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Indian Case Summary

The State Of Rajasthan vs Mst. Vidhyawati And Another on 2 February, 1962 – Case Summary

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In the case of The State Of Rajasthan vs Mst. Vidhyawati And Another on 2 February, 1962, the Supreme Court of India was called upon to adjudicate on a matter of significant importance concerning the liability of the state for the tortious acts of its employees. The case was presided over by a bench consisting of Sinha, Bhuvneshwar P.(CJ), Kapur, J.L., Hidayatullah, M., Shah, J.C., and Mudholkar, J.R.

The case arose from a tragic incident that occurred on February 11, 1952, when a government jeep car, driven negligently and rashly by an employee of the State of Rajasthan, knocked down the husband of respondent 1 and father of minor respondent 2. The man was severely injured and later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. The jeep was being taken from the repair shop to the Collector’s residence at the time of the accident.

The respondents filed a suit for damages against the driver and the State of Rajasthan. The trial court decreed the suit ex parte against the driver but dismissed it against the State. The court held that since the car was maintained for the use of the Collector in discharge of his official duties, even though it was not being used for any state purposes at the time of the accident, this was sufficient to absolve the State of any vicarious liability as the employer.

The High Court, however, disagreed with the trial court’s decision and decreed the suit against the State as well. The court held that the liability of the State for damages in respect of a tortious act committed by its servant within the scope of his employment and functioning as such was the same as that of any other employer.

The Supreme Court, in its judgment, upheld the decision of the High Court. It held that the relevant provisions for determining the extent of the State’s liability were not those contained in Articles 294 and 295 of the Constitution, which primarily dealt with the devolution of rights, assets, and liabilities, but those of Article 300 (1) of the Constitution. This article, by using the expression “in like cases” in its second part, defined the extent of the State’s liability and referred back to the legal position obtaining before the promulgation of the Constitution.

The court further held that Article 300 (1), read in the light of section 176 (1) of the Government of India Act of 1935, section 32 of the Government of India Act, 1915, and section 65 of the Government of India Act, 1858, left no doubt that the extent of the liability of a State must be the same as that of the East India Company as decided by the Supreme Court of Calcutta in the case of Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. v. The Secretary of State for India.

The court also noted that with the advent of the Constitution and the inauguration of the Republic with a view to establishing a Socialistic State with its varied industrial and other activities engaging large numbers of employees, there could be no justification, in principle or public interest, that the State should not be held vicariously liable for the tortious acts of its servants.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court held that the State of Rajasthan was liable for the tortious act of its employee, and the respondents were entitled to damages. This landmark judgment established the principle of vicarious liability of the State for the tortious acts of its servants, bringing it in line with the liability of any other employer.