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This article is written by Sujitha S, pursuing B.A.LL.B (Hons.) from the School of Excellence in law, Chennai. This article deals with the landmark case of Rudul Sah v. the State of Bihar. Further, the article analyses the issues and important points observed in the case.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.


Judicial activism plays a significant role in the evolution of law in accordance with the developments of society. One such case showcasing the proactive approach of the judiciary is that of Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar(1983). This case traces its own distinction in the matters of  State liability in the light of writ jurisdiction and Article 21 of the Constitution. It is especially notable as it paved the way for the awarding of compensation for constitutional violations of fundamental rights. It’s worth noting in this context that the Indian Constitution contains no express provision for payment of compensation and that this decision was based on the Court’s interpretation of its remedial powers. 

The monetary award was granted in addition to, not in addition to, the aggrieved person’s Right to file a civil lawsuit for compensation. As an outcome of this ruling, the Supreme Court paid compensation in a number of petitions. In the ensuing early cases in which this remedy was reviewed, the Court concluded that compensation would be awarded only in “relevant situations,” which looked to primarily encompass life and liberty rights and were generally cases involving wrongful arrest and killings. 

Case details 

Citation: 1983 AIR 1086

Court: Supreme court of India

Judges/Coram: Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, Amarendra Nath Sen and Ranganath Misra

Date of judgment: 01.08.1983

Facts of the case

The case concerns a man who had been imprisoned for a time longer than his sentence. The petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition seeking his release from jail on the grounds that his detention following his release by the Sessions Court on June 3, 1968, was unconstitutional, as well as other collateral relief in the light of Article 32 of the Constitution.  

The petitioner, Rudul Sah, was arrested for the murder of his wife. After serving his sentence, he was acquitted by the Sessions Court in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, on June 3, 1968. However, on October 16, 1982, he was released from prison following a 14-year sentence. The petitioner sought compensation for his wrongful detention by filing a writ petition of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court under Article 32. He also requested state-funded medical treatment and an ex-gratia payment for his recovery. The petition was presented to the court on November 22nd, but he had already been released from prison. In the context of supplementary relief, however, the court issued a show-cause notice to the state.

The jailor, interestingly, prepared an affidavit for the State in which he put forward two points. First, even after he was acquitted, the Extra Sessions Judge in Muzaffarpur issued an order ordering the petitioner to be held in prison until further orders from the State Government and the I.G. (Prisons), Bihar. Second, he was deemed incompetent to stand trial by the Sessions Court when the order was issued. When he was later evaluated by a civil surgeon, he was found to be normal. In February 1977, the civil surgeons’ report was forwarded to the law department, and in October 1982, it was issued in accordance with a letter from the legal department dated October 14, 1982.


  • Whether a person is entitled to compensation for illegal detention under Article 32 of the Constitution?
  • Whether the right to compensation for the infringement of fundamental rights comes under the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution?

Contentions of the parties

Submissions by the petitioner

  • The counsel on behalf of the petitioner submitted that he was unlawfully imprisoned in jail despite the fact that he had been acquitted by the court. To be set free, he was forced to wait 14 years. 
  • This was a direct infringement of the petitioner’s fundamental right to life and personal liberty, which is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. 
  • Further, the petitioner sought reimbursement from the state of Bihar for the medical care he was scheduled to receive. He also claimed restitution for his wrongful detention as well as an ex-gratia payment for his rehabilitation.

Submissions by the defendant

  • The respondent’s counsel claimed that the petitioner was detained in jail as a result of an order of the authorities issued by the Additional Sessions Judge, which indicated that his release should be sanctioned only after the State Government and Inspector General of Prisons had given their approval.
  • The respondent further stated that the petitioner was labelled unsound but then discharged after a civil surgeon certified him normal by the legal department’s letter.


Ratio decidendi 

  • The Court granted the petition, ruling that the petitioner’s incarceration in prison following his acquittal was completely unlawful. Article 32 gives the Supreme Court the authority to issue directions or orders, as well as appropriate writs, to enforce any of the rights provided by Part III of the constitution.
  • If this Court’s competence is confined to issuing orders of release from illegal detention, Article 21, which guarantees the right to life and liberty, will lose its significance. 
  • The right to compensation is a palliative for the wrongful activities of instrumentalities acting in the name of the public interest and using the State’s powers as a shield to protect themselves.
  • Furthermore, even if he was mentally ill at the time he was acquitted, he could not be imprisoned for an extended period. The reason is straightforward. Even a lunatic has legal rights during the trial process. The court found the state’s action to be harsh and devoid of factual support. As a result, the court determined that the petitioner’s detention was irrational.
  • The Court then considered whether the petitioner’s request for ancillary relief might be granted based on its right to relief. Article 21, which guarantees personal freedom and the right to life, would be meaningless if the court was confined to releasing unlawful inmates by order without doing anything to ameliorate their circumstances.

