Important Cases on Article 14 of Constitution of India



In this article I have talked about the Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which gives every citizen of India a Fundamental Right to Equality as it reads “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”

Article 14 when read with other Articles as stated by the Supreme court in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[1], where it was said that “various fundamental rights must be read together and must overlap and fertilize each other”, following this Article 14 along with Article 15 of the Indian Constitution provides fundamental Right to Protection against “discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth” to Indian Citizen, when read with Article 16 it provides fundamental “Right to Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment”, when read with Article 17 of the Indian Constitution it provides for right against ‘Untouchability’, when read with Article 18 it provides fundamental right of “Abolition of titles” by the state unless academic or military.

Article 14 can be said to confer two types of individual rights on the citizens. First is Positive right of equal protection of law as derived from American Constitution and negative right of equality before law as derived from British Constitution as was explained by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Shayara Bano v. Union of India[2].

Further Article 14 can be said to be founding principle in enabling the concept of Justice. Thus in this Article I have tried to explain what Article 14 actually means and its practical application through various Case laws and as decided by the Constitutional Bench of Hon’ble Supreme court.

Moreover as said by B.R. Ambedkar “Equality may be a fiction but nonetheless one must accept it as the governing principle.[3]” Article 14 is its constitutional epitome.

1. Shayara Bano v. Union of India[4]

Coram- 5 Judges

Chief Justice of India Jagdish Singh, Justice Kurian Joseph, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice Uday Lalit, Justice J.Abdul Nazeer.

Facts: In this case a Muslim woman named Shayara Bano was married to a Muslim man named Rizwan Ahmed for fifteen years. In 2016 Rizwan Ahmed divorced Shayara Bano by invoking talaq-e-biddat, popularly known as triple talaq. She challenge his act in the Supreme court through a writ petition through which she urged that Talaq e biddat, polygamy and Nikah Halala, three acts legalized by Muslim Personal law should be declared as unconstitutional as they are violative of Fundamental rights of Muslim Women as grated to them under Article 14 and Article 15. Her petition was taken up by a constitutional bench of five judges by the Supreme court and it was supported by the Union of India, several Women Rights organizations and Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. The Opposite party in this case was The All India Muslim Personal Law Board which said that Uncodified Personal laws are not subject to Constitutional Judicial review.

Issue: Whether the practice of Talaq-e-biddat is violative of Fundamental rights such as Article 14 and Article 15 of the Indian Muslim women?

Arguments :

Petitioner (Represented by Senior Advocate Amit Chadha.):

1. Quran permits dic=vorce for reasonable cause however Triple Talaq was being abused by Muslim men and thus has no Quranic sanction.

2. An uncodified power allocating arbitrary pwers to Muslim men is against Justice and Articlee and Article 15 of the Indian Constitution.

Respondent (Represented by Mr. Kapil Sibal.):

1. Muslim marriage is a private contract and hence can’t be changed by the State government.

2. Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) application act, 1937 doesn’t codify its customary laws but only provides for its application as a rule of decision in cases where parties are Muslim and hence are not subject to Judicial review or State legislation.

3. It would be violation of freedom to practice religion under Article 15 clause 2 if a Personal customary practice of a particular religion was to be abolished while allowing other religions to materialize their own.

4. Personal laws doesn’t come under the definition of law of Article as it in’t expressly mentioned there however it has been expressly mentioned in Concurrent list thus showing the mindset of our constitutional faters whon wanted to exclude Personal laws from ambit of Article 13.

Judgment: By a 3:2 majority, the practice of triple talaq was declared unconstitutional.

While reaching the above Judgment the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the above case gave a in depth analysis of Article 14 stating:

  • Article 14 of the Constitution of India is a facet of equality of status and opportunity spoken of in the Preamble to the Constitution. The Article naturally divides itself into two parts—(1) equality before the law, and (2) the equal protection of the law.”
  • Also talked about “intelligible classification” of subjects under Article 14 as was discussed in State of U.P. v. Deoman Upadhyaya[5]
  • However Lachhman Dass v. State of Punjab[6] was also noted which satted that “overemphasis on Reasonable classification” will subdue Article 14’s glorious contentand hence referred to it as a “subsidiary rule.”
  • “If an action is found to be arbitrary and, therefore, unreasonable, it would negate the equal protection of the law contained in Article 14 and would be struck down on this ground.”
  • Along with many other cases Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[7]  was also referred to where it was observed that “Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in State action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment.”

2. Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India[8]

Facts: In 2009 in NAZ foundation v. N.C.T of Delhi[9] – Delhi High court declared Section 377 of IPC as unconstitutional which was challenged in 2014 In Suresh Kumar Kaushal v. NAZ foundation[10] in Indian Supreme Court (SC) which was overturned by a two Judge bench. The SC judgment was again challenged in 2016 in Navtej Singh Johar v. UOI and was presided over by a five Judge bench of SC. In this case the petitioner, Navtej Singh Johar was a dancer who belonged to LGBTQ community who filed a writ petition in SC under Article 32.

Issue: Constitutional validity of Section 377 of IPC and its application in consensual sexual conduct of adults of the same sex in private and whether it is violative of right of equal protection by law under Article 14?

LawIndian Constitution

Article 14= Right to equality before the law.

Article 21 = Right to life.

Article 15= Right to protection from discrimination on the ground of sex.

Article 19= Freedom of Expression.

Article 25= Freedom of conscience and religion.

Indian Penal code:

Section 377

Analysis: Section 377 of IPC was found to be violative of Article 21, 14, 15, 19 and 25 of Indian constitution by relying on principle of Transformative Constitutionalism and Progressive realization of rights.

Judgment: Section 377 was declared Unconstitutional by a bench of then acting Chief justice Dipak Mishra, J. Khanwilkar, J. Nariman, J. Chandrachud and J. Malhotra. Five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously decriminalized Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, to the extent that it criminalized same-sex relations between consenting adults. The LGBT community has a choice of choosing the same sex partner legally. The above segment of Section 377 was held to be unconstitutional and violative of Article 14 and Article 15 -right to equality in law and right to equality on the ground of sex. 

3. Indian Young lawyers association and ors. v. State of Kerala and ors.[11]

 Facts: This case was filed in 2006 by the Indian Young Lawyer’s Association through public interest litigation (PIL) before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. The case deals with the Entry of menstruating women between the age of 10 years to 50 years in the Sabarimala Temple. The petitioners claimed that the practice was violative of Equal protection of law under Article 14 and there was discrimination on the basis of sex and hence was violative of Article 15. The Sabarimala Temple is situated in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District, Kerala. This temple is famous for Lord Ayyappa.

Issue: Whether the exclusionary practice based on biological factor of different sex against females amount to “discrimination” and if it is violative of Article 14, Article 15 and Article 17 of the Indian Constitution?

Judgment: By a majority of 4:1, of the 5 judge constitutional bench, the Supreme Court declared the Sabarimala Temple’s custom of not allowing mensurating women from entering the temple premises as unconstitutional.

Ratio Decidendi:

“Having guaranteed equality before the law and the equal protection of laws in Article 14, the draftspersons specifically continued the theme of an equal entitlement as an intrinsic element of the freedom of conscience and of the right to profess, practice and propagate religion.”

“While guaranteeing equality and the equal protection of laws in Article 14 and its emanation, in Article 15, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, the Constitution does not condition these basic norms of equality to the other provisions of Part III.”

Thus clearly stating that rights under Article 25(1) is not an absolute right and can be practiced but in conferment and confirmation of equal treatment of every individual without discrimination.

4. M. Nagaraj v. Union of India [12]

Facts: This case was dealt with by a five judge constitutional bench by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on the issue of “reservation in promotion” in light of principles of Constitutional law. In this case the insertion of Arts. 16 (4A) and 16 (4B) by the Indian Parliament via Constitution (Eighty-fifth Amendment) Act, 2001, which inserted Article 16 (4A) retrospectively for being against the rule of equality, the basic structure doctrine and the judgment in the case of Indra Sawhney and Ors v. U.O.I.[13]

Issue: Whether Article 16(4A) and 16(4 B) were violative of Article 14 and thus the basic structure doctrine?

