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INTERPLAY BETWEEN ARTICLE – 14, Article – 15(1) & 15(4), Article – 16(1), 16(4)

Article 14 of the Constitution of India reads as under: “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 said Article is clearly in two parts – while it commands the State not to deny to any person ‘equality before law’, it also commands the State not to deny the ‘equal protection of the laws’. Equality before law prohibits discrimination. It is a negative concept. The concept of ‘equal protection of the laws’ requires the State to give special treatment to persons in different situations in order to establish equality amongst all. It is positive in character. Therefore, the necessary corollary to this would be that equals would be treated equally, whilst un-equals would have to be treated unequally

Article 15 secures the citizens from every sort of discrimination by the State, on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth or any of them. However, this Article does not prevent the State from making any special provisions for women or children. Further, it also allows the State to extend special provisions for socially and economically backward classes for their advancement. It applies to the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) as well.

Article 16 assures equality of opportunity in matters of public employment and prevents the State from any sort of discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them. This Article also provides the autonomy to the State to grant special provisions for the backward classes, under-represented States, SC & ST for posts under the State. Local candidates may also be given preference is certain posts. Reservation of posts for people of a certain religion or denomination in a religious or denominational institution will not be deemed illegal.

Articles 14, 15 and 16 form part of a scheme of the Constitutional Right to Equality. Article 15 and 16 are incidents of guarantees of Equality, and give effect to Article 14.

However, initially, Articles 15(4) and 16(4) were considered exceptions to Articles 15(1) and 16(1).

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, in G.M. Southern Railways v. Rangachari, AIR 1962 SC  held Article 15(4) of the Constitution of India to be an exception to Article 15(1). The relevant portion is reproduced hereunder:

“Article 15(4) which provides, inter alia, for an exception to the prohibition of discrimination on grounds specified in Article 15(1) lays down that nothing contained in the said Article 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”

It was further held that Article 16(4) is an exception to Article 16(1):

 “I have already said that it is implicit in the Article that reservation cannot be of all appointments or even of a majority of them, for that would completely destroy the fundamental right enshrined in Article 16(1) to which Article 16(4) is in the nature of a proviso or an exception or at any rate make it practically illusory.”

In M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore, AIR 1963 SC 649, this view was followed, and it was held that: “Thus, there is no doubt that Article 15(4) has to be read as a proviso or an exception to Articles 15(1) and 29(2).”

This view, that Articles 15(4) and 16(4) were exceptions to Articles 15(1) and 16(1), was again reiterated in Triloki Nath v. State of Jammu and Kashmir, AIR 1969 SC 1, and in State of A.P. v. U.S.V. Balram, (1972) 1 SCC 660.

The majority of a 7-Judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas, (1976) 2 SCC 310, introduced a change in the concept of equality. It held that Articles 14, 15, and 16 are all equality rights, and that the scheme of equality sought to achieve real equality. It was held that Articles 15(4) and Article 16(4) are not exceptions to Articles 15(1) and 16(1) respectively. The relevant portions of the majority judgments are reproduced hereunder:

Ray, C.J. held,

Article 16(4) clarifies and explains that classification on the basis of backwardness does not fall within Article 16(2) and is legitimate for the purposes of Article 16(1). If preference shall be given to a particular under-represented community other than a backward class or underrepresented State in an all-India service such a rule will contravene Article 16(2). A similar rule giving preference to an under-represented backward community is valid and will not contravene Articles 14, 16(1) and 16(2). Article 16(4) removes any doubt in this respect.

Mathew, J Held,

I agree that Article 16(4) is capable of being interpreted as an exception to Article 16(1) if the equality of opportunity visualized in Article 16(1) is a sterile one, geared to the concept of numerical equality which takes no account of the social, economic, educational background of the members of Scheduled Castes and scheduled tribes. If equality of opportunity guaranteed under Article 16(1) means effective material equality, then Article 16(4) is not an exception to Article 16(1). It is only an emphatic way of putting the extent to which equality of opportunity could be carried viz., even up to the point of making reservation.

A 9-Judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court settled this issue in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 (Supp) 3 SCC 217, where the majority upheld the principle laid down in Thomas’ case that Articles 15(4) and 16(4) were not exceptions to Articles 15(1) and 16(1), but were an emphatic statement of equality.

Therefore, equality, as guaranteed in our Constitution, not only conceives of providing formal equality but also to provide for real and absolute equality. Articles 14 and 15(1) enable and contemplate classification to achieve the Constitutional Objective of real equality. Articles 15(4) and 16(4) flow out of Articles 15(1) and 16(1) respectively, and can never be considered as exceptions to Article 15(1) and Article 16(1).

Once this is established, that Article 15(4) and 16(4) are not exceptions to the mandate of equality but are concrete measures to bring about the mandate of equality enshrined in Article 14, the effect of this is that the State is obliged to remove inequalities and backwardness. This obligation of the State has its source in the mandate of equality itself under Article 14.


Interplay Between Article 29 and Article 30
Cultural and Educational Rights.
Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution are grouped under the heading “Cultural and Educational rights”. These both Articles protect and guarantee certain collective rights for the minorities to help them preserve their language, religion and culture. These rights also contribute to preserve the rich diversity of the country and give minority a sense of security. Over the decades, the interplay of these two Articles has been the cause of intense debate, Firstly, touching on issues such as secularism and secondly, the degree of control over private educational institutions maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds; on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.
Article 29(1) deal with right of any section of the citizens residing in India to preserve their language, script or culture. In order to invoke Article 29(1), all that is essential is that a section of the citizens, residing in India should have a distinct language, script or culture of its own. If so, then they will have the right to conserve the same.
Article 29(2) prohibits discrimination in matters of admission into educational institutions on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them. This provision guarantees the rights of individual irrespective of the community to which he belongs.
Article 30 (1) provides that all religious and linguistic minorities have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
Article 30(2) prevents States from making any discrimination against any educational institution in granting aid on the ground that it is managed by a religious or linguistic minority.
For the purpose of determining the ‘minority’, the unit will be the State and not the whole of India. Thus, religious and linguistic minorities, which have been placed at par in Art. 30, have to be considered State-wise.
Article 29(1) and article 30(1)
Article 29(1) is not subjected to any reasonable restrictions. The right conferred upon the citizens to conserve their language, Script and culture is made absolute by the Constitution.
From word conservation flows right under article 30(1) that is to open educational institution. And this right is subject to all other fundamental right as well. Decided in TMA pai Foundation case. The right conferred on the minorities by Art. 30(1) is not absolute. It has to be read subject to Art. 29(2) and other fundamental rights. Minority educational institutions thus become divisible into two categories, viz.: aided educational institutions and unaided educational institutions. The unaided institutions enjoy much greater autonomy than aided institutions.
Article 29(2) and Article 30(2)
Article 29(2) is secular in nature meaning in will restrict right to administer educational institution under if state grant is provided, meaning a minority educational institution taking grant under article 30(2) can not discriminate while giving admission and will have to adhere to 29(2) and other fundamental Right. Because of the interplay of Art. 29 (2) with Art. 30(1),
an aided minority institution is entitled to admit students belonging to the minority group. At the same time, it is also required to admit nonminority students to a reasonable extent, whereby the character of the institution is not annihilated, and, at the same time, the rights of the citizen engrafted under Art. 29(2) are not subverted. What would be a ‘reasonable’ extent, would vary from the type of institution, the courses of education for which admission is being sought and other factors like educational needs. It is for the concerned State Government to notify the percentage of non-minority students to be admitted in the light of the above ratio