Observations by the Court

As a result, the State must make good on the rights violations committed by its officers. In the circumstances of this case, refusing to provide the petitioner compensation would be merely lip service to his fundamental right to liberty, which the State Government has so flagrantly 509 violated. As a temporary remedy, the State must pay the petitioner an additional Rs. 30,000 in addition to the Rs. 5,000 it has already paid. This order does not bar the petitioner from pursuing a lawsuit against the State and its erring officers to obtain proper damages.


Rudul Shah’s case is a watershed moment in the history of state liability and compensation provisions. This decision is significant because it established the validity of compensation jurisprudence for violations of the constitution’s fundamental rights. This ruling also overturned the verdict in Kasturilal v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1964). In this case, the Court observed that the state was immune from accountability for the tortious act performed by its police personnel, which was a significant loss for citizens’ rights. However, the state’s tortious act was found to be within the boundaries of its sovereign authority by the Supreme Court, which granted the state immunity. P.B.Gajendragadkar, C.J., felt that the regulation was required and reprimanded the administration for omitting to do so.

Many others have opposed the decision in the Kasturilal case. The Indian Constitution does not expressly provide for the payment of compensation, and the ruling is based on the Court’s assessment of the scope of the right to remedy in Rudul’s case. The Rudul Sah case marked the first occasion the Supreme Court had paid compensation for a violation of a basic right under its jurisdiction since its formation. This matter exemplifies a person’s misery. Rudul Sah’s misery was caused not by his fault, but by the system in which residents place their trust. It was entirely a case of a citizen suffering as a result of the government’s negligence. In other circumstances, the breach of Article 32 was later expanded significantly. As society’s economic and social achievements necessitated compensation as a constitutional remedy, Article 21 became one of the most significant fundamental rights.

For example, compensation was granted in the case Paschim Banga Khet Samity v State of West Bengal (1996), where the Supreme Court declared that the right to life includes the right to health. Khatri v. State of Bihar(1980) was the first case to examine the awarding of monetary compensation through writ jurisdiction. “Why should the court not be willing to create new tools and devise new remedies for the sake of vindicating the most precious of the precious fundamental rights to life and personal liberty?” said Bhagwati, J. in this case.

In M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, the Supreme Court reiterated its position in Rudul Sah, that under Article 32, it can not only issue directions but also design new remedies and impose new strategies to enforce such rights. The Court went on to argue that Article 32’s power did not just apply to preventative measures, but also compensation rights when they were breached. The court went on to say that taking the opposite stance of not imposing any compensation orders on the state would deprive Article 32 of its complete force, rendering it useless and ineffective.

In a democracy, the state fulfils a plethora of functions, including preventing citizens from abusing their power or property. Even fundamental rights are occasionally violated. In this circumstance, an acceptable method for identifying the state’s obligation and compensating the victim is required. It should be noted, however, that the state has not bothered to enact legislation to resolve residents’ claims against it. The Indian judiciary has taken on a difficult issue by developing certain principles for dealing with the aforementioned predicament in its unique way.

There was also a discussion of putting in place a system of checks and balances to avoid such occurrences from happening again. This was intended for the state of Bihar, which was in upheaval due to the instability of its prison system at the time. However, all states would benefit from adopting and expanding on the Court’s approach to avoid such tragedies from occurring again.


Notwithstanding the constitutional and statutory protections for individual liberty, the rising incidences of custodial torture and death throughout our society have become a source of concern for the higher judiciary as well as the National Human Rights Commission, which has awarded compensation in several cases. The number of complaints of police officers in custody or other law enforcement authorities abusing their power and torturing suspects is on the rise. Generally, victims of incarceration abuse come from the weaker sections of our society or are women or children. The wealthy can obtain legal protection, while the destitute, the downtrodden, and the uninformed, who have little or no political or financial influence, suffer and have almost no human rights.

According to the findings of the foregoing analysis, which included a variety of cases, it may be determined that the state no longer has sovereign immunity when its workers commit acts of torts against citizens. The Supreme Court has now reversed Kasturilal, and the Rudul Shah case has given the state liability concept a fresh perspective. When a fundamental right to life or liberty is violated by a state employee, the state is held vicariously accountable. Damages might be sought by a writ or through civil litigation. It is also possible to receive it by contacting the Human Rights Commission, either at the national or state level. It would be preferable if our Parliament passed legislation on this subject, making the state statutorily accountable anytime its personnel commit a tort while performing a sovereign or non-sovereign role.


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