Anuj Garg & Ors v. Hotel Association of India & Ors AIR 2008 SC 663
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/12/2007
COURT: Supreme Court of India
JUDGES: S.B. Sinha and Harjit Singh Bedi
REFERENCE: AIR 2008 SC 663
Petitioner: Anuj Garg & Ors, Respondent: Hotel Association of India & Ors
SUBJECT: The judgment revolves around gender equality in the workplace. For decades together women were considered inferior to men, when such ideologies reflect in legislations enacted by the Parliament they will be subjected to judicial scrutiny.
FACTS: The petitioners in the Instant case challenged the validity of section 30 of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 which prohibits employment of “any man under the age of 25 years” or “any woman” in any part of such premises in which liquor or intoxicating drug is consumed by the public. The petitioners carry on business in hotels where liquor is served not only in the bar but also in the restaurant. Liquor is also served in rooms as part of room service.
The Indian Constitution
- Article13(1): All laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this Constitution, in so far as they are inconsistent with the provisions of Part III, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void
- Article 14: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
- Article 16: Equality of opportunity in matters of public employment
- There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.
- No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect or, any employment or office under the State
The Punjab Excise Act, 1914
- Section 30 prohibits employment of “any man under the age of 25 years” or “any woman” in any part of such premises in which liquor or intoxicating drug is consumed by the public.
- Whether section 30 of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 constitutionally valid?
As per Article 13 of the Indian Constitution even pre constitutional laws will be subjected to judicial scrutiny if it abridges the fundamental rights of the citizens. In the present case, section 30 of the 1914 Act prohibits the employment of men below 25 years and women of any age in places where public may consume liquor. Supporting the legislation, the respondents in the instant case argued as follows:
- That the impugned enactment act as a measure to protect women and men of tender age.
- That nobody has any fundamental right to deal in liquor, being ‘res extra commercium’, the State had the right to continue the old law imposing reasonable restrictions on the nature of employment therein.
The respondents also cited the murder case of Jessica Lal, where Ms. Lal was murdered by the accused as she refused to offer him alcohol after the working hours of the Bar that she was running.
Objecting all the contentions of the respondents the petitioners submitted that,
- The impugned legislation does not protect them from violence but only leaves them unemployed. They also made a special mention of students who graduate in the course of hotel management stating that, they will be forced towards unemployment due to such biased legislations.
- Also, the restriction placed under the Act falls outside the principle of res commercium. Abiding to the principle the State may impose restriction on the sale, manufacture and hoarding of liquor however it cannot impose restrictions on employment in the places where liquor is served.
- Right of employment itself may not be a fundamental right but in terms of both Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India, each person similarly situated has a fundamental right to be considered for employment. When a discrimination is sought to be made on the purported ground of classification, such classification must be founded on a rational criterion. The criteria which in absence of any constitutional provision and, it will bear repetition to state, having regard to the societal conditions as they prevailed in early 20th century, may not be a rational criteria in the 21st century.
Hearing both the parties to the case the Court concluded that, section 30 of the 1914 Act stands unconstitutional as it is against the principle of justice and equity. The Court also stated the following:
- The present law ends up victimizing its subject in the name of protection.
- A restriction placed on the fundamental rights of the citizens should be proportionate to the legitimate aims. The standard for judging the proportionality should be a standard capable of being called reasonable in a modern democratic society.
- Instead of putting curbs on women’s freedom, empowerment would be a more tenable and socially wise approach. This empowerment should reflect in the law enforcement strategies of the state as well as law modeling done in this behalf.
CONCLUSION: Even if words of a legislation remains the same judicial interpretation must take place from time to time to adapt the changing circumstances of the society.
Snatching the rights of individuals in the guise of protecting them will only affect the development of the nation. Hence the right to equality is rightly called as a part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.