Right To Equality
Equality is the essence of a democratic country, including that of India and
hence the constitution of India guarantees the right to equality and protection
of the same. The Indian Constitution, via, Article 14 says 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. The provision consists of two phrases,
'equality before law' and 'equal protection of laws' which have their respective
While equality before law implies that everyone will be treated
fairly and equally before the judiciary of the country, equal protection of the
laws implies that similar treatment will be given to people in the similar
circumstances. It is highlighted that the inclusion of the phrase equality
was inspired from the constitution of United Kingdom, while the
phrase equal protection of laws
was taken from the American constitution.
Equality before law is a negative connotation that indicates no special
privilege for anyone, while Equal protection of laws is a positive connotation
indicating equal treatment of those in alike situations.
The phrase equality
is Rule of Law as held by Dicey which means that:
No man is
punishable or can be lawfully made to suffer in body or goods except for
distinct breach of law and no man is above the law. 
Professor A.V. Dicey
had extensively discussed about the paramount importance of Rule of law by
giving three principles of the same:
- Equality before law:
There shouldn't be any discrimination amongst the rich, poor, minority &
majority etc and neither can one be downgraded nor can one be upgraded.
- Predominance of legal spirit:
The courts of the country must protect the laws and the liberty of all
residing in the nation.
- Supremacy of law:
Law is supreme and holds the top most position in the legal system, an
individual/group of individuals cannot override the laws of the country.
Exception Under Article 14: Right To Equality
However, with that being said, the constitution does not mention the right to
equality as an absolute right, meaning that this provision cannot be applied in
a general perspective. The implication is that the same law cannot be applied
each person similarly and equally, and hence the doctrine of reasonable
classification comes into picture.
It is well known that application of a
specific rule or law depends on various variables, including but not restricted
to circumstances and variety of the case, place and the attainment as well.
Distinct treatments are to be used while dealing with distinct situations.
instance, Article 326:
The elections to the House of the People and to the
Legislative Assembly of every State shall be on the basis of adult suffrage;
that is to say, every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than
[eighteen years] of age on such date as may be fixed in that behalf by or under
any law made by the appropriate Legislature and is not otherwise disqualified
under this Constitution or any law made by the appropriate Legislature on the
ground of non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal
practice, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter at any such election talks about the right to vote conferred upon those above 18 years of age.
However, adults above the age of 18 years, who are prisoners cannot cast their
vote, hence depriving their right of being able to elect representatives of
their choice. Thus, although the Indian constitution provides the right to vote
to every adult in the country, it is the same legal document that prohibits
prisoners to participate in the process of elections. Therefore, law does apply
distinctly in distinct circumstances and situations.
Doctrine Of Reasonable Classification
As aforementioned, though Article 14 is available to persons in India, it is not
an absolute right, hence meaning that there are exceptions. The concept of Rule
of Law prevails over everything in the country and equality is guaranteed by the
same. The doctrine of reasonable classification makes its way into the legal
system in order to facilitate breakthrough in the society. On various instances,
the apex court of India, the Supreme Court seated at New Delhi, has adjudicated
that Article 14 allows for reasonable classification.
It is a fact that not every individual born in this country is similar to one
another, for instance some are born into the poor families whereas few are born
in the wealthier families. To assume that all these are equal would be unfair,
and hence the need to differentiate amongst prejudice with reason and prejudice
without reason becomes important.
Therefore, to meet the requirements of people
in various circumstances and eventually to govern the same in an effective and
efficient matter, a reasonable classification must be made and the same reasons
must be the stepping stone in order to draw the nexus between object to be
achieved and the distinction made. The doctrine of reasonable classification,
is classification made by Sate, of groups, transactions or even objects in order
to achieve particular ends that would eventually assist in the progression of
The test of reasonable classification was laid down by S.R Das J. as:
to pass the test of permissible classification two conditions must be fulfilled
- That the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia
which distinguishes those that are grouped together from others left out of
the group, and
- That the differentia must have a rational relation to the objects sought
to be achieved by the Act.
