Right to Equality – Doctrine of Reasonable Classification

Article 13 guarantees equal protection of law but it does not mean that all laws must be general in character. It also doesn't mean that the same laws should apply to all persons. The varying needs of different classes of persons often require separate treatment. From the very nature of society, there should be different laws in different places, meeting different requirements in the best interest of the safety and security of the state. In fact, identical treatment in unequal circumstances would amount to inequality. So a reasonable classification is not only permitted but is necessary if society is to progress.

Thus what the right to equality forbids is class-legislation but it does not forbid reasonable classification. The classification, however, must not be “arbitrary, artificial or evasive” but must be based on some real and substantial bearing a just and reasonable relation to the object sought to be achieved by the legislation. Article 13 applies where equals are treated differently without any reasonable basis. But where equals and unequals are treated differently, Article 13 does not apply. Class legislation is that which makes an improper discrimination by conferring particular privileges upon a class of persons arbitrarily selected from a large number of persons all of whom stand in the same relation to the privilege granted that between whom and the persons not so favoured no reasonable distinction or substantial difference can be found justifying the inclusion of one and the exclusion of the other from such privilege.

Test of Reasonable Classification
While Article 13 forbids class legislation it does not forbid reasonable classification of persons, objects, and transactions by the parliament for the purpose of achieving specific ends. But classification must not be “arbitrary, artificial or evasive.” It must always rest upon some real and substantial distinction bearing a just and reasonable relation to the object sought to be achieved by the legislation. According to the Indian Supreme Court, classification to be reasonable must fulfil the following two conditions:

Saurabh Chaudhari v Union Of India (2004)
Firstly the classification must be founded on the intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or thing that are grouped together from others left out of the group.

Secondly the differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the act.

The differentia which is the basis of the classification and the object of the act are two distinct things. What is necessary is that there must be nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the act which makes the classification. It is only when there is no reasonable basis for a classification that legislation making such classification may be declared discriminatory. Thus the legislature may fix the age at which persons shall be deemed competent to contract between themselves but no one will claim that competency. No contract can be made to depend upon the stature or colour of the hair. Such a classification will be arbitrary.

The true meaning and scope of the right to equality [Article 14 in India] have been explained in a number of cases by the Indian Supreme Court. The propositions laid down in Ram Krishna Dalmia v. Tendolkar (1958) case still hold good governing a valid classification and are as follows.

  1. A law may be constitutional even though it relates to a single individual if on account of some special circumstances or reasons applicable to him and not applicable to others, that single individual may be treated as a class by itself.
  2. There is always presumption in favour of the constitutionality of a statute and the burden is upon him who attacks it to show that there has been a clear transgression of constitutional principles.
  3. The presumption may be rebutted in certain cases by showing that on the fact of the statue, there is no classification and no difference peculiar to any individual or class and not applicable to any other individual or class, and yet the law hits only a particular individual or class.
  4. It must be assumed that Legislature correctly understands and appreciates the need of its own people that its law are directed to problem made manifest by experience and that its discrimination are based on adequate grounds.
  5. In order to sustain the presumption of constitutionality the court may take into consideration maters of common knowledge, matters of report, the history of the times and may assume every state of facts which can be conceived existing at the time of the legislation.
  6. Thus the legislation is free to recognize degrees of harm and may confine its restriction to those cases where the need is deemed to be the clearest.
  7. While good faith and knowledge of the existing conditions on the part of a legislature are to be presumed, if there is nothing on the face of the law or the surrounding circumstances brought to the notice of the court on which the classification may reasonably be regarded as based, the presumption of constitutionality cannot be carried to the extent always that there must be some undisclosed and unknown reason for subjecting certain individuals or corporation to be hostile or discriminating legislation
  8. The classification may be made on different bases e.g. geographical or according to object or occupation or the like.
  9. The classification made by the legislature need not be scientifically perfect or logically complete. Mathematical nicety and perfect equality are not required. Equality before the law does not require mathematical equality of all persons in all circumstances. Equal treatment does not mean identical treatment. Similarly not identity of treatment is enough.
  10. There can be discrimination both in the substantive as well as the procedural law. Article 14 applies to both.If the classification satisfies the test laid down in the above propositions, the law will be declared constitutional. The question whether a classification is reasonable and proper and not must however, be judged more on commonsense than on legal subtitles.

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