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Dimension of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, 1950

India is a diverse country with different religions, faiths, castes, languages, cultures, etc. This Pluralist society includes both the minority groups and the majority groups. Therefore, 'Equality' plays a vital role in protecting the interest of every individual in our country. Right to Equality is the Fundamental Right and is guaranteed under Articles 14 to 18 of the Indian Constitution. Any sort of discrimination is prohibited. Everyone be it rich or poor, man or woman, President or his driver must be treated equally in the eyes of the law. The Preamble of the Indian Constitution which is the 'Key to open the minds of the makers of the Constitution'[1], sought to secure its citizens' Equality of status and opportunity.

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution provides 'Equality before the law and Equal protection of law' and it reads as "The state shall not deny any person equality before the law and equal protection of the laws within the territory of India." [2]

Applicability- Article 14 has used the word 'person', which means that this article applies to both, the citizens and the non- citizens. In the case of Chiranjit Lal v. UOI[3], the court held that Article 14 extends to both citizens and non-citizens and natural persons as well as legal persons. Corporations being juristic persons are also entitled to the benefit of Article 14.

Equality before the law and equal protection of the law:
Article 14 has two expressions:
  1. Equality before the law
  2. Equal protection of law

The 1st expression i.e. Equality before the law is somewhat a negative concept. It refers to the absence of any special treatment to any individual. It is against any kind of privileges provided to any individual based on position, birth, creed, etc. It implies that every individual is subjected to the ordinary law of the land and no one is above the law. The law treats everyone equally.

The 2nd expression i.e. Equal protection of law is somewhat a positive concept that refers to the equal treatment of people, equally circumstanced, in the sense, that like should be treated alike which means that the 2nd expression gives rise to the Equity principle.

However, Justice Patanjali Sastri in the case of State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar,[4] expressed that Equality before the law and equal protection of the law are the same the latter is corollary of the previous, it is difficult to imagine equality before the law without equal protection of the law.

Role of Rule of Law:
Albert Venn Dicey who is a Britain-based constitutional jurist, propounded the concept of 'Rule of Law', which means that no one is above the law and every individual is governed by the ordinary law of the land. 'Equality before the law' mentioned under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution is one of the aspects of A.V. Dicey's Rule of Law as he has given three essentials of the Rule of Law-
  1. Absence of Arbitrary power - It implies the supremacy of law, which means that no person shall fall prey to the arbitrary or discriminatory decision of the governing authority. For example, if a person has committed any offense then he shall be punished for such offense only by the punishment as mentioned under the law and not by the mere decision of the governing authority.
  2. Equality before the law - Everybody is equal in the eyes of the law and is governed by the ordinary law of the land. The law applies equally to everybody irrespective of their background, position, religion, etc., which means that even a monarch cannot commit wrong, and if he does so, then he would be subjected to the punishment as mentioned under the law.
  3. The Constitution is the result of the ordinary law of the land - The rights of the individuals are not defined by the Constitution itself but they are the ones that are defined and enforced by the courts.

The 1st aspect of the Rule of Law applies to our Indian system. The 2nd aspect of equality before the law is mentioned under Article 14 of our Indian Constitution. In the case of Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain[5], the court held that the Rule of Law embodied under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution is the basic feature of the Indian Constitution and hence, it cannot be destroyed even by the amendment under Article 368 of the Indian Constitution. The 3rd aspect does not apply to our Indian Constitution, because the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution are inalienable human rights.[6] In Justice K. Puttaswamy v. Union of India[7], the court viewed that the Constitution is the Supreme law of the land and all the laws passed by the legislature must be consistent with the provisions of the Constitution.

Exceptions to the Rule of law:
  1. Equality before the law does not mean that the power of a private person is the same as that of public officials. Instead, it provides or mentions the powers provided to the public officials and any misuse of these powers by the public officials shall be punishable by the law in the same way as any other private person is punished.
  2. The Rule of Law does not prevent certain members of the society from being governed by the special rules. E.g., for the members of the armed forces, we have the Army Act, of 1950.
  3. Ministers and other executive bodies are given wide discretionary powers by the statutes. E.g., Article 361 of the Indian Constitution provides that the President and the Governors can be exempted from criminal proceedings against them during the tenure of their services.

Article 14 permits reasonable classification but prohibits class legislation:
The expression 'Equal Protection of law', implies the equity principle, i.e., the like should be treated alike and not the unlike should be treated alike. All persons who are equally circumstanced shall be treated equally concerning the privileges guaranteed to them and the penalties imposed on them by the law established.

