A Case Comment on Khatri and Ors. vs. State of Bihar (The Bhagalpur Blinding case)

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By KALYANI MAHESH from Sree Narayana Law College, Poothotta,Kerala

Case- Khatri vs. State of Bihar (The Bhagalpur Blinding case)

Citation:

1981 SCR (2) 408, 1981 SCC (1) 627

Court:

The Supreme Court of India

Bench: P.N. Bhagwati,

Writ petition no. :

5670 and 6216 of 1980

Decided on:

31th March 1981

Introduction

The Indian conscience was shaking by the case  in which the Bihar police blinded about 33 undertrial  prisoners by pouring acid into their eyes. This custodial atrocity had made torrential response in the minds of Indian people in the Independent Indian History. The incident was viewed upon as quite a severe one by Human rights organizations and was recognized as  a concrete and adamant violation of the Constitution and Human rights. People were ambiguous as to why judicial officers viewed upon it just as a chance case. And that they didn’t pursue and effect the procedures that were to be established by law. It was too discouraging that they ignored the laws based on Indian Constitution and ignored the wounds either negligently or deliberately. It was noted that some prisoners were released from jail, while the rest of them continued their devastated confinement without remand. The district and sessions judges became negligent and didn’t visit the Bhagalpur jail to inspect the  case which brought absolute discontent  and shook the adamant minds against the atrocity. Blinded prisoners were admitted Rajendra Prasad Ophthalmic institute, New Delhi. But according to the institute ,and their authorities the mission of those victims were so totally impaired and irreparable  by any kind of medical or surgical treatments.

An array of writ petitions were filed in the Honorable Supreme Court of India. A decision was arrived at to hear all the petitions together by single judge bench in Khatri and ors V. State of Bihar. Though there were many judgements pronounced in various stages that dealt with most significant socio legal issues the celebrated judgement was Khatri II v. State of Bihar.

Fact in Issue

Writ petitions were filed by invoking ‘heart and soul of the constitution’, Article 32 to get the remedy for the violation of Article 21 and Article 22. The major issues discussed by the Court are,

  1. Whether the State has the liability to give free legal aid to every needed people?
  2. Whether the State has deprived the right to life and personal liberty of the victims beyond the procedure established by law?
  3. Whether victims should be compensated by the state for police atrocities for violating the right to life?
  4. Whether judicial officers violated their obligations to protect right to life and personal liberty?

Statutes and provisions discussed

  1. Articles 21 & 22 of the Constitution of India, 1950

Sections 50, 56, 57,167 etc. of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Petitioner’s Arguments

 Ms. Rekha Tiwari and Mrs. K. Hingorani appeared for the petitioners. The main arguments were :

  1. This state had to provide legal aid to all underprivileged and law deprived persons on implicit guarantee which is reasonable ,fair, and just  under Article 21 and 22 of the Indian Constitution. For a person who is accused of an offence

Article 22 (1) the person’s fundamental right to be represented by a lawyer of his own choice.

  • Constitutional right to life was deprived of for the victims by police officers and government servants who were supposed to act on behalf of the state. Violation of Constitutional right to live with human dignity under Article 21 was severely questioned. Many cases the accused were not summoned before the Judicial Magistrate after the appearance of these persons for once and they continued to remain in jail without any remand orders being passed by the Judicial Magistrate that is absolutely paradoxical to the CrPC aids, based on section 57 and 167 that  deals with the period for holding an accused in custody by way of remand.
  • The compensation or liability towards a person who is deprived of his life or personal liberty can go in accordance with procedure established by law that is mentioned implicitly in Art 21.Thus the state is held  liable to pay compensation to the victims .It is not safe for the prisoners who are discharged from the Ophthalmic institute to go back to Bhagalpur as the investigation is going on in full swing. And the atrocities had become so rampant and that such activities were intensively going on. Some solid arrangements were required to be made for housing them in New Delhi at the cost of the State itself.
  • In some cases , it is pronouncing  noticed that the accused persons have not been summoned before the judicial magistrate within 24 hours of their arrest, which ended up in  the violation of Article 22(2) of the Constitution as well as violation of section 56 and 57 of CrPC 1973.Also it was noted that no questions were raised as to how the prisoners had got brutally injured in the eyes. Most if the prisoners had lodged complaint that they were not produced before the Judicial Magistrate at any point of time. And this statement implies that the Judicial magistrate have signed the orders of remand mechanically. Hence, they were also to be held jointly liable as unpardonable judicial officers along with the police officers. No inspection of the central jail was carried out by the district and sessions judges, a bare violation of Supreme court rules. The violation is a pronounced one done by the district judge ,sessions judge and the senior superintendent of police.

