Right To Equality: “Permits Classification But Prohibits Class Legislation”

Every citizen of India has some right acquired inherently by birth, fundamental rights are those right which is provided to the citizens of India inherently by birth and some of the rights also available to alien as well, it is deemed essential to protect the freedom and liberties of the subject form the encroachment of power delegated by them to their Government. One of the Rights covered under Fundamental Rights is Right to Equality, it provides that the State shall not deny any person equality before the law and equal protection of the law within the territory of India. Protection Prohibits discrimination on the ground of race, caste, religion, sex or place of birth.
Every resident of India is ensured the privilege of equity by Articles 14 to 18 of the Constitution. Article 14 epitomizes the general guidelines of Equality under the supervision of the law and restricts outlandish & unjustifiable detachment between individuals. As Dr Jennings puts it: “Equality before the law implies that among equivalents the law ought to be equivalent and ought to be similarly applied, that ought to be dealt with in a like manner. The privilege to sue and be sued, to prosecute and be prosecuted for a similar sort of activity ought to be the same for all residents of full age and comprehension without refinements of race, religion, wealth, societal position or political impact.”

Article- 14

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution clearly expresses that the State/Nation will not deny to any person equality before the law and equal protection the law inside the domain of India, both these expressions aim to establish what is called equality of status in the Preamble of the constitution. This law is available to all citizens and aliens. To be more precise the word ‘individual’ includes companies, statutory corporations, registered societies or any other type of legal person[1].
Both expressions may seem to be identical but confer the different meaning. The ‘equality before the law’ is somewhat the negative concept, implying an absence of any privilege in favour of any individuals, whereas ‘equal protection of law’ is a more positive concept, implying equality of treatment in equal circumstances[2].
It is important to realize the true meaning of both expressions.

Equality before the law

this term is taken from the constitution of England which implies
I. Equivalent treatment for all people before the court. That is, the law will be visually impaired, it won’t see who is on the door; rich or poor. 
II. There will be no privilege for a specific individual. That is to say, everybody will get a similar punishment for similar wrongdoing. 
III. No person (be it rich or poor, white or black, minister or servant) shall be above the law, law is supreme. It means the law will be the same for both the minister and the servant.
In case State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar[3], Patanjali Sastri, C.J, rightly held, that the second expression is corollary to the first one, and it will be difficult to imagine a situation, where violation of equal protection of law will not be the violation of equality before the law.

Equal protection of laws

The guarantee of equal protection of law is borrowed from the 14th Amendment to the American Constitution, it is simply interpreted as a subjection to equal law in similar circumstances. The provisions under this expression are
I. The similar application of the same laws to all persons who are similarly situated.
II. Equivalent treatment under equivalent conditions, both in the benefits presented and liabilities forced by the laws. 
III. All persons should be treated equally without any discrimination.
The Supreme Court believes that the Rule of law written under Article 14 is the fundamental element of the Constitution. Therefore it cannot be abolished in any way even by amending the Constitution.

Exceptions to Right to Equality

Firstly, ‘equality before the law’ does not means that the powers given to the public authorities will be the same as the powers given to the private individuals of the nation. To explain this better, we know that police have the ability to arrest while, generally, no private individual has this power. This is not a violation of the rule of law. In any case, the rule of law requires that these power must be defined by law and misuse by authorities, inflicted the same liabilities by ordinary courts in the same manner if the illegal act committed by private individuals
Secondly, the rule of law protects certain classes of people being liable for extraordinary rules. , individuals from the military are governed by military laws. Likewise, medical professionals are exposed to the guidelines confined by the Medical Council of India, a statutory body, and the jurisdiction of ordinary courts does not apply to them. The President of India and the State Governors are provided immunity under Article 361 of the Indian Constitution that the President or the Governors of the State will not be liable to any Court for the execution of the powers.No criminal proceeding will be proceeded against the President or the Governor of a State in any Court during his term of office. No procedure for the arrest of the President or the Governor of State will be issued from any Court during his term of office. 
Thirdly, Statutory Bodies in India confer really wide discretionary powers in the name of the ministers and other executive bodies. The Minister may be allowed by law to act as he thinks fit or he is satisfied.
Fourthly, a certain person in the society is governed by special rules by the virtue of their profession, i.e., lawyers, doctors, armed forces and police such classes of people treated differently from ordinary citizens.

