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Right To Equality - Articles 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the Constitution of India

Right To Equality 

Right To Equality - Articles 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of  the Constitution of India

The fundamental rights are guaranteed to protect the basic human rights of all citizens of India and are put into effect by the courts, subject to some limitations. One of such fundamental rights is the Right to Equality. Right to Equality refers to the equality in the eyes of law, discarding any unfairness on grounds of caste, race, religion, place of birth sex. It also includes equality of prospects in matters of employment, abolition of untouchability and abolition of titles. Articles 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the Constitution of India highlight the Right to Equality in detail. This fundamental right is the major foundation of all other rights and privileges granted to Indian citizens. It is one of the chief guarantees of the Constitution of India. Thus, it is imperative that every citizen of India has easy access to the courts to exercise his/her Right to Equality.

Equality Before Law

Equality before law is well defined under the Article 14 of the Constitution which ensures that every citizen shall be likewise protected by the laws of the country. It means that the State will not distinguish any of the Indian citizens on the basis of their gender, caste, creed, religion or even the place of birth. The state cannot refuse equality before the law and equal defense of the law to any person within the territory of India. In other words, this means that no person or groups of people can demand for any special privileges. This right not only applies to the citizens of India but also to all the people within the territory of India.

Social Equality and Equal Access to Public Areas

The right of Social Equality and Equal Access to Public Areas is clearly mentioned under the Article 15 of the Constitution of India stating that no person shall be shown favoritism on the basis of color, caste, creed language, etc. Every person shall have equal admittance to public places like public wells, bathing ghats, museums, temples etc. However, the State has the right to make any special arrangement for women and children or for the development of any socially or educationally backward class or scheduled castes or scheduled tribes. This article applies only to citizens of India.

Equality in Matters of Public Employment

Article 16 of the Constitution of India clearly mentions that the State shall treat everyone equally in the matters of employment. No citizen shall be discriminated on the basis of race, caste, religion, creed, descent or place of birth in respect of any employment or office under the State. Every citizen of India can apply for government jobs. However, there are some exceptions to this right. The Parliament may pass a law mentioning that specific jobs can only be filled by candidates who are residing in a particular area. This requirement is mainly for those posts that necessitate the knowledge of the locality and language of the area.

Apart from this, the State may also set aside some posts for members of backward classes, scheduled castes or scheduled tribes which are not properly represented in the services under the State to uplift the weaker sections of the society. Also, a law may be passed which may entail that the holder of an office of any religious institution shall also be a person professing that specific religion. Though, this right shall not be granted to the overseas citizens of India as directed by the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2003.

Abolition of Untouchability

Article 17 of the Constitution of India abolishes the practice of untouchability in India. Practice of untouchability is declared as a crime and anyone doing so is punishable by law. The Untouchability Offences Act of 1955 (and now Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976) states punishments for not allowing a person to enter a place of worship or from taking water from a well or tank.

Abolition of Titles

Article 18 of the Constitution of India prohibits the State from granting any titles. Citizens of India are not allowed to accept titles from a foreign State. Titles like Rai Bahadurs and Khan Bahadurs given by the British government have also been abolished. Nevertheless, academic and military distinctions can be conferred upon the citizens of India. The awards of ‘Bharat Ratna’ and ‘Padma Vibhushan’ cannot be used by the beneficiary as a title and is not prohibited by the Constitution of India. From 15 December 1995, the Supreme Court has sustained the validity of such awards.

Importance of Article 14

Article 14 of the Constitution of India declares that the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws written in the territory of India. Article 14 has been taken from Section 1 of the 14 th Amendment Act of the Constitution of the United State. It is not only right of Indian Citizens but also the right of non-citizens. Article 14 Equality before law means that each person within the territory of India will get equal protection of laws.

Meaning and Importance of Article 14 Equality before law

Equality before 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 to be sued, to prosecute and to be prosecuted for the same kind of actions should be same for all the citizens of full age and understanding without distinctions of race, religion, wealth, social status and political influence. Article 14 of the Constitution does not meant to perpetuate illegality and fraud.

