Reasonable Classification
Image source -

This article has been written by Diva Rai, a student of Symbiosis Law School, Noida. In this article she discusses the doctrine of non-arbitrariness and Equal Protection of the laws.


Indian constitutional law has an ambivalent non-arbitrariness connection. The doctrine among attorneys is highly common and among academics is similarly controversial. As any lawyer who has been in a written court in India for more than a week would know, a claim of arbitrariness is the simplest argument to build on any challenge that even remotely involves the state [1]. This may explain the popularity of the doctrine among lawyers.

Equally evident are the reasons for its unpopularity among academics. Besides being a sworn prose in the vein of arbitrariness enemy of equality [2]. In turn, which could not be cribbed, cabineted or described, the Supreme Court did not articulate any principled reasoning in support of the doctrine. Furthermore, since it is not directly linked textually to Article 14, over the years it has assumed the form of a vague super-law as some have feared.

The latest judgment of a Supreme Court division bench in Rajbala v. State of Haryana [3] has rejuvenated the discussion in the renowned Royappa case on the scope and content of the arbitrary doctrine advocated by a constitutional bench of the apex court. Arbitrariness continues to be a beleaguered doctrine since its founding. While some jurists criticized the word for its imprecise import and its probable adverse impact on the assessment of equality pursuant to Article 14, others have been indifferent in their reaction to this fresh growth because they think it is not a fresh test at all but merely a reassertion of the sensible classification or nexus test.

The connection between non-arbitrariness and Article 14 in this document and argue that a component of non-arbitrariness is included in the test of rational classification. In the second and third parts, The article points out that this connection, which has often been neglected in comments and decisions, could assist us to address certain conceptual problems that have arisen under Article 14 in the judicial review of state action. The Supreme Court’s “staggering” output on Article 14 precludes applying the standard technique of one-point study of all choices and then deriving a principle.


Arbitrary derives from the Latin arbitrary, the arbitrator’s source; someone tasked with judging a matter. An arbitrary legal judgment is a ruling taken at the judge’s discretion, not a ruling. A ban on arbitrariness is enshrined in the constitution in some nations. Article 9 of the Swiss Federal Constitution theoretically overrides even democratic choices in banning arbitrary government action. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed legislation because they had “no rational basis”. A latest research of the U.S. asylum scheme indicates that arbitrariness in decision-making could lead to significant differences in results between distinct adjudicators, a phenomenon. Article 330 of the Russian Penal Code defines arbitrariness as a particular crime, but with a very wide definition of acts contrary to the legislation.

Article 14 and Non-Arbitrariness

Beginning with the text of Article 14 is both logical and intuitive.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 Court’s earliest judgments had a relatively coherent perspective of Article 14.[4] It is widely accepted that the first portion of the article which speaks of equality is a guarantee that no individual is above the law. This guarantee is affected by its corollary in the second portion which provides equal protection of the legislation to individuals.

The presumption that individuals are essentially equal is a powerful moral principle that is the anchor of this equality comprehension. However, it also includes a rule of rationality in relation to this moral principle. Any exception to equality is only permissible if the State has reasonable grounds for different treatment of individuals. Therefore, the validity of state action relies on an assessment of the reasons for state action. This is the vital connection in Article 14 between equality and rationality.

Test of Reasonable Classification and Non-Arbitrariness

The ordinary wording for reviewing state action pursuant to Article 14 is that sensitive classification must be tested. Its “intelligible differential” and “reasonable nexus” components are well known for the sort of experiment. What it checks at the heart of the test is whether, by evaluating why individuals are treated differently, the law makes an arbitrary classification. Therefore, the test involves both the moral principle that all people are basically equal and the rule of rationality that any classification must be justified by the State.

This point is often ignored in the discussion on the evaluation of Article 14 legislation since Seervai described the key issue in the discussion as a decision between a classification test and an arbitrary test. In reaction to the statement made by the Supreme Court in E.P. Royappa discovering a fresh dimension of equality based on non-arbitrariness, Seervai claimed that the traditional test did not involve finding that the law was “arbitrary.”[5] In the traditional test, which is obviously borne out by Supreme Court judgments, Seervai’s statement ignored the rationality element. Consider, for instance, the following paragraph in Charanjit Lal Chowdhury v. Union of India [6], probably the first case on the point:

“The legislature undoubtedly has a wide field of choice in determining and classifying the subject of its laws, and if the law deals alike with all of a certain class, it is normally not obnoxious to the charge of denial of equal protection; but the classification should never be arbitrary.”

The detachment from arbitrariness of the rational classification test has created significant confusion. It is now commonly thought that two separate, mutually exclusive lines of inquiry can be taken under Article 14 in any challenge to state action. The decision, it appears, is between the fresh arbitrary doctrine and the ancient classification doctrine. This difference overlooks the intersection region between the two tests.
                Click Above

Non-Arbitrariness and Equal Protection of the laws

The necessity for a reasonable classification under Article 14 in the earlier components. Nevertheless, this was never considered a sufficient condition for guaranteeing equality. This is evident from the values that Ramkrishna Dalmia v. Justice Tendolkar [7] had crystallized as soon as 1959:

  1. “Where a statute itself makes the classification and the Court finds that the classification satisfies the test of reasonable classification, the court will uphold the validity of the law.
  2. In cases where the statute does not make any classification but leaves it to the discretion of the Government to select and classify persons or things to whom its provisions are to apply, the statute must be shown to contain the principles that guide this discretion. If the law fails in this regard, the court will strike down both the law as well as the executive action taken under such law.
  3. Lastly, where the statute lays down such principles, but the executive action fails to adhere to these principles, the executive action but not the statute should be condemned as unconstitutional.”

