Varying needs of different classes of persons often require separate treatment. In fact, equal treatment in unequal circumstances would amount to inequality. Therefore, reasonable classification is not only permitted but it is necessary if the society is to progress.
Equality is for equals, that is to say, those who are equally circumstanced, are entitled to an equal treatment. The guarantee of equality does not imply that the same rules should be made applicable to all persons in spite of differences in their circumstance and conditions.
In Chircmjeet Lai v. Union of India, AIR 1951 S.C. 41, it was held that a single individual may be considered as a class in special circumstances.
Ordinarily, a legislation pertaining to a single person would not be valid unless it was possible for the court to discern the special circumstances differentiating that particular person from the rest. Such an Act will, however, be bad if it can be established that other persons having the same attributes, have not been included within the scope of the Act and that only a single person has been made the target though many exist in the same position.
If a classification is discernible in the Act, a presumption arises in favor of its constitutionality, but the person affected may show that while there are others having the same differentiating attributes as he, only he is covered by the Act and not others and then the Act will be void.
In Viklad Coal Merchant v. Union of India, (1984) 1 S.C.C. 620, it was held that Government is a class by itself and coal consignment to it is presumed to be in public interest.
Therefore, it can very well be said that preferences given to government against private traders in allotment of wagons for transporting coal was not discriminatory, hence not volatile of Article 14.
What Article 14 forbids is class-legislation. But it does not prohibit reasonable classification. However, the classification should not be arbitrary. It must rest upon some real and substantial distinction having some relationship which is reasonable to the things in respect of which the classification is sought to be made. Classification to be reasonable must fulfill the following two conditions:
(1) The classification must be founded on an Intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group; and
(2) The differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Act.
The classification can be based on the basis of geography or any other objects or occupations. It has been held In Shashi Mohan v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1958 S.C. 194.
In R.K. Garg v. Union of India, AIR 1981 S.C. 2138, the Supreme Court held that classification made by the Act between persons having black money and persons not having black money, is based on intelligible differentia having rational relation with the object of the Act.
In this case Section 3 of the Special Bearer Bonds (Immunities and Exemptions) Act, 1981, grants certain Immunities to persons who have invested his unaccountable money in the Special Bearer Bonds. They are not required to disclose the nature and source of acquisition of the Special Bearer Bonds. The Supreme Court rejected the contention that the classification is arbitrary rather held the Act valid.
In Nishi Maghu v. State of J. & K., AIR 1980 S.C. 1975, the Supreme Court held that a classification made on the basis of regional imbalance is vague and volatile of Article 14.
In a series of cases, the validity of several State laws creating special courts to deal with the problems of law and order has been questioned. The special court functions according to a procedure which is less elaborate and formal and hence less favourable to the accused than the ordinary criminal procedure.
A law creating special courts can, therefore, be sustained only if it makes a reasonable classification either of the offences or the persons triable by the special courts. Difficulties usually arise when the law establishing these courts fails to do so itself and instead leaves it to the government to decide this matter.
In such a situation, the courts have held that the law would not be invalid if it does not lay down the policy or principle to regulate and control administrative discretion to decide which cases, offences or persons would be triable by these courts.
In Prabhakar Rao vs. State of A.P., AIR 1983 S.C. 210, the A. P. Government reduced the age of superannuation of its employees from 58 to 55 by A.P. Public Employment (Regulation of Age of Superannuation) Act, 1984, as amended by the Act of 1985.
But soon after this, the government realised that serious injustice has been made to its employees and reversed its decision and substituted 58 to 55 years. The employees, who had retired during this period after having attained the age of 55 years, were deprived of the benefit of the higher age of superannuation.
It was held that the action of the government was arbitrary and discriminatory and violative of Article 14. There was, however, no reason to pick out a class of persons who deserved the same treatment from the benefits.
In Bhagwantl v. Union of India, AIR 1989 S.C. 2038, it has been held that classification between marriage during service and after retirement for the purpose of giving family pension is arbitrary and violative of Article 14.
Pension is payable on the consideration of past services rendered by the government servants. Same consideration applies to family pension. So there is no justification to keep post-retirement marriage out of the purview of the definition of the term “family” in Pension Rule.
In Mewa Ram vs. All India Medical Service, AIR 1989 S.C. 1256, it has been held that although the doctrine of equal pay for equal work is an accepted goal of the Constitution, yet it is not an absolute principle and it is open to the State to prescribe different scales of pay for different posts having regard to educational qualifications, duties and responsibilities of the post. Equality must be among equals. Un equals cannot claim equality.