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This article is written by Diksha Shastri. It attempts to uncover the details of the landmark case of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs. The State of Uttar Pradesh, where the issues brought forward the negligent acts of certain public servants. Even though the judgement is overruled, it sets an example of the State’s duty over its servant’s liability and other deeper concepts involved in the law of torts. 


Negligence involves a willful act or omission that causes harm to another. We’ve all been negligent at one point or another in our lives. But, what happens when the public servants hired to protect the sanctity and peace among the public, go down the road of negligence when performing their duties? Are they held liable for their negligence and wrongdoing? And, can the State be held responsible for the actions of the public servants hired by it for the greater good of the public? The case of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs. the State of Uttar Pradesh (1964), stands as a great example of how to understand the intricacies of such issues. 

In this article, we go back to the years through the case of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain, when the sovereign actions of the State employees were protected. By discussing the facts, issues, and rationale of the Supreme Court in this landmark judgement, we can establish the scope of applicability of vicarious liability of the state for the wrongdoings of its employees. Especially while performing a sovereign function allowed to them by the law. Besides, we will take a look at the precedents that helped the Court reach the judgement in this case. 

Details of the case

Let’s start with understanding the basic details of the case.

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Name of the case: Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs The State Of Uttar Pradesh

Court: Supreme Court of India

Date of the judgement: 29 September, 1964

Parties: Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain (Petitioner), and The State of Uttar Pradesh (Respondent)

Represented by: A. V. Viswanatha Sastri and O. P. Rana (for respondent), Mr. M. S. K. Sastri (for petitioner)

Citations:  1965 AIR 1039, 1965 SCR  (1) 375

Bench: CJI PB Gajendragadkar, Justice Kailas Nath Wanchoo, Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah, Justice J.R. Mudholkar, Justice Mahendra Dayal, Justice Raghubar Dayal.

Author of the judgement: Justice P.B. Gajendragadkar

Important provisions and laws: Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, UP Police Regulations

Facts of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs. the State of Uttar Pradesh (1964) 

Before focusing on any other problem, it is very crucial to understand the facts of a legal matter in depth. The facts of a case can either be relevant or irrelevant. But, to have an actual unbiased opinion on a case, it’s critical to understand all facts.

Besides, stating the facts is more like stating what exactly went down in a case before it was brought before the courtroom. So, let’s see exactly how Kasturi Lal’s gold and valuables were seized. 

A businessman named Kasturi Lal was arrested while travelling. The police officers who arrested him conducted a search and seized a lot of his valuables, including gold. When the man was released, they refused to give him back his gold. Resultantly, he filed a lawsuit against the government, and this case revolves around figuring out whether the government is vicariously liable for the actions of its servants, i.e., police officers, or not. Let;s see the details. 

In September 1947, the owner of a duly registered partnership firm named M/s Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain arrived in Meerut to sell his bullion products in the local market. In simpler terms, bullion is another name for pure physical gold and silver. When he was on his way to the local market, three police constables apprehended him in the chaupla bazaar. Without any clear justification or reasoning, they started examining his luggage and goods and later sent him off to the police station. His belongings consisted of: 

  • Gold weighing 103 tolas;
  • 6 mashas and 1 ratti; and 
  • Silver weighing 2 maunds and 6 1/2 seers.

These items were all kept in police custody when the incident took place on 20th September, 1947. Then, on the next day, Kasturilal was released on bail. However, out of all his belongings, only the silver was given back to him. Resultantly, the appellant’s repetitive demands and requests to re-obtain his gold articles turned futile. 

This led to him resorting to filing a lawsuit for the recovery of gold or to get equivalent compensation. After consideration of the price of gold in addition to the interest applicable as Rs. 355,  the total compensation claim amounted to approximately Rs. 11,075/-.

The state, being the respondent in the matter, strongly refuted the allegations, stating that they were not entitled to return either the gold materials or the damages. Their defence was that the said gold was taken into custody by the then Head Constable, Mr. Mohammad Amir. The items were kept under his charge in the ‘Police Malkhana’. However, on October 17th, 1947, Amir fled to Pakistan with all the gold and certain other items from the Police Malkhana. 

The respondent further also stated that they had already taken an action against Amir, and had filed a lawsuit under the Section 409 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as well as Section 29 of the Police Act, 1861. They even contested that best efforts were made by the police team to secure it all. However, they failed to apprehend and take Amir into custody. 