Some constitutional provision, under certain circumstance, failed to observe Right to equality

I. scope of the right to equality is restricted by the 42nd Amendment act,1976, insertion of new Article 31-C added. Provides that laws made by state while following the direct principle of state policy under clause (b) o of article 39, can not be challenged on the ground that it violates article 14. Right To Equality
II. During the time of emergency, by virtue of Article 359(1) the president , may by order, declare the right to move any court for the enforcement of fundamental rights, except Art. 21 or 21, shall remain suspended.
III. under international law, foreign sovereigns and diplomats or ambassadors enjoy full immunity from any judicial process.

Article 14 Permits classification but Prohibits Class Legislation

Article 14 provides that “state shall not deny to any person equality before the law and equal protection of law within the territory of india. The discussion on provision of article 14 has come up in many cases in apex court and in the case of Ram krinshna Dalmia v. Justice S.R Tendolkar Case[4], Judges retreated the scope of article 14 and held that Article 14 of Indian constitution permits classification, so long as it is reasonable, but forbids class legislation. Right To Equality
The main purpose behind the classification is, If all men are treated equally and remain equal throughout their lives, then the same laws would apply to all of them. But in practicality it’s impossible. Equality does not mean that all men are protected by the same laws. So the doctrine of reasonable classification becomes important. All persons are not equal by nature or circumstances, the needs of different classes or sections of people require different treatment not every case is the same. This step out to classification among different groups of persons or class. under this Article, even a single institution can form a class by itself, and while deciding the question of infringement of Article 14, it is to be seen whether there are any reasonable reasons, on which a single or group of persons are left out of from the common masses. Right To Equality
Though discrimination is prohibited, that cannot be applied to nullify a discrimination recognised by the Constitution itself. Art.14 prohibits class legislation and not classification for the purpose of legislation. A classification would be justified unless it is patently arbitrary, artificial or evasive. If there is any Reasonable basis for classification, the legislature would be entitled to make a different legislation. Class legislation here implies that improper discrimination by conferred particular privilege on a certain class of person among a large number of people,all of whom stand in the same relation, justified the inclusion of one from the exclusion of another.

Test of Reasonable Classification

There are two tests for reasonable classification-
(i) the classification must be found on an intelligible differentia which distinguished persons or thing or that are grouped together from other left out of the group; and
(ii) the differential must have a rational relation to the object to be achieved by the Act[5].
Where the law is questioned as violation against Art 14, in  the very first place the court is to examine the purpose and policy of the Act and then to investigate whether the classification made by the law has a reasonable nexus with the object which the Legislature seeks to achieve. It is not possible to exhaust the circumstances or criteria which may accord a reasonable basis for classification in all cases. It depends on the object of the legislature. In order to be Reasonable, a classification must not be arbitrary, artificial or evasive but must be rational.
The Apex Court propounded the preposition, while adjudicating the infringement of Art. 14, if the law has been questioned, that it does not have any rational nexus or may not be propounded on reasonable classification. Following points may be satisfy for holding constitutionally validity-
  1. Law may be constitutional even though it relates to a single individual, in the account of some special privileges applicable to him and not to others, a single individual may be treated as a class itself Right To Equality
  2. There will be always a presumption in favour of constitutional validity of statue, onus to prove its contrary character must be on,who complained off
  3. Presumption may be rebutted in certain cases, by showing the fact that no reasonable classification is there, no ration nexus.
  4. Persimption that legislature understand the needs of theri subject, its law are directed to manifest the problem face by the people, and discrimination are based on adequate grounds
  5. Order to sustain presumption  of constitutional validity court may take consideration of history of the times, common knowledge, matter of report.
  6. While good faith and knowledge of the existing condition on the part of legislature are to be presumed, nothing on the face of the law or existing surroundings brought to the notice of the court on which the classification may reasonably be regarded as based, not carried to the extent of holding that there must be some undisclosed and unknown reason for subjecting certain individual to be hostile or discriminating law.
  7. Classification may be made on the basis of geographical, according to object or occupation or the like, nevertheless the legislation need not to be mathematically correct, scientifically complete and logically perfect[6] .

