Justice is often seen as a concept of righteousness, defining what is just and what is unjust. However, amid the ever-changing law and order, justice is often overlooked, if not curbed. The rights and duties are the quintessence of any democratic nation, and the state works to protect these rights. But, when the same state, defined under Article 12 of the Constitution, does something to harm its citizens, such situations need an immediate call for action. Bizarrely enough, at least in India, the state has not enacted any laws for such situations. Everything is left to the judiciary’s interpretation, leaving the shaky ground to tread upon.[1] In 1982, this grim reality surfaced before the Apex Court in Rudul Shah v. the State of Bihar. The petitioner was wrongfully put behind bars for over fourteen years, depriving him of his basic fundamental rights. However, the Indian judiciary did a commendable job by evolving the laws to meet the situations in the said case.[2]

In the above-mentioned landmark judgment, the Supreme Court emphasized the compensatory jurisprudence and the state’s liability for violating human rights. It was for the first time that remuneration was given for violation of such rights by the court. However, the seed for compensatory jurisprudence was sown at a much earlier stage. In Khatri v. State of Bihar, the question of whether compensatory jurisprudence being a part of Article 32 was discussed for the first time.[3] Similarly, in Sant Bir’s case, the same question was raised but with more emphasis on the state’s liability in compensating the victim of anarchy.[4] In these two cases, the importance of Article 21 and the compensation for the victim was discussed, which finally resulted in bringing a renaissance in human rights jurisprudence through Rudul Shah’s case. In earlier cases, the court awarded compensation only in those cases which directly dealt with article 21. Nonetheless, with the 1983 judgment, the scope of Article 32 became significantly wider, enabling the Supreme Court to interpret the laws differently.

The Supreme Court again reiterated the importance of Articles 21 and 32 in Rudal Shah’s case. The court observed that by limiting the powers conferred in Article 32, it was doing injustice to Article 21, thereby, robbing the people of their right to life and liberty. A Sessions Court first heard the present case under a different context. It was later presented before the Supreme Court as a PIL, requesting monetary relief.[5] In this landmark judgment, the scope of Article 32 was broadened and the importance of Article 21 was ‘upheld’. This article attempts to analyze the same.


In 1953, the petitioner, Rudul shah, was incarcerated on the ground of his wife’s murder. Subsequently, the case was heard by an Additional Sessions Judge at Muzaffarpur, Bihar, and the final verdict of his acquittal was pronounced in 1968. The judge directed his release subject to specific orders from the state government with no reasons for the same. However, even after his acquittal, the petitioner was incarcerated for 14 additional years until 1982, when he was finally released. At the same time, a petition was filed in the apex court, seeking the writ of habeas corpus under Article 32, for Rudul Shah’s unlawful detention and compensation.[6] However, by that time, Rudul Shah had already been released, so the suit focused on the three additional reliefs sought by him. Rudul Shah sought monetary compensation for his unlawful detention, medical treatment, and rehabilitation. 

Subsequently, a show-cause notice was issued against the state government to explain two things. Firstly, why did the state officials detain the petitioner for a period of 14 years without any reasonable cause? And secondly, why was no compensation awarded for the delay? Even after multiple adjournments, the court received a lax response from the state government that too in the form of an affidavit filed by the state jailor. The affidavit claimed that the petitioner was of unsound mind at the time of acquittal; for which no medical records were supplied to the court. Later, when a civil surgeon examined the petitioner, he was certified to be normal. The civil surgeon’s report was then sent to the law department in February 1977 and was later released in October 1982 in compliance with the Law Department’s letter dated 14 October 1982.


 Article 21- One of the most sacrosanct rights of all is the right to life and personal liberty enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. However small in length, the act is considered so basic that it is available to every person, be it a citizen of India or a non-citizen. The article simply states that every person shall have the right to life and liberty and shall not be deprived of it except for the procedure established by the law. The right to life further entails the right to live with dignity, right to education, right to a healthy environment, right to equality, and several other rights.[7] In Rudul Shah’s case, Article 21 was infringed due to his unlawful detention, depriving him of his liberty.

