Case Summary: Rudul Sah v State of Bihar & Anr (1983)

By | December 13, 2020
Rudul Sah v State of Bihar & Anr (1983)

This case summary is an attempt to analyse the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court in the case of Rudul Sah v State of Bihar & Anr reported in 1983 AIR 1086 which is crucial in the development of compensatory jurisprudence in case of violation of fundamental rights.

I. Introduction

Delivered by Chief Justice Chandrachud on 1st August 1983, this decision [1] marked the beginning of a new era of state liability with respect to acts of its officials. This was the first case in which the Supreme Court awarded compensation to a person for violation of his fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution.

A new remedy was evolved by the apex court for providing compensation to the victims of the tortious act done by the government employees while performing sovereign functions. Thus, the concept of sovereign immunity is no longer available to the state whenever its employees commit a tort against the citizens. It means that the state is vicariously liable to provide compensation for the tortious acts of its employees.

II. Facts of the Case

Mr Rudul Sah was arrested for the murder of his wife in 1953.  He was acquitted in 1968 by the Court of Sessions, Muzaffarpur, Bihar, but was ordered to be detained in prison till further order of the State Government or the IG of Prisons. He was detained for more than 14 years in prison. As a result, the petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition under Art. 32 of the Constitution praying for his release on the ground that his detention in the jail was unlawful.

He also asked for certain other reliefs including compensation for his illegal detention and rehabilitation costs. When the petition came up for hearing the Court was informed by the respondent-State that the petitioner had already been released from the jail but the court sent a show-cause notice to the state and insisted for the petitioner’s detention in relation to his ancillary claims, and received a much-delayed response in defence of the incarceration from a state jailor stating that the petitioner was of unsound mind. [2]

III. Issues involved

  1. Whether the Supreme Court can award compensation under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution for breach of a fundamental right or not?
  2. Does Article 21 cover the right to compensation for violations of fundamental rights?

IV. The Judgement of the Court

While hearing the writ petition, the court observed that from the jailor’s affidavit, there was no evidence to show that the petitioner was insane. It was observed that the petitioner’s insanity was an afterthought on part of the court and exaggerated out of proportion and that his detention was wholly unjustified. It was observed that the concerned Department of the Government of Bihar was callous in its actions and that the jailor was made a scapegoat to own up vicariously the dereliction of duty on the part of the higher officers who ought to have known better. The court observed that the condition of prison administration in the state was very poor and ordered the HC of Patna to examine the matter.

It was held that the right to move the Supreme Court under Article 32 for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution is itself a fundamental right. On the question whether SC can pass an order for the payment of money if such an order is in the nature of compensation consequential upon the deprivation of a fundamental right, the court answered this is in affirmative. The court held that if it refused to award compensation and ordered him to approach the civil court, will be doing mere lip-service to his fundamental right to liberty which the State Government has so grossly violated.

It was observed that the right to life and personal liberty which is guaranteed under Article 21 will be denuded of its significant content if the court’s powers are limited to passing orders to release from illegal detention and that awarding compensation, in this case, was necessary to secure due compliance with the mandate of Art 21.

The court held that:

The right to compensation is some palliative for the unlawful acts of instrumentalities which act in the name of public interest and which present for their protection the powers of the State as a shield. [3]

It means that respect for the rights of the individuals is the true bastion of democracy and hence the state has the liability to repair the damage done by its officers to the citizen’s rights.

The court ordered the State Government to pay a compensation of rupees 30000 in addition to rupees 5000 which had already been paid and clarified this right of compensation was in addition to his right to approach the civil court for recovering damages.

V. Conclusion: Rudul Sah v State of Bihar & Anr (1983)

It is thus evident that the decision of the apex court, in this case, laid down the foundation for the right to compensation in case of fundamental rights violation. This decision effectively overruled the decision of the SC in the case of Kasturilal Raliaram v State of UP [4], in which the Court held that the state was immune from liability for the tortious act done by its policemen as it was done in the exercise of sovereign function.

The decision of the Rudal Sah case is important in two respects. Firstly, it held that violation of a constitutional right can give rise to a civil liability enforceable in a civil court and secondly, it formulates the bases for a theory of liability under which a violation of the right to personal liberty can give rise to civil liability. The decision focused on an extreme concern to protect and preserve the fundamental rights of a citizen than the sovereign and non-sovereign dichotomy.

Primary Sources

  1. Manupatra
  2. India kanoon

References

[1] 1983 AIR 1086

[2] See https://indiankanoon.org/doc/810491/

[3] See para 11 of the Judgement

[4] AIR 1965 SC 1039


  1. Law Library: Notes and Study Material for LLB, LLM, Judiciary and Entrance Exams
Author: Fathima Mehendi

5th Year law student at National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), Kochi

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