This article was written by Sujitha S and further updated by Debapriya Biswas. This article deals with the landmark case of Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar (1983). Further, the article analyses the issues raised in the case and the principles established by the Supreme Court to address these issues. The article also clarifies the need for such principles, which include state liability and monetary compensation under constitutional law.


As time changes, the needs of society change and so does the law to accommodate such needs. In this process of development and evolution, the Judiciary plays a significant role in judicial activism. One such proactive approach of the Judiciary has been seen in the case of Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar & Ors. (1983). This case finds distinction in the matters of state liability in the light of writ jurisdiction and fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India.

It is especially notable since the concept of awarding monetary compensation to individuals whose fundamental rights have been breached first emerged through this case in India. This award was an ancillary relief to the damages that would be awarded to the aggrieved party under civil law, making it an addition to the overall relief given to the victim. Let us discuss the case in further detail to learn more about the emergence of this supplementary relief in constitutional jurisprudence.

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Details of Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar & Ors. (1983) 

Date of judgement

August 1, 1983

Parties of the case

Petitioner: Rudul Sah

Respondents: State of Bihar & Ors.

Represented by

For Petitioner: Advocate K. Hingorani

For Respondents: Advocate D. Goburdhan


AIR 1983 SC 1086, 1984 (21) ACC 11, 1983 (6) BLJ 684, 1983 CriLJ 1644, 1983 INSC 85, 1983 (2) SCALE 103, (1983) 4 SCC 141, [1983] 3 SCR 508


The Supreme Court of India


  1. The then Hon’ble Chief Justice of India Y.V. Chandrachud;
  2. Hon’ble Justice Ranganath Misra; and
  3. Hon’ble Justice Amarendra Nath Sen.

Provisions and Statutes involved

Background of Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar (1983) 

Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar & Ors. (1983) is one of the landmark judgments that laid down the precedent for many more cases to come in light of breaching the fundamental rights of the citizens by the State. It is the first case that introduced the concept of monetary compensation regarding constitutional law cases, especially those dealing with the breach of fundamental rights and other basic human rights. It also expanded the scope of the State’s liability in the context of tortious acts committed by the government or its personnel.

It is an undeniable fact that the Constitution of India empowers as well as obligates the State to protect the fundamental rights of the citizen. However, while the fundamental rights are specifically embodied in Part III of the Constitution, such is not the case for the remedy in case they are infringed. The Indian Constitution does not mention any monetary compensation for individuals whose fundamental rights have been infringed upon. The Rudul Sah case was the first case where this issue was addressed by the Supreme Court in 1983 along with the need for such compensation.

Legal background

As discussed earlier in the article, the Constitution of India does not provide for any remedy, rehabilitation or compensation for those whose fundamental rights are breached. Thus, it is left to the courts to interpret the constitutional provisions and provide for an appropriate relief to the aggrieved party by exercising their remedial powers.

The Rudul Sah case was filed as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the Constitution, which empowers an individual to directly approach the Supreme Court when their fundamental rights are violated. The Article also provides for anticipatory reliefs in cases where there is a reasonable apprehension of violation of one’s fundamental right. The petition was filed regarding the illegal detention of Rudul Sah and the violation of his fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. The petition sought the release of the petitioner along with supplementary relief for such infringement, which included compensation and/or rehabilitation.

Before this case, the scope of relief under constitutional laws was limited, especially in the cases of breach of fundamental rights of the citizens by the governmental institutions. While Article 32 acted as a remedial provision which could be invoked in cases of violation of fundamental rights, the Constitution did not mention any specific remedy relating to compensation of victims of such infringement. The present case was the first case that addressed this issue and broadened the scope of relief and remedial powers of the Supreme Court under Article 32 by introducing the concept of monetary compensation. 

