REASONABLE CLASSIFICATION UNDER INDIAN CONSTITUTION: ARTICLE 14

This article has been authored by Manshi Sinha, a second year student at VIPS, GGSIPU.



Introduction


The Constitution of India, the lengthiest constitution in the world, came into force on 26th January, 1950. It took the Constituent Assembly 2 years 11 months and 18 days to draft the Constitution. In spite of India being a country with legendary diversity of people, language, culture, customs, and way of living, the constitutional makers succeeded in framing the document which provided much-needed uniformity.


All the provisions of the Constitution are equally important and collectively help in regulating and managing the affairs of the country, but there are certain provisions that are considered as heart and soul of the Constitution as they include the human rights regime, dealing with civil, political, social and economic rights.


Part III, IV, and IV-A of the Constitution together constitute and concretize the lofty goals of justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and the dignity of the individual set out in the Preamble.[1]


Part III of the Constitution guarantees fundamental rights; some only to the citizens while others to citizens as well as persons. The present article discusses in detail Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees the right to equality to all persons. The right to equality under the said Article does not mean that every law must have universal application to all persons, irrespective of them being in a different position or circumstance. The underlying principle behind the right to equality is that the equals must be treated equally while unequals must be treated differently. The varying needs of different classes of people require different treatment and hence we must reasonably differentiate between those who are equal and those who are different. It is this principle that has eventually led to the evolution of the doctrine of reasonable classification. The apex court of the country has many a time discussed the scope and reasonableness of this classification and has laid down certain tests for determining whether a classification made under Article 14 of the Constitution is reasonable or arbitrary. With the advent of time, the Apex Court of the country evolved a new doctrine i.e., the doctrine of non-arbitrariness; the doctrine is very common among attorneys and is similarly controversial among academicians. The author through this article has tried to discuss in brief the two doctrines that evolved under Article 14 of the Constitution.


Background


The framers of the Indian Constitution adopted various provisions of the Constitution after being inspired by different countries. The first part of Article 14 of the Constitution i.e., “the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law” seems to have been inspired from the Irish Constitution and is a declaration of equality of the civil rights of all persons within the territory of India. The American Judges in the case of Ward vs Flood regarded this clause as the “basic principle of republicanism


The second part of Article 14 i.e., “the equal protection of laws within the territory of India” is a corollary to the first and is based on the last clause of the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment of the American Constitution, which states that equal protection shall be secured to all persons in the enjoyment of their rights and liberties without any discrimination. This clause of the right to equality has been interpreted by the American Judges as “a pledge of the protection of equal laws” in Yick Wo v. Hopkins i.e., the laws operate alike on all persons under like circumstances. This, however, does not mean that all laws must be the same in character and universal in application. It has been held in the case of Chiranjit Lal Choudhary v. Union of India as well as in numerous American decisions that the Government can make laws operating differently on different groups or classes of persons to attain particular ends, provided the classification made is reasonable and free from arbitrariness.


Doctrine of Reasonable Classification


Article 14 of the Indian Constitution 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”. It can easily be conferred from this provision that no one is above the law of the land and the Rule of Law shall prevail before anything. The guarantee of equality is an aspect of what Dicey calls the Rule of Law in England. However, this rule is not absolute and is subject to number of exceptions. The Rule of Law cannot prevent a certain class of persons from being subject to special laws and thus, the State has the power to make laws operating differently on different classes of persons, in a way that the principle of equality of civil rights and equal protection of law is followed. This has been defined as the doctrine of reasonable classification by the Supreme Court in the case of Anwar Ali Sarkar v. The State of West Bengal. The State must be cautious that what the constitution permits is “Reasonable Classification” and not “Class Legislation”.


Class Legislation refers to making of improper discrimination by conferring certain privileges upon a class of persons arbitrarily selected from a large number of persons. Such persons stand in equal position and no reasonable distinction or substantial difference can be found which justifies the inclusion of one and exclusion of other from such privileges. Whereas, Reasonable Classification is always based on real and substantial distinction, bearing a reasonable relation to the object sought to be achieved by such legislation.


Test of Reasonable Classification


The power of Reasonable Classification given to the State must not be arbitrary, artificial, or evasive and must always rest upon some real and substantial grounds. In the case of Anwar Ali Sarkar v. The State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court of India through Sudhir Ranjan Das, J. laid down the twin test for reasonable classification. The court held that for the classification to pass the test, two conditions must be fulfilled:


i. Classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes those that are grouped together from others and

ii. The differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Act.


The court further said that “The differentia which is the basis of the classification and the object of the act are distinct things and what is necessary is that there must be a nexus between them i.e., the object of the law and the grouping”.


Doctrine of Arbitrariness


The doctrine of Reasonable Classification , though continues to be valid, must be read in the light of new developments made under Article 14 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court in the case of E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu, discovered a fresh dimension of equality based on non-arbitrariness; a new concept of equality was laid down through Bhagwati J., who stated that “Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions and it cannot be cribbed, cabined, and confined with traditional doctrinaire limits.” It was held that any arbitrary action necessarily involves negation of equality. The same principle was used in the landmark judgment of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India. Further, in the case of R.D Shetty v. International Airport Authority, it was held by the court that “The doctrine of classification is not a paraphrase of Article 14 nor is the objective and end of that Article. It is legislative or executive action in question which is arbitrary and therefore constituting the denial of equity.”


The doctrine of arbitrariness evolved by the Supreme Court in the case of E.P. Royappa faced a lot of criticism and some of the eminent lawyers strongly contended that something that is against equality cannot necessarily be arbitrary.


However, the new doctrine does not seem to be the substitute of the ancient doctrine of reasonable classification. Rather, it is more like an extension of the earlier doctrine to maintain the dynamic concept of equality enshrined under the Constitution.


Conclusion


The Supreme Court of India has never been hesitant in applying the theory of Reasonable Classification while determining the constitutional validity of any legislation impugned under Article 14 of the Constitution. Moreover, in order to implement some welfare schemes and for the development of particular classes of people, the state may sometimes be under an urge to come up with laws that deal differently with different classes of people, Doctrine of Reasonable classification is thus important in this respect. But, at the same time, the Courts and the Government must ensure that such classification is reasonable and free from any arbitrariness.

[1] SATHYA NARAYAN, LIBERTY, EQUALITY AND JUSTICE 45-48 (Eastern Book Company 2003).

 
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