The differentia which is the basis of
the classification and the object of the Act are distinct and what is necessary
is that there must be nexus between them. Intelligible differentia in
simple words relate to the capability of understanding the difference, here with
respect to the classification being made.
While this being said, what is important to be noted is that though the courts
of India have allowed for reasonable classification with special reference to
Article 14, these are the same courts that have denied class legislation. Class
legislation is irregular discrimination by providing privilege to a certain
class selected inconsistently from a larger group that has a forward foot, which
eventually results in an unreasonable classification amongst those classes. The
Supreme Court in R.K Garg v Union of India
permitted for reasonable
classification but laid down an outright prohibition of class legislation.
In order to make the application of the doctrine of reasonable classification
even more clear, the Supreme court has on various occasions laid down the basic
principles that determine the reasonability of any classification.
Principles of Reasonable classification laid down in Dalmia Case:
- Right to equality ensures that everyone in similar circumstances must be
treated similarly in imposing liabilities and in bestowing privileges upon
- It is the State that has the power to determine who falls under a class,
only for the objectives of legislation or matter of law, through the
procedure of classification
- A single person may be classified as a class solely based on reasons
that can applicable to that person alone and not on others.
- The constitutionality of the enactment will be favoured by the court and
the individual who alleges violation of norms set by constitution carries the
burden of proving the same.
- The classification made needn't be scientifically or logically sound,
the need for the classification being perfect does not arise.
- In situations where there is no reason behind the classification, the
assumption of constitutionality must not be stretched to an extent where it
holds that the reasons are hid in respect of few individuals being subjected
to discriminative legislation.
- Degree of harm must be scrutinized by the legislature in order to limit
itself to cases where the harm is minimum. Therefore, even if harm is
recognized the classification must not be evasive, arbitrary or artificial.
Therefore, by fulfilment of these criteria while making any classification will
render such classification reasonable, upon thorough scrutiny.
Case Laws Related To Doctrine Of Reasonable Classification
There are numerous Indian cases where the doctrine of reasonable classification
had been debated, discussed and has been applied to the circumstances of the
State of Gujarat & Another v Shri Ambica Mills Ltd: The Supreme Court held
that the decision to decide whether a classification made under Article 14 is
unreasonable or reasonable lies with an approach from the judiciary alone.
Increase in complexities of the society increases the problems attached with it
and hence the legislation focuses itself on the changes. Finally, the court held
that the legislation faces towards the cruel world, rather than the clear and
rational facsimile. Classification is innate in the legislation.
D.S. Nakara & Others v Union of India: The facts of the case included a
memorandum issued by the government where it stated that those retired post
31st March 1979 would be entitled to a liberalized pension. However the supreme
court held this classification to be unreasonable since the distinction of those
entitled on pensions solely based on the date they retired had no nexus with the
objective that was aimed to be achieved. Hence, this was a violation of Article
14 and doctrine of reasonable classification could not be applied.
Madhu Limaye v The Superintendent, Tihar Jail: In this case, the
petitioners were Indian prisoners, who challenged the jail's decision to treat
the European and Indian prisoners differently. In one place where the European
prisoners were given a better nutritious diet, the Indian prisoners were
deprived of this. The Supreme Court held that this behaviour was an outright
violation of Article 14 and hence ordered the officials of the Jail to rectify
their actions. The court ruled out any exceptions, including the usage of
Doctrine of Reasonable Classification.
Rule Of Arbitrariness
While the doctrine of reasonable classification has been used in quite a few
cases by the courts of the country to determine whether any legislation is in
contradiction to Article 14, this doctrine was challenged in E.P Royappa v State
of Tamil Nadu. The judgment laid down in this case gave birth to a fresh
It was held that equality is a strong aspect that has various
dimensions attached to it and hence it cannot neither be confined, cribbed or
cabined along with the conventional doctrine of reasonable classification.
Arbitrariness and equality are polar opposites to each other and is also
contradictory to Article 14 since it is uneven.
