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Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain v/s The State Of Uttar Pradesh

Brief Facts:
  • The appellant is a firm which deals in bullion and other goods at Amritsar. Ralia Ram was one of its partners.
  • Ralia Ram arrived at Meerut. His object in going to Meerut was to sell gold, silver and other goods in the Meerut market. He was taken into custody by three police constables.
  • He was detained in the police lock-up there and his belongings which consisted of gold, weighing 103 tolas 6 mashas and 1 ratti, and silver weighing 2 maunds and 6 1/2 seers, were seized from him and kept in police custody.
  • Soon, he was released on bail, and some time thereafter the silver seized from him was returned to him.
  • Since he could not recover the gold from the police officers, he filed the present suit against the respondent.
  • In which he claimed a decree that the gold seized from him should either be returned to him, or in the alternative, its value should be ordered to be paid to him (of Rs. 11,075-10-0 as the price of the gold and Rs. 355 as interest by way of damages as well as future interest).
  • The respondent alleged that the gold in question had been taken into custody by one Mohammad Amir, however he misappropriated the gold and fled away to Pakistan.
  • The case had been registered against Mohd. Amir, but nothing effective could be done in respect of the said case.
  • Alternatively, it was pleaded by the respondent that this was not a case of negligence of the police officers, and that even if negligence was held proved against the said police officers, the respondent State could not be said to be liable for the loss resulting from such negligence.
  • The trial Court found in favor of the appellant, and a decree was passed in its favor and ordered the money value of gold.

On appeal by the respondents, HC withheld decision of trial Court and held the defendant not guilty of negligently losing the plaintiff's gold. The plaintiff (appellant herein) challenged the correctness of this decree in this Court.

Kasturilal Ralia Ram Jain v/s. Respondent: The State Of Uttar Pradesh

1965 Air 1039 1965 Scr (1) 375 - Supreme Court
Date Of Judgment: 29/09/1964

Gajendragadkar, P.B. (Cj), Wanchoo, K.N., Hidayatullah, M., Dayal, Raghubar, Mudholkar, J.R.

Two substantial issues arose:
  • One was whether the police officers in question were guilty of negligence in the matter of taking care of the gold.
  • The second was whether the respondent was liable to compensate the appellant for the loss caused to it by the negligence of the public servants employed by the respondent.
Contentions of Parties:
Ralia Ram initiated a legal action against the defendant, asserting his right to either have the confiscated gold returned or to receive its equivalent value. In the alternative, he sought a total of Rs. 11,075-10-0, representing the gold's price, along with Rs. 355 for interest as compensation, as well as prospective interest.

The respondent argued that this wasn't a matter of police officers being negligent. Additionally, even if negligence on the part of these officers was established, the respondent State couldn't be held responsible for any resulting loss.

Supreme Court:

Chief Justice Gajendragadkar emphasized that the negligence occurred when police officers were handling seized property, a task derived from statutory powers. These powers, ultimately, are sovereign in nature and cannot form the basis for a claim.

The Supreme Court, in line with the precedent set in the P.S.O. Steam Navigation case, made a clear distinction between sovereign and non-sovereign functions of the state. It concluded that an abuse of police power falls under the category of a sovereign act, absolving the State from liability.

High Court:
The High Court ruled that there was no evidence to establish negligence on the part of the police officers in question. Even if it were assumed that they were negligent and this led to the loss of gold, it would not warrant the appellant's request for a monetary judgment against the respondent.

Trial Court:
The trial court sided with the appellant on both counts. Since it was not possible to order the return of the gold in question, a decree was issued in favor of the appellant for the amount of Rs. 11,430-10-0.

Precedents Followed:
The Supreme Court determined that abuse of police power is a sovereign act, hence the state is not accountable in this instance, following to the standard established in the P.S.O. Steam Navigation case that distinguished between sovereign and non-sovereign functions of the state.

Case Comment:
The end result was that Kasturi Ralia Ram Jain didn't get his gold back or the money value of the gold. This is because the State's immunity of sovereign power. If we see the concept of vicarious liability, it says about

Respondeat Superior means "let the master answer." Under this doctrine master is responsible for want of care on servants' part toward those to whom master owes duty to use care, provided failure of servant to use such care occurred in course of his employment. For an act to be considered within the course of employment, it must either be authorized or be so connected with an authorized act that it can be considered a mode, though an improper mode, of performing it.

According to this we can say that the police officer who stolen the gold was under the employment of state government and in due course of employment he did all thing. So, we can say that the state should be liable. But as the State has the immunity of sovereign power it can't be made liable. According to me if state get this much power then it can protect itself from most of the cases.

The decision by Supreme Court is not satisfactory and it has been criticized by many. Although the decision of Supreme Court in this case is yet to be overruled and are hardly ever used as a precedent.

The Courts in later years limited the immunity of State by holding more and more functions of the State as non-Sovereign. As in Radal Shah Vs. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court for the first-time awarded damages in the writ petition itself. In Bhim Singh v. State of Rajasthan then principle laid down in Rudal Shah was further extended to cover cases of unlawful detention.

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