As is evident from the above, the guarantee of equality is not exhausted by a mere statement of classification validity. If the executive fails to behave in accordance with the law, Article 14 by its express words makes such activities unlawful. This is the impact of Article 14’s clause “Equal Law Protection”. In other words, a law is required under Article 14 to be non-arbitrary and, subsequently, each person is entitled to the fullest protection of the law in its application.

Faced with an instance of classification that deviates from the fundamental principle of equality, the objective must be to judge on the grounds of deviation state action. The reasonable classification test is best suited for doing the job since there is no normative justification for examining any other reason behind the state action. In such a situation, judicial review is limited to the factors supporting the classification in so far as non-arbitrariness is concerned. Where judicial review concerns the application of a law or executive policy to a class of individuals to whom it refers, the Court shall have the right to review such state action in complete to ensure that the person concerned is fully protected by the law. The nature of the assessment here is distinct in that the purpose of the assessment is to guarantee that, as the case may be, the execution of a law or policy is actually law or policy.

In the context of equality, this is the appropriate province for complete spectrum non-arbitrariness assessment. Such an understanding prevents the risk of generating an arbitrary standing test under which the Court freely reviews policy making.

In the face of an instance of classification that deviates from the fundamental principle of equality, the aim must be to judge state action on the grounds of deviation. The sensible classification test is best fitted to do the work as there is no normative justification for examining any other reason behind the state action. In such a situation, judicial review, in so far as non-arbitrariness is concerned, is limited to the factors supporting the classification.

Judicial Threshold for evaluating ‘Arbitrariness’: Rationality versus Reasonableness

The Supreme Court in Royappa has described the evolution of the arbitrariness test as the constitutionalization of administrative law. Khaitan argues that, “what the new doctrine has done is elevated an administrative law reasonableness standard into a self standing constitutional ground for review, without the need for any crutches in the form of other rights or values”.

If we examine the Supreme Court’s strategy under Article 14 in any type of arbitrariness assessment, it would show that there is a great deal of reality in this proposal. While this may be of grave concern to academics and scientists who insist that the two branches of public law be strictly separated, it is too late in the day to argue that such a binary is possible or even desirable in a contemporary state. As has been stated “The conceptual division between administrative and constitutional law is quite porous, and that along many dimensions, administrative law can be considered more constitutional in character than constitutions”.[8]

It would be worth seeking advice from administrative law instances using the reasonableness standard, having formed the administrative law basis of the new doctrine. It is interesting to note here that although the terms rationality and reasonability are often used interchangeably, it is possible to analyze a conceptual distinction between the two and the same to arrive at a theory of proper application of the doctrine of arbitrariness.

There are reasonable grounds to distinguish rationality from reasonableness on the basis that not every rational choice is reasonable. In the sense that they are made for intelligible reasons, almost all administrative decisions are rational, but the question is whether they meet the legal standard of reasonableness. Most obviously, irrational implies without reasons, while irrational’ means’ without adequate reasons.


In this article, I have tried to prove that the sensitive classification test has an element of non-arbitrariness that enables the assessment of state action to ensure that it is non-arbitrary from the point of view of equality. The debate on the choice between the old doctrine of reasonable classification and the new doctrine of non-arbitrariness overlooks the fact that the traditional equality test is part of non-arbitrariness.

Secondly, I have placed forward an interpretation of Article 14 which addresses some of the conceptual issues involved in understanding the scope of the non-arbitrary evaluation under Article 14. I argue that, when faced with state action that classifies people, judicial review must be limited to the variables behind classification. This test accommodates the assessment of non-arbitrariness to the extent needed by equality under Article 14. However, in the event of an instance of law enforcement within a class to which it refers, full spectrum judicial review is permitted as a person has the right to full protection of the rationality of the law.


  1. Upendra Baxi, ‘The Myth and Reality of Indian Administrative Law’ in Massey (ed), Administrative Law (8th edn, 2012), xxviii
  2. As in E P Royappa v State of Tamil Nadu (1974) 4 SCC 3 [85]
  3. (2016) 2 SCC 445.
  4. Chiranjit Lal v Union of India AIR 1951 SC 41; State of West Bengal v Anwar Ali Sarkar 1952 SCR 284.
  5. Seervai (n 10) 441.
  6. 1950 SCR 869.
  7. (1959) SCR 279 [12].
  8. Tom Ginsburg, “Written Constitutions and the Administrative State: On the Constitutional Character of Administrative Law” 117 (University of Chicago Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 331, 2010).


Did you find this blog post helpful? Subscribe so that you never miss another post! Just complete this form…