RIGHT TO EQUALITY – SOUL OF LIBERTY (ARTICLE 14)

 

“Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it” – Frances Wright

 

INTRODUCTION

Equality refers to the state of being equal, especially in status, rights or opportunities. In other words equality refers to the equal treatment of people and law is considered to be blind for everyone, it will not see who is standing in the port, rich or poor. Right to equality is considered as an epitome of a democratic society. Article 14 is a right which is not only available to Indian citizens but its benefits is extended to the foreigners as well. Equality is a trite, which cannot be asserted or implemented by any citizen or Court in negative manner.

 

 RIGHT TO EQUALITY                

 

Article 14 – It provides that State shall not deny to any person equality before law or the equal protection of laws within the territories of India. Thus every person is assured equality before law and equal protection of law within the territory of India.

Equality before law

  • Equality before law is an expression of English Common Law.
  • It is a negative concept that implies the absence of any special privilege in favour of any individual.
  • It ensures that all are equal before law.

Equal protection of laws

  • Equal protection of laws is of American Origin.
  • It is a positive concept which implies that the same laws shall apply to all who are similarly situated i.e. all persons who are in the same circumstances will be governed by same set of rules.
  • It is a guarantee of equal treatment.

UNDERLYING PRINCIPLE

The guiding principle underlying Article 14 is that all persons and things similarly placed shall be treated alike both in privileges conferred liabilities imposed. Varying needs of different classes of persons often require separate treatment. This lead to ‘classification’. But, what Article 14 requires is that this classification should be ‘reasonable one’. Article 14 forbids class legislation but not reasonable classification.

A dynamic approach to the right of equality under Article 14 was laid down by Chandrachud, Krishna Iyer, P.N Bhagwati, JJ., in the case of E.P. Royappa vs. State of Tamil Nadu where it was held that whatever is arbitrary violates Article 14. The dimensions of equality cannot be ‘ cribbed, cabined and confined’ within traditional and doctrinaire limits.

These rights embody the concept of ‘Rule of Law’ and of ‘Natural Justice’.

TEST FOR VALID CLASSIFICATION

Article 14 forbids class legislation but permits reasonable classification. The two tests of  classification are as follows:

  • Intelligible Differentia: The classification must be founded on intelligible differentia which distinguishes those that are grouped together from other. Arbitrariness is an anti-thesis to the right of equality. Hence, there should be no scope of arbitrariness in classification.
  • Rational Relation: The differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Act. It is necessary 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 the classification that legislation making such classification may be declared discriminatory.

 

As the Supreme Court has explained: “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”.

 

LANDMARK JUDEGEMENTS

  • National Legal Service Authority vs. Union of India, AIR 2014

This case was filed by NALSA to legally recognize persons who fall outside the male/female gender binary, including persons who identify as “third gender”. While drawing attention to the fact that transgender person were subject to “extreme discrimination in all spheres of society”, the Court held that the right to equality was framed in gender-neutral terms. Consequently, the right to equality would extend to transgender persons also.

  • Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1997

Sexual harassment violates the fundamental right of the women of gender equality which is codified under Article 14 of Indian Constitution and also the fundamental right to live and to live a dignified life.

 

  • State of Bengal vs. Anwar Ali, AIR 1952

This case was one of the initial cases to lay down the foundational principles of Article 14. This case was decided in favour of Anwar Ali deciding the West Bengal Special Courts Act void, on the grounds that the act was violating Article 14 of Constitution of India as the Act gave arbitrary, uncontrolled, unguided power to State government which could be used unreasonably and biasedly and also restricted equal protection of laws.

 

  • Indira Sawhney vs. Union of India, AIR 1993

This is a landmark judgment on aspects of reservation in India. The Court interpreted Article 14 and Article 16. It was held that Article 16(1) is a facet of Article 14. Both the provisions have to be harmonized keeping in mind the fact that both are the testaments of principle of equality enshrined in Article 14.

 

  • Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, AIR 1978

In this case Supreme Court held that Article 14 requires observance of principles of natural justice and the requirement of reasoned decisions

 

 

CONCLUSION

Keeping in view of above mentioned declarations given by different courts, It is clear that Article 14 is not a rule of men but it is measure of liberty enjoyed by every citizen. Equality is not something we should be striving for but in fact it is a necessity. Equality of opportunity is the essence of social justice. Democracy in any country can only emerge and prosper in a society of equals.

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 fundamental element of the Constitution of India and any treatment of equals as unequal will be a violation of the basic structure of Indian Constitution. Therefore Article 14 cannot be abrogated in anyway even by amending the Constitution.

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