The monetary compensation discussed here is supplementary to the damages that the victim can claim under civil law as their relief. In cases such as the Rudul Sah case, where the violation of fundamental rights was committed by the government authorities, the State was held liable to compensate the aggrieved individual for such violation. This was also the first case to hold the State accountable for the actions of its personnel and agents through vicarious liability. Here, the term ‘State’ refers to any authority which falls within the ambit of Article 12 of the Indian Constitution.  

Before this case, the State could not be held liable for the actions of police officers or any other agents, making them immune from any tortious liability. Such immunity not only limited the scope of civilian rights and protection but also had the potential of being misused. The Supreme Court acknowledged as such in the judgement of the current case while considering the purview of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. 

Social background

While the legal side of this case may seem simple, such was not the case for the social aspect of the current case. The petitioner, Rudul Sah, was arrested under the charge of murdering his wife — a crime of quite severe nature in itself. And while he was acquitted for the same by the Sessions Court, declaring him innocent of all the charges, Rudul Sah was still detained in imprisonment for over fourteen years without any legal cause.

As many may agree, no individual should be punished for more than what they did. In this case, the petitioner was declared legally free of all charges as well. Despite that, he was still detained illegally for fourteen years. 

As such, the petition filed by Rudul Sah for illegal detention and false imprisonment for the extended fourteen years is completely justified and within his rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. Regardless of whether an individual is a criminal or not, they shall have the right to file a petition and demand compensation for the same when their fundamental rights are violated.

After all, the objective of law is to not only protect the citizens and award punishment for those who have broken the law but also to act as a means of restoration. In simpler words, the law of any nation should aim to act in a restorative and rehabilitative manner, allowing the criminals and lawbreakers to take responsibility for their actions through imprisonment and/or fines, while also giving them a chance to improve themselves and abstain from committing such acts in the future. Excessively harsh punishments would only make the law arbitrary and limit the scope of civilian rights. To allow the violation of the rights of an individual only because they were found guilty of a crime is equally arbitrary and harmful to the protection of civilian rights.

Facts of Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar (1983) 

The petitioner of the present case, Rudul Sah, was arrested in 1953 on the charges of murdering his wife. However, on June 3, 1968, he was acquitted by the Muzaffarpur Sessions Court, releasing him from all the charges. Despite the acquittal, he remained incarcerated till October 16, 1982, leading to fourteen years imprisonment without any proper legal cause. 

The petitioner filed a writ petition of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court on November 22, 1982, when he was not yet released from his unlawful detention. In his petition, he asked for his release from prison on the ground that it was a false imprisonment that was against constitutional freedoms. 

The petitioner sought relief under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, which consisted of ancillary reliefs like ex-gratia payment for his rehabilitation and reimbursement for the medical treatment that he may have incurred. He also sought compensation for his illegal imprisonment even after being acquitted as per the due procedure of law.

By the time the case was presented before the Supreme Court in November, the petitioner was already released from prison in October of the same year. Thus, the Court focused on the ancillary reliefs sought by the petitioner and issued a show-cause notice to the State for the same. 

Going against the Court’s expectation for a prompt response, the State did not give any explanation for over four months due to which the Court passed another order demanding the reason for such delay. In pursuance of the subsequent order, the jailor of Muzaffarpur Central Jail filed an affidavit that recited the following two reasons:

  1. The first reason offered was that despite the acquittal, the Additional Sessions Judge, Muzaffarpur had issued an order for the petitioner to be detained in prison till further orders were passed by the State Government and the Inspector General of Prisons, Bihar. 
  2. The second reason presented by the jailor was that the petitioner was of unsound mind and, thus, deemed incompetent to stand trial when the aforesaid order was issued. 

Thus, following the procedure, the State detained the petitioner and the information of this detainment was sent to the Law Department of the Muzaffarpur Central Jail through the Muzaffarpur District Magistrate. It was not until the year 1977 that the petitioner was evaluated by a civil surgeon who declared him to be of sound mind and communicated the same to the Muzaffarpur Central Jail.

