Right to Equality ( Article 14 – 18)

Constitution of India-Right to Equality ( Article 14 – 18)

Prepared by Rekha Khandelwal

Legal Study Material For all Purpose

Constitution of India

Right to Equality ( Article 14 – 18)

Right to equality is provided to every citizen of India under articles 14 – 18 of the Constitution. The right to equality provides for equal treatment of all before the law, prevents discrimination for various reasons, treats everyone equally in matters of public employment, and abolishes untouchability and titles (such as Sir, Rai Bahadur, etc.).

Article 14 refers to the idea of equality expressed in the preamble. Subsequent articles, 15, 16, 17 and 18 have made special application of the general rules given in Article 14. Art. 14 is the genus while Arts. 15 and 16 are the species.

Article 14.-Equality before law”

Any person will not be denied from equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India by the state

Article 15. –Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”

 Any citizen will not be discriminated on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them by state.

Article. 16 –Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment.”

All citizens will have equal access to employment or appoinment in any office under the State.

Article. 17 –  “Abolition  of  Untouchability.”—―

It abolishes untouchability.

Article 18. –Abolition of titles.”

It abolishes of all titles except military and academic

Theory of equality is fundamental in planning of any policy by the state under directive principles  embedded Part IV of the constitution.

Article 14.- Equality before law

It 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.”

Thus It uses two expressions “equality before the law” and “equal protection of the laws” Both these expressions have been used in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.( Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: that “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.”)

  • The purpose of Article 14 is to achieve ‘equality of status’ for all people as expressed in the preamble.
  • It aims to establish a ‘rule of law’ in India.
  • This is available to both citizens and non- citizens and
  • It applies to all people, natural as well as juristic.

Equality before law

The term has been taken from English Common law and It is a negative notion that ensures that no one will have any special privileges So, all are equally subject to the common law of land.

“The concept of equality does not mean absolute equality among human beings which is physically not possible to achieve while It is a concept implying absence of any special privilege by reason of birth, creed or the like in favour of any individual and also the equal subject of all individuals and classes to the ordinary law of land. According to Dr. Jennings“Equality before the law means that among equals the law should be equal and should be equally administered, that like should be treated alike.The right to sue and be sued, to prosecute and be prosecuted for the same kind of action should be same for all citizens of full age and understanding without distinction of race, religion, wealth, social status or political influence”.[1] The guarantee of equality before the law is an aspect of what Dicey calls the rule of law in England[2]

In Rubindersingh v. Union of India

“It means that no man is above the law and that every person, whatever be his rank or conditions, is subject to the jurisdiction of ordinary courts,Dicey wrote “ every  official from the Prime minister down to constable or a collector of taxes is under the same responsibility for every act done without legal justification as any other citizen.”[3]

This, of course, is not a perfect rule and there are many exceptions, such as foreign diplomats enjoying immunity from the country’s judicial process; Art. 361 extends immunity to the President and State Governors of India; Government officials and judges enjoy some protection, and certain groups and interests, such as trade unions, are given special privileges under the law.

In other words

  • This is a negative concept and has been taken from English Common law.
  • This doesn’t mean absolute equality and implies the absence of any special privileges in any person.
  • It Implies no discrimination before the law on the grounds like birth ,creed, rank, office, etc.
  • As per Dr, Jennings, “Equality before the law means that among equals the law should be equal and should be equally administered, that like should be treated alike.”
  • It states that every citizen is subject to the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts, regardless of their position or rank.

Equal protection of the laws

The second concept, ‘equal protection of laws’ has been taken from the American Constitution. It is a positive concept and It does’nt mean that the same law should apply equally to all individuals, or that each law must have universal application within the country, irrespective of different circumstances.

In the Case of State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar,[4]

It’s only means that all persons similarly circumstanced shall be treated alike both in the privileges conferred and liabilities imposed by the law. Equal law should be applied to all in the same situation, and there should be no discrimination between one person and another.As regard the subject- matter of the legislation their position is the same.’

