This article is written by Arjun Sahani pursuing B.A.LL.B. (2nd year) from the School of Law, Lovely Professional University. This article is about one of the fundamental rights of a citizen of India i.e., Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Here this article includes all the information about the Right to Equality.
In a general sense, everybody here is capable of understanding Article 14 of the Indian Constitution i.e. “Right to Equality.” Even, after 73 years of independence, our country is not able to gain actual independence. Evils like discrimination are still prevailing in our country. Even the one who created our Constitution suffered from this anathema. Even now there are some places where people are not treated equally and they are discriminated on different basis like religion, race, sex, caste, place of origin, etc.
By knowing the scenario of India our Constitution-makers added Article 14 in the Indian Constitution as the fundamental right to citizens as well as those who are not a citizen of our territory.
The main purpose of writing this article is to bring clarity to Article 14. When we see a husband treating his wife badly, a girl who is not able to complete her education due to family pressure, a lower caste man being shown inferior to upper caste people. These are examples of discrimination. Here we can understand how important the role of the state is to maintain the equality of citizens.
Article 14 basically 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”.
Treating all citizens equally is the basic concept of liberalism and Article 14 ensures the same to our citizens. The liberty of any person is directly connected to the equality he/she is getting in society.
Equality before Law
Our country as we all know is a democratic country and in fact the largest democratic country in the world. Here all are independent to think about anything, do anything (with reasonable restriction though) and our state is there to put reasonable restriction. In the eyes of law, all persons within the territory of our country should be treated equally.
Equality before Law basically means that all persons should be treated equally no matter whether they are poor or rich, male or female, upper caste or lower caste. This state cannot provide any special privileges to anyone in the country. It is also known as legal equality.
Equality before the law and absolute equality
On one hand, Equality before Law prohibits providing any special privilege to any community or people. It does not talk about equal treatment in equal circumstances. According to it, there must be a very ideal condition and the state does not need to interfere in society by providing additional privileges in society.
On the other hand Right to Equality is not absolute and has several exceptions to it. Accordingly, equals should be treated equally. Equality before Law has several exceptions, for example, the Immunity provided to the President and Governor. Reservation is also a typical example that defines that the Right to Equality is not absolute and can be restricted (or rather used properly) according to the need of society.
In the very famous case of State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar, the question of whether the Right to Equality is absolute or not was raised. Here Supreme Court held that the Right to equality is not absolute. In this case, the State of Bengal was found to use its power arbitrarily to refer any case to the Special Court which was made by them. It was thus held that the Act of the State of Bengal violates the Right to Equality.
Equality before the law and Rule of Law
We have already discussed the Equality before Law in detail however there is also a direct connection between Equality before the Law and the Rule of Law. In Fact, the Rule of Law which is given by Prof. Dicey says that no one here is beyond or above the law and is equal in front of the law. Rule of Law guarantees every person the Equality before Law.
The Rule of Law states that in a country all should be treated equally and as there is no state religion so it (the state) should not discriminate against any religion here the concept of uniformity should be applied. Basically, it is derived from the Magna Carta (a charter of rights signed in the UK) which prohibits the arbitrary power of the state.
Equal protection of the Laws
This is one of the positive concepts of Equality. Equal protection of the law is incurred from Section 1 of the 14th Amendment Act of the US constitution. According to this principle, everybody who resides in India should be treated equally and will get equal protection under the law. It guarantees all people inside the territory of India should be treated equally and the state cannot deny it (for equal protection of the law).
It puts a positive obligation on the state to prevent the violation of rights. This can be done by bringing socio-economic changes.
The same concept has been discussed in Stephens College v. The University of Delhi. In this case, the admission process of college was checked and the main issue raised was the validity of preference given to Christian students in the admission process. Here the Supreme Court held that a minority institution which is receiving aid from state funds is entitled to grant preference or to reserve seats for the students of its community.
The Supreme Court held that differential treatment of candidates in the admission program does not violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution and it is needed for the minority section.
Equality – A positive concept: Basavaraj v. the Spl. Land Acquisition Officer
In the famous case of Basavaraj v. The Spl. Land Acquisition Officer where the appellant went to the Supreme Court for the unsatisfactory decision of the High Court of Karnataka. According to the appellant, the High Court committed an error by not condoning the delay as there were enough reasons for them to be not able to reach the High Court on time. It is a well-established legal proposition that Article 14 of the Indian Constitution is not there to create perpetual illegality, even by extending the previous wrong decision.
It was held that here the appellant was negligent on their part as the appellant was not able to show sufficient cause for the delay and thus here their appeal was rejected.
Access to Justice
By equality before the law, it means everyone has access to justice. No one can be barred from access to justice. Here all should be treated equally in front of the judicial system. The word “Access to Justice” includes some basic rights of a person. By the term access to justice, we mean that every person should have the right to appear in court.
