Article 15 of the Constitution of India, 1949 states that:
- “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
- No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to-
(a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or
(b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.
- Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.
- Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
- Nothing in this article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30.”
Sub- Clauses (1) and (2) of Article 15, essentially protect the citizens of India from being discriminated against by the State on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them. It is a right of social equality and equal access to public areas, prohibiting any kind of restriction on any person on the basis of any of the above and to use the public places.
Article 15(3), (4) (5) make special notable exceptions. The first exception permits the State to make special provisions for women and Children. The second and third exceptions empower the State to make special provisions for socially/ educationally backward classes of the country and Schedule castes and scheduled tribes.
Article 15(4) may at the first sight appear to be a blanket provision, protecting any kind of beneficial discrimination in the nature of special provisions for the benefit of the classes mentioned therein. However, apart from questions as to when a particular class can be legitimately regarded as backward class, discriminatory provisions of such a nature may be struck down as unreasonable in the circumstances. It may seem like articles 15(4) and 15(5) violate Article 14 (right to equality), but is not so, as protective discrimination is also a facet of equality. Equality being one of the basic features of the Constitution of India and any treatment of equals unequally and unequal equally would violate the basic structure of the Constitution.
Similarly Article 16(4) also empowers the state to make laws for protection of SC and ST. The Articles 15(4) and 16(4) take into account the de facto inequalities which exist in the society. In order to bring about the real equality, preference given to the socially and economically disadvantaged groups is justified. Under Article 14, 15 and 16, the protective discrimination is a facet of quality. Article 15 (4) and 16 (4) lay the foundation for the reservation policy of India. But, reservation of an excessively high percentage of seats in any technical institution for each of the backward classes would be void as it would overcome the purpose of the clause by putting the general public at a disadvantage. For instance, reservation in excess of 50 per cent of available seats may not be upheld