Art 14 of the Constitution which states that “the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. The meaning and scope of this Article has been fully discussed in the case of ‘Chiranjit Lal v. The Union of India, 1950 S C R 869, and the principles laid down in that case may be summarized as follows:
“1. The presumption is always in favour of the constitutionality of an enactment, since it must be assumed that the legislature understands and correctly appreciates the needs of its own people, that its laws are directed to problems made manifest by experience and its discriminations are based on adequate grounds.
2. The presumption may be rebutted in certain cases by showing that on the face of the statute, there is no Classification at all 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.
3. The principle of equality does not mean that every law must have universal application for all persons who are not by nature, attainment or circumstances in the same position, and the varying needs of different Classes of persons often require separate treatment.
4. The principle does not take away from the State the power of Classifying persons for legitimate purposes.
5. Every Classification is in some degree likely to produce some inequality, and mere production of inequality is not enough.
6. If a law deals equally with members of a well defined Class, it is not obnoxious and it is not open to the charge of denial of equal protection on the ground that it has no application to other persons.
7. While reasonable Classification is permissible, such Classification must be based upon some real and substantial distinction bearing a reasonable and must relation to the object sought to be attained, and the Classification cannot be made arbitrarily and without any substantial basis.”
Similarly, Professor Wills dealing with the Fourteenth Amendment of the constitution of the United States, which guarantees equal protection of the laws, sums up the law as prevailing in that country in these words;
“The guaranty of the equal protection of the laws means the protection of equal laws. It forbids Class legislation, but does not forbid Classification which rests upon reasonable grounds of distinction. It does not prohibit legislation, which is limited either in the objects to which it is directed or by the territory within which it is to operate. ‘It merely requires that all persons subjected to such legislation shall be treated alike under like circumstances and conditions both in the privileges conferred and in the liabilities imposed’. ‘The inhibition of the amendment was designed to prevent any person or Class of persons from being singled out as a special subject for discriminating and hostile legislation. It does not take from the states the power to Classify either in the adoption of police laws or tax laws, or eminent domain laws, but permits to them the exercise of a wide scope of discretion, and nullities what they do only when it is without any reasonable basis. Mathematical nicety and perfect equality are not required. Similarly, not identity of treatment, is enough. If any state of facts can reasonably be conceived to sustain a Classification, the existence of that state of facts must be assumed. One who assails a Classification must carry the burden of showing that it does not rest upon any reasonable basis.” (constitution and Law, by Prof. Willis, (Edn. 1, p. 578).
F. N. Balsara – AIR 1951 SC 318 : (1951) SCR 682 : (1951) CriLJ SC 1361
Read more: Scope of Art. 14 of the Indian Constitution