The Punjab & Haryana High Court’s recent decision striking down the Haryana State Employment of Local Candidates Act, 2020, which enforced a 75% domicile reservation for locals in private sector jobs, has invoked significant discussions around the constitutional principles of equality, non-discrimination, and securing equal opportunities for all in public employment.
The High Court bench comprising Justice G.S. Sandhawalia and Justice Harpreet Kaur Jeewan, while adjudicating on a batch of petitions challenging the said law, declared it unconstitutional, citing violations of the fundamental rights enshrined under Articles 14, 15, and 16 of the Indian Constitution.
Article 14: Equality Before the Law
Article 14 embodies the principle of equality before the law and ensures equal protection of laws within the Indian territory. This fundamental right prohibits arbitrary discrimination and mandates equality in treatment under similar circumstances.
Article 15: Prohibition of Discrimination
Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. It mandates that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on these grounds while providing access to public places, employment opportunities, or educational institutions.
Article 16: Equality of Opportunity in Public Employment
Article 16 focuses on securing equal opportunities in public employment. It prohibits discrimination based on factors such as religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, and residence, and ensures equality in matters of employment under the State.
The High Court adjudicated four primary issues:
The Court ruled in favor of the petitioners on all four issues, asserting that the Haryana State Employment of Local Candidates Act, 2020, was violative of the Constitution’s Part III, dealing with fundamental rights.
The Act, introduced to address the influx of migrants competing for low-paid jobs, aimed to reserve 75% of private sector jobs for local candidates in Haryana, having a salary of less than Rs30,000 per month. However, the Court opined that this legislation was unconstitutional, stating that it encroached upon the fundamental rights of private employers, particularly under Articles 19, 14, and 16 of the Constitution.
The petitioners, including the Faridabad Industries Association, argued that the Act infringed upon the fundamental right to carry out trade and business, as well as the principles of justice, equality, liberty, and fraternity enshrined in the Constitution’s Preamble. The Act, they contended, was against the right to equality and represented a threat to the unity and integrity of the nation.
The High C’urt’s judgment follows an earlier stay on the Act, subsequently set aside by the Supreme Court. The apex court had urged the High Court to expedite the case’s resolution and shield private employers from any coercive action until the final verdict.
The legal proceedings involved multiple legal representatives advocating for petitioners and respondents, emphasizing the critical constitutional aspects surrounding equality, non-discrimination, and fundamental rights.
The High Court’s decision reiterates the foundational principles of equality, non-discrimination, and the importance of upholding constitutional guarantees, especially concerning employment opportunities and individual rights under the Indian Constitution.