Article 14 of the Indian Constitution (intelligible differentia and the the object sought to be achieved)
Equality is one the magnificent corner stones of the Indian Democracy. Article 14 guarantees to every person the right to equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws. The first expression is a declaration of equality of all persons within territory of India, implying thereby the absence of any privilege in favour of any individual. The second one directs that equal protection shall be secured to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction of the union in the enjoyment of their rights and privileges without favouritism or discrimination. The guiding principle of this Article is that all persons and things similarly circumstanced shall be treated alike both in respect of privileges conferred and liabilities imposed. Equality before the law, means that amongst equals should be equal and equally administered and that like should be treated alike. Hence what it forbids is discrimination between persons who are substantially in similar circumstances or conditions. It does not forbid different treatment of unequals. The rule is rather that like should be treated alike and that unlike should be treated differently. As a matter of fact all persons are not alike or equal in all respects. Application of the same laws uniformly to all of them will, therefore, be inconsistent with the principal of equality. To avoid that situation laws must distinguish between those who are equals and to whom they must apply and those who are different and to whom they should not apply.
It is now accepted that persons may be classified into groups and such groups may be treated differently if there is a reasonable basis for such difference. Article 14 forbids class legislation; it does not forbid classification or differentiation which rests upon reasonable grounds of distinction. The principle of equality does not mean that every law must have universal application to all the persons who are not by nature, attainment or circumstances in the same position. The varying needs of different classes of persons require different treatment. In order to pass the test for permissible classification two conditions must be fulfilled, namely: (1) the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group, and (2) the differentia must have a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question.
What is however necessary is that there must be a substantial basis for making the classification and the there should be a nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the statute under consideration. In other words, there must be some rational nexus between the basis of classification and the object intended to achieved.
The expression “intelligible differentia” means difference capable of being understood. A factor that distinguishes or in different state or class from another which is capable of being understood. The impugned act deals with users of social networking websites Test laid down in State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar i.e. the differentia or classification must have a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the statute in questionSupreme Court in many of its judgment has clearly indicated about such kinds of classifications as vague and inoperative. The Supreme Court in landmark judgment of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India clearly ruled out the room for arbitrariness. ‘Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in State action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment. The principle of reasonableness, which logically as well as philosophically, is an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness, pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence.’ Rule of law which permeates the entire fabric of the Indian Constitution excludes arbitrariness. Wherever we find arbitrariness or unreasonableness there is denial there is denial of rule of law.
This new dimension of Art.14 transcends the classificatory principle. Art.14 is no longer to be equated with the principle of classification. It is primarily a guarantee against arbitrariness in state action and the doctrine of classification has been evolved only as a subsidiary rule for testing whether a particular state action is arbitrary or not. If a law is arbitrary or irrational it would fall foul of Art.14. As an example, it has been held that any penalty disproportionate to the gravity of the misconduct would be violative of Art.14. So the impugned act should be tested at the touchstone of Art. 13(2) and should be declared invalid.
Article 14 Permits Classification But Prohibits Class Legislation
The equal protection of laws guaranteed by Article 14 does not mean that all laws must be general in character. It does not mean that the same laws should apply to all persons. It does not attainment or circumstances in the same position. The varying need of different classes of persons often requires separate treatment. From the very nature of society there should be different laws in different places and the legitimate controls the policy and enacts laws 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 only not permitted but is necessary if society is to progress.
Thus what Article 14 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 14 applies where equals are treated differently without any reasonable basis. But where equals and unequal are treated differently, Article 14 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 favored 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 14 forbids class legislation it does not forbid reasonable classification of persons, objects, and transactions by the legislature for the purpose of achieving specific ends. But classification must not be “arbitrary, artificial or evasive”. It must always rest upon some real upon some real and substantial distinction bearing a just and reasonable relation to the object sought to be achieved by the legislation. Classification to be reasonable must fulfill the following two conditions
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 Article 14 have been explained in a number of cases by the supreme court. In view of this the propositions laid down in Damia 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 understand 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 reasonable be regarded as based, the presumption of constitutionality cannot be carried to 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.