In the case of “Indira Sawhney Vs. Union of India, AIR 2000 SC71, held that Equality which is enshrined in Article 14 is a part of basic structure of the Constitution of India.
Article 14 Equality before law states – The state will not deny the equality within the territory of india.
Two important phrases in this article are :-
- Equality before law
- Equal protection of laws.
- Equality before law :- It implies the absence of any special privilege in favour of any person. The phrase ‘Equality before law’ is termed as a negative concept thanks to absence of any privileges. It ensures that everyone is equal before law, whether they are Prime Minister or a Common man or a Clerk. This expression owes its origin to the English Common Law.
- Equal protection of laws :- It implies that the identical laws shall apply to any or all who are similarly situated, which is all persons who are within the same circumstances are going to be governed by the identical set of rules. It guarantee the equal treatment which is ‘like should be treated alike’. This expression owes its origin to the Constitution of America.
Both the expression ‘Equality before the law’ and Equal protection of laws’ seems to be identical but in fact they mean different things. “Equality before law” is substantive part, and “Equal protection of law” is procedural security. Substantive can not be arbitrary and discriminatory whereas Procedural law cannot go against Natural Justice and cannot be unfair, unjust and unreasonable.
The word ‘law’ in the expression “equality before law” means law in general sense whereas the same word in the expression “equal protection of laws” denotes specific laws.
Article 14 of the Constitution of India does not guarantee absolute equality. It does not provide that all law must be uniform. It actually ensures equality amongst equals.
Article 14 of Constitution prefer the use of reasonable classification rather than class legislation. But the classification must not be ‘arbitrary, artificial or evasive’ in nature. It must be a reasonable classification resting upon reasonable grounds of distinction. The Classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia and that differentia (selection) must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question.
Article 14 embodies a guarantee against arbitrariness. The court in Maneka Gandhi Vs. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 598 held that ‘reasonableness’ is embodied in equality clause of Article 14 and it strikes at arbitrariness in state action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment.
The underlying principle of Article 14 is that every person similarly circumstanced should be treated alike both in privileges conferred and liabilities imposed.