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Legopedia

Equality for Equals

article 14

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution

Equality is a concept very dynamic in nature and thus interpreted in the widest form. Article 14, Article 15, and Article 16 guarantees equality. To achieve this Article 14 enshrines that the state shall not deny to any person Equality before the law or Equal protection of the laws in the territory of India.

Equality before Law: Like treated alike

This expression is used in Article 14, every person who is equal in the eyes of the laws shall be treated equally. This concept has its origin in America. Equals should be treated equally, which automatically brings into a picture of the validity of treating unequal unequally. In the absence of any special privilege being granted to the citizen, it shall be treated equally for all purposes.

What does this equality mean? It means equal power to sue and to be sued, to prosecute and to be prosecuted, to initiate actions without any discrimination of age, sex, caste, political status, social status, etc. it prohibits discrimination and preaches equality, one of the basic fundamental right guaranteed to every individual. No one is above the law, and everyone is treated under the same eyes of the law, i.e., every act done without any legal justifications brings equal accountability to be it the Prime Minister, a driver or any government official.

Equal protection of laws:

Every law would be liable to be tested with reference to the tests laid down under Article 14. This enshrines special treatment to persons in different scenarios and circumstances to establish equality. This concept originates from the Constitution of the United States, Section 1 of the 14th Amendment. Equality cannot be cribbed, cabined, and confined.[1]

This expression is in upshot to the first expression because to ensure equality among citizens, prima facie requirement is equality of laws. This obligation is considered as a positive obligation on the state. This protection is applicable not only to citizens of India but every person residing in the Nation.

Interpretation of the Article:

Equality means treating everyone equally. But since it is very difficult to measure everyone with one yardstick, some reasonable classifications are allowed for the social and cultural well-being of some strata of the population. The wordings used in the article is self-explanatory in nature. Prof. A.V. Dicey gave three sides to Rule of Law: Supremacy of Law, Equality before law and primacy of the individual rights.[2]

In many leading judgments, Article 14 has been regarded as the founding faith of the Constitution and thus cannot be subjected to a narrow or pedantic approach. Subjecting Article 14 to interpretations within doctrinal and traditional limits is not reasonable.[3]

This article only bars unreasonable classification, i.e., Class legislation of the citizens. Reasonable classifications are however acceptable under Article 14.  Class legislation is prohibited as it means to arbitrarily confer special privileges upon some individuals selected from a large group of individuals. Such classification must be fair, reasonable, and not oppressive. Fairness and equality of treatment are the binding pillars of this very Article.

The Supreme Court to bring in some clarity and give a structure, though not definitive has evolved two different doctrines to ensure article 14 acts against arbitrariness and discrimination.

Theory of classification (Nexus test):

The supreme court in a landmark judgment of State of West Bengal v Anwar Ali[4], struck down Section 5(1) of the West Bengal Special Court Act, which granted power to courts to classify offenses and cases as per their whims and fancies. This contravened Article 14 of the Indian Constitution as the procedure followed was significantly different from that practiced in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code.

The two conditions enunciated for classification not amounting to discrimination is:

  1. The classification must be based on intelligible differentia, i.e., distinguishing the ones grouped together from the ones left out.
  2. This differentia must be having relation to the object sought to be achieved by the act.
Landmark cases:

In the case of Indira Gandhi vs. Raj Narain[5], which is one of the landmark judgments of the Constitution of India. In this case, the 39th Amendment, which added clause 4 of the article was held to be void and unconstitutional as it affected the right to equality vested on the citizens.

In the case of Maneka Gandhi v Union of India[6]: the golden triangle, Article 14, 19, and 21 was established. The most important question raised here whether going to abroad can be considered as a part of Personal liberty? The constitutional validity of Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act was challenged since it allowed impounding a person’s passport in public interest. The interconnections and the interpretations of the articles were mentioned. This case was an active example of judicial activism, it created new horizons for freedom of speech and expression.

If Section 10(3)(c) was valid, then was it not violative of Article 14, Article 19 and  Article 21 of the Constitution of India. However, the Supreme Court reached the Judgment of Section 10(3)(c) being violative of the guaranteed fundamental rights because it guaranteed undefined power on passport authorities.

As per the Indian Airlines Regulations, Regulation 46 laid down that the age of retirement for an air hostess will be upon attainment of the age of 35 years or on marriage within 4 years of service or on first pregnancy, whichever was earlier. This regulation was challenged in the case of Air India v Nargesh Meerza[7]. The court upheld the claim that pregnancy cannot form a ground for termination of services and thus held it to be unreasonable and violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Conclusion:

Everyone equal is equal in the eyes of laws, and there cannot be preached any form of discrimination between the alike. Right to equality is by far a strengthening power of Indian Constitution guaranteed to its residents. With developing India and new facets being added up, the protection must cover all aspects equally.  Thus discrimination cannot be practiced amongst those who are placed in similar situations, that amounts to a violation of equality before the law. However, some special status and privileges guaranteed to a certain class of people for their upliftment is not covered under this Article and is held valid constitutionally.

[1] E.P. Royappa v State of Tamil Nadu & another, [1974] 2 SCR 348

[2] The rule has its mention in the book “The Law of the Constitution” 1885

[3] ibid

[4] 1952 AIR 75, 1952 SCR 284

[5] 1975 AIR 1590

[6] 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621

[7] 1981 AIR 1829

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