Moreover, the state resorted to the claim that even if the negligence of the police department was proved, the State itself could not be reprimanded for the loss of such negligence. 

Two substantial questions that were raised from these facts also revolved around figuring out the State’s extent of liability. The Trial Court, had sided in favour of the appellant, ie., Kasturilal Ralia Ram and ordered the State to pay an amount of approximately Rs. 11000/- 

Aggrieved by this order, the respondent State had appealed before the Allahabad High Court. They claimed that there was an error in the judgement passed by the Trial Court in favour of Kasturilal. The High Court made the decision to uphold the contention raised by the respondent. The reasoning behind this decision of the High Court was the lack of substantial evidence to establish the actual negligence of the police. Besides, it was also held that even if negligence was assumed, seeking monetary compensation from the State was not correct. 

That’s how all the facts of this case led to the Supreme Court judgement of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs. The State of Uttar Pradesh (1964). 

Issues raised

Once the facts of a case are clear, understanding the issues is an easy task. Based on the facts, the appellant raised the issues against the respondent. In the case of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain, two main issues were raised: 

  1. Whether the police officers involved were guilty of negligence in taking care of the gold in their custody; and
  2. Whether the State (respondent) was liable for paying monetary compensation to the appellant for the negligence of officers hired by the respondent;

The first issue is a question of facts, whereas the second one is a question of  law. The Supreme Court has pondered upon each of these issues in depth, as discussed below. 

Arguments of the parties

Before moving on to the views of the Supreme Court, let’s delve into the arguments presented by both the parties in the different stages of the case. 


When you are aware of how both the parties presented their case, and what grounds of argument they used, it will help you gain a better understanding on how the Supreme Court reached its final decision. 

As a part of the appellant’s arguments with respect to the first issue, it was contested that the Allahabad High Court had made an erroneous decision with respect to both the issues. Moreover, the appellant argued that even after consistent requests, he was not given his gold items back. While moving to the second issue, the appellant argued that once the negligence of police officers was established, it must not be too difficult to relate it back with the state’s liability for its employees’ wrongdoings. In furtherance of this strong argument, the appellant attorney also relied on a previous judgement of the Supreme Court, State of Rajasthan v. Mst. Vidhyawati and Anr (1962). 

In this cited case, the Supreme Court had allowed compensation from the state to victims of an accident involving a government Jeep. This accident had occurred when the jeep was going to or from the repair shop. The Supreme Court here, had observed that the liability of the state arises when a tortious or negligent act is committed by any of its employees in the course of its duty, similar to what happens with any other employer. Moreover, in this case, the Supreme Court also stated that the sovereign immunity given to the government officials was a feudalistic notion of justice, that the King could do no wrong. 

Heavily relying on this judgement, the appellant’s attorney made their contentions to apply the same principles in the current case. 


Throughout the matter, the respondent State had made the following arguments to deny the applicant’s claim: 

  • The police officers arrested the appellant at midnight because they were under the impression that he possessed stolen goods;
  • That the goods were properly provided to the Head Constable, who fled after taking certain valuables;
  • That sufficient legal action was being taken to reach out to him but he had absconded; and 
  • Finally, even if an assumption was made on the negligence by police officers, it would not extend to the state as they were performing their duty.

Laws discussed in Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs. the State of Uttar Pradesh (1964)

Now, before diving straight into the judgement, we will take a closer look at all the legal aspects involved in this matter. These legal provisions, along with the procedures they set forth, led to the judgement delivered by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs. The State of Uttar Pradesh (1964). Let’s see which legal provisions were involved in the delivery of this judgement.

Government of India Act, 1858

This Act was passed by under British Rule and was primarily tailored to liquidate the British East India Company and then confer all its powers and functions on the British Crown. Section 65 of this Act was cited in the case by the Supreme Court as it conferred the right to sue the Secretary of State of India in certain situations. These provisions were also carried forward in the subsequent Government of India Acts of 1915 and 1935. During the British Raj, this was a significant right for the people of India. 

UP Police Regulations

The UP Police Regulations are state specific legal regulations for the performance of the police. It provides detailed procedures to be followed by the state police in different scenarios. The Supreme Court referred to two specific regulations from this, which shed light on the duty of the police officers to take care of the items seized by them in the course of their employment. Here’s what the two regulations have to say: 

Regulation 165(5)

According to this regulation, in case the police officers, as a part of their duty, take over any items of value, like gold or silver, these articles should be weighed properly before being sealed and securely stored. Further, the specific weight of each item must also be noted down in the general diary. 

