The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
The word ‘discrimination’ means to make an adverse distinction or to distinguish unfavourable from others. For example, In Nainsukhdas vs State of U.P. a law which provided for elections on the basis of separate electorates for members of different religious communities was held to be unconstitutional.
The word ‘only’ used in Article 15(1) indicates that discrimination cannot be made merely on the grounds that one belongs to a particular caste, sex, etc. It follows from this that discrimination on grounds other than religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth is not prohibited. It means that discrimination based on any of these grounds and also on other grounds is not hit by Article 15(1). In D.P. Joshi vs State of M.B., a rule of the State Medical College requiring a capitation fee from non-Madhya Bharat Students for admission in the college was held valid as the ground of exemption was residence and not place of birth.
Inter-Relation of Articles 14 and 15
Articles 14 and 15 are all different facets of the concept of equality. These Articles guarantee equality of opportunity and of treatment to all the citizens in different forms, while specifically mandating that the State shall not discriminate against the citizens only on the grounds of religion, race, etc.However, while prohibiting discrimination against citizens, neither of these Articles, prohibit reasonable classification, an essential content of equality.
Thus, as in Article 14, as well in Article 15(1), if it is demonstrated that special treatment is meted out to a class of citizens, not only on the ground of religion, etc., but due to some special reasons and circumstances, the enquiry would be “does such a classification stand the test of reasonableness.”
So, Gujarat High Court in Adam Chaki v. Government of India, upheld the pre-matric Scholarship Scheme, made by the Government for students of minority community as not violative of Article 15. The Scheme involved grant of scholarship to class of citizens found to be socially, educationally, and economically disadvantaged on account of their minority status.
The Court said that even if constitutionality of the Scheme could not be upheld on the anvil of Article 15(4), the same satisfied the test of reasonable classification.
It is a specific application of the general prohibition contained in Clause (1). It says that no citizen shall be subjected to any disability, liability, restriction, or condition on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth with regard to
- Access to shops, public restaurants, hotels, and places of public entertainment; and
- The use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly by State funds or dedicated to the use of the public.
While clause (1) of Article 15 prohibits discrimination by the State but clause (2) prohibits both the State and private individuals from making any discrimination.
There are three exceptions to this general rule of non-discrimination which are discussed in the upcoming clauses.
It says, ‘Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children’. For example, women workers can be given special maternity relief and free education for children.
In Joseph Shine vs Union of India, 2018 case, the Supreme Court in a five Judge Bench held Section 497 of I.P.C. penalising the adultery violative of Articles 14, 15(1) and 21 of the Constitution of India and not a beneficial legislation covered by Article 15(3) of the Constitution. Adultery can be grounds for civil issues including dissolution of marriage, but it cannot be a criminal offence. The Bench had also held that Section 198 (2) of the CrPC, which gave the cuckolded husband the exclusive right to prosecute his wife’s lover, was manifestly Section 198 (2) of the CrPC arbitrary.
It says that ‘Nothing in this article or clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. Article 15(4) is another exception to clauses (1), (2) of Article 15, which was inserted by the constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951, due to the decision in State of Madras vs Champakam Dorairajan, 1951.
Article 15(4) an enabling provision
In M.R. Balaji vs State of Mysore, 1963 the Supreme Court held that the provisions made in clause (4) of Article 15 is only an enabling provision and does not impose any obligation on the State to take any special action under it. It merely confers a discretion to act if necessary, by way of making special provision for backward classes.
Article 15(4) and reservation
In Gulson Prakash vs State of Haryana, 2010, the Supreme Court held that a writ cannot be issued to the State to make reservation. The principle behind Article 15(4) is that a preferential treatment can be given validly where socially, and educationally backward classes need it. It is not an exception but only makes a special application of the principle of reasonable classification. The class contemplated under the clause must be both socially and educationally backward. Thus, under clause (4) of Article 15, two things are to be determined:
- Socially and educationally backward classes.
- The limit of reservation
Determining Socially and Educationally Backward class:
- P Rajendran vs State of Madras: Backwardness based on Caste solely.
- KC Vasanth Kumar vs State of Karnataka: Both caste and Poverty is a relevant criterion in determining the backwardness of citizens. Occupations and place of habitation may be counted.
- Indira Sawhney vs UOI: Caste can be important and sole factor in determining the backwardness.
- National legal service authority vs UOI: In case of Jat Reservation, The Division Bench of the Court strongly advised the Government to gradually discard “the caste-centric definition of backward” and evolve new practices, methods and yardsticks to discover and address emerging forms of backwardness.
Define the limit of reservation:
Indra Sawhney vs Union of India
- Barring the extraordinary circumstances, the maximum limit can’t be more than 50%.
- The classification of Backward Classes into “Backward” and More Backward” not only permissible but essential. The Court while discharging explained that the object of the special provision contained in the Constitution was not to uplift a few individuals and families in the Backward Classes, but to ensure the advancement of the Backward Classes as a whole. In this respect, Balaji decision” stands overruled.
Later, the Apex Court in A.P.B.C. Sangh v. J.S.V. Federation, held the amalgamation of extremely Backward Classes and Backward into one group as tantamount to treating categories unequal as equals and hence violative of Article 14.
The Constitution (93rd Amendment) Act, 2005, inserted clause (5) in Article 15 with effect from 2006 to nullify the effect of the judgments of the Supreme Court on the point of admission in educational institutions. It provides that, “ Nothing in this Article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of Article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of Article 30”.
Pramati Educational and Cultural Trust vs Union of India
This case deals with the constitutional validity of clause (5) of Article 15. The Supreme Court held that None of the rights under Articles 14, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution had been abrogated by Clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution and the view taken by Bhandari, J. in Ashok Kumar Thakur v. Union of India that the imposition of reservation on unaided institutions by the Ninety third Amendment has abrogated Article 19(1)(g), a basic feature of the Constitution is not correct. Instead, the Court held that the (Ninety-third Amendment) Act, 2005 of the Constitution inserting Clause (5) of Article 15 of the Constitution was valid.
The Constitution (One Hundred and third Amendment) Act, 2019 has inserted clause (6) in Article 15 which is as follows: Nothing in this article or sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of Article 19 or clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making:
- Any special provision for the advancement of any economically weaker sections of citizens other than the class mentioned in clauses (4) and (5); and
- Any special provision for the advancement of any economically weaker sections of citizens other than the classes mentioned in clause (4) and (5) in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of Article 30, which in the case of reservation would be in addition to the existing reservations and subject to a maximum of ten percent of the total seats in each category.
Note: For the purposes of this article and Article 16, “economically weaker sections” shall be such as may be notified by the State from time to time on the basis of family income and other indicators of economic disadvantage.