The affidavit submitted by the jailor also clarified that the petitioner, Rudul Sah, was treated according to the procedure established under the Jail Manual, Bihar, during this period. In October 1982, the petitioner was released in compliance with the letter issued by the Law Department of the Muzaffarpur Central Jail.

Issues before the Court

The issues that arose before the Supreme Court of India were as follows:

  1. Whether the Court can grant monetary compensation for the infringement of fundamental rights under Article 32 of the Constitution.
  2. Whether the scope of Article 21 includes the right to compensation for the violation of the right to personal liberty.

Contentions of the parties

Submissions by the petitioner

The counsel on behalf of the petitioner submitted that the petitioner was acquitted in 1968 from the crime of murdering his wife by the Muzaffarpur Sessions Court. Despite that, he was unlawfully imprisoned for an additional fourteen years, which is a violation of the petitioner’s fundamental right to life and personal liberty enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Thus, in view of this, they put forth four prayers or relief in the petition:

  1. To be released from unlawful imprisonment since it was violative of the petitioner’s fundamental rights. Since the petitioner was released almost a month before the hearing of the Court, this prayer became redundant. 
  2. To be awarded medical treatment at the expense of the State or at least be reimbursed for the medical treatment the petitioner may have incurred. 
  3. To be compensated for the petitioner’s rehabilitation.
  4. Finally, to be compensated for the fourteen years-long illegal detention of the petitioner even after being acquitted of the crime.

The later three prayers were of ancillary or supplementary relief that the Court focused on since the first prayer became pointless after the release of the petitioner.

Submissions by the respondents

The submissions made by the counsel in support of the respondents were majorly through the affidavit admitted by the jailor of Muzaffarpur Central Jail, Shri Alakh Deo Singh. As per the affidavit:

  1. The petitioner was detained in jail as per the order issued by the Additional Sessions Judge, Muzaffarpur. As per the order, the petitioner had to be detained in prison till further orders were issued or given by the State Government of Bihar or the Generals of Prisons, Bihar.
  2. The petitioner was of unsound mind during the passing of the order and, thus, incompetent to stand for the trial.
  3. Once a civil surgeon had declared him to be of sound mind, he was released in compliance with the letter issued by the Law Department of the Muzaffarpur Central Jail.
  4. The respondents argued that they had followed and treated the petitioner in accordance with the provisions and rules of the Jail Manual of Bihar.

Thus, based on these submissions, the respondents argued that there was no negligence on their side and they acted as per the orders issued to them by the District Magistrate, Muzaffarpur.

Judgement in Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar (1983)

Ratio decidendi behind the judgement 

The Court observed that the petitioner’s fourteen-year-long imprisonment, despite his acquittal, was both unlawful and unjustified. Additionally, not granting the current petition would only add to the misery of the petitioner while doing nothing but mere lip service to his fundamental rights. Thus, the Court allowed the petition under Article 32.

Despite the Constitution not mentioning any remedies for the violation of fundamental rights, the Court has the power to determine the same as per the circumstances of each case. The Court highlighted that Article 32 grants the Supreme Court the remedial powers to protect and enforce the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India. Thus, to enforce the same, the Court can grant monetary compensation for the infringement of fundamental rights as can be observed in the present case.

The claim for compensation or damages is a right for every aggrieved individual whose rights are infringed. If the State violated the fundamental rights, then the State shall be liable to compensate the victim for it. Dismissing such a right would be against the public interest and civilian rights. 

Supposing that the petitioner indeed was of unsound mind during the trial where he was acquitted of all the charges, his imprisonment would still stand to be unlawful. Just because his State of mind was not stable does not strip him of his legal and fundamental rights. The State’s action in the present case was unjustified and completely devoid of any factual support. 

The ancillary relief requested by the petitioner was justified and acknowledged by the Court. Since Article 21 of the Indian Constitution enshrines the right to life and personal liberty, only considering the social factor of the same and not the economic factors would restrict its enforcement. Thus, the relief as prayed by the petitioner was granted by the Court in the view that merely releasing the petitioner from his unlawful detainment would make the role of the Court insignificant in the current circumstances.