Article 32- This Article confers certain powers upon the Apex Court to issue various writs to protect the fundamental rights. Under this Article, clause 1 enables an individual to directly approach the apex court for the enforcement of these rights. Clause 2 of the Article talks about five different writs issued by the court to provide remedial assistance wherever needed.[8] One of the writs which are relevant to the present case is:

Habeas Corpus: translates to having a body out of detention and in front of the court. The writ is usually issued by the court to protect a person from illegal detainment. The illegality is based upon the court’s discretion and understanding of the situation. On confirming the same, the court can ask the authorities to release the person.

Section 329 of CrPc- Section 329 deals with the mental state of a defendant during a trial. The section states that if a person is proven to be of unsound mind at the time of his trial, then it is the duty of the magistrate or the court to postpone such trial. The reason being the inability of the defendant to defend himself at the time of his trial.


1) In cases related to the infringement of fundamental rights, does the Apex court has the power to award monetary compensation under Article 32?

2) Whether the right to compensation is a part of Article 21?

3) Whether the state had the right to imprison the petitioner even after his acquittal?


The judgment was delivered by justice V.Y. Chandrachund who held the detention of Rudul Shah as “wholly unjustified” and a gross violation of the fundamental rights. While emphasizing Article 32 of the constitution, the court observed that though it confers certain powers upon the Apex Court to issue various writs for the protection of fundamental rights, it should not be limited by situations such as “illegal detention” or “appropriate cases” as mentioned in Article 32(2). Article 32 indirectly protects the right to life and liberty. Limiting these powers would mean doing injustice to the people of the nation and depriving them of their fundamental rights. The court held that the state government provided no satisfactory evidence for the prolonged detention of the petitioner. And that the claim of the petitioner being of unsound mind at the time of acquittal lacked evidence. Furthermore, even if he was of unsound mind, the steps taken by the state officials grossly violated the petitioner’s rights. The court thus concluded the detention as unlawful.

Similarly, while reviewing the monetary relief requested by the petitioner, the court held the state liable for infringing the rights of the petitioner, thus directing to provide monetary compensation for the same. The court further observed that, at times, compensation becomes the victim’s right, and depriving him of it would lead to infringing his right to life. The court interpreted Article 32 as a tool for the upkeep of Article 21. Providing compensation to the victim was interpreted as a part of Article 32 and thus, the court held the following in its final verdict:

  • The court held the state guilty of wrongfully detaining the petitioner for over 14 years.
  • The court directed the government of Bihar to pay a sum of 30,000 INR to the petitioner as interim relief.
  • Furthermore, the court stated that the relief was not an end to itself. Allowing petitioner to file a civil suit for further damages.[9]


Issues discussed by the Court

In Rudul Shah’s judgment, the court satisfactorily answered the three issues raised in the case. The first issue was related to the compensatory powers under Article 32. The court said that in a democratic nation, such as India, the state must work for the betterment of its people. Therefore, the state cannot use sovereign immunity to shield its wrongdoings and escape from its liability. Moreover, if such a situation emerges, then the court must punish the violators for the same. Keeping this in mind, the court expanded the scope of Article 32 and interpreted that compensation cannot remain a remedy only for some cases if people’s fundamental rights were to be protected. Continuing with its reasoning, the court also mentioned that to protect the right to life under Article 21, the court must provide relief to the victim in whichever way possible. In Rudul Shah’s case, monetary relief was provided to compensate for the damage done to him. Thus, indirectly upholding the right to compensation as a part of Article 21.

