Fundamental Rights

When does the differentiation become unreasonable under Article 14 ?


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Though Article 14 prohibits discrimination but it does not prohibit discrimination based on reasonable classification. What is prohibited is unreasonable or arbitrary differentiation which is known as discrimination.

The word discrimination as we see is not easy to define, but this much is clear that it involves some favour, preference or advantage and some prejudice or disadvantage as between two comparable persons. However, some differentiation is permitted ‘to establish an equilibrium between different situations’. The dividing line between the reasonable classification and discrimination was brought up in European Convention that the equality in law precludes discrimination of any kind; whereas equality in fact may involve the necessity of different treatment in order to attain a result which establish an equilibrium between the situation.[1]

The test to check at what limit the discrimination becomes unreasonable and thus liable to be set aside was promulgated in Shamrao’s [2]that the Court must be satisfied on two points before it can strike at a law on the ground of unlawful discrimination. It must be satisfied (1) that the law in fact discriminates, and (2) that such discrimination is not permissible on the principles of a rational classification made for the purpose of the legislation. Both the points must be urged in the petition, with necessary averments.[3]

Read: How the policy behind statute is determined?

The discrimination thus involves an element of unfavourable bias and it is in that sense that the expression has to be understood in this context. If such bias is disclosed and is based on any of the grounds[4] mentioned in Article 15 and 16, it may well be that the statute will, without more, incur condemnation as violating a specific constitutional prohibition unless it is saved by one or other of the provision of those Articles. But the position under Article 14 is different. Equal protection claimed under that Article are examined under presumption that the state action is reasonable and justified. This presumption of constitutionality stem from the wide power of classification which the Legislature  must, of necessity, posses in making laws operating differently in regards different group of persons in order to give effect to its policies. The power of the state to regulate the criminal trials by constituting different court with different procedure according to the needs of different parts of its territory is an essential part of the police power. Though the differing procedure might involve disparity in the treatment of the persons tried under them, such disparity is not by itself sufficient to outweigh the presumption and establish discrimination unless the degree of disparity goes beyond what the reason for its existence demands as for instance, when it amounts to a denial of a fair and impartial trial.[5]

It shall be noted that the law cannot be struck down as discriminatory merely because it results in inequality between persons or object.[6] Every classification, in fact, involves discrimination. The law will be invalidated, under Article 14, only if there is no reasonable basis for such differentiation, having regard to the object of the Legislation.

[1] Minority School in Albania, (1935) P.C.I.J. A/B 64 p.19

[2] Shamrao v. D.M. 1952 SCR 683 (691); V.S. Rice and Oil; Mills v. State of A.P. 1964 SC 1781: (1964) 7 SCR 456

[3] Katra Education Society v. State of U.P. AIR 1966 SC 1307 (para 14) : (1966) 3 SCR 328

[4] Art 21 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[5] Kathi Raning v. State of Saurashtra, 1952 SCR 435 (442-3) : AIR 1952 SC 123

[6] Ganga Ram v. Union of India, AIR 1970 SC 2178 : (1970) 1 SCC 377; Jalan Trading Co. V. Mill Mazdoor Sabha AIR 1967 SC 691: (1967) 1 SCR 15


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