Doctrine of Equality and Arbitrariness

Equality can be briefly explained as equals to be treated equally and unequal’s to be treated differently. The Indian constitution explains the provision of equality under article 14 to article 18, which explains every possible aspect of equality in relation to Indian society, whereas on the contrary, arbitrariness is a lack of restraints in the use of authority and is based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system. 


Different sides of a coin 

Equality and arbitrariness do not go hand in hand, as they are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic while the other to the whim, and caprice of an absolute monarch. Article 14 states the meaning of equality whereas the doctrine of arbitrariness is evolved by challenging the constitutional validity of Article 14 and Article 16. 

Arbitrariness does consider the quality but is determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle. Equality with some reasonable classifications tends to do justice with the provisions of equality stated but arbitrariness somehow leads to unequal decisions which may contradict the principle of equality. Equality and arbitrariness are antagonists in nature as they are the opposite sides of the same coin. 

Doctrine of arbitrariness 

The doctrine of arbitrariness was evolved in 1974 in a landmark case of “E.P. Royappa V. State of Tamil Nadu” by a bench of Chief Justice Ray, Justice Palekar, Justice Chandrachud, Justice Bhagwati and Justice Krishna Iyer

In brief, this case was filled by E.P. Royappa who was a member of the Indian administrative service in Tamil Nadu. In 1969 when the position of chief secretary was felt vacant, he was the suitable one and was selected for the post but the state government then made a temporary post as deputy chairman in the state planning commission for 1 year with the same rank, payment and grade that of chief secretary.

But then the state government continues the temporary post for one more additional tear and thus petition was filled for the same. In 1972, again the post of Royappa was changed to the officer on special duty to the sales tax department, but instead of joining the post, he went on leave. In addition, a junior cadre officer of Royappa was selected for the post of chief secretary.

The petition proceeded with the writ of mandamus under Article 32 and challenged the constitutionality of his transfer from the post of the chief secretary to the post of deputy chairman to OSD as violative of Article 14 and Article 16.

An inferior rank officer was appointed to the position of chief secretary and the rights of the petitioner were at stake.

The main issue of malafide exercise of power was also raised, but Royappa was failed in proving his point and the state government stated a valid point for the appointment of junior cadre on the post of him as OSD because Royappa was more experienced in that particular field and he was needed by the state to work on that post ad the same was for the junior cadre beside being junior he was suitable for the required post with the required experience. 

And in this justice Bhagwati added, equality is a dynamic concept; it cannot be “cribbed, cabined and confined”.

According to the positivist viewpoint, equality is antithetic to arbitrariness. Equality and arbitrariness are opposite to each other. Arbitrariness is the whim of the monarch whereas equality is the rule of law and no bias.

Arbitrariness is an implicit idea and contrary to political logic and constitutional law as it is unequal. Therefore, it can be argued that it is violative of Article 14 and Article 16. And thus, as a result, a petition was dismissed and the doctrine of arbitrariness was evolved. 

Doctrine of reasonable classification

Article 14 of the Indian constitution states that “the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”.

It can easily be conferred from this provision that no one is above the law of the land and the Rule of Law shall prevail before anything. The guarantee of equality is an aspect of what Dicey calls the Rule of Law in England. However, this rule is not absolute and is subjected to a number of exceptions.

The Rule of Law cannot prevent a certain class of persons from being subject to special laws and thus, the state has the power to make laws operating differently on different classes of persons, in a way that the principle of equality of civil rights and equal protection of the law is followed.

This has been defined as the doctrine of reasonable classification by the supreme court in the case of Anwar Ali Sarkar V. The State of West Bengal. The state must be cautious that what the constitution permits is “Reasonable Classification” and not “Class Legislation”.

Class Legislation refers to making of improper discrimination by conferring certain privileges upon a class of persons arbitrarily selected from a large number of persons. Such a person’s stand is equal position and no reasonable distinction or substantial difference can be found which will justify the inclusion of one and exclusion of other from such privileges.

Whereas, Reasonable Classification is always based on real and substantial distinction, bearing a reasonable relation to the object sought to be achieved by such legislation. 


In my opinion, this doctrine doesn’t differentiate article 14, it only aims at winding the ambit of article 14 by adding arbitrary, and such arbitrary that violates the equality.

The doctrine of two doctrine shows the advancement of the curt that how with time the things have evolved for the betterment and for having an interpretation of the article, these doctrines don’t act as a substitute of each other rather it must be interpreted as reasonableness in state action, and to maintain the dynamic concept of the equality of Indian constitution. 


Similar Interesting Reads>>

Leave a Reply

2nd National Moot Court Competition, 2023 || Register Now!