Judgment: The constitutional validity of arts. 16 (4A) and (4B) were upheld and thus, 77th, 81st, and 85th amendments were upheld to be constitutional. The Court observed that while the doctrine of equality was a part of the basic structure doctrine, the rule that prevented conferring seniority was not one and thus, the doctrine of basic structure could not be attracted.

The Court stated that State is not bound to make reservation for SCs and STs in promotion but if it intends to do so, it must provide relevant data.

While coming to the above conclusion Hon’ble Supreme court in detail speculated and discussed Article 14 in the Obiter dicta and Ratio Decidendi of this case and it was stated as-

Role of enabling provisions in the context of Article 14

In Para 106- “The gravamen of Article 14 is equality of treatment. Article 14 confers a personal right by enacting a prohibition which is absolute. By judicial decisions, the doctrine of classification is read into Article 14. Equality of treatment under Article 14 is an objective test. It is not the test of intention. Therefore, the basic principle underlying Article 14 is that the law must operate equally on all persons under like circumstances. (emphasis added) Every discretionary power is not necessarily discriminatory. According to the Constitutional Law of India, by H.M. Seervai, 4th Edn., p. 546, equality is not violated by mere conferment of discretionary power. It is violated by arbitrary exercise by those on whom it is conferred. This is the theory of “guided power”. This theory is based on the assumption that in the event of arbitrary exercise by those on whom the power is conferred, would be corrected by the courts. This is the basic principle behind the enabling provisions which are incorporated in Articles 16(4-A) and 16(4-B). Enabling provisions are permissive in nature. They are enacted to balance equality with positive discrimination. The constitutional law is the law of evolving concepts. Some of them are generic, others have to be identified and valued. The enabling provisions deal with the concept, which has to be identified and valued as in the case of access vis-à-vis efficiency which depends on the fact situation only and not abstract principle of equality in Article 14 as spelt out in detail in Articles 15 and 16. Equality before the law, guaranteed by the first part of Article 14, is a negative concept while the second part is a positive concept which is enough to validate equalising measures depending upon the fact situation.”

In Para 118. “The concept of equality allows differential treatment but it prevents distinctions that are not properly justified. Justification needs each case to be decided on case-to-case basis.

5. State of West Bengal v Anwar Ali Sarkar[14]

Facts: In this case, in the State of West Bengal by the West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950 enacted by State legislature special Courts were set up by the State government Under Section 3 and Section 5 provided these courts power to try certain class of offences for achieving speedier trial. Through this act the State Government arbitrarily tried any individual as it deemed fit and advantageous for its party.

Issue: Whether Section 5 is violative of Article 14 in the absence of any prescribed grounds for classification of such offence which are to be tried by these Special Courts?

Judgment: The Supreme Court held that the West Bengal Special Courts Act, 1950, was unconstitutional as it conferred arbitrary power to the state government to classify classes of offences or any offence as it pleased because there was no specific guideline for classification of such offence. This Act was in violation of Article 14 which grants fundamental right of equality before law to every citizen as this Act enabled the State government to try any individual for any offence through this special court as it pleased.

[1] (1978) 1 SCC 248

[2] (2017) 9 SCC 1

[3] B. R. Ambedkar, Annihilation Of Caste 105 (1936)

[4] (2017) 9 SCC 1

[5] (1961) 1 SCR 1

[6] (1963) 2 SCR 353

[7] (1978) 1 SCC 248

[8] (2018) 10 SCC 1

[9] WP(C) No.7455/2001, DELHI HIGH COURT; Decision on 2 nd July, 2009

[10] CIVIL APPEAL 10972 OF 2013

[11] (2009)11 SCC 1

[12] (2006) 8 SCC 212

[13] AIR 1993 SC 477

[14] 1952 AIR 75 SC

Author- Nalin Kumar, (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies.)

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