Potpourri

AFTER ILLEGAL DETENTION FOR 14 YEARS ACQUITTAL BY THE COURT

Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar, AIR 1983 SC 1086: 1983 Cr LJ 1644:  1983 (2) SCALE 103: (1983) 4 SCC 141

Facts: The petitioner was acquitted by the Court of Sessions, Muzaffarpur, Bihar, on June 3, 1968 but he was released from jail on October 16, 1982, that is to say, more than 14 years after he was acquitted. The petitioner, by a Habeas Corpus petition, asked for his release on the ground that his detention in the jail is unlawful. He also asked for certain ancillary reliefs like rehabilitation, reimbursements of expenses which he may incur for medical treatment and compensation for the illegal incarceration.

Issue: Whether under article 32 the Supreme Court can pass order of compensation for infringement of fundamental right by officers?

Judgment: In defence of the petitioner’s case the Jailor of Muzaffarpur Central Jail, filed an affidavit which inter alia states that:

The petitioner was received on 25-3-1967 from Hazaribagh Central Jail and was being produced regularly before the Additional Sessions Judge, Muzaffarpur and on 30-8-1968 the learned Judge passed the following order:

The accused is acquitted but he should be detained in prison till further order of the State Government and I.G. (Prisons), Bihar.

The accused Rudul Sah was of unsound mind at the time of passing the above order. The Civil Surgeon, Muzaffarpur, reported on 18-2-1977 that accused Rudul Sah was normal and this information was communicated to the Law Department on 21-2-1977.

The petitioner, Rudul Shah was treated well in accordance with the rules in the Jail Manual, Bihar, during the period of his detention and the petitioner was released on 16-10-1982 in compliance with the letter No. 11637 dated 14-10-1982 of the Law Department.

The Jailor’s affidavit narrates with an air of candidness what is notorious, for example, that the petitioner was not released from the jail upon his acquittal and that he was reported to be insane. But it discloses no data on the basis of which he was adjudged insane, the specific measures taken to cure him of that affliction and, what is most important, whether it took 14 years to set right his mental imbalance. No medical opinion is produced in support of the diagnosis that he was insane nor indeed is any jail record produced to show what kind of medical treatment was prescribed for and administered to him and for how long. There is nothing to show that the petitioner was found insane on the very date of his acquittal. And, if he was insane on the date of acquittal, he could not have been tried at all for the simple reason that an insane person cannot enter upon his defence.

Under the Cr. P.C., insane persons have certain statutory rights in regard to the procedure governing their trial. According to paragraph 4 of the affidavit, the Civil Surgeon, Muzaffarpur, reported on February 18, 1977 that the petitioner was normal and that this information was communicated to the Law Department on February 21, 1977. Why was the petitioner not released for over 5½ years thereafter? It was on October 14, 1982 that the Law Department of the Government of Bihar directed that the petitioner should be released. Why was the Law Department so insensitive to justice? The Court is, therefore, inclined to believe that the story of the petitioner’s insanity is an afterthought and is exaggerated out of proportion. If indeed he was insane, at least a skeletal medical record could have been produced to show that he was being treated for insanity

The High Court of Patna should itself examine this matter and call for statistical data from the Home Department of the Government of Bihar on the question of unlawful detentions in the State Jails. A tabular statement from each jail should be called for, disclosing how many convicts have been in jail for more than 10 years, 12 years, 14 years and for over 16 years. The High Court will then be in a position to release prisoners who are in unlawful detention in the jails and to ask the State Government to take steps for their rehabilitation by payment of adequate compensation, wherever necessary.

Article 32 of the Constitution confers power on the Supreme Court to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by

Part III. The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate, proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by Part III is “guaranteed”, that is to say, the right to move the Supreme Court under article 32 for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III of the Constitution is itself a fundamental right.

Article 32 cannot be used as a substitute for the enforcement of rights and obligations which can be enforced efficaciously through the ordinary processes of Courts—Civil and Criminal. A money claim has, therefore, to be agitated in and adjudicated upon in a suit instituted in a court of lowest grade competent to try it.

But whether in the exercise of its jurisdiction under article 32, the Supreme Court can pass an order for the payment of money if such an order is in the nature of compensation consequential upon the deprivation of a fundamental right? In the instant case, the petitioner was detained illegally in the prison for over fourteen years after his acquittal in a full-dressed trial. He filed a Habeas Corpus petition in the Supreme Court for his release from illegal detention. He obtained that relief, the finding being that his detention in the prison after his acquittal was wholly unjustified and then he contends that he is entitled to be compensated for his illegal detention.

If the petitioner files a suit to recover damages for his illegal detention, a decree for damages would have to be passed in that suit, though it is not possible to predicate, in the absence of evidence, the precise amount which would be decreed in his favour. In these circumstances, the refusal of the Supreme Court to pass an order of compensation in favour of the petitioner will be doing mere lip-service to his fundamental right to liberty which the State Government has so grossly violated. Article 21 which guarantees the right to life and liberty will be denuded of its significant content if the power of the Supreme Court were limited to passing orders to release from illegal detention.

Taking into consideration the great harm done to the petitioner by the Government of Bihar the State must pay to the petitioner, as an interim measure, a further sum of `30,000 (Rupees thirty-thousand) in addition to the sum of `5,000 (Rupees five thousand) already paid by it. However, the petitioner can also bring a suit to recover appropriate damages from the State and its erring officials.

Held : The Supreme Court can, under article 32, pass order of compensation for infringement of fundamental right.

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