3. Thirdly , A minister may be allowed by law „to act as he thinks fit‟ or „if he is satisfied‟
4. Fourthly, certain members of the society are governed by special rules in their professions, i.e., lawyers, doctors nurses etc. Such classes of people are treated differently from ordinary citizens
Thus, what Art 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 real and substantial distinction bearing a just and reasonable relation to the object sought to be achieved by legislation. Chiranjit Lal v. union of India AIR 1951 SC 41,
Classification to be reasonable must fulfill the following two conditions:-
1. The Classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes person or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group.
2. The differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Act. 11 K. Thimmappa v. Chairman central Board of Directors SBI, AIR 2001 SC 467