This article is a comment on the Draft Equality Bill, 2016 drafted by Tarunabh Khaitan. It focuses on two central issues. The first is the very concept of equality the Bill propounds and its conflict with other rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The other, is the standard of judicial review envisaged under the bill. It casts doubt on the premise that a court centric model of achieving equality is the best way to achieve equality in a country where millions do not have access to justice.
The Draft Equality Bill, 2016 is an ambitious legislative proposal. This Bill aims to advance civil remedies against discrimination by private and public actors on several grounds. It follows a sequence of civil society proposals for a new civil equality law in India like the Bangalore Declaration in 2007 or the Lawyers Collective’s HIV/AIDS Bill 2007. In the last decade, at least two reports by committees established by the Government of India have proposed new initiatives to serve social equality: the Equal Opportunity Commission: What, Why and How? in 2007; the Sachar Report Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India, 2006. Three new book length works on equality have been published in the last 3 years: Tools of Justice: Non-discrimination and the Indian Constitution by Kalpana Kannabinan; A Theory of Discrimination Lawby Tarunabh Khaitan and Unconditional Equality: Gandhi´s Religion of Resistance by Ajay Skaria.
At present, equality law is composed of constitutional rights and a hotchpotch of legislation to provide remedies against different types of discrimination in India. Some legislations provide criminal remedies, like the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 others offer civil remedies, like the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and the Equal Remuneration Act 1976; a third category adopts a welfare approach like the Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. These legislation address certain aspects of equality in a particular sector or for certain specific groups. There has been no overarching equality law that has inbuilt flexibility to respond to the varied aspects of equality.
The draft Bill aims to fill in this lacuna by protecting an open-ended list of characteristics, establishing new concepts such as separation and boycott, relying on the principle of proportionality, and imposing negative and positive duties on public and certain private parties…