Fundamental Right to Equality in India
Meaning of Equality: Equality implies provision for equal opportunities persons for their self-development without any distinction of religion, caste, sex, wealth or status. According to Harold Laski, if there exists in the system of special privileges, the people cannot have any freedom. In India the right to equality has been enshrined in the Constitution.
Right to Equality before the Law and its exceptions:
The Right to Equality has been guaranteed by the Indian Constitution in Articles 14-18. Art. 14 of the Indian Constitution say, “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”.
All are equal before the law. That means, no one can claim any special privilege. Nobody is above the law of the land.
Exceptions: But there are certain exceptions to the principle of ‘equality before the law.
- The president or the Governor of a state is not answerable to any court for exercise and performance of the powers and duties of his office.
- No criminal proceedings can be instituted against the President or a Governor during his term of office.
- The President or a Governor cannot be arrested or imprisoned during his tenure of office. No civil proceedings can be instituted against the President or a Governor during his tenure of office without two months’ written notice.
- Cases cannot be filed in the court against foreign sovereigns, ambassadors and the staff of the foreign embassies.
- In times of war the enemy aliens cannot file cases in the Indian Courts nor can they claim equal opportunities with other prisoners.
- The members of Parliament and the state legislatures enjoy a number of ‘privileges’.
- According to the 44th Constitution (Amendment) Act, 1978, Parliament may, by law, set up Administrative Tribunals for the adjudication of disputes relating to the service of the employees of the government, or of any local or other authority.
Right to Equal Protection of the Laws and its exceptions:
The right to ‘equal protection of the laws’ contained in Art. 14 mean the right to equal treatment of persons in equal circumstances. This does not mean that every law must have universal application for all persons without any consideration of the circumstances. Persons may be classified for legitimate purposes and persons belonging to different categories are to be treated differently. For example, all persons who have income are not required to pay income tax at the same rate. On the basis of the amount of income, persons of different classes have to pay income tax at different rates.
Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex etc. and its exceptions:
According to the Article 15 of Indian Constitution:
- The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them.
- No citizens shall on any of these grounds be deprived of access to shops, public restaurants, hotels, and places of public entertainment or the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of state funds or dedicated to the use of general public. However,
- The State can make special provision for women and children.
- Beside, the State can make special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
Equality of Opportunity in Public Employment and its exceptions:
Article 16 of Indian Constitution ensures equality of opportunity for all citizens in public employment. It is further provided that in case of public employment the State cannot make any discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, sex, descent, place of birth or residence Art. 16.
Exceptions: There are, however, certain exceptions to this rule of equality. These are:
- Parliament can prescribe residential qualification in certain cases of public employment Art. 16 (3).
- The State can reserve posts for backward classes of citizens Art. 16 (4).
- The State can reserve posts in the Government services in matters of promotion for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Art. 16 (4A).
- Offices in a religious or denominational institution may be reserved for members professing the particular religion or belonging to the particular denomination Art. 16 (5).
Abolition of untouchability:
Art. 17 of Indian Constitution declares the abolition of untouchability and prohibit its practice in any form. The enforcement men disability arising out of ‘Untouchability’ shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law (Art. 17).
To implement this constitutional direction Parliament enacted the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955. However, the evil of untouchability still continues to exist in Indian society.
Abolition of titles:
Art. 18 of Constitution of India prevents the State from conferring of title. Besides, no Indian citizen shall accept any title from any foreign state. This is considered to be an important step towards the establishment of social equality in India.
Only the conferment of military or academic distinctions is allowed. Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri and other State awards are not regarded as titles.
The Right to equality embodied in the Constitution can undoubtedly be regarded as a firm step towards the establishment of democracy in India. But it must also be remembered that the citizens of India have not been given the right to equality in the economic field. Indeed, without economic equality, formation of democratic society is as impossible and ridiculous to build a castle in the air.