Equality is a trite, which cannot be claimed in the illegality and therefore, cannot be enforced by a citizen or Court in a negative manner. Thus Article 14 uses two expresions Equality before the law and Equal protection of laws. Both these expression have been used in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The first expression Equality before the law is of English origin and the second expression equal protection of law is taken from the American Constitution.

Equality before the law is a negative concept implying the absence of any special privilage in favour of individuals and the equal subject of all classes to the ordinary law.

Equal protection of the law is more positive concept implying equality of treatment in equal circumstances. Both the expression gives common idea is that of equal justice.

Difference between equality before law and equal protection of law-

Equality before law

The concept of equality before law does not mean absolute equality among human beings which is physically not possible to achieve. It is a concept implying absence of any special privilage 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 the land.

According to Dicey, equality before law is rule of law. 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 gave three meanings of Rule of law-

  1. Absence of Arbitrary power of supremacy of law.
  2. Equality before the law.
  3. The Constitution is the result of the ordinary law of the land.

Equal protection of the law-

The guarantee of equal protection of laws is similar to one embodied in the 14 th Amendment to American Constitution. This has been interpreted to subjection to equal law, applying to all in the same circumstances. It only means that all persons similarly circumstanced shall be treated alike both in the privileges conferred and liabilities imposed by the laws. Equal law should be applied to all in the same situation, and there should be no discrimination between one person and another. The rule is that the like should be treated alike and not that unlike should be treated as alike.

In Stephen's college v. University of Delhi under the court held that the expression Equal protection of the laws is now being read as a positive Obligation on the state to ensure equal protection of laws by bringing in necessary social and economic changes so that everyone may enjoy equal protection of the laws and nobody is denied such protection. If the state leaves the existing inequality untouched laws by its laws, it fails in its duty of providing equal protection of its laws to all persons. State will provide equal protection to all the people of India who are citizen of India and as well as non citizens of India.

New concept of equality: protection against arbitrariness-

In E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu, the supreme court has drifted from the traditional concept of equality which was based on reasonable classification and has laid down a new concept of equality.

In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, Bhagwati, J., quoted with approval the new concept of equality. He said- Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions and it cannot be imprisoned within traditional and doctrinaire limits. Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in State action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment. The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophically, is an essential element of equality, or non- arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence.

Where an act is arbitrary, it is implicit in it that it is unequal both according to political logic and constitutional law and therefore violative of Article 14.

Relating cases

In the case of Air India v. Nargesh Mirza Regulation 46 of Indian Airlines regulations provides an air hostess will be retire from the service upon attaining the age of 35 years or marriage within 4 years of service or on first pregnancy, whoever found earlier but regulation 47 of the Regulations Act, the managing director had the discretion extend the age of retirement one year at a time beyond the age of retirement up to the age of 45 years at his option 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 law of India.

The regulation does not restrict marriage after 4 years and if an air hostess after fulfilling the conditions became pregnant, there was no ground why first pregnancy should stand in the way of her running service. The court said that the termination of service on pregnancy was manifestly unreasonable and arbitrary on the basis of this it was the violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

In D.S. Nakara v. Union of India, case the Supreme Court said that Rule 34 central services (pension) rules 1972, as unconstitutional on the ground that the classification made by it between pensioners retiring before a certain dare and retiring after that date was not depend upon any rational principal, it was arbitrary and infringement of Article 14 of Constitution of India.

Keeping the above mentioned statements given by different courts, it is clear that Article 14 gives the surety of equal rights without discrimination. It says everyone is equal in the eyes of law. There is no discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, race or social status. Right to equality is one of the most important part of our Indian Constitution, which gives strengthen to all those who belongs to Indian Nationality. It is the necessity of the upcoming generation to secure their rights and change our developing India into developed India.

To conclude, the ‘Right to Equality’ should not only remain on papers. This right should be properly exercised; otherwise it will lose its essence if all the citizens of India, especially the weaker and backward classes do not have equal rights and equality before law.

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