Observations by the Supreme Court

Criminal litigation

While the respondents claimed their actions to be in conformity with the rules, they failed to produce any evidence that may support their claims. No medical certificate or documents supporting the State of the petitioner’s mind during the trial were present, making the Court question the authenticity of the claims made in the affidavit admitted by the jailor of Muzaffarpur Central Jail and how the respondents could deduce the State of the petitioner without a professional opinion.

The court also observed that the affidavit admitted by the respondents failed to disclose the data on the basis of which the petitioner was evaluated to be of unsound mind and reason for further detention of the petitioner despite his acquittal. Neither the affidavit filed by the jailor nor the order passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Muzaffarpur clarified either of the points. Furthermore, the affidavit also did not disclose what measures were taken to treat the unsound mind of the petitioner and why it took over fourteen years to do so. No medical records or opinions were produced by the respondents to support the diagnosis of the unsound mind of the petitioner either.

In the absence of any proper evidence as well as objections from the side of the respondents, the petition was allowed and the claims of the petitioner were granted to prevent a repetition of the same circumstances faced by the petitioner with another in future. The Court emphasised that the State, as a system, is trusted by the citizens and should be accountable for the actions of its agents, personnel or officials. Thus, the State must be held accountable for the damage done by its officials and compensate the petitioner for the infringement of his fundamental rights. 

Supreme Court’s holdings 

In the circumstances of the present case, refusing to provide the petitioner compensation would be merely lip service to his fundamental right to liberty, which the State Government had so flagrantly violated. Thus, as a temporary remedy, the government of Bihar was ordered to pay the petitioner an additional Rs. 30,000 in addition to the Rs. 5,000 it had already paid. The compensation was ordered to be paid within two weeks of the date of judgment.

The Court further held that the aforesaid order did not bar the petitioner from pursuing a further lawsuit against the State and its officials to obtain proper damages. Since Rudul Sah’s imprisonment was held to be unlawful, he had the right to seek damages under tort for the false imprisonment; thus, triggering a civil cause of action as well.

The Court also advised the State to re-examine the prison administration of Bihar and rectify any mistakes that may or have caused injustice to the prisoners. The Supreme Court also gave some directions to the High Court of Patna to help release the prisoners who are in unlawful detention like the petitioner in the present case. The directions from the Supreme Court included to call for statistical data regarding unlawful detentions in the State Jails of Bihar from the Home Department of the Government of Bihar along with a detailed statement from all the jails in Bihar that disclosed the number of prisoners staying in the jail for over ten years in a tabular form. 

Once these directions are implemented, the High Court of Patna will be in a better position to help the prisoners who are in unlawful detentions. The Supreme Court also directed the High Court to ask the State government of Bihar to compensate the aforesaid prisoners for the injustice caused and take appropriate steps for rehabilitation.

Analysis of Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar (1983)

The Rudul Sah case acted as a cornerstone in the history of constitutional jurisprudence and State liability. With such a progressive judgement towards the compensation provisions, the Supreme Court established a baseline for constitutional compensation and relief for future cases of fundamental right infringement. 

Furthermore, this judgement overturned the previous ruling of the Supreme Court in Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1964), in which the State was held to be immune from any tortious liability. In the aforesaid case, the Court held that the State was not accountable for any actions taken by the police officials during their exercise of any sovereign power, which included the power to arrest, search and seize property. Even if there is any negligence committed during the exercise of such power, the State shall not be liable since the power is conferred by statutes.

Due to this ruling, the State was practically immune from any tortious or vicarious liability if the actions committed by its personnel were somewhat covered by statutory provisions. It was a significant loss for civilian rights, which was overturned in the present judgement.

