The Landmark judgement of Supreme court of India which changed the course of custodial deaths in India.
Title Of the case: SMT NILABATI BEHERA ALIAS LALITA BEHERA V STATE OF ORISSA AND OTHERS, AIR
1993 SC 1960
Bench: Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma, Justice A.S. Anand, Justice, N. Venkatachala
Court: Supreme Court of India
Judgment: 24th March 1993
Constitution of India: Article 21, 32
Issue of this case: Whether the constitutional courts of India grant the remedy of monetary compensation on violation of fundamental rights in relation to the principle of sovereign immunity while these courts exercising their jurisdiction under Article 32 and 226 of the constitution of India.
Facts of the case– In the instant case, a letter was sent by Smt. Nilabati Behera to the Supreme Court stating that her twenty-two-year-old son, Suman Behera had died in police custody after being inflicted with several injuries. The honourable court took suo moto action and converted it into a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian constitution. The petitioner claimed compensation for the violation of her son’s fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21. The Orissa police had arrested Suman Behara for investigation involving the offence of theft and he was detained at the police outpost. The very next day, his dead body was found near the railway track. The lacerations on his body indicated towards an unnatural death.
The Court Held– The court observed through the facts and pieces of evidence of the case with arguments of both the counsels that there was no cogent evidence of any search by the police to find Suman Behara and of his escape from police custody. The police also reached much later to the take charge of the body, after it was reported by railwaymen, which raised questions as to its credibility. Further, a doctor before the court deposed that the injury was caused by a blunt object, which may have been lathi blows. All the injuries found on his body could not have been caused by a train accident. The court also drew the distinction between the liabilities of the State in public law as opposed to private law. It clearly mentioned that a proceeding under Article 32 before the Supreme Court or any High Court is a remedy available in public law and the principle of sovereign immunity does not apply in case of public law. It is only a defence in private law based on tort. It also stressed that it would be highly unjust to expect a person socio-economically disadvantaged person to pursue ordinary civil proceeding under the private law. And the Apex Court held that the Petitioner awarded a compensation of Rs.1,50,000 and a sum of Rs.10,000 to be paid to the Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee. The Supreme Court also ordered the State of Orissa to initiate criminal proceedings against those who killed Suman Behara.
Through the decision of this case, therefore made sure that the state could no longer escape liability in Public law and had to be compelled to pay compensation when it committed such gross violation of one’s fundamental rights as well as the very basic human rights.