Rudul Sah v State of Bihar – Case Analysis


The concerned case is a landmark judgment that has paved a new horizon in the jurisprudence of state liability. Rudul Sah v State of Bihar case has introduced the concept of compensation for the breach of Fundamental Rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India. However, the Indian Constitution never provided any expressed provisions for the grant of compensation. The essence of the concerned case lies in the excellent interpretation of the Court in exercising its remedial powers.

This is the first case wherein the Supreme Court has awarded monetary compensation to the victim in the event of violating his Fundamental Rights. However, such monetary compensation is in addition to the victim’s right to claim relief under civil law for putting up with his damages. Treating the concerned case as a precedent, the Supreme Court later awarded compensation in the event of a violation of Fundamental Rights. However, in the later cases, the Court has made it very specific that allowing monetary compensation in case of breach of Fundamental Rights could be awarded only in the appropriate case involving the matter related to life and liberty, illegal detention, and cause of unlawful deaths.

Rudul Sah v State of Bihar case widened the scope of granting compensatory relief within the ambit of constitutional jurisdiction. Supreme Court has vehemently considered economic and social rights within the purview of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution while considering compensation as a constitutional remedy for infringement of Fundamental Rights.

Facts of Rudul Sah v State of Bihar Case

1. The case is about a man who was illegally detained for a period exceeding the term of his sentence. The petitioner, Rudul Sah, had submitted a writ petition in the context of Habeas Corpus (to have a body) that commands his liberation from jail.

2. Herein, the petitioner was wrongfully detained in jail even after the completion of his period of imprisonment. Therefore, such detention was declared illegal by the Session Court in June 1968.

3. The petitioner further demanded collateral relief under the constitutional remedies available to the citizens under the ambit of the Indian Constitution for the violation of Fundamental Rights under Article 32.

4. The petitioner was arrested for murdering his wife. He was acquitted on 3rd June 1968 by the Sessions Court of Muzaffarpur, Bihar, after serving the period of his imprisonment. He was liberated from jail on October 1982, subsequent to serving 14 years sentence.

5. On the writ petition of Habeas Corpus, the petitioner demanded justice from the Court for his illegal detention.

6. The petitioner had even applied for a medical treatment that the State of Bihar shall sponsor.

7. On 22nd November, the writ petition was presented before the Court while the petitioner was already freed from prison.

8. In the context of the additional relief applied by the petitioner along with the writ, the Court has served the state with a show cause notice.

9. On behalf of the state, the jailor had drafted an affidavit and put forward two documents that depict the following:

  1. An order issued by the Additional Session Judge declared that despite the petitioner’s acquittal, the petitioner must stay behind bars until the State Government of Bihar issued further notice.
  2. The petitioner was declared incapable of facing the prosecution while the order of the Session Court was passed. The medical report of the petitioner, as per the medical test conducted by a civil surgeon, was deemed normal. The same was submitted to the law department in February 1977 and was issued in October 1982.

Legal Issues Involved

  1. Does the right to compensation for illegal detention come under Article 21 of the Constitution?
  2. Whether the citizen of India could put up any defence against the arbitrary action of the state or its officials?
  3. Is the petitioner entitled to monetary relief while considering the scope of Article 32 of the Constitution in the event of violating Fundamental Rights?

Petitioner’s Contention

  1. The petitioner stated that even after his acquittal by the Court, he had to wait 14 years to be liberated from jail. He was illegally detained in jail for a prolonged period of 14 years.
  2. Such illegal detention was an expressed infringement of the petitioner’s fundamental rights to life and liberty mentioned under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  3. Furthermore, the petitioner claimed reimbursement for the medical expenses of the treatment that was settled for him on behalf of the State Government of Bihar. Besides, the petitioner claimed relief for such illegal detention along with a gratuitous payment for his rehabilitation purpose.

Defendant’s Contentions

  1. The petitioner was not released from jail despite the order of acquittal by the Court for a prolonged period of 14 years under the order of the authorities issued by the Additional Sessions Judge, which clearly demanded the approval of the State Government and Inspector General of Prison in order to sanction the release of the petitioner.
  2. Initially, the petitioner was declared unsound but, later, was discharged subsequent to the issuance of a certificate by the civil surgeon, followed by the legal department’s letter declaring the petitioner as stable and normal.

Judgment of Rudul Sah v State of Bihar Case

1. The Court has granted the writ petition stating that the petitioner’s detention in prison for 14 years, even after passing the order of acquittal, is illegal. Article 32 authorizes the Supreme Court to issue appropriate orders, directions, and writs required for enforcing any of the rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution.

2. However, Article 21 guarantees that the right to life and liberty shall be lost if the competence of the Supreme Court shall be confined only to the issuance of the order to release the petitioner from illegal detention.

3. The right to compensation is a remedy for the unlawful activities of the State instrumentalities that are undertaking their illegal actions in the name of the public interest and therefore defending themselves by utilizing the power of the State as a shield to cover up their actions through a veil of sovereign immunity.

4. Although the petitioner was mentally unstable at the time of acquittal, that does not justify his illegal detention for 14 years since a lunatic also possesses legal rights during his trial. The Court held that the state’s action of illegal detention is cruel and frivolous, thereby lacking any credible evidence to corroborate.

