The petition challenged the constitutional validity Section 30 of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 prohibiting 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 Act was a pre-constitutional legislation. The court said, ‘While embarking on the questions raised, it may be pertinent to know that a statute although could have been held to be a valid piece of legislation keeping in view the societal condition of those times, but with the changes occurring therein both in the domestic as also international arena, such a law can also be declared invalid.
Changed social psyche and expectations are important factors to be considered in the upkeep of law. Decision on relevance will be more often a function of time we are operating in. Primacy to such transformation in constitutional rights analysis would not be out of place.’
The court referred the case, John Vallamattom & Anr. v. Union of India (2003) 6 SCC 61, in which Supreme Court, while referring to an amendment made in UK in relation to a provision which was in pari materia with Section 118 of Indian Succession Act, observed:
“The constitutionality of a provision, it is trite, will have to be judged keeping in view the interpretative changes of the statute affected by passage of time.”
The Court’s Analysis
The Supreme Court while considering the matter, analysed the issue as follows-
- The important jurisprudential tenet involved in the matter is not the prioritization of rights inter se but practical implementation issues competing with a right. It is one thing when two norms falling in the same category (for instance Individual Rights versus Community Orientation of Rights) compete and quite another when two norms with unequal hierarchical status come in conflict with each other.
- When the original Act was enacted, the concept of equality between two sexes was unknown. The makers of the Constitution intended to apply equality amongst men and women in all spheres of life. In framing Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution, the constitutional goal in that behalf was sought to be achieved.
Although the same would not mean that under no circumstance, classification, inter alia, on the ground of sex would be wholly impermissible but it is trite that when the validity of a legislation is tested on the anvil of equality clauses contained in Articles 14 and 15, the burden therefor would be on the State.
While considering validity of a legislation of this nature, the court was to take notice of the other provisions of the Constitution including those contained in Part IV A of the Constitution.
- The impugned provision provides for wide restrictions. It prohibits employment of any woman in any part of the premises where liquor is being served. It would prohibit employment of women and men below 25 years in any of the restaurants.
As liquor is permitted to be served even in rooms, the restriction would also operate in any of the services including housekeeping where a woman has to enter into a room; the logical corollary of such a wide restriction would be that even if service of liquor is made permissible in the flight, the employment of women as air-hostesses may be held to be prohibited.
- Hotel Management has opened up a viesta of young men and women for employment. A large number of them are taking hotel management graduation courses. They pass their examinations at a very young age. If prohibition in employment of women and men below 25 years is to be implemented in its letter and spirit, a large section of young graduates who have spent a lot of time, money and energy in obtaining the degree or diploma in hotel management would be deprived of their right of employment.
- Right to be considered for employment subject to just exceptions is recognized by Article 16 of the Constitution. 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 therefor. When a discrimination is sought to be made on the purported ground of classification, such classification must be founded on a rational criteria.
- In the early 20th century, the hospitality sector was not open to women in general. In the last 60 years, women in India have gained entry in all spheres of public life. They have also been representing people at grass root democracy.
- The instant matter involves a fundamental tension between right to employment and security. Privacy rights prescribe autonomy to choose profession whereas security concerns texture methodology of delivery of this assurance. But it is a reasonable proposition that that the measures to safeguard such a guarantee of autonomy should not be so strong that the essence of the guarantee is lost. State protection must not translate into censorship.
- The present law ends up victimizing its subject in the name of protection. In that regard the interference prescribed by state for pursuing the ends of protection 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 modelling done in this behalf.
- Also with the advent of modern state, new models of security must be developed. There can be a setting where the cost of security in the establishment can be distributed between the state and the employer.
- Instead of prohibiting women employment in the bars altogether the state should focus on factoring in ways through which unequal consequences of sex differences can be eliminated. It is state’s duty to ensure circumstances of safety which inspire confidence in women to discharge the duty freely in accordance to the requirements of the profession they choose to follow. Any other policy inference (such as the one embodied under section 30) from societal conditions would be oppressive on the women and against the privacy rights.
- It is to be borne in mind that legislations with pronounced “protective discrimination” aims, such as this one, potentially serve as double edged swords. Strict scrutiny test should be employed while assessing the implications of this variety of legislations. Legislation should not be only assessed on its proposed aims but rather on the implications and the effects.
The impugned legislation suffers from incurable fixations of stereotype morality and conception of sexual role. The perspective thus arrived at is outmoded in content and stifling in means.
- No law in its ultimate effect should end up perpetuating the oppression of women. Personal freedom is a fundamental tenet which cannot be compromised in the name of expediency until unless there is a compelling state purpose. Heightened level of scrutiny is the normative threshold for judicial review in such cases.
- The test to review such a Protective Discrimination statute would entail a two pronged scrutiny:
(a) the legislative interference (induced by sex discriminatory legalisation in the instant case) should be justified in principle, (b) the same should be proportionate in measure.
- The Court’s task is to determine whether the measures furthered by the State in form of legislative mandate, to augment the legitimate aim of protecting the interests of women are proportionate to the other bulk of well-settled gender norms such as autonomy, equality of opportunity, right to privacy et al.
The bottom-line in this behalf would a functioning modern democratic society which ensures freedom to pursue varied opportunities and options without discriminating on the basis of sex, race, caste or any other like basis. In fine, there should be a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means used and the aim pursued.
- Young men who take a degree or diploma in Hotel Management enter into service at the age of 22 years or 23 yerars. It, thus, cannot prohibit employment of men below 25 years. Such a restriction keeping in view a citizen’s right to be considered for employment, which is a facet of the right to livelihood do not stand judicial scrutiny.
Anuj Garg & Ors vs Hotel Association Of India & Ors