Respondents Arguments

K.G Bhagath and D.Govardhan appeared for the respondents. The main arguments were :

1.None of the petitioners demanded for legal representation.in the light of that the judicial magistrates didn’t enquire whether they required any legal representation at the cost of the state. It is difficult for the states to give free legal aid due to financial constraints.

2.Investigation was in progress and it did not establish that the blinding of the prisoners was done by the police and there is no evidence that the state has denied the right to life and liberty of the victims. Mere statements of the accused cannot be taken for granted as reliable ones. Any allegation requires approbation. The accused persons are detained without remand by the police officers which reveals the fact that no conclusion is possible and that the  state can’t be held responsible.

          3. Though the blinding was done by the police and though there was violation of   constitutional rights as per Article 21 the state can’t be held responsible to pay compensation to the victims.

4. Lack of evidence can’t be observed on the part of the judicial officers. It is also not proved that the victims were not produced before judicial magistrate at any point of time. As investigation is going on the ex parte statement of the accused cannot be taken into consideration.

Ratio Decidendi

“The dead cannot cry out for justice .It is a duty of the living to do so for them.”

                                   -Lois Mcmaster Bujold

J.Bhagawati delivered his majestic judgement by expressing displeasure and disregard over the inaction state of Bihar on precedents of the Supreme court.

Similar cases

Hussainara Khatoon v Union of India

It was held that right to free legal services is essentially an ingredient for fair and just procedure for a person accused of an offence as per article 21 and the state is under constitutional mandate to provide a lawyer for an accused person if the circumstances and the situation so requires. The only exception is that there is an objection raised by the accused person .The article of the constitution 141 makes it mandatory that a law declared by this court shall be binding throughout the territory of India. Though it is declared so that the fundamental right is to be provided as per Art 21  most of the states in the country have not complied with the same and have not provided legal services to a person accused. The Apex court through an authoritative and declaratory precedent reiterated the same law as a provision. State is bound to provide legal services to an accused person who is unable to secure the same due to indigenous condition.

And it doesn’t matter whether the state has any financial constraints or administrative financial disability. It is held that the above said obligation is valid not only during the commencement of the trial but also when he is produced before the magistrate for the first time or even if he is remanded from time to time. It is to be acknowledged that the question of one person’s personal liberty arises as soon as he is arrested. In this state the accused gets opportunity to apply for bail and a chance to get released. Here the accused needs a competent legal advice and representation. It cannot be accepted the other way round. It will be elusory if the judge concerned before whom he is produced informs him of such right. About 70 % of people who are illiterate are unaware of the rights conferred upon them. Otherwise it would be just a mockery. Thus, he is entitled to get the assistance of free legal services in the cost if the state, unless he refuses to get the assistance.

Woolmington v Dpp

In this case the presumption of innocence was in no way to be jeopardized it is the most vital thing to be considered under the criminal law and it cannot be ignored. So, one can reach a conclusion that legal aid is needed for fair trial of these accused and the only condition is that it should result in sentence of imprisonment, also there should be need for legal representation which is to be given freely. And in case where the cases are related to prostitution and offences related to child abuse it is not needed so.