In R.D Shetty v International
, Justice P.N Bhagwati was of the opinion that Right to
Equality afflicts arbitrariness because all such inconsistent actions
compulsorily include denial of fairness. It is important to highlight that the
doctrine of reasonable classification was neither included as a paraphrase of
Right to Equality nor was it implied to be the conclusion of that article.
rather the actions of either the executive or the legislation that is being
questioned since it is arbitrary in nature which denies right to equality.
However, this new doctrine of arbitrariness has been strongly criticised by
renowned Indian jurists including H.M Seervai who opposed this new rule for
three reasons : doctrine of arbitrariness is on a cliff hanger, all that
violates equality may not compulsorily be arbitrary in nature but all the
arbitrary actions compulsorily end up contradicting the fundamentals of equality
and that the cancellation of the previous doctrine of reasonable classification
does not make sense.
Right to Equality is a fundamental right guaranteed to all persons residing in
the territory of India and hence becomes quintessential for the state to protect
the same. However, with that being said, it is also fair to acknowledge that not
all persons in the country are at the same footing, and there will be situations
where a distinction must be made in order to protect the ones who need the
Though the application of the doctrine of reasonable classification
might sound like an easy task for the commoners, it is in fact a very difficult
decision to make. The legislation must ensure that any decision they make which
concerns the right to equality, must not violate the rights of those who are
left out of the classified group. Like how a coin has two sides, there are
contradictory opinions to whether the doctrine of reasonable classification must
be applied or not.
While Justice P.N. Bhagwati argues that this doctrine is not
practically viable since there will be people who oppose such classification,
H.M. Seervai on the other hand favours the application of this doctrine. The
argument laid down by him, that I personally agree too is that there is nothing
unpractical about a doctrine which effectively secures equal protection of law
to persons by declaring the law based on impermissible classification to be void
while leaving to the State a wide field for making laws based on permissible
It is but obvious that I personally agree with the
statement made by H.M. Seervai, for it is essential to cater the needs of ALL
groups of people residing in the country, and if doctrine of reasonable
classification is being used to the same, it shouldn't be treated as an
exception to Article 14.
Further, the study has also helped reach an
understanding that the test of reasonable classification indeed has the elements
of non-arbitrariness included in it. The conflict whether the ancient doctrine
of reasonable classification or the modern doctrine of non-arbitrariness must be
applied in reality fails to oversee that the former is actually imbibed in the
latter. To wrap up the topic, doctrine of reasonable classification must be
looked not as an exception to Right to Equality, but rather a means of
protecting the same.
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees equal protection of laws and
equality before law, two very essential concepts, to all the persons in the
territory of India. Due to the social, political and economical imbalance, a
distinction had to be made in quite a few cases in the courts of the country to
suit the needs of those who need the protection.
Though the doctrine of
reasonable classification was introduced by various jurists in the past, with
evolution of time, a new rule of arbitrariness evolved in the society. Both have
the same implication, that the classification made must be reasonable and not
arbitrary in nature. Although the doctrine of reasonable classification has not
been widely used by the courts in the recent past and has in fact been rejected
by various jurists, there is no absolute eviction of the same.
- Introduction to Law of Constitution (1885) by Professor A.V. Dicey
- State of West Bengal v Anwar Ali Sarkar, 1952 AIR 75
- State of West Bengal v Anwar Ali Sarkar, 1952 AIR 75
- 4 SCC 675, 1981 1 SCR 947
- Ram Krishan Dalmia v Justice S.R Tendolkar, AIR 1958 SC 538
- 1974 AIR 1300, 1974 SCR (3) 760
- 1983 AIR 130, 1983 SCR (2) 165
- 1975 AIR 105, 1975 SCR (3) 582
- 1974 AIR 555, 1974 SCR (2) 348
- 1979 AIR 1628, 1979 SCR (3) 1014
- H.M. Seervai, Advocate General of Maharashtra from 1957-74 and Jagdish
Swaroop, former Solicitor General of India, commentaries on Constitution of