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Case Analysis of Rudul Sah vs. the State of Bihar (1983)

The role of judicial activism in the Indian judiciary holds great significance, and one such example of its significance was highlighted in the landmark judgment of Rudul Sah vs. the State of Bihar decided in 1983. The case traces back its history to Article 21 of the Indian constitution in the light of state liability followed by writ jurisdiction.

This landmark judgment is particularly noteworthy since it established the path for compensating victims whose fundamental rights under the Indian constitution were violated. It is important to emphasize and bring it to the notice that the Constitution of India does not possess any expressed provisions for compensation, and the decision was formulated by the apex court of India on the basis of the remedial power interpreted by the Court.[1]

  1. The case involves a man who was imprisoned for a period exceeding his sentence. The petitioner, who was Rudul Sah, submitted a writ jurisdiction based on the principle of habeas corpus (to have a body), which demanded his liberation from jail.
  2. The petition of habeas corpus was based on the grounds that the petitioner was detained beyond the period of imprisonment, and his detention was considered illegal by the session court in June 1968.
  3. The petitioner further demanded collateral relief under the constitutional remedies available to the citizens of India under the ambit of the heart and soul of the Indian constitution, which is Article 32.
  4. Rudul Sah, the petitioner, was arrested for the murder of his wife. He was acquitted on June 3, 1968, by the Sessions Court of Muzaffarpur, Bihar, after serving his sentence. He was, however, freed from prison in October 1982, after serving a 14-year term.[2]
  5. The petitioner, in his application, demanded redressal from the court for his unjust detention.
  6. Additionally, he requested medical treatment to be sponsored by the state of Bihar. -funded. On November 22nd, the petition was presented before the court; however, he was already released from jail before.
  7. However, with reference to supplemental remedy, the court served the state with a show-cause notice.
  8. The jailor drafted an affidavit on behalf of the state and put forward two documents.
    1. To begin, despite his acquittal, an order was issued by the extra session judge, which required the petitioner to remain behind bars until further notice by the state government of Bihar.
    2. Secondly, he was declared incapable of facing prosecution at the time the order was made by the Sessions Court. In response to the medical treatment, the petitioner was deemed to be normal in a medical test conducted by a civil surgeon. The medical reports were submitted to the law department in February 1977 and were issued in October 1982.

Issue Of The Case:
  • The court was faced with the question that whether the petitioner is entitled to compensation under the ambit of Article 32 of the Indian constitution?
  • Does the right to compensation for unconstitutional detention fall under the provisions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution?
  • Can the citizen of India avail the defence against the arbitrariness of the state?

Rules In The Case And Challenge Before The Court
Several rules and challenges were laid down before the court in the aspect of both the appellant and the defendant. The entire case revolved around Article 32 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

On The Part of the Petitioner
The petitioner's counsel contended that he was held in prison despite being acquitted by the appropriate authority. The appellant was compelled to remain behind the bars for 14 years before being released.

The case was a direct violation of the prosecution's right to be guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, which asserts that every citizen is entitled to the fundamental right of life and personal liberty.

Additionally, the petitioner claimed payment to be borne by the government of Bihar for anticipated medical care. Further, he sought reparation for his unjust detention and an ex-gratia payment to assist with his recovery.

On The Part of the Defendant
The Respondent's counsel contended that the petitioner was imprisoned as a consequence of an order issued by the authorities through the Additional Sessions Judge, which stated he would be acquitted only after the order is cleared from the Government of Bihar and IG of Prisons in Bihar.

Additionally, the Respondent asserted that the applicant was declared unsound but was later released after one civil surgeon conducted medical tests and declared him to be fit.[3]

Judgement By The Court
The Judge issued the petition, concluding the imprisonment of Mr. Rudul Sah (the petitioner) beyond the term of imprisonment was completely illegal. Article 32 empowers the apex court to issue orders and implement the writs if the fundamental rights mentioned under part III of a person are violated.

This Court's jurisdiction is restricted to restraining unlawful detention, Article 21, which guarantees the right to liberty.

Compensation is a curative for the wrongdoing of instrumentalities operating in the public good and utilizing the State's authorities to hide.

Moreover, someone could not be detained for a longer length of time if he had been mentally ill just at the time he was freed. The rationale is simple. Even a madman has rights under the law during the course of his or her trial. The Court determined that the State's conduct was disproportionate and lacked supporting facts. As a consequence, the Court found the petitioner's imprisonment to be unreasonable.

Moreover, someone could not be detained for a longer length of time if he had been mentally ill just at the time he was freed. The rationale is simple. Even a madman has rights under the law during the course of his or her trial. The Court determined that the State's conduct was disproportionate and lacked supporting facts. As a consequence, the Court found the petitioner's imprisonment to be unreasonable.

The Tribunal then assessed if it was appropriate to grant the plaintiff's application for interim relief founded on its entitlement to relief. Article 21, which guarantees individual freedom, would be worthless if the Court were limited to ordering the release of unlawful detainees without addressing their plight.

