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Indian Case Summary

Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs The State Of Uttar Pradesh on 29 September, 1964 – Case Summary

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In the case of Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain vs The State of Uttar Pradesh, which was decided on 29th September 1964, the Supreme Court of India was faced with a significant question concerning the liability of the state for tortious acts committed by its servants. The case was presided over by a bench consisting of P.B. Gajendragadkar (CJ), K.N. Wanchoo, M. Hidayatullah, Raghubar Dayal, and J.R. Mudholkar.

The petitioner, Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain, was a firm dealing in bullion and other goods in Amritsar. One of its partners, Ralia Ram, was taken into custody by three police constables while passing through the Chaupla Bazar in Meerut with the intent to sell gold, silver, and other goods. His belongings were searched, and he was taken to the Kotwali Police Station. His belongings, which included 103 tolas 6 mashas and 1 ratti of gold, and 2 maunds and 6 1/2 seers of silver, were seized and kept in police custody. He was released on bail the next day, and the silver seized from him was returned sometime thereafter. However, the gold was not returned, leading to the filing of the suit against the State of Uttar Pradesh.

The petitioner claimed the value of the gold, which was not returned due to the negligence of the police officers in ensuring its safe custody. The suit was initially decreed by the trial court but was dismissed by the High Court on appeal. The Supreme Court, upon hearing the appeal, held that the power to arrest a person, to search him, and to seize property found with him are powers conferred on specified officers by statute and can be properly characterized as sovereign powers. Therefore, even though the negligent act was committed by the employees of the respondent-State during the course of their employment, the claim against the State could not be sustained. This was because the employment in question was of the category which could claim the special characteristic of sovereign power.

The court observed that the passing of legislative enactments to regulate and control the liability of the State for the negligent acts of its servants was suggested. The court also distinguished this case from the case of The State of Rajasthan v. Mst. Vidhyawati and another, where the State was held liable for the negligent act of its servant.

The judgment delivered by Gajendragadkar C. J. emphasized that the question of whether the respondent, the State of Uttar Pradesh, is liable to compensate the appellant, M/s. Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain for the loss caused to it by the negligence of the police officers employed by the respondent, was a significant legal issue. The court concluded that the police officers were indeed negligent in dealing with Ralia Ram’s property after it was seized from him. However, the court held that the respondent was not liable for the loss suffered by the appellant due to the negligence of the police officers, as the officers were exercising their sovereign powers.

This case is significant as it highlights the issue of State liability for tortious acts committed by its servants, especially in the exercise of their sovereign functions. The court’s observations suggest the need for legislative enactments to regulate and control the liability of the State in such circumstances.