People who are differently circumstanced need special treatment, if the differently circumstanced people are treated equally then it would defeat the very purpose of law. Therefore, Article 14 permits reasonable classification but it prohibits class legislation. The classification so made must be reasonable and not arbitrary artificial or evasive. When the classification is not made on a reasonable basis then it may be considered as discriminatory.

Test for reasonable classification:
  1. The classification must be based on intelligible differentia, which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped from others left out of the group.
  2. The differentia must have a rational nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the act.
Whether the classification made between the pensioners on the retirement date reasonable classification?
In D.S. Nakara v. Union of India[8], the classification was made between the pensioners based on the date of their retirement, to differentiate the rate of pension between the pensioners who retire before a particular date and the pensioners who retire after a particular date. The Supreme Court held that this classification is arbitrary as it is unreasonable and is violative of Article 14.

Whether the reduction of the age of retirement of government employees arbitrary?
In K. Nagaraj v. State of A.P.[9], the government of A.P. through the A.P. Public Employment (Regulation of Conditions of Service) Ordinance, has reduced the retirement age of government employees from 58 years to 55 years. Therefore, the validity of this Act was challenged on the ground that it is arbitrary and hence, violative of Article 14. The court held that the Ordinance was not violative of Article 14 as this step taken by the government was with the object to provide or increase employment opportunities to the younger sections of the society.

Categorization of films into 'U' and 'A'
In K.A. Abbas v. Union of India[10], the validity of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 was challenged on the ground that it made an unreasonable classification of the films into 'U' and 'A'. 'A' is the Adult film which is restricted only to the exhibition of adults and 'U' is the Universal film which can be exhibited without any restriction. Film is a form of art and expression that requires equal treatment without such classifications. The court held that the motion picture is a form of art that can stir up emotions more deeply than any other form of art. It has a great effect on children because children try to imitate whatever they have seen in the movies. Hence, such classification is reasonable.

Selections through Oral Tests
In Ajay Hasia v. Khalid Mujib Sehravardy[11], the regional engineering college made the admissions of the candidates, by conducting the oral test after the written test, 1/3rd of the marks were allocated to the oral test. A large number of candidates were admitted to the college based on their marks on the oral test though they received fewer marks on the written test. The court held such allocation of marks for the oral test to be arbitrary as the oral tests are subjective and are based on the 1st impression and they are capable of being misused.

In Arti Sapru v. State of J&K[12], the SC held that the allocation of 30% marks to viva-voce for admissions to the medical college is excessive.

In Lila Dhar v. State of Rajasthan[13], 25% of marks allotted for the interview for the selections of Munsifs in the Rajasthan Judicial Services was held to be valid.

In D.V. Bakshi v. Union of India[14], 50% of the marks were allotted to the oral test for granting the license as the customs house agent, the court referred the case of Lila Dhar v. State of Rajasthan, where the court viewed that there is a clear distinction in the selection of a candidate for the admission in a college and for the appointment in the public services. The candidates appearing for an admission test are yet to develop their skills therefore more weightage must be given to the written tests rather than the oral tests. But it is not the same when the candidate is appearing for the appointment in public services, by that time skills of the person are developed and an oral test can be considered a good test to know or judge the personality development of a candidate and for selecting any candidate in the Public Services.

Classification between the Government employees and the Private employees for evening LL.B. classes:
In Deepak Sibal v. Punjab University[15], the classification was made between the government employees, the semi-government employees, and the private employees. Only those who were government or semi-government employees were eligible to get admission in the evening classes of the 3-year LL.B. course and not the private sector employees. The court held such classification to be unreasonable and to be violative of Article 14.

Classification between the rural-educated students and the urban-educated students for admissions:
In Suneel Jatley v. State of Haryana[16], 25% of the seats were reserved for the students who were educated in the rural areas from class I to VIII, for the admissions in the M.B.B.S. and the B.D.S. courses, the court held that such reservation is violative of Article 14 as it made unreasonable distinction or classification among the rural and the urban educated students because be it the rural area or the urban area the standards of education, equipment, qualification of the staff, etc. prescribed by the government are the same.