In addition to that, the ruling in the Rudul Sah case marked the beginning of compensatory jurisprudence in constitutional law. It gave a completely fresh angle to the relief that could be granted to the aggrieved individuals whose fundamental rights were violated by exercising its writ jurisdiction under Article 32. 

The judgement itself highlighted not only the need for such compensation but also issues and misery faced by the aggrieved party upon being deprived of their basic rights. After all, the unlawful detention of the petitioner was not his own fault and, rather, it was the negligence of the State that led to the imprisonment of Rudul Sah, despite not being guilty of the offence for which he was incarcerated. The Supreme Court eloquently highlighted this legal proposition in the present judgement, thus, protecting the liberty of the citizens while also addressing the root of the issue, which is the State’s negligence.

Principles laid down in Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar (1983)

In this judgement, three principles were established that set a precedent for constitutional jurisprudence. These three principles are given as follows:

Remedial powers under Article 32

Article 32 of the Constitution of India empowers an individual to directly approach the Supreme Court of India when their fundamental rights are violated or are going to be violated. This right is available to everyone, regardless of their caste, race, gender, sex, nationality, etc. This includes the people imprisoned as well as arrested. 

Thus, in the present case, Rudul Sah had the right to fight against his unlawful detention, especially given how the State was not able to produce any concrete evidence for the reasons presented behind his extended imprisonment. This case widened the scope of Article 32, expanding the remedial power of the Judiciary under the Constitution of India. This remedial power of the Supreme Court includes the power to issue directions or orders or writs, including the five writs habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari as per the circumstances of the respective cases for the protection and enforcement of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India.

The present case was the stepping stone for the Judiciary to expand its remedial power and compensatory jurisprudence under Article 32, which was explored and defined further by the subsequent cases in the following years. Almost every case, after the present one, reiterated the view that if the Court was restricted to merely granting the release of the aggrieved party from illegal detention without any ancillary or supplementary relief, then it would make the role of the Court insignificant.

Thus, compensatory and remedial powers are also held to be a significant part of Article 32 along with the preventative measures against the possible violation of the fundamental rights of the citizen.

Monetary remedies for breach of fundamental rights

The Rudul Sah case paved the way in constitutional jurisprudence regarding monetary compensation in cases of violation of fundamental rights. Before this case, no additional compensation was considered except the relief that may be granted under civil law. Since the Constitution of India does not provide for any relief, only basic damages and relief as per the civil law were considered. 

In the present case, the Supreme Court made the decision to award monetary compensation after carefully considering the rights conferred under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which constitutes the fundamental right to life and personal liberty. The social and economic rights within the purview of this Article needed to be addressed since, in the present case, the petitioner was imprisoned for fourteen years despite being acquitted of all the charges by the Sessions Court of Muzaffarpur, Bihar. It not only violated his fundamental rights but also affected his life and mental and physical well-being after being in jail for such a long time.

Furthermore, his unlawful imprisonment led to many years of his life being squandered despite not being guilty of committing the crime he was imprisoned for. No relief could recover the time and loss of reputation the petitioner faced when he was imprisoned illegally. It should also be considered how time can be crucial for someone who has been imprisoned and may need rehabilitation and social integration after being released. 

Job opportunities decrease significantly for those with a criminal record and so does their reputation in society. Even after being acquitted of the crime, such unlawful imprisonment stains the reputation and work possibilities of an individual. To rebuild a life for themselves, many people need time for rehabilitation after imprisonment. Such unlawful detention curbs the chance for the petitioner to gain any type of economic stability after his release, especially when age is also to be considered.

Thus, in the present case, the monetary compensation awarded to the petitioner not only helped him gain economic stability after his release from imprisonment but also allowed the Court to bridge the gap in constitutional jurisprudence and protect the people against arbitrary actions of the State. 

However, not all constitutional cases amount to monetary compensation for the victims. Only cases relating to the violation of fundamental rights regarding illegal detention, life and personal liberty were considered appropriate for monetary compensation by the Judiciary. It should be noted here that the monetary compensation discussed here is the supplementary amount that is to be given to the victim other than the relief under civil law. 