Regulation 166

It states that all the property seized by the UP police officers must be kept in the storage of the police, i.e., the malkhana, and its custodian would be the malkhana moharrir. However, if this property description is for cash of more than Rs. 100 or any valuable of an important case, it will be the responsibility of the prosecuting inspector, and will be kept in the treasury, until its disposal. 

Collectively, both of these regulations show that the police officers need to take proper care of the objects that they seize while making arrests. This point is an important observation because it also makes the malkhana moharrir responsible for their action of not keeping it secure. 

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC)

While arriving at the rationale behind this judgement, multiple provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 were taken into account. It is an important point to note that since this judgement dates back a lot of years, many of the provisions are now changed and revised. These are the main legal aspects of the CrPC that were involved in this case: 

Power of Police to arrest

The judgement relies on the power of police to arrest a person without a warrant in certain cases when a reasonable suspicion exists that the goods they are carrying might be stolen property. In the judgement, this provision is cited as Section 54(1)(iv). However, the CrPC Amendment Act, 2008 substituted the provision for mandatory examination of the arrested persons. 

Power of Police to seize property

According to Section 550  (as applicable then) substituted to Section 102 of the CrPC, the different police officers have certain powers to seize and keep certain property that is suspected to be stolen. Hence, it was this particular section through which the police officers were able to justify the arrest and seizure of items in the Kasturi Lal Ralia Ram Jain case

Search of the Accused

After Ralia Ram Jain was arrested, but before the property was seized from him, the police officers also conducted a search on him. As relied on by the Court, this search of his person was also allowed under the Section 51 of CrPC.

Custody of seized goods

Once the goods deemed to be stolen are seized from the accused, what happens next, and who is responsible for the custody? This was laid down under Section 523 of the CrPC then. According to this, it was compulsory to notify the magistrate of such a seizure of property that’s facilitated by Section 51. Moreover, it also conferred that the magistrate, then, shall make an order as he may deem fit based on the facts and dispose of the property or return it to the owner. At the present moment, Section 457 of the CrPC is the provision in effect that talks about the procedure to be followed by the police in case of seizure of property.

Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC)

Once the property was in the custody of the police, was it then their responsibility to keep it safe until its disposal? Moreover, was the head constable who allegedly stole property from the Malkhana responsible? And, what actions were to be taken against him? To answer this, we can rely on Section 409 of the IPC. This is a very crucial legal aspect of this case, as it covers the criminal breach of trust by public servants or other agents, bankers, etc. 

According to this Section, if any person, within the ambit of his duty as a public servant, is entrusted with the possession of property, and if he performs any criminal breach of trust in respect to that property, he is entitled to be punished for either: 

  • Life imprisonment; or 
  • Imprisonment up to 10 years and fine. 

In this case, after the goods were stolen by the then head constable, a case against him under this section was booked. However, it was also stated by the witness that he had absconded to Pakistan. 

Police Act, 1861

Since a breach of trust by the police officers was involved, the legal provisions of the Police Act 1861 also came into play. Section 29 is a provision that was relied upon. It provides for the penalties that a police officer may be liable to pay in case of any negligence of his duty.

According to this Section, if any police officer is found guilty, of either a wilful breach, or a neglect of any law, rules or regulations, or performs any such other act, may be liable to

  • Pay a penalty up to three months of their pay; or
  • Imprisonment for up to three months; or 
  • Both. 

Judgement in Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs. the State of Uttar Pradesh (1964)

Now that we’ve seen all the different legal provisions that were brought forward and discussed in this case, we can jump onto the final judgement delivered by the Supreme Court in Kasturi Lal Ralia Ram Jain vs. The State of UP (1964)

While delivering the final judgement, the Court relied on an older precedent of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company v. Secretary of State for India. (1861), which at that time was a landmark judgement on the vicarious liability of the public servants. In this case, a lawsuit claiming damages of Rs. 350 was filed by the aggrieved party company against the Secretary of State, because their ponies were harmed due to the negligence of government employees that were riveting a piece of iron funnel casing weighing around 300 kg. 

Here, the judgement was in favour of the Secretary of State for India, and he was not held liable for the actions of his employees because of the sovereign powers that were delegated to them. 

Hence, even in this case, the Court then decided that there was no appropriate claim against the State. Therefore, it was held that the appeal could not be sustained.

