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King can do no Wrong so he feels responsible towards his Subjects

Parliament has not given to India, the statutory provisions like the Crown Proceedings Act, 1947 of England whereby the Crown is statutorily made liable for the torts committed by its servants, just like private individual.

But there is Article 300 of the Constitution which clearly lays down that the State (Union or State governments) is liable for the torts committed by its servants.

R.K.Bangia the author of Law of torts commented in his book, as under:
Article 300, thus, provides that the Union of India and the states are juristic persons for the purpose of suit or proceedings. Although the Union of India and the States can sue and be sued, but the circumstances under which that can be done have not been mentioned (in the Constitution).

It is quite unfair to expect the Constitution makers to speculate on those circumstances. Because that will probably burden them to write the lengthiest article of the Constitution.

What is significant to be noted is that Article 300 didn't create any exceptions in favour of Sovereign functions of the state as narrated in a catena of SC judgments starting from P&O Steam Navigation Company's case.

That is enough for the judges in several cases like Kasturi lal's case to rule in favour of the victims of the torts of public servants and hold the State vicariously liable.

In Satyawati Devi's case, the plea taken by Union of India was that taking sportsmen of Air force in Air Force vehicle is sovereign function of the state and therefore if such vehicle caused death of plaintiffs, then the State is not vicariously liable.

Delhi high court rejected the plea and gave judgment against State...and judgment was good. But the following reasoning adopted by the court appears to be based on archaic legal principles of British era:

"Since the act of carrying sportsmen to play matches could also be performed by private individual, it was not sovereign function."

After the Constitution gave the Article 300, there is no necessity for the courts to adjudicate this matter on the basis of sovereign non-sovereign dichotomy.

Also, this reasoning is fallacious, because what is to be judged about is the act which is alleged to be a tort. The act killed a person. Therefore it is a tort. If the Army personnel killed someone suspecting to be terrorist, it may called a sovereign function.

But this is not certainly a sovereign function.

While deciding the vicarious liability of state, the legal principle should be whether it is Act of State or not and it is authorised by statute and authority or not.

Sometimes, the alleged tortfeasor may have acted in excess of authority given to him. In such case, State is liable irrespective of whether it is sovereign function or not. For example Army trial concluded that killing someone by Army personnel suspecting to be terrorist is guided by whims and fancies of such personnel. Then state is vicariously liable.

But where the interests of public welfare outweighs the interests of individual welfare, and the public servant is found to be carrying out his statutory duties, the State cannot be held vicariously liable. As in the case of Land acquisition made under Land acquisition act.

It is assumed here that where certain statute authorises a public servant to commit some act, the compensation for loss arising out of consequences of such act would also have been contemplated and provided by such statute.

Let these principles be summarised as under:
  1. Whenever a tort is allegedly committed by public servant, ascertain whether there exists a legal relationship of master and servant between the government and alleged tortfeasor.
  2. If it exists, then judge whether the act is tortious or not, independently, keeping the considerations relating to sovereign immunity aside.
  3. If it is a tort, and any ordinary person is vicariously liable for such tort, then state also is vicariously liable for it if it is not an Act of State or if it is not authorized by any statutory authority under legal provisions.
  4. If it is Act of State, consider whether the alleged tortfeasor has exceeded his limits in discharging his statutory functions/duties. If he exceeded the limits, the state shall be made vicariously liable.
  5. If it is Act of the State, consider whether the public good to be served through the alleged act outweighs the individual interests of the plaintiff alleging tort against the State. If it outweighs, then subject to the fact that genuine interests of the plaintiff are not hurt, the State can be relieved of it's liability.

    Illustration:
    A alleges that the vacant place in front of his house is acquired by government to build a Community Hall for the residents of A's Colony. A is alleging that Community Hall will create nuisance to his family. A has nothing to lose from it or little to lose from it in comparison to the benefits received by residents of his colony. Hence government is not vicariously liable.

    B alleges that in the land acquired by government to build community hall, he lost his 100 yards for which he submitted proof, then government is vicariously liable and it should compensate for B's loss in the manner directed by Court.
     
  6. Sometimes statute allows some act which genuinely turns out to be a tort for plaintiff and statute did not provide compensation to the victims of such tort. Then, the propriety of such statute can be questioned and State shall be held liable for improper making of a law.
     
  7.  If the public servant is capable of paying by virtue of his position and financial status, the court shall direct him to bear a portion of compensation amount (that the court deems fit) payable by state to victim.
     
But in no way state shall be relieved of it's liability, on the ground of sovereign immunity, because modern state doesn't have the stature of a King. In democracy people are Kings and law is the ruler. Going by this logic, if any public servant commits a tort against people it amounts to Sedition.

The only ground providing relief to the state for the torts alleged against it's servants, is that the action was required to be compulsorily taken in view of public interest under compelling circumstances.

Even under such circumstances, if the loss suffered by victims is patent, irreparable and excessive, the state shall make all efforts to compensate to the extent possible for it, keeping its economic considerations in view.

But to take the plea of sovereign immunity to escape obligation towards genuine victims, shall be viewed as crafty use of government pleaders to further victimize the sufferers.

Government should behave like caretaker of citizens not like a businessman using loopholes in law to escape liability arising out of torts committed by its servants.

Irrespective of merits and demerits of the case, and availability of cogent defence, the state shall be conscious that even otherwise, it has a public duty to protect its subjects like Ayodhya King Lord Rama, if it wants to use the defence of sovereign immunity.

Who is the victim/plaintiff claiming compensation from the state? He is King's subject. While claiming exemption from using the defence of sovereign immunity, why the state forgets that the king (who purportedly can do no wrong), is not treating victims in these cases as his subjects and why not thinking that winning cases against it's own subjects to further victimize them is unbecoming of the stature and majesty of a king.

Why modern state is shunning it's responsibility towards its citizens in a King's name?
If the judiciary feels that modern state enjoys sovereign immunity because it has stature of king, then it should remind such King that the victims are king's subjects and the King owes a duty towards them (irrespective of the merits of the case) to protect them like Lord Rama.

It is true KING CAN DO NO WRONG, but it is also true, HE RESPONDS WHEN HIS SUBJECTS ARE IN DISTRESS.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Anjuru Chandra Sekhar - Assistant Professor in Aurora Legal Sciences Academy, Hyderabad.
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: SP125408558530-11-0921

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