Also, there are many people who are deprived of access to justice due to economical knowledge or lack of awareness. Here it means that the government needs to play a vital role in providing justice to them. For granting Access to Justice we need to reform our judicial system. We need to work on the legal aid system.
Protection against arbitrariness
There is a thin line of difference between arbitrary and non-arbitrary actions. The right to equality prevents the arbitrary action of the state. This article speaks about the Equal Protection of Law and it is against the doctrine of arbitrariness. For protection against arbitrariness, there are several restrictions put on every organ of the state. It is an important part to prevent the organ of the state from making any arbitrary decision.
The doctrine of legitimate expectation
The doctrine of legitimate expectation is basically not a legal right but rather it is a moral obligation on the part of the administration to look at and make laws that provide equality to all people in a territory. It gives the right of judicial review in administrative law to protect the interest of people when public authority fails to do so (or when public authority rescinds the representation made to a person).
It acts as a bridge between the expectation of individuals and any act of authority. However, these expectations needed to be reasonable and logical that’s why they are called legitimate expectations.
There are several instruments provided by the court for achieving the motive of authoritative law (here motive is to meet legitimate expectations). These instruments are provided to prevent everyone against the misuse of power by the organs of the state. It put a type of restriction(although it is a moral restriction) on a state to use its power arbitrarily.
Constitutional Validity of Special Courts
It was discussed earlier that Equality before Law is not absolute and has several exceptions to it Article 246(2), is one such exception. Article 246(2) states that:
“Notwithstanding anything in clause (3), Parliament and subject to clause (1), the Legislature of any State also, have the power to make laws with respect to any of the matters enumerated in List III in the Seventh Schedule” (here List III is Concurrent List).
The validity of Special Courts which were established under the Special Courts Act has been questioned in The Special Courts Bill v. Unknown case. It was questioned whether the formation of special courts under this Act was not violating Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. It was held that as there was reasonability and logicality information of these special courts so these courts are constitutionally valid.
It is the freedom of the administration to react or decide any situation according to the circumstance. Here it becomes important for one to understand the term discretion first. Discretion basically describes the understanding of any person to decide what is wrong and what is right, what is true and what is false etc and reacting to these situations accordingly. Nextly I would like to explain the need for administrative discretion.
The legislature legislates any law on many presumptions and it cannot exactly foresee everything that is going to take place because of that law. The main purpose of administrative discretion is to maintain equality in all sections of society. However, this administrative discretion should not go beyond the line and should be used with proper care. The discretion may amount to arbitrariness.
Reasonable Classification Test
Here, in the case of Ram Krishna Dalmia v. Justice Tendulkar, the Supreme Court describes the jurisprudence of equality before the law. The test determines whether the conducts of the state are constitutionally valid or not. The very famous “classification test” has been given in this case only. Here the High Court held that a government can make a commission to enquire about a case when it is necessary to do so. Here the main purpose of the government is to make any commitment to help matters of public importance.
It’s a case of administrative discretion. Here ultimately the freedom to make any decision rests in the hand of the government. In this case, also it was held that the actions of the government are reasonable and are justified by the law.
The Supreme Court decided that in any political democracy by the term equality we mean social and economic equality. There is no other kind of equality and the state should ensure this social and economic justice at any cost.
Test of Reasonable Discretion
In the very famous case of Oregano Chemical Industries v. Union of India, the petitioner(Oregano Chemical Industries) filed a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution against the order Regional Provident Fund Commissioner which imposed a high penalty under Section 14(B) of the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Acts, 1952 for the delayed payment of Employees’ Provident Funds and Family pension of their employees. Here the conflict arises between Section 14(B) of Employees Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act,1952 and Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Here the government was directed to provide the remedy allocable to the Fund so that damages may be compensated.
Section 14(B) states the right of the Central Provident Fund Commissioner or such other officer as may be authorised by the Central Government to recover damages from the employer who has failed in the contribution to the fund-provided that such employer has given enough chance to be heard before recovering such damages.
This section also provides that their damages can be waived if there is a sick industrial company by the Central Board. Here the Court held that in this case, the government has arbitrarily used this section which is beyond the reasonable discretion of the government and is a type of violation of Article 14 of our constitution.
No equality in illegality
There cannot be equality before the law for the person who is a wrongdoer. A person who is doing illegal acts cannot ask for the Right to Equality in front of a court or the judicial system. The case of Baliram Prasad Singh v. State Of Bihar of Patna High Court clearly explains that there cannot be equality for illegal acts as the petitioner was himself at fault, therefore, he was made to compensate for his illegal act.
At last, I would like to conclude that as our country is democratic we have been provided certain fundamental rights to every citizen and ensure that these rights should not be infringed by anyone .e.even by the state. The right to Equality which is provided by our constitution is not actually being properly enforced even after so much legal obligation related to it has been put forward by our judicial system. Our judiciary along with the other two organs of state are working very hard to maintain equality among all the citizens of our country then also until the citizens are not aware of their rights it becomes very difficult to eradicate inequality. The role of the citizens became very vital for the protection of their own rights.