In words of Granville Austin (Constitutional Historian), Indian Constitution is essentially a social document.  Thus, this means that the Constitution of India does not only provide a framework of governance, but also goals and purposes that can bring social revolution in the country. The role of the government is to ensure security and order so that the people could channelize their energies and talent for conducive and constructive purpose in order to attain optimum satisfaction. And these energies channels are Part III (Fundamental Rights) and Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy).
The Preamble of our Constitution explicitly mentions about equality. Thus, it is one of the basic features of our constitution. Right to Equality is also a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 14 of Part III of the Constitution. In the case of M. Nagraj v. Union of India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that: “The principle of equality is the essence of democracy and accordingly a basic feature of the Constitiution.”
“Equality before Law: The state shall not deny to any person equality before the law and equal protection of the law within territory of India.”
In words of Martin Luther King “Inequality anywhere is a threat to equality everywhere.”
Equality means equal opportunities and resources are available to all. The concept of equality requires universal treatment, but our constitution only provides partial treatment this a paradox on which egalitarian society is built. This article ensures similarity of treatment not identical treatment. Only by bare reading of article 14, it can be construed that it is not only citizens of India, but also to aliens, artificial or legal persons. And this was held in various cases. Article 14 comprises of two elements equality before law and equal protection of law.
EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW: According to Dicey “Equality before law does not mean an absolute equality of men, which is a physical impossibility, but the denial of any special privileges by reason of birth, creed or the like in favor of any individual and also the equal subjection of all individuals and classes to the ordinary law of the land administered by ordinary court of law.”
This feature has originated from English Common Law and it is a negative concept. It establishes the concept of rule of law and connotes that: “among equals the law should be equal and should be equally administered, that like should be treated alike.” The rule of law comprises of principles of legality, supremacy of law, absence of uncontrolled discretionary power, judicial review, protection of individual rights and individual dignity.
Like every rule of inorganic chemistry there are few exceptions to this rule also. Article 361 provides certain exceptions which are as follows:
- President or Governor of state is not answerable to court of law for exercising their executive power.
- No criminal proceedings can be instituted against them during their term of office.
- No process for arrest or imprisonment can be issued by any court during their term of office.
- No civil proceedings can be initiated against them except after the expiry of 2 months notice.
But the President can be impeached for the violation of the constitution. Apart from this ambassadors and foreign sovereigns are entitled to certain immunities. They are not answerable to court of law. Some parliamentary privileges are also provided to legislators of both union and state. Even judges are also provided with some exemptions in discharge of their judicial duties.
EQUAL PROTECTION OF LAW: This expression is used in Section 1 of 14th Amendment of U.S Constitution. This is a positive concept. It means equal protection of law for all. In the case of Chiranjit Lal Chowdhuri v. Union of India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court stated that: “it implies an equal protection to all people situated in like circumstances.”
It forbids class legislation but not reasonable classification for the purpose of legislation. In the various cases it is contended that. “Article 14 does not forbids reasonable classification for the purpose of legislation; no doubt it forbids class legislation; but if it appears that the impugned legislation is based on a reasonable classification founded on intelligible differentia and that the said differentia have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by it, its validity cannot be successfully challenged under article 14.”
“As a matter of fact legislation has to deal with diverse problems arising out of an infinite variety of human relations, of necessity, have the power of making special laws to attain particular objects and for that purpose it have large power of selection or classification of persons and things upon which such laws are to operate.” Keeping in mind the diversity and vibrant nature of our nation this provision was included in our constitution.
As we know our constitution is a living entity and as society grows, it also grows. Thus, with time and circumstances the basis of classification also changes. Some essential factors on which this basis of classification is done are: Geographical aspect, Historical Considerations, Difference in Time.
In the case of Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Ltd. V. Union of India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that: “The concept of equality before law and equal protection of law in its proper spectrum encompasses social and economic justice in a political democracy.”
The speciality of this article is that it condemns discrimination not only by substantive law, but also by procedure. “A rule of procedure comes as much within the purview of Article 14 as any rule of substantive law.”
Equality is most essential part of our constitution, which not only strengthens people of present generation, but also ensures a secure society and future for our future generation.
 Granville Austin, The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation
 Law of the Constitution, 3rd Ed. Pg 49
 AIR 1951 SC 41
 C.I Emden v. State of U.P AIR 1960 SC 548(V 47, Ca6); Ram Krishna Dalamia v. Tendolkar, 1959 SCR 297; AIR 1958 SC 538
 Ameeroomisa v. Mahboob (1953) SCR 404 (414)
 (1996) 10SCC 104
 Meenakshi Mills Ltd. v. A.V Visvanath Sastri , AIR SC 13; Budhna Chaudhari and others v. State of Bihar, AIRSC 195
This article is authored by Tanaya Das, student of B.A. LL.B ( Hons.) at Chankya National Law University.
Also Read – Fundamental Rights – Meaning And Concept