Issue-wise judgement 

Whether the police officers involved were guilty of negligence in taking care of the gold in their custody?

The first substantial issue raised in the case of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain, which is heavily dependent on the concept of negligence in tort. It shows a breach of your duty to care; it can either reflect on an action or lack thereof. In the present case, the question was whether the police officers were negligent in the performance of their duty while they had to keep the gold secure. Here, an omission to take proper care and follow the proper steps was the act of negligence in question. While determining whether the police officers were negligent or not, three witness statements and other evidence were considered by the Supreme Court. 

A class II officer, Ganga Prasad, was called in as a witness, and his statement was treated as strong evidence for this matter. According to him, the Head Constable, and in – charge of the Police Malkhana, i.e., Mohd Amir, had fled from the duty without giving anyone the keys to the Malkhana. Moreover, he also stated that, when the Malkhana was checked later, a lot of other properties from there were found to be missing. Moreover, he claimed to return Kasturi Lal the articles on 26th October 1947. But, since the gold articles were missing, he could not return them. Then, he also spoke up about the investigation process taking place against the absconded Mohd. Amir. He admitted that no list of the articles was prepared and sent to the officers.  Lastly, in the statement he also confirmed that the items of Kasturi Lal were not kept in the wooden safety box, as usual by the officers. 

Then, the second witness, Sub-Inspector Mohd Umar, was called upon, and his statement was examined.In the statement, he agreed to the seizure of gold and silver valuables of Kasturi Lal. However, then he deposed that these articles were never kept in the Malkhana in his presence. According to him the articles were in the custody of the Head Constable, to whom he had specifically requested to put the items in the Malkhana. Moreover, there was no list made of the goods. Thus, the witness could neither deny or agree whether the police team and officers involved had taken appropriate measures and steps to protect the goods in their custody. 

Another witness, the station officer, named Agha Badarul Hasan’s statement, was also examined. He confirmed that daily procedure was followed, each morning of inspecting all the goods in the Malkhana, by a sub-inspector upon receiving his orders. This witness claimed that neither the gold and silver was weighed, or kept in the Malkhana in his presence. Besides, he stated that he had checked the Malkhana, but no reports were made on this inspection of articles. The witness also claimed that to keep valuable items in the treasury, they usually received orders from the officials. However, in this case no such order was received. 

Then, after considering the statements of the witnesses, the court relied on the relevant provisions of the CrPC and the UP Police Regulations, which confer the powers and detailed procedures that the police officers were supposed to diligently follow in this case. Moreover, it was also observed that, due to a lack of clarity in the provisions of the regulations, the UP police had erred in making the decision. Hence, the Supreme Court relied on the oral evidence presented. 

Thus, it was held by the Supreme Court that the police officers were indeed negligent in looking after the property seized by them from Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain. As per the due process, the articles were not kept in safe custody in the police treasury. Moreover, there was also sheer negligence in the way the articles of gold and silver were treated in the Police Malkhana. No list or report of the weights of the articles was found. 

Hence, the Supreme Court agreed with the decision of the Trial Court that the police officers appointed by the State were negligent in performing their duties. This led to the second issue, the question of law, which was yet to be decided. 

Whether the State (respondent) was liable for paying monetary compensation to the appellant for the negligence of officers hired by it?

Before jumping into the judgement delivered in this case, it is vital to understand two important concepts. One, of vicarious liability in tort, and another, of the doctrine of sovereign immunity. So, let’s first take a look at the concepts. 

Concept of Vicarious Liability

The law of tort is the common law that looks over issues like negligence involved in this case.  As a result, the doctrine of vicarious liability comes into the picture. This concept accounts for the responsibility of an employer for the negligent actions of its employees. However, this is only applicable if the negligent action is performed in the course of employment. For example, A company, XYZ, hires driver D for logistical work. One day, during the transit of the goods to the company warehouse, D got into an accident due to speeding. Now, in case the aggrieved party here seeks damages, they can easily claim it from the company XYZ. This is known as vicarious liability. However, if the company had not given D an assignment and he was found guilty of speeding after his work hours, the company would not be liable for his actions. 

Hence, at a glance, in the present case of Kasturi Lal Ralia Ram, it can be seen that the police officers were acting on behalf of the state, in the course of their employment. However, that is when the doctrine of sovereign immunity comes to the rescue of the state. 

Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity

The inception of this doctrine happened through the application of the common law by the Britshers in India. The doctrine protected the government authority from being sued in a court of law without its consent. It is widely based on the common law idea that the king can do no wrong. The first time that the validity of this doctrine’s applicability in Indian courts happened was in the P & O Steam Navigation case, as cited above. That judgement along with its preceding judgements, was a part of the pre-constitutional era cases relating to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Over the years, the applicability of this doctrine has been limited, to allow the aggrieved parties to exercise their rights and claim damages against the government when required. One of the important aspects of this doctrine is enshrined in Article 300 of the Constitution of India as discussed above. 

So, it’s evident that both of these concepts are significant in reaching the final decision of the court. Besides, the Supreme Court heavily relied on the precedent set in the P and O Steam Navigation Company case. As discussed above, the decision in that case was in favour of the Secretary. Similarly, the principle of protecting the state due to the performance of sovereign powers vested in it, was applied here, and the claim against the state of UP was denied.

Rationale behind this judgement

In this judgement, heavy reliance was placed on the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which reflected that the king shall do no wrong. As a result, the tasks delegated to public servants through the sovereign power, also could not be booked for issues like negligence. Hence, it was held that even though the gold seized by the police had not yet been delivered back to Kasturi Lal, the State was not responsible for paying him the damages. We will discuss this doctrine of sovereign immunity in-depth while tackling the judgement based on each issue. 

Analysis of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs. the State of Uttar Pradesh (1964) 

In the case of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs. The State of UP (1964), a lot of importance was given to the sole fact that the negligent act of the police officers happened while they were performing the “sovereign powers” to which they held the authority. 

The material facts of this case were never in dispute. Besides, after the consideration of the relevant provisions of the CrPC, it was also held by the trial court and validated by the Supreme Court that the police officers were negligent in keeping the articles secure, and thus failed to return them to Kasturi Lal. 

Then arose the question of law, that whether the state would be held liable for the tortious acts of its servants, i.e., the police officers. While deciding this, the court relied on the principle that the actions performed by the police officers, even though negligent, were a part of the sovereign power conferred on them. Then, the court relied on the power of the police to arrest a person and seize property that seemed to be stolen. The court held that these police officers of the state were only exercising their sovereign powers as allowed by a statute. Thus, the state was not held vicariously liable for their actions. Based on these factors, here are some points of analysis of the case: 

Application of decision to facts

The facts related to the first issue were that the police officers seized the property on the grounds of suspicion. Then, they failed to perform their duty of storing it securely, until they could return it. Thus, negligence on their part was proved. 

Now, let’s come to the facts pertaining to the second issue. This issue was regarding the liability of the state. The state had employed  these officers as police officials. So, ideally, the state was responsible for their wrongdoings. However, the principle of sovereign immunity is something that protects the state in case of any liabilities that arise while performing sovereign powers conferred upon it. Hence, the action of arrest and seizure of articles was a performance of sovereign function.

Significance of the case

The most significant aspect of this case is that it proves that laws need to change with time. In this case, what happened with Kasturi Lal was obviously not fair, and even though the negligence of police officers was proved, he could not get the damages he claimed for. However, the judicial interpretation of this sovereign immunity has come a long way since then. Usually, judicial authorities now consider all aspects and the current legal provisions before making decisions in similar cases. 


To conclude, this case is a great example of how it is important to bring changes to our legal system with the passage of time. In the 49th Law Commission Report, suggestions were made to eradicate the applicability of the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Even though this doctrine is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, there are many provisions, like Article 300, that indicate its applicability. In this case, even though the police officers were held negligent, the state was not held liable to pay damages to the victim. Over the years, the course of delivering judgments has changed and now, in recent times, the applicability of these principles is very limited. Hence, this judgement was repealed, as it is an injustice to not compensate the victims for the wrongdoings of state and central government employees. In a number of cases after this, there has been a strong disapproval of the principles that were set forth in the case of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs. The State of UP (1964)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What do you mean by the doctrine of sovereign immunity?

The doctrine is based on the common law principle that the king can do no wrong. Consequently, according to this doctrine, the state cannot be sued without its permission. 

What is the tortious liability of the State? 

Tortious liability of the state arises when it has been found guilty of any wrongdoing, or omission, or negligent act that causes damage to another person. 

Is the concept of vicarious liability applicable to public servants? 

Yes, currently, the concept of vicarious liability is applicable on public servants, in the same way that it is applicable to private companies. 



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