Sunil Batra v .Delhi Administration

 The court held that one should enjoy all the faculties that is been provided by the human body  in the prime conditions which itself is a right to life.

The blinded prisoners can’t be sent back to the Bhagalpur because it will cause a threat to their life and might also get harmed by suspect wrongdoers. So, it is mandatory that the patients who are discharged from the Ophthalmic hospitals should be kept at home which is being run by Blind Relief Association of Delhi and should be taken enough care of them until the hearing of next petition. For maintaining the expenses, the state must also provide for charges ,costs etc. .

Kharak Singh  v. State of UP

In this case the Apex court held that the term life is not mere animal existence .Instead it must be fully enjoyable for the person who is in touch with the entire outer world and his own internal world.

Yet it was not evident that the police had done such a heinous crime or not?

  • The proclamation of emerging judicial activism can be found here, “ The court can certainly injunct the State from depriving a person of his life or personal liberty except in accordance with procedure established by law, but if life or personal liberty is violated otherwise than in accordance with such procedure, is the court helpless to grant relief to the person who has suffered such deprivation ? Why should the court not be prepared to forge new tools and devise new remedies for the purpose of vindicating the most precious of the precious Fundamental Right to life and personal liberty?”

On Irregularity of Judicial Officers 

  • The Judicial officers to whom the accused were submitted didn’t follow the ratio decidendi under Hussainara Khatonn’s case. They didn’t take any steps to provide legal aid. Even though some of the accused requested for legal aid, the reply of the District & Sessions Judge was that he is helpless as there is no provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure under which legal assistance could be provided. The Chief Judicial Magistrate also expressed his inability to do anything in the matter.
  • The provision inhibiting detention without remand is a very healthy provision. But Magistrates failed to keep a check over the police investigation.
  • Lack of concern shown by the judicial magistrates in not enquiring from the blinded prisoners, when they were first produced before the judicial magistrates and thereafter from time to time for the purpose of remand, as to how they had received injuries in the eyes. It is true that most of the blinded prisoners have said in their statements before the Registrar that they were not actually produced before the judicial magistrates at any time. Further inquiry needed on this behalf to find the truth. This can give rise only to two inferences; either the blinded prisoners were not physically produced before the judicial magistrates and the judicial magistrates mechanically signed the orders of remand or they did not bother to enquire even if they found that the prisoners before them had received injuries in the eyes.
  •  It is desperate to find that no inspection of the Central Jail, Bhagalpur was carried out by the District & Sessions Judge at any time during the year 1980 which is the clear-cut violation of rules given by the apex Court. High Courts must look into these matters closely and ensure that judicial officers are obeying the rules.

The writ petition was adjourned for further hearing to decide legal issues that were found of much importance.

Judgement in a nutshell

  • In every stage of the case ,the state is responsible to provide the legal aid to  every needy people and not just during the starting of the trial but from every stage  of producing the accused before the magistrate unless and until he refuses for the same. And the offence charged against the accused should be such that it should result in sentence of imprisonment.
  • No one should be  deprived of the right to life and personal liberty whomsoever it may be.
  • As police being the servant of the state, the State is responsible for police atrocities for violating the right to life.
  • Judicial officers have violated their obligations to protect the right to protect life and liberty .They should follow the rules and regulations more prudently as it is  equally binding for every citizen.

Conclusion and suggestions

A pioneer and veteran judge pronounced the judgement of Bhagalpur Blind Prisoners case which establishes the value of Judicial  activism in India. It emphasized on the scope of article 21 and article 22  and helped to fill the dirt created by legislature in the case of the rights of an arrested person.

Reference

  • J N Pandey, Constitutional Law of India (first published 1969, Central Law Agency, 54th edn, 2017)
  • R V Kelkar, Criminal Procedure (first published 1977,EBC , 6th edn, 2014)
  • The Code of Criminal Procedure , 1