5. The Court also considered whether or not the petitioner’s claim of compensatory relief shall be granted. Article 21 of the Constitution enumerates the rights related to life and personal liberty, which shall hold no meaning if the Court would have limited its remedial power only up to the release of the inmates from the jail who were unlawfully detained without even considering their rights to compensation in order to do away with their damages that were the direct result of such illegal detention.

Ratio Decidendi

It is the utmost responsibility of the State to make good on the damage that has been caused to the petitioner by its officers, thereby infringing the petitioner’s fundamental rights. Therefore, in such a case, the mere release of the petitioner from illegal detention is not an adequate relief unless he is compensated for the damage caused due to a prolonged delay of 14 years in his release. Therefore, as a temporary remedy, the State had to pay Rs. 30,000/- in addition to Rs. 5000/- to the petitioner. However, providing such a relief does not bar the petitioner from initiating a lawsuit against the state and its officials to procure appropriate damages.

Critical Analysis Rudul Sah v State of Bihar Case

Rudul Sah v State of Bihar case is a landmark one in the context of the State’s liability and granting of compensatory relief for the violation of Fundamental Rights. This case has marked the legality of compensatory relief in the event of a violation of constitutionally guaranteed Fundamental Rights. Besides, this judgment has reversed the decision provided in Kasturilal v. State of Uttar Pradesh[1]. The Court has noted that if the Government is exempted from the tortious liability committed by its officials, it could allow them to misuse their power to violate the Fundamental Rights of the citizens.

The Supreme Court has opined that the tortious actions of the Government shall be within the purview of the Constitutional jurisdiction and shall be crucially judged when there is a question of the safety and security of the citizens. Therefore, in Rudul Sah v State of Bihar case, since the Government could not limit its behaviour within the constitutional jurisdiction, the government was upbraided by the Court, thereby clarifying the absolute necessity of a regulation to monitor and limit the actions of the Government.

There was considerable opposition to the Kasturilal case. Our Constitution does not expressly state or approve the grant of compensatory relief. However, the Rudul Sah v State of Bihar case represented the Supreme Court’s authority to grant a victim compensation for the breach of his Fundamental Rights. The case has openly clarified that the suffering of the petitioner was not his fault or responsibility; rather, it stemmed from the actions of the officials of the State upon which the public confides their trust with the utmost faith that the officials shall protect their Fundamental Rights.[2] In Rudul Sah v State of Bihar case, the petitioner was the victim of political inaction. Article 21 being the essence of the Fundamental Rights, in this case, it became utmost necessary to grant compensation as a constitutional remedy to uphold the prominence of this article.

In the case of Khatri v. State of Bihar, monetary compensation came into the scenario via writ petition for the first time.[3] Judgment in the M.C. Mehta v. Union of India declared that any new reliefs and compensation matters should be applied solely at the courts’ discretion.[4]The state can restrict the citizens from misusing their powers in various cases. However, it is also pertinent to regulate the state’s actions, from misusing its authority for the public interest and prevent it from breaching the Fundamental Rights of the citizens. In the case of Rudul Sah v State of Bihar, it is very much required to ascertain a technique to determine the obligation of the State and to restitute the petitioner. It is clear from the concerned case that the Government has not attempted to implement the laws required to relieve the citizens in case of a breach of their Fundamental Rights. Nevertheless, Rudul Sah’s case is one where the Indian judiciary has endeavoured to formulate certain principles to resolve the issue uniquely by granting compensatory relief to the victims.


Albeit we have legislative and several constitutional safeguards to defend the Fundamental Rights of the citizens. Nevertheless, the rates of custodial death and torture cases are at an elevating position that has primarily attracted the sight of both the judiciary and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). There has been a relatively high rate of complaints against law enforcement officials for abusing their authority and powers. Generally, the victims of prison abuse belong to the poor section of society, lacking political and financial influence and with zero protection of human rights. On the contrary, the privileged section of society is subject to legal protection. Therefore, Rudul Sah v State of Bihar case judgment has concluded that the state’s sovereign immunity shall cease to exist if the State officials commit a tort against the citizens.

The arbitrary and baseless actions of the State predominantly affect the life of the citizens from various aspects. Therefore, the state’s liability shall be co-extensive so as to uphold the officials’ liability for their tortious actions to contribute towards a welfare state. Accountability of the State officials for their tortious actions, regardless of their designations in the Government, shall mitigate the biases and anarchy in the administration of the Government. Henceforth, to exercise their powers, the State and its officials cannot formulate arbitrary rules and regulations or act according to their whims that directly contribute to infringing the Fundamental Rights of its citizens.

[1]AIR 1965 SC 1039.

[2]R. Chakraborty, The Law On Custodial Death And Torture, 52-67, (2nd ed. Kamal Publishers, 2017).

[3]AIR 1981 SCR (2) 408.

[4]AIR 1987 SC 1086.

Amrapali Mukherjee

I have completed my Masters in Commercial and Corporate Law from the Queen Mary University of London with upper merit and a distinction in the dissertation, currently, I am working as a Legal Advisor for a partnership firm at Kolkata.