Classification between the murderers:
In Mithu v. State of Punjab[17], the court struck down Section 303 of IPC, which provided for the compulsory death penalty for the person who murdered whilst under imprisonment for life, while in the case of the murder committed by the person whilst not under the sentence of life imprisonment S.302 was applicable which provided the discretionary power to the court to either impose the death penalty or not. Therefore, the court viewed that the classification between the persons who murder whilst under the sentence of life imprisonment and the person who murder whilst not under the sentence of life imprisonment is unreasonable and held S. 303 to be unconstitutional.

Classification between the pensioners who are married during the services and those who are married after the services:
In the case of Bhagwanti v. Union of India[18], the court held that family pension is given for the benefit of children born after retirement and pension is payable to the employee for his past services. Therefore, the classification made between persons married during the service and those who are married after the service to give the family pension is unreasonable and is violative of Article 14.

Classification between the daily wage workers and the permanent workers:
In the State of Orissa v. Balaram Sahu[19], the court held that for payment of remuneration, the classification made between the daily wage workers and the permanent workers is reasonable because the responsibilities of both of them are different. The work of daily wage workers depends upon the availability of work whereas the work of permanent workers is more onerous.

In State of Punjab v. Jagjit Singh[20], the court held that if the duties and responsibilities discharged by the temporary worker (daily wage worker) and the permanent worker who is holding the corresponding post are the same then the principle of 'Equal pay for equal work' should be applicable, in the sense, any classification made between the permanent workers and the temporary workers doing the same work for payment of remuneration would be unreasonable.

The classification is made based on the number of children the person has to contest elections:
In Javed v. State of Haryana,[21] the constitutional validity of Section 175(1)(g) of the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 was challenged, as it disqualified the person who had more than two children to contest the election for Sarpanch in the Gram Panchayats. The Supreme Court, in this case, held that Section 175(1)(g) of this act is not violative of Article 14 as this classification is based on the intelligible differentia having nexus with the object of popularization of family planning program.

The classification made between the hotels:
In the Kerala Bar Association v. State of Kerala,[22] the constitutional validity of S. 15-C of the Cochin Abkari Act was challenged on the ground that it is violative of Article 14 as under this Act, the Government provided the bar licenses only to the 5-star hotels. The contention of the respondents, in this case, was that the petitioners did not have the right to trade in liquor because it was 'res extra commercium'. The court rejected the contention of the respondents and held that the Right to trade in liquor is a right under Article 19(1)(g) if the government permits any person to undertake this business, hence, S. 15-C of the Cochin Abkari Act is violative of Article 14.

Classification of Newspapers:
In Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India,[23] the court held that the classification of newspapers as small, medium, and big based on their circulation to levy customs duty is reasonable.

Classification between theatres:
In Venkateshwara Theatre v. State of Andhra Pradesh,[24] the theatres were classified into different classes, namely air-conditioned, permanent, and semi-permanent, the area where they are situated, gross collection in each show to fix the rates of tax and for the collection of the tax is not unreasonable, hence, not violative of Article 14.

Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation:
Legitimate expectation is the hope or desire of the person to obtain a favorable order, inspired by past practice or promoted by representation. Sometimes, this Legitimate Expectation gets defeated because of the changes in the policies made by the decision-makers. The Wednesbury reasonable test may be applied to find out whether the change from one policy to another was justified. The change of the policy can defeat substantive legitimate expectations if it can be justified on Wednesbury reasonableness.[25]

In Council of Civil Services Unions v. Minister of the Civil Services,[26] Lord Diplock held, that for legitimate expectation to arise, the decision of the administrative authority must affect the person by depriving him of some benefit or advantage which either (i) he had in the past been permitted by the decision maker to enjoy, (ii) he has received assurance from the decision maker that they will not be withdrawn without giving him first an opportunity of advancing reasons for contending that they should not be withdrawn.

In Navjyoti Co-op. Group Housing Society v. Union of India,[27] the procedure for the allotment of land was altered. In the previous policy, the allotment of land was based on the date of registration, later, it was changed to the approval of the final list by the registrar. The court held that the societies were entitled to the 'Legitimate Expectation' and the authority was not entitled to defeat the legitimate expectations of the society.

In Food Corporation of India v. M/s. Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries,[28] the Food Corporation of India had invited tenders and the respondent's bid was the highest. All the tenders were invited for negotiation but the respondent did not raise his bid while others did. The respondent's bid was rejected. The respondents filed the writ petition claiming that they had the legitimate expectation of acceptance of the bid. The court held that there is no doubt that the respondent's bid cannot be rejected arbitrarily, but if the corporation reasonably felt that the amount offered by the respondent was indigent then, it could defeat the legitimate expectation.