Protection Against Arbitrariness

In case, E.P Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu[7], Court propounded the new concept of equality, Bhagwati, J., delivering the Judgment on behalf of himself, Chandrachud and Krishna Iyer, JJ, held that, “Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions and it can not be imprisoned with traditional and doctrine limits. Form a positivistic point of view, equality is antithesis to arbitrariness. In fact, equality and arbitrariness sworn enemies; one belong to the rule of law while other, to the whim of caprice of an absolute monarch. Where an act is arbitrary ist is implicit in it that it is unequal both according to political logic and constitutional law, hence violation of Article 14”.
Again, in case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union Of India & International Airport Authority Case[8] Right To Equality SC reiterated the same principle and held that what article 14 strikes at is arbitrariness because an action that is arbitrary, must necessarily involve negation of equality. Doctrine of reasonable classification which involved the court is not paraphrase of article 14 nor it is the objective and end of that article, merely a judicial formula, to determine whether an action is arbitrary or not. If the classification is not reasonable and does not qualify the test of reasonableness, equality under article 14 would be breached.


In the case of the Air India v. Nargesh Meerza[9], Regulation 46 of Indian Airlines regulations provides an air Hostess will be retired from the service upon attainment of the age of 35 years or on marriage within 4 years of Service or on first pregnancy, whoever found earlier. but regulation 47 of the regulation act has a clause that the managing director had the discretion to extend the age of retirement one year at a time beyond the age of retirement up to the age of 45 years at his discretion if an air hostess was found medically fit .it was held by the court that an air hostess on the ground of pregnancy was unreasonable and arbitrary, it was the violation of article 14 under constitution of India, the court also said that the termination of service on pregnancy was manifestly unreasonable and arbitrary.
Another case in D.S Nakara v. Union of India[10], in this case Supreme Court said that Rule 34 of the central services( pension) rules, 1972 as unconstitutional on the ground that the classification made by between the on pensioners retiring before a certain date and retiring after that date was not depend upon the any rational principal, hence it was arbitrary and the infringement of article of article 14 of Indian constitution.


Article 14, talks about the right to equality, and provides that the state shall not deny any person equality before the law and equal protection of law within the territory of India. These two express equality before the law, according to A.V dicey considered to be a rule of law and law is supreme. Whereas equal protection of laws provide a positive aspect and convey the meaning that, like should be treated alike and not that unlike should be treated alike. Nevertheless there are some exception to right to quality, even the constitution have some provision to make the provision of article 14 baseless, but it does not mean that violation of article 14 paved the way through this, indeed it permits the classification but restricts class legislation, however if it is shown that the classification based on the valid test of reasonableness, i.e., Intelligible differentia & Rational Relation, no question regarding the constitutionality of statute invoked,on contrary if the action is arbitrary, artificial or evasive, can be set aside by the court by the virtue of article 14. Right To Equality


1. Chiranjit Lal v. Union of India, AIR 1951 SC 4
2. Dicey- law of Constitution, p.49, 10th ed.
3. AIR 1952 Sc 75.
4.  1958 AIR 538, 1959 SCR 279
5. K. Thimmappa v. Chairman, Central Board Of Directors, SBI, AIR 2001 SC 467
6. Kedar Nath v. State of West Bengal AIR 1953 SC 404
7. AIR 1974 SC 555
8. AIR 1978 Sc 597 & AIR 1979 SC 1628
9. AIR 1981 SC 1829
10. AIR 1983 SC 130
BY- Akash Goswami |Aligarh Muslim University

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