Right to equality means everyone must be equal in the eyes of the law irrespective of their caste, race, sex, religion or place of birth. Article 14 to 18 contained in Part III of the Indian Constitution provides for the right to equality. Article 14, on one hand, lays down the general application, whereas Articles 15-18 have a specific application. The rights given under these Articles are available to all the citizens equally.
This law note talks about the right to equality given under Articles 14-18 of the Constitution of India in detail.
Article 14: Equality Before the Law
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution incorporates the general principles of equality before the law and prevents unreasonable discrimination between individuals.
Article 14 states that no one should be denied equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the Indian territory. It allows classification but restricts class legislation; that is, Article 14 of the Indian Constitution does not state that equal laws should apply to every person, but it says that there must be laws following the nature of the society.
Article 14 of the Constitution of India contains two expressions:
1. Equality Before the Law
This expression is of English origin. Equality before the law means equal subjection of all citizens to the common law of the land administered by the Common Law Courts.
Dr Jennings said that:
“The right to sue and be sued, to prosecute and be prosecuted for the same kind of action should be same for all the citizens of full age and understanding without distinctions of race, religion, wealth, social status or political influence”.
2. Equal Protection of the Law
The expression is taken from the American Constitution. Equal protection of the law means every person should be treated equally both in the privileges granted and liabilities imposed by the law. “Equal law should be applied to all in the same situation, and there should be no discrimination between individuals.”
Rule of Law: Dicey’s Concept
The right to equality before the law is based on Dicey’s Rule of Law. It states that no person is above the law and that every person, irrespective of his rank or condition, is subject to the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts.
Professor Dicey gave three meanings of the Rule of Law. These are:
- Absence of Arbitrary Power or Supremacy of the Law: There should be the absence of arbitrary power, and the law should be supreme. If an individual is liable for breach of law, he will only be punished for that and cannot be punished for anything else.
- Equality Before the Law: Every person should be subjected to the common law of the land, which is administered by common courts.
- The Constitution is the Result of the Ordinary Law: Dicey opines that the source of the right of individuals is not the written Constitution but the rules as defined and enforced by the courts.
Doctrine of Reasonable Classification
Reasonable classification means classification that is made on reasonable grounds. Article 14 prohibits class legislation. But, it does not prohibit reasonable classification of persons or objects if done to achieve specific ends.
However, reasonable classification must not be ” arbitrary, artificial or evasive”.
Case Law Related to Article 14 – Equality Before the Law
Air India vs Nergesh Meerza & Ors. (1981)
In this case, the petitioner challenged the validity of rules whereby air hostess in a state-owned company, Air India, could be retired on the following three grounds:
1. at the age of 35 years; or
2. getting married within four years of their services; or
3. on their first pregnancy.
These rules were challenged on the ground that they were discriminatory and violative of Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Indian Constitution.
However, the same rules did not apply to male attendants. The court held this unconstitutional as it was unreasonable and arbitrary, and violative of Article 14.
Article 15: Prohibition of Discrimination on the Grounds of Religion, Race, Caste, Sex or Place of Birth
Article 15 of the Indian Constitution provides provisions for the prohibition of discrimination. It states that there should be no discrimination against any citizen based on caste, religion, race, sex or place of birth. Our law note on Right to Equality – Article 15 tells you all about it.
Article 16: Equality of Opportunity in Matters of Public Employment
Clauses (1) and (2) of Article 16 provides the general rule of equality of opportunity in employment. It further states that there should be no discrimination between the citizens of India for any employment under the state, on grounds only of religion, sex, race, caste, descent, place of birth or residence. Article 16 is only limited to ’employment’ and ‘appointment’.
Clauses (3), (4), (4-A), (4-B) and (5) of this Article provides exceptions to this general rule of equality of opportunity.
Article 16(3) provides an exception to Article 16(2). It states that the Parliament can make any law regarding employment to an office under the government of, or any local or other authority within, a state or union territory.
Further Article 16(4) and 16(4-A) empower the state to make law for the reservation of posts in government jobs in favour of any backward class, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes which is not being represented enough in the services of the state, in the opinion of the state.
Furthermore, Constitution (81st Amendment) Act, 2000 added a new clause (4-B) in Article 16. Accordingly, the vacancies that could not be filled up in the previous year are to be treated as a separate class of vacancies. And, these are to be filled in any succeeding years. Also, these vacancies are not to be considered concurrently with the year’s vacancies, even if it exceeds the 50% limit.
Lastly, clause (5) of Article 16 prohibits discrimination in public employment based on religion.
Case Law Related to Article 16 – Equality of Opportunity
VP Ahuja vs State of Punjab (2000)
In this case, the appellant was appointed as Chief Executive in the Punjab Cooperative Cotton Marketing and Spinning Mills Federation for two years. However, his services were discontinued based on unsatisfactory work. This order was passed without holding any regular inspection and without allowing him an opportunity to hear.
The Supreme Court held that the termination of the services was illegal as he was not provided with an opportunity to hear.
Article 17: Abolition of Untouchability
Article 17 of the Indian Constitution abrogates (abolishes) untouchability and also prohibits its practice in any form. It states any condition resulting from untouchability is a criminal offence punishable by law.
Case Law Related to Article 17 – Abolition of Untouchability
People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs Union of India (1982)
This case is also known as the Asiad Project Workers case. In this case, the Supreme Court of India held that the Fundamental Right under Article 17 is available against private individuals. And that the state must take necessary steps to ensure that this right is not being violated.
Article 18: Abolition of Titles
Article 18 of the Constitution of India forbids the state to give titles to anybody, whether a citizen or a non-citizen. Military and academic titles are exempted from this prohibition.
Further, a citizen of India is restricted from accepting any title from the foreign state under clause (2) of Article 18. Clause (3) prohibits foreigners holding any office of profit or trust under the state to accept any title from any foreign state without the President’s consent.
Likewise, any person holding any office of profit or trust under the state is restricted from accepting any present, payment or office of any kind from or under any foreign State.
Note: However, this is to be noted that titles like “Bharat Ratna”, “Padma Shri”, etc. are not outlawed under Article 18 of the Indian Constitution.
Case Law Related to Article 18 – Abolition of Titles
Balaji Raghavan vs Union of India (1996)
In this case, the petitioners challenged the national awards and contended the court to impede the Indian Government from bestowing these awards.
The Supreme Court said that the national awards such as the Padma Bhusan, the Padma Shri and the Bharat Ratna are not violative of the principles of equality as ensured by the provisions of the Indian Constitution. It is because these awards do not amount to ‘titles’ within the meaning of Article 18 and hence, is not violative of Article 18 of the Indian Constitution.