“So, the rule is that the like should be treated alikeand not that unlike should be treated alike.”[5]

In this Case Jagannath Prasad v. State of Uttar Pradesh,[6]

‘Equal Protection of the laws does not postulate equal treatment of all persons without distinction. It denotes equality of treatment in equal circumstances. It implies that among equals, the law should be equal and equally administered, that the like should be treated alike without distinction of race, religion, wealth, social status or political influence.’

In short

  • This is corollary from ‘equality before the law’and It  has been taken from the American Constitution & it is a positive concept.
  • This is similar to the last clause of the first section of the 14th Amendment in the American Constitution.
  • It points out that all people in territorial jurisdiction should have equal protection.
  • This implies that such protection should be without any favor and discrimination.
  • It implies equal treatment both in the privileges and liabilities imposed by the law in similar circumstances.
  • It is the positive responsibility of the state to bring about the necessary social and economic change to ensure that every person receives equal protection.

In Sri Srinivasa Theatre v. Govt. of Tamil Nadu, [7]

‘The Supreme Court has explained that the two expressions ‘equality before law’ and ‘equal protection of law’ do not mean the same thing even if there may be much in common between them. “Equality before law” is a dynamic concept that has many facets. One is t that there will be no privileged person or class and no one will be above law and Another facet is “the obligation upon the State to bring about, through the machinery of law, a more equal society.”The line of distinction between the equals and unequals should not be arbitrary but be based on relevant and justifiable reasons reflecting the actual differences in characteristics.’

Ashutosh Gupta v. State of Rajasthan, [8]

‘As all persons are not equal by nature or circumstances, the varying needs of different classes or sections of people require differential treatment. It leads to classification into different groups of individuals and differences  between such classes.  Accordingly, in order to apply the principle of equality in practice, the courts have developed the principle that if the law in question is based on rational classification it is not considered discriminatory.’

The legislature has the right to make a fair classification for the purpose of the law and to treat everyone equally in one class. The Supreme Court has outlined this principle as follows:

Western U.P. Electric Power and Supply Co. Ltd. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, [9]

‘Art. 14 of the Constitution ensures equality among equals: Its goal is to protect those who have a similar place against discriminatory practices. This, however, does not operate against rational classification. A person who accuses of denying equal treatment by law must establish that between persons similarly circumstanced, some were treated to their prejudice and the differential treatment had no reasonable relation to the object sought to be achieved by the law.’

Raghubir Singh v. State of Haryana,[10]

It is held thatthe rule of lawimposes a duty upon the State to take special measure to prevent and punish brutality by police methodology.’

Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj. Narain,[11] AIR 1975 SC 2299

It is held thatthe rule of law embodied in Article 14 is the “basic feature” of the Indian Constitution Therefore, it cannot be destroyed even by an amendment under Article 368 of the Constitution.’

In the Case of Chiranjit Lal v. Union of India,[12]

held that the word ‘any person’ in Article 14 of the Constitution denote that the guarantee of the equal protection of laws is available to any person which includes any company, association or body of individuals. The proection of Article extends to both citizens and non-citizens and to natural persons as well as legal persons. The equality before the law is guaranteed to everyone regardless to race, colour or nationality. Corporations being juristic persons are also entitled to the benefit of Article 14.’


[1] Jennings – Law of the Constitution, p. 49 ( 3rd ed.)

[2] Dicey – Law of Constitution, pp 202-3 ( 10th ed.)

[3] Rubindersingh v. Union of India, AIR 1983 SC 65.

[4] State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar,[4] AIR 1952 SC 75

[5] Dr. V.N. Shukla- Constitution of India, p. 27 ( 5th ed.)

[6] Jagannath Prasad v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1961 SC 1245

[7] In Sri Srinivasa Theatre v. Govt. of Tamil Nadu, AIR 1992 SC, at 1004

[8] Ashutosh Gupta v. State of Rajasthan, (2002) 4 SCC 34.

[9] Western U.P. Electric Power and Supply Co. Ltd. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1970 SC 21, 24

[10] Raghubir Singh v. State of Haryana, AIR 1980 SC 1087

[11]Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj. Narain, AIR 1975 SC 2299

[12] Chiranjit Lal v. Union of India, AIR 1951 SC 41

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