State liability

Under the Constitution of India, Article 21 protects the right to life and personal liberty of an individual within the Indian territory regardless of their status, position, nationality, gender, caste, sex, etc. The only exception to such a right is unless the deprivation of such right is done according to the procedure established by law. In the present case, the petitioner was deprived of his personal liberty by being detained years beyond his punishment violating his fundamental right under the said Article.

The Rudul Sah case not only established compensatory jurisprudence in constitutional cases but also addressed the obligation of the State for the actions of its personnel and officials. As stated earlier, the State was not accountable for tortious liability, giving the State an unfair position that could lead to arbitrary actions. 

In the present case, the Supreme Court reversed this position and expanded on the State’s liability for its agents. The negligence committed by the government officials cost the petitioner an additional seven years of his life that could not be recovered. In such a scenario, not holding the State liable for the inadequacy in following due procedure of law could lead to similar cases in the future. Keeping such reasoning in mind, the Supreme Court laid down these principles in the judgement of the present case.

The state liability established in the present case expanded the scope of constitutional torts and jurisprudence for future cases. Constitutional torts, in simple words, are an overlap of constitutional rights and torts where the State (through its agents, personnel or officials) has infringed upon the fundamental rights of the people. State liability holds the State, as well as the public authorities, involved accountable for the infringement.

This accountability previously extended up to only non-monetary relief and damages granted under civil law. However, after the present judgement, it also includes monetary compensation. In many cases, an official apology or even acknowledgement of the infringement is made to restore the reputation of the aggrieved individual.

Scope of state liability 

While the State may be held accountable for its actions, the accountability should not be limitless. Thus, determining the extent of such liability also becomes a major necessity, when it comes to constitutional jurisprudence. While Article 294 of the Indian Constitution briefly mentions the rights, liabilities and obligations of the State arising from contracts or otherwise, it does not specify the types of liabilities or obligations so as mentioned. Thus, let us discuss the factors that usually determine the extent of state liability in detail as below:


The first and major factor to determine the scope of state liability is the causation of the wrongful act that resulted in the infringement of the fundamental rights of the individual. What the wrongful act was and whether the wrongful act committed was within the course of employment under the State is quite crucial in determining if it would be covered by State liability. It further expands whenever we consider the direct or indirect involvement of the State, or its agents, in causation and the resultant harm. 

Resultant damages

The severity of the damages caused due to the infringement of fundamental rights is one of the major factors that the judiciary considers when addressing State liability. It is the duty of the State to protect its citizens and, if the actions of the State harm the public severely, then it shall carry the liability to compensate for the same. 

In simpler terms, just as with any other penalties under the law, the severity of the damage caused would determine how high the liability of the State would be in the case. If the actions have resulted in unlawful deaths, then the penalties would be higher in comparison to cases of illegal detention. 


The State has certain immunities that limit the scope of State liability. These immunities can vary depending on the jurisdiction of the cause of action and the action itself. As stated in Section 86 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, no foreign State, its ruler, ambassador, envoy, high commissioner or any such member shall be arrested under the Code unless the Central Government certifies such arrest in writing by a secretary to that foreign government. Hence, this section establishes sovereign immunity in India. The only exceptions to this are when the consent has been waived by the foreign nation or when the petitioner is the owner of immovable property within the foreign nation and the suit filed regarding the aforesaid property or money charged upon it. 

Obligations under state liability 

The obligations under state liability extend beyond the tortious liability established in the present. These obligations are elaborated further as follows:

Statutory liability

As the term suggests, this is the kind of state liability that deals with the violation of legal rights provided in the statutes and legislation. Any action by the State, public authorities or its representatives that leads to the violation of legal provisions and the rights prescribed under it, would be liable under this type of State liability. This includes legal provisions under Acts by the legislation as well as rules and orders given by the judiciary. Section 80 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 provides the procedure for the two-month notice that should be given to the State or else the suit is liable to be dismissed. This section is enacted to ensure that the claims made against the State are legitimate and to avoid any unnecessary litigation. On the other hand, Order 27 of the Code states the procedural rules regarding the suit against the State itself. 

