This article is written by Anshika Agrawal @LEXCLIQ on Right to Equality.
Equality before Law (Article 14)
The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of laws within the territory of India.
The Constitution of India guarantees right to equality amongst all the most important and powerful right in this respect is the right to equality before law guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution.
Article 14 guarantees two rights equality before law and equal protection of law, one is positive right another one is negative right in its application. However, a question does arise that what does it mean, it would be worthwhile to remember that Article 14 firstly makes it a solemn duty upon the state not to discriminate amongst the citizens, meaning thereby that everyone irrespective of his status, education, political views, ethnicity language etc, would not be discriminated i.e. everyone from the mightiest to the weakest shall be equal in the eyes of law. Thus in a nushellit envisages and crysallizes the doctrine of ‘rule of law’ which is given by A.V. Dicey which is one of the most important concept and founding stone of any civilised society.
Exceptions To Rule Of Law
In the case of Indra Sawhney the right to equality is also recognized as one of basic features of Indian constitution. Article 14 applies to all person and is not limited to citizens. A corporation, which is a juristic person, is also entailed to the benefit of this article. This concept implied equality for equals and aims at striking down hostile discrimination or oppression of inequality. In the case of Ramesh Prasad v. State of Bihar, AIR 1978 SC 327 It is to be noted that aim of both the concept, ‘ Equality before law’ and ‘ Equal protection of the law’ is the equal Justice.
Equality before law is a Marginal law which is available to citizens as well as non-citizens. Both legal and natural persons can claim right to equality. Equality before law is a negative concept taken from UK because it says everyone is equal in eyes of law and state shall shall not discriminate. Equal protection before law is USA concept and talks about positive i.e. state shall take positive steps in order to secure equality. Eg- Reservation
But it must not be forgetten that India is a country which has inequalities like no other country of the world, it has seen the horrific effect of thousands of years of oppression of communities on the basis of birth in a particular caste apart from the other common form of inequalities like religious discrimination, economic disparity, gender discrimination etc. Merely by treating the citizens in a like manner as equal before law it would take till eternity to remove the existing inequalities which are a result of thousands of years of unequal treatment and would be a huge obstacle towards achieving the egalitarian society free from discrimination as envisaged by the founding fathers of the Constitution. That is where the ‘equal protection of law’ part of Article 14 of the Constitution comes into play and tries to ensure equality in the true sense of the meaning of the word.
Philosophy Behind Article 14 of the Constitution
Human beings are not carbon copies of each other, nature has made them in such a manner that they are different, there is difference in physical features, capabilities, economic status, ethnicity, gender, etc. It would be unfair to treat an able bodied person in a same manner as a physically disabled person, or to treat a man and woman equal in physical aspect, or a person who has had a deprived background with a person who is privileged. In fact it would be as bad as discriminating amongst the people if the sort of examples cited above are treated equally, that is where the equal protection of law comes in picture, simply put it lays down a cardinal principle of equality that is “Equal treatment for equals, unequal treatment for unequals” or in other way “Equals must be treated equally while unequals must be treated differently”. That is why for a proper application of this principle a proper and rational distinction must be made between those who are equal and those who are different. But distinction should be such so as to appeal to the reason and is logical even though it may not be perfect, not any kind of classification would be covered under this article.
The Indian state is envisaged as a welfare state which is to act for the maximum benefit of the people, it seeks to ensure welfare of citizens by classifying and differently treating them so as to cater to their own peculiar situation, circumstances, status etc so as to ensure the upliftment of the weakest of the weak. The difficulty lies in classifying them, because it is not easy to classify people with mathematical perfection and there is bound to be room for discretion which is left unchecked could lead to arbitrariness which would be just opposite to what Article 14 of the Constitution envisages and hence would be a self defeating exercise.
It is for this reason that any law for passing the test of valid classification must satisfy two conditions which are:
Classification must be found on a reasonable differentia which appeals to the human reason.
The differentia on which there has been a classification must have a rational relation to the object which is sought to be achieved by the statute in question.
Thus for example- If a law penalizes all people having curly hair or brown eyes it would be an unreasonable classification, however if it penalizes people for not maintaining personal hygeine then it may be proper if there is a purpose to it.
Some case laws based on Right to equality are-
- Ram Prasad Narayan Sahi & Others V. State of Bihar AIR 1953 SC 215
- D.S Reddy V. Chancellor, Osmania University AIR 1967 SC 1305
- State of West Bengal V. Anwar Ali Sarkar AIR 1952 SC 75
- E.P. Royappa V. State of Tamil Nadu AIR 1974 SC 555
- Kedarnath Bajoria V. State of West Bengal 1953
- Kathi Raning Rawat V. State of Saurashtra 1952
- Maganlal Chaganlal Ltd V. Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay 1974
- D.S. Nakara V. Union of India AIR 1983
- AIR India V. Nergesh Meerza AIR 1981
- Mithu V. State of Punjab 1983