Article 15 of the Constitution provides that no citizen shall be subjected to discrimination in matters of rights, privileges and immunities pertaining to him. This Article lays down:
(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them,
(2) No citizen shall on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subjected to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to:
(a) Access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment, or
(b) The use of wells, tanks, bathing Ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.
(3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.
(4) Nothing in this Article or in 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 Scheduled Tribes.
The guarantee under Article 15 is available to citizens only and not to every person whether citizen or non-citizen as applicable under Article 14 of the Constitution.
Article 15 directs that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of them. Any law discriminating on one or more on these grounds would be void. The word, “only” has been purposely used In the Article.
Discrimination based on one or more of these grounds and also on other grounds or grounds will not be affected by Article 15 (1). It means that if one or more of the specified grounds is combined with a ground not mentioned In Article 15 (1); the laws will be outside the prohibition contained in Article 15 (1). Article 15 (1) prohibits discrimination on the ground of birth and not that of residence. A State can, therefore, grant concessions to its residents in matters of fees in an educational institution.
In D.P. Joshi v. State of Madhya Bharat, AIR 1955 S.C. 334, a rule of medical colleges provided that all students who are bona fide residents of Madhya Bharat, no capitation fee should be charged but for non-resident students, capitation fee should be retained.
The validity of this rule was challenged on the ground that it contravened Articles 14 and 15 (1) of the Constitution. It was held that the rule was not open to attack as infringing Article 15 (1). The ground for exemption from payment of capitation fee is bona fide residence in the State.
Residence and place of birth are two distinct conceptions with different connotations both in law and fact. Article 15 (1) prohibits discrimination on the ground of place of birth but not on the ground of residence.
Similarly, the requirement of a test in the regional languages for State employment does not contravene Article 15, as a test in the regional language for State employment does not contravene Article 15, as the test is compulsory for all persons seeking employment. It has been held so in P. Raghunandha Rao v. State of Orissa AIR 1955 Orissa 1131.
In Air India v. Nargesh Miija, AIR 1981 S.C. 1829, the Supreme Court struck down Regulations 46 and 47 of the Air India and Indian Airlines. Regulation 46 provided that an air-hostess shall retire from the service of the corporation upon attaining the age of 35 years or on marriage, if it takes place within 4 years or on first pregnancy whichever is earlier.
Under Regulation 47, Managing Director had discretion to extend the age of retirement by one year at the time up to the age of 45 years, if the air-hostess is found medically fit. The court held that termination of service on the basis of pregnancy is unfair and clearly violates Article 14. The power of managing director for the extension of age of retirement is also unconstitutional.
Article 15 (2) applies to States as well as private actions while Article 15(1) refers to the obligation of the States only.
Clauses (3) and (4) of Article 15 embodies exception to the general rule enunciated above. They empower the State to make special provisions for women and children and for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
In M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore, AIR 1963 S.C. 649, the government reserved seats in the Medical and Engineering colleges in the State as follows:
Backward classes 28%; more backward classes 22%; Scheduled Castes and Tribes 18%. The court held that the sub-classification made by the order between backward classes, was not justified under Article 15 (4). Caste is not the sole criteria for determining backwardness. Reservation up to 68% is a fraud on the Constitution. Article 15 (4) only enables the State to make special provision and not exclusive provision for the backward classes.
In State of Madhya Pradesh v. Nivedita Jain, AIR 1981 S.C. 2045, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of an executive order of the Government of Madhya Pradesh completely relaxing the condition of qualifying marks for the candidates of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Pre-Medical Tests.
The court observed that in the absence of any law to the contrary, it is open to the government to impose such conditions which would make the reservation effective for the advancement of candidates of such classes.
The court held that the executive order completely relaxing the minimum qualifying marks was not volatile of the Regulation and Article 15 (4) of the Constitution.
In Mandal Commission case, the Supreme Court by a majority of 6-3 has held that the sub-classification of backward classes into more backward castes and backward castes for the purposes of Article 16(4) can be made. But as a result of sub-classification the reservation cannot exceed more than 50%. The distinction should be on the basis of degrees of social backwardness.