In Union of India v. Hindustan Development Corporation,[29] tenders were called by the railway for the supply of caste-steel bogies. The three big manufacturers quoted less than the small manufacturers. The railway then adopted a dual pricing policy by which the counteroffer of a lower rate was given to the bigger manufacturers and the offer of higher rates was given to the other manufacturers so that healthy competition may be maintained because the bigger manufacturers have allegedly formed the cartel. The court held that the dual pricing policy adopted by the railways is based on reasonable grounds. Legitimate expectation is not the same thing as anticipation. It is also not the claim or the demand based on the right. The mere disappointment would not give rise to the legal consequences. The legitimacy of expectation can be inferred only if it is founded on the sanction of law or custom or an established procedure followed in the regular and natural consequences.

In Manjit v. Union of India,[30] the railway administration has provided entry into services of the wards of the railway employees without undergoing the selection process under the scheme named, 'largess'. Later, this scheme was terminated by the Government. The Supreme Court held that the petitioners could not claim under the Legitimate Expectation as the Act was terminated by the government and it was not in existence. The termination of the scheme was done on reasonable grounds and if any relief is granted to the petitioners, then it would permit the back door entry which would be against Article 16 of the Constitution.

New Dimensions of Article 14:
In Visakha v. State of Rajasthan, [31] the court held that gender equality includes protection against sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity. The Supreme Court in this case has laid down guidelines to prevent sexual harassment of women in the workplace. All employers in the workplace should take appropriate steps to prevent sexual harassment of women in the workplace by publishing and circulating the prohibitory acts. The complaint committee must also be formed which should be headed by a woman.

In National Legal Service Authority v. Union of India,[32] the court held that the term 'person' used in Article 14 does not only mean male or female, but it also includes Hijras/ transgender persons. Hijras should be treated as the 'third gender' to safeguard their rights under Part- III.

In Danial Latifi v. Union of India,[33] the validity of S.3 & 4 of the Muslim Woman (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 was challenged. Under this section, a Muslim divorced woman has a right to claim maintenance from her husband even after the period of iddat. The court in this case held that the Act is valid and if the woman remains unmarried even after the iddat period and is unable to maintain herself then her husband should maintain her.

In Air India v. Nargesh Meerza,[34] The clauses regarding retirement on the ground of pregnancy under Regulation 46 of the Air India Employees Service Regulations were held to be unreasonable, hence, unconstitutional and therefore struck down.

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution embodies the principle of equality before the law and equal protection of law and equal protection of laws for all individuals. It is a fundamental right that guarantees that every individual regardless of their background is subject to the same laws and is treated equally. This principle plays an important role in upholding the rule of law, preventing discrimination, and promoting fairness and justice in the Indian legal system. Article 14 plays an important role in India's democratic and legal framework, ensuring that all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law.

  1. In re Berubari Union and Exchange of Enclaves, AIR 1960 SC 845
  2. Article 14, The Constitution of India, 1950
  3. AIR 1951 SC 41
  4. AIR 1952 SC 75
  5. AIR 1975 SC 2299
  6. Dr. J.N. Pandey- Constitutional Law of India, p. 83 (59th ed.)
  7. AIR 2017 SC 4161
  8. AIR 1983 SC 130
  9. (1985) 1 SCC 523
  10. AIR 1971 SC 481
  11. AIR 1981 SC 487
  12. AIR 1981 SC 1009
  13. AIR 1981 SC1777
  14. (1993) 3 SCC 662
  15. AIR 1989 SC 903
  16. (1984) 4 SCC 296
  17. AIR 1983 SC 473
  18. AIR 1989 SC 2038
  19. AIR 2003 SC 33
  20. AIR 2016 SC 5176
  21. AIR 2003 SC 3057
  22. AIR 2016 SC 163
  23. (1985) 1 SCC 502
  24. AIR 1993 SC 1947
  25. Dr. J.N. Pandey- Constitutional Law of India, p. 107 (59th ed.)
  26. 1985 ACC 374 pp. 408, 409
  27. AIR 1993 SC 155
  28. (1993) 1 SCC 71
  29. (1993) 3 SCC 499
  30. AIR 2021 SC 944
  31. AIR 1997 SC 3011
  32. AIR 2014 SC 1863
  33. AIR 2001 SC 3262
  34. AIR 1981 SC 1829

Written By: Bammidi Preethy

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