In the words of Prof. Dicey, the concept of equality as operates in English is that, “with us every official from the Prime Minister down to a constable or a Collector of Taxes, is under the same responsibility for any act done without any legal justification as any other citizen.” But the second expression, “equal protection of laws” corresponds to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States’ Constitution, which declares that, “No State shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Under this Article two concepts are involved, Le., “equality before law” and “equal protection of the laws.” The first concept guarantees that there is no special privilege in favor of anyone, whether individual or class that all are subjected to the ordinary law of the land equally and no person whatever are his rank or condition, is above the law of the land.
The second concept, “The equal protection of the laws” is more positive in content. It does not mean, however, that identically the same rules of law should be made applicable to all persons or that every law must have a universal application within the country irrespective of differences in circumstances, situations and Constitutions.
What it means is subjection to equal laws applying to all in the same situation. It denotes equal treatment in equal circumstances. It implies that among equal, the law should be equal and equally administered, and the like should be treated alike without discrimination of race, religion, caste, sex, place of birth or political influence, etc.
But we know that every person is not born in equal circumstances or conditions. The legislature is required to deal with diverse problems arising out of infinite variety of human relations and therefore it must have the power of making laws to attain particular objects and for that purpose it must have the power of classification of persons and things upon which its laws have to operate. It means that the legislature is entitled to make reasonable classification for purposes of legislature and treat all in one class on equal footing. Classification to be reasonable should fulfil the following two tests:
(1) It should not be arbitrary. It should be based on an intelligible differential which distinguishes persons or things grouped together in the class from others left out of it. The classification should be based on some real and substantial distinction.
(2) The differentiation adopted as a basis of classification must have a rationed or reasonable relationship to the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question. In fact, public welfare requires that persons, property and occupations be classified and be subjected to different and appropriate legislation.
The Government has to encounter and must deal with the problems which come from persons in an infinite variety of relations. Classification is the recognition of the relations and in making it the Legislature is allowed wide latitude of discretion and judgment.
The consequences of such classification would undoubtedly be to differentiate persons belonging to that class from others.
Classification may be geographical or vocational. It is, however, necessary that there must be substantial basis for making the classification and a nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the statute under consideration.
Article 14 guarantees equal protection not only as regards substantive laws but also procedural laws. Whether a classification adopted by a law is reasonable or not, is a matter for the courts to decide. The Courts, however, show a good deal of deference to legislative judgment and do not lightly hold a classification to be unreasonable.
The true meaning and scope of Article 14 have been explained by the Supreme Court in a number of cases like Ameerunisa Begum v. Mahboob Begum, AIR 1953 S.C. 91, R.C. Cooper v. Union of India, AIR 1970 S.C. 564, R.K. Garg v. Union of India, AIR 1981 S.C. 2138, and Air India v. Nargesh Miija, AIR 1981 S.C. 1829, etc. But the principle as laid down by Das J. in R.K. Dalmia v. Justice TenduUcar, 1958 S.C. 538 about the true import of Article 14, are still held to be valid for classification.
These principles 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 but not applicable to others, that single individual may be treated as a class by himself.
(2) There is always a presumption in favor 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) It must be presumed that legislature understands and correctly appreciates the need of its own people, that laws are directed to problem, made manifest by experience and that its discriminations are based on adequate ground.
(4) The Legislature is free to recognise degrees of harm and may confine its restriction to those cases where the need is deemed clearest.
(5) In order to sustain the presumption of constitutionality the court may take into consideration matters of common knowledge, matters of common report, and the history of times and may assume every State of facts which can be conceived existing at the time of legislation.
(6) While good faith and knowledge of the existing conditions on the part of the legislature are to be presumed, if there is nothing on the face of law or the surrounding circumstances brought to the notice of the court on which the classification may be reasonably regarded as based, the presumption of constitutionality cannot be carried to the extent of always, holding that there must be some undisclosed and unknown reasons for subjecting certain individuals or corporations hostile or discriminating legislation.
(7) The classification may be made on different basis, e.g., geographical or according to objects or occupations or the like.
(8) The classification made by a legislature need not be scientifically perfect or logically complete. Mathematical nicety and perfect equality are not required.
(9) Article 14 applies to both, the discrimination of the substantive law as well as procedural law. If the classification satisfies the above propositions, the law will be declared constitutional.
(10) The legislature is free to recognise degrees of harm and may confine its restrictions to those cases where the need is deemed to be the clearest.