Presentation

Article 14 -“right to equality”

Article 14 -“right to equality”

The Constitution of India codifies the fundamental rights- the basic human rights of its citizens which are defined in Part III of the Constitution. One such right is the right to equality which is protected under articles 14 to 18. Article 14 is the most significant of the lot. This deals with the general principles of equality. All the situations not covered under 15 to18 are covered under this.

Article 14 of the constitution states that:

The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”

This means that every person, who lives within territory of India, has the equal right before the law. That equals will be treated equally.

This article constitutes of 2 parts, being:

  1. Equality before law and
  2. Equal protection of the laws

Although both sound similar, they don’t mean the same. The word “Law” in the former expression is used in a genuine sense – a philosophical sense, whereas the word “Laws” in the latter expression denotes specific laws in force.

Equality before the law talks about equal subjection of all citizens (rich or poor, high or low, official or non-official) to the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary law courts and is a negative concept as implies the absence of any privilege in favor of any individual and equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law. Whereas, equal protection of the laws is a Positive Concept as it implies equality of treatment in equal circumstances both in privileges conferred and liabilities imposed. So, all the persons must be treated alike on reasonable classification. Among equals law should be equal and equally administered. The guarantee of equal protection applies against substantive as well as procedural laws. [1]

Exception:

The above right is not an absolute right. Hence, is subject to an exception – reasonable classification.

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

  1. Ineligible Differentia:

The classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes those that are grouped together from other. Arbitrariness is an anti-thesis to the right top equality. Hence, there should be no scope of arbitrariness in classification.

  1. Rational Relation: That differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Act. [2] It is necessary is 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 a classification that legislation making such classification may be declared discriminatory.

Landmark Judgments:

In E.P Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu & Another [3], it was held that Article 14 is one of the pillars of the Indian Constitution and hence cannot be bound by a narrow and inflexible interpretation. Article 14 should thus be given the widest interpretation possible, which also includes reasonableness and arbitrariness of certain provisions of the legislations.

In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India [4], the Supreme Court clearly ruled out the room for arbitrariness. ‘Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in State action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment. The principle of reasonableness, which logically as well as philosophically, is an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness, pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence.’ Rule of law which permeates the entire fabric of the Indian Constitution excludes arbitrariness. Wherever we find arbitrariness or unreasonableness there is denial there is denial of rule of law.

[1] Lachmandas v. State of Bombay, (1952) S.C.R. 710 (726)

[2] State of West Bengal v. Anvar Ali, (1952) S.C.R. 289

[3] E.P Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu & Another, A.I.R. 1974, S.C.555

[4] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India,  1978 AIR 597

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