Contractual liability

This type of state liability occurs when the State has a contract or an agreement with another party. Any violation of such agreement with a third party or individual would amount to state liability to the extent of the commitment given in the contract or the damages incurred by the third party due to such violation. The contractual liability helps promote fair contracts along with transparency between the public authorities with individual or private entities. 

Article 299 and Article 300 under the Indian Constitution deal with the contractual liability of the State, with Article 299 stating that all the contracts with the government as a party shall be made in the name of the President of the country or the Governor of the State, depending on whether it is the Central Government or State Government that is in the contract. The President and the Governor are not personally liable for the contract; they only stand in as the representative of the government. Meanwhile, Article 300 clarifies that the State can be sued in a Court of law as the Union of India.

Tortious liability

As mentioned earlier, this is the type of State liability that arises when the State, through its representatives, violates the rights of another individual. These wrongful acts can include actions like arbitrary actions or abuse of power, negligence, illegal detention, etc., which may arise due to the failure of government officials to perform their duties or even sheer negligence on their part. Actions committed with malicious intent will also be accounted for under such liability.

Aftermath of Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar (1983)

As a landmark case, the Rudul Sah case set a precedent that helped bridge the gap left between civil rights and State obligations. The jurisprudence of state liability was expanded in the current judgement, giving more scope for State accountability and judicial activism. 

This was the first case that led to the emergence of compensatory remedy for the violation of fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution, especially in cases where the harm is non-recoverable or irreplaceable. Since the Constitution does not provide for any remedies, this case set a precedent for such remedies and the discretionary power of the judiciary to provide for such remedies. The judiciary could not only design new remedies but also enforce the remedies to protect the rights of the people.

In a nutshell, this case paved the path for both monetary compensation for constitutional cases as well as judicial activism. Following the precedent set by this case, the Supreme Court awarded compensation in many cases, specifically the ones where an individual’s right to life and personal liberty was violated. As mentioned earlier, these remedies are to be awarded only in appropriate cases while the rest were provided with the relief granted under civil law. 

Moreover, in the present judgement, the Supreme Court also mentioned the economic and social rights of an individual the fundamental rights enshrined within Article 21, which set a precedent for the subsequent cases to expand upon. The ideology that monetary compensation was a necessary remedy for the victims of the violation of fundamental rights was backed by many of the subsequent cases in the following years.

One such case was the case of Khatri & Ors. v. State of Bihar & Ors. (1980) in which the overall concept of awarding monetary remedies for constitutional violations was examined thoroughly by the Supreme Court. According to Justice Bhagwati in the aforesaid case, the role of the judiciary is to act as a guardian of the Constitution of India and, to act as such, they need to protect the rights of the citizens. The Court should be willing to create new tools and devise remedies as per the requirement of the case to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens. 

The Supreme Court reiterated the above-mentioned view in its judgement of the case M.C. Mehta & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors. (1986), stating that Article 32 confers the Court with the power to design new remedies and appropriate strategies to implement such remedies. The Supreme Court can issue directions as per these strategies to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens and avoid any further breach of the same. The Court also held that powers conferred by the aforesaid provision of the Indian Constitution can act as both — preventive of further infringement of rights and compensatory for the victims who have suffered through the breach already occurred. Thus, as per the Supreme Court, it would be restrictive and ineffective of Article 32 to not issue compensatory orders in cases of a State infringing the fundamental rights of the individual.

In another case of Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoorsamity & Ors. v. State of West Bengal & Anr. (1996), the Supreme Court explicitly cited its ruling in the Rudul Sah case and held that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution also includes the right to health. 