The last issue explores the legality of the petitioner’s detainment. The court highlighted that the 14 years of additional imprisonment was unlawful on two grounds. Firstly, no medical reports were kept to prove the petitioner’s unsound state of mind. And in 1977, a report was filed by the civil surgeon, showing Rudul Shah to be normal, and the same was communicated to the Law department. However, even after that, the petitioner was kept imprisoned for another five years for no apparent reason. Coming to the second point, the court referred to Section 329 of Crpc, which says that if a person is proved to be of unsound mind, then he cannot be put on for a trial. The state violated this right and tried to use it as an excuse for its wrongdoings.[10]

Significance and Impact of the Judgment

The landmark judgment of Rudal Shah v. the State of Bihar is regarded as a case of great significance. The judgment revolutionized the human rights law by bringing the compensatory jurisprudence and showed the importance of the judiciary’s interpretation of the laws as the situation demands. In no way Rudul Shah was the sole victim of state anarchy, there have been many cases similar to that of Rudal Shah. The Supreme Court rectified one of its previous judgments passed in Kasturilal Raliaram v. State of Uttar Pradesh. In its previous judgment, the court awarded immunity to the state for the wrongs done by its policemen, thus upholding the sovereign immunity that a state enjoys.[11] This judgment was heavily criticized by many on two grounds: firstly, the sovereign immunity awarded to the state was wrong as it was the duty of the state to take care of the seized belongings of Kasturilal, while he was undergoing trial. Secondly, no compensation was awarded to the appellant for the loss suffered due to the state’s negligence.

However, with the emerging compensatory trend, the death of sovereign immunity was not far away. In Bhagalpur blinding case, the court tried to correct its earlier judgment by holding the state liable for its inhuman acts. In the said case, the state officials used acid on 31 prisoners to blind them. The court stated that it was a gross violation of Article 21 and directed the state to treat all the prisoners at the state’s expense.[12] In Nagendra Rao’s case, the state, for the negligence shown by its officials, was held responsible and therefore, no immunity was awarded for it. In this case, the appellant’s goods, consisting of fertilizers and certain perishable goods, were seized by the state officials. When the appellant was finally acquitted, he asked for his goods. But due to the state official’s negligence, the goods perished. When a suit was filed for compensation, the apex court held the state vicariously liable and awarded compensation to the appellant.[13] In another case of S.M. Hongray v. Union of India, fundamental rights were kept before the sovereign immunity. The army officials were held to be liable for the death of two priests and compensation of 1,00,000 INR was provided to each wife.[14]


The stand taken by the apex court in Rudul Shah’s case conformed with modern notions. The seed sown in Bhagalpur’s case finally sprouted in Rudul Shah’s judgment. The court pointed out all the discrepancies, be it the lack of evidence pertaining to the petitioner’s mental state or the blatant exaggeration of the petitioner’s mental state. Even after giving multiple opportunities to prove its innocence, the state showed a lax response. Only after a careful analysis of the situation, the apex court delivered its final verdict. The inadequate evidence to prove the petitioner’s unsound state of mind and delay in releasing him even after receiving a green flag from the civil surgeon justified the court’s decision. However, the decision lacked on one front. The compensation provided to the petitioner was in no way adequate. A sum of 35,000 INR cannot replace 14 long years spent in prison. Nonetheless, the decision taken in Rudul Shah’s case was a much-needed one. The state should be made liable for infringing the rights of the people and actions done within sovereign powers must not be treated as a defense.


[1] Yadav, Surendra, STATE LIABILITY: A NEW DIMENSION FROM ‘RUDUL SAH’, 43 Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 559, 559 (2001).

[2] Rudul Shahv.State of Bihar, (1983) 4 SCC 141.

[3] Khatri v. State of Bihar, AIR 1981 SC 928, 1068.

[4] Sant Bir v. State of Bihar (1982) 3 SCC 131

[5] Rudul Shah, supra note, 2.

[6] INDIA CONST. art. 32, cl. 2.

[7] INDIA CONST. art. 21.

[8] INDIA CONST. art. 32, cl. 1 § 2.

[9] Rudul Shah, supra note, 2.

[10] The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973, § 329, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1974 (INDIA).

[11] Kasturilal Raliaram v. State of U.P., AIR 1965 SC 1039.

[12] Khatri, supra note, 3.

[13] N. Nagendra Rao & Co. v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1994 SC(6) 205.

[14] S.M. Hongray v. Union of India, AIR 1984 SC 571, 1026.


Shivam Singh Rathore ( Batch of 2020-2025)

Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala

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