Rudul Shah's lawsuit is a milestone point in human history of state culpability and compensation. This case is significant since it recognized the legitimacy of compensatory justice for constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights abuses. Additionally, this decision reversed the judgment in Kasturilal vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (1964).

The Court noted in this instance that the government was exempt from liability for the tort committed by its police officers, a grave violation of people's rights. The Supreme Court, however, determined the government's tortious behaviour to be within the bounds of its constitutional jurisdiction and awarded the security reason. P.B. Gajendragadkar, C.J., believed the regulation was necessary and chastised the government for failing to implement it.[4]

Numerous others have expressed opposition to the Kasturilal decision[5]. The constitution of India does not clearly allow for compensation. The Court's judgment is based on its appraisal of the breadth of Rudul's right to remedy. The constitution of India does not clearly allow for compensation.

The Court's judgment is based on its appraisal of the breadth of Rudul's right to remedy. The Rudul Sah case represented the Supreme Court's payment of compensation to a victim for a breach of a fundamental right within its authority since its inception. This situation shows a person's anguish. Rudul Sah's suffering was not his responsibility, but rather the result of the institution in which locals put their trust.

It was completely an instance of a person being harmed as a consequence of political inaction. In other instances, the violation of Article 32 was subsequently dramatically broadened. Article 21 of the Indian constitution is known as the heart of the fundamental rights, and it holds utmost importance as a fundamental right, thereby necessitating compensation as a constitutional remedy.

In Khatri vs. State of Bihar[6], monetary compensation came into the picture for the first time via writs. In M.C Mehta vs. Union of India[7], it was held by the Court that new remedies or compensation could be suggested by the courts. The state performs a variety of functions in a democracy, which includes restricting the citizens from misusing their authority. There are certain instances where fundamental rights.

In this case, a technique for determining the state's obligation and restoring the victim is needed. Though, it is worth noting that the government has made no attempt to implement laws to remedy residents' claims against it. The Indian judicial system has engaged on a challenging subject by formulating principles for resolving the abovementioned dilemma in a distinct Indian fashion.

The arbitrary actions of the state operations have a profound impact on the life of the citizens with respect to almost every aspect. As consequence, the state's liability should be made coextensive in accordance with the concept of a welfare state. It is necessary to hold the state accountable for any tortious acts committed by its personnel, regardless of their position in the Indian government, and in order to implement their powers, the authorities cannot create an arbitrary rule, and they should be made accountable.

Despite constitutional and legislative safeguards for personal rights, the escalating rates of custodial deaths (Tamil Nadu case) and torture have sought the attention of the superior judiciary along with the NHRC. NHRC has lately granted compensation in a number of cases.[8] The complaints against police officers and other law enforcement officials misusing their authority and abusing suspects are increasing[9].

Usually, sufferers of prison abuse are members of our society's poorer segment. The privileged segment of the society gets legal protection, while on the other hand, the impoverished and disadvantaged with no political approach or financial influence have virtually no human rights. It is concluded that the system does not enjoy sovereign immunity any longer when it comes to state employees committing torts against citizens.

The apex court has reversed the Rudul Shah case and has reintroduced a new viewpoint on the concept of state liability. When a state employee violates the freedom of an individual, the state is considered legally responsible. It would also be ideal if our Parliament established new rules and regulations on this topic, holding the state legally liable for any tort committed by its staff in due course of performing a sanctioned or a non-sanctioned task.

Additionally, there was a debate about instituting a constitutional framework based on check and balance to prevent such tragedies. It was specifically designed for Bihar, which had been undergoing turmoil at the time due to the insecurity of its prison system. It is safe to say that all states will benefit from it if the proper mechanism is implemented to check the wrongs of the state and compensate the victims accordingly to prevent such catastrophe.

Relying on the foregoing research, which involved numerous cases, it can be concluded that the state cannot implement torturous activities on its citizens, and if it happens, then the state is held liable and is made to provide the remedies in the form of compensation.

  1. Anchal Challani, Rudal Sah vs State of Bihar, Jusdicere, (Mar 6, 2022, 18:04 PM)
  2. Rudul Sah Vs. State of Bihar, AIR 1983 SC 1086
  3. Vol 26, Legal accountability of the policy in India, Centre for Law and Policy Research, Pg. 21-33 (2017)
  4. R. Chakraborty, The Law On Custodial Death And Torture, 52-67, (2nd ed. Kamal Publishers, 2017)
  5. Kasturi Lal v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1965 SC 1039
  6. Khatri v. State of Bihar AIR 1981 SCR (2) 408
  7. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1987 SC 1086
  8. Vol 36, R.S Saini, Custodial Torture and law in India, Journal Of The Indian Law Institute, 166 (2018)
  9. George Floyd v. United States, 260 F.2d 910

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