Thus, in a nutshell, the State plays a vital role in a democracy with its function to maintain order and peace among the citizens by preventing them from abusing or harming one another. Sovereign powers conforming with such a role are also given to the State to maintain the same. However, that does not give the State immunity from any arbitrary actions or tortious actions leading to the violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens. Whenever such a violation happens, as seen in the present judgment, the State’s obligation should be identified and the aggrieved individual or party should be compensated for the injury. 

Such circumstances would be much easier to address and make decisions on if proper legislation is enacted addressing the same. However, we currently do not have any statutory provisions that focus on the claims of the citizens for constitutional violations or compensation for actions coming under State liability. The only remedy currently available for the above is ruled by the Indian judiciary based on the precedents and its remedial powers enshrined in the Constitution.

Another level of checks and balances could also prevent the occurrences of such negligence or arbitrary actions. It would be especially beneficial for the States that have an unstable or inadequate administration system, including the prison system, as observed in the present case. However, all States may benefit from the same.

Currently, to minimise the cases of false imprisonment and delays in the release of prisoners, an official portal named ‘FASTER 2.0’ has been launched that can catalogue the Court orders of such releases and can be easily accessed by the jail authorities. The portal will allow immediate intimation to the concerned authorities regarding the release of a prisoner.


The incidents of illegal detention, custodial torture and death during imprisonment have risen alarmingly in the past decade. In such times, the need for protection other than what is enshrined in the Constitution is quite dire. Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar & Ors. (1983) disclosed this need, highlighting how a remedy for such a violation of rights is an urgent necessity. The Supreme Court not only stepped up to provide the remedy for the same but also highlighted the need for statutory protections for the liberty of the citizens. 

As a landmark judgement, this case set an example for both the judiciary and the National Human Rights Commission, allowing them to exercise their remedial powers to grant monetary compensation to the aggrieved individuals. Since most of the victims of such procedural negligence and custodial torture come from the weaker sections of the society like people from scheduled castes, poor households or women, the need to address the issue becomes dire. After all, not everyone can afford legal protection and those who cannot suffer the most under these circumstances. 

With the reversal of the Kasturilal case, the State lost its immunity against the tortious acts that its agents, personnel or officials may commit during their course of employment. This resulted in the scope of state liability expanding along with lowering the chances of arbitrary actions committed by the State significantly. This vicarious obligation of the State ensures that the aggrieved individuals can seek damages through a civil lawsuit or by a writ petition while also holding the State accountable for not following the procedure established or violating the same. And all this was made possible because of the present judgement laid down by the Supreme Court.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is State liability?

State liability, as the term suggests, is the obligation that the State incurs when any of its agents, personnel or officials violates the rights of another party during the course of their employment. In simpler terms, state liability is the State taking accountability for any wrongful act committed by the State or its representative that resulted in the infringement of the rights of another individual.

Is the State immune from tortious liability?

No, the State is not immune to tortious liability. After the landmark case of Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar & Ors. (1983), the State was held accountable for the actions of its personnel and officials regardless of their position in the government. The State is liable as the principal for any acts of commission or omission of their agents during their course of employment under the government. Even if the act was involuntary, the State would be held liable for violating the fundamental rights of the victims. This step was taken to prevent any arbitrariness and lower the chances of negligence of the State officials and representatives. 

Is monetary compensation awarded for every constitutional right infringement? 

No, monetary compensation or remedy is only awarded in the cases of fundamental right violation, specifically those of illegal detention, life and personal liberty. This monetary compensation is given in addition to the relief or damages provided under the civil law or torts. 


  • M. Seervai, Constitutional Law of India, Universal Law Publishing Co., Reprint 2013.
  • M. Bakshi, The Constitution of India, Universal Law Publishing Co., 2014.
  • Dr J.N. Pandey, Constitutional Law of India, Central Law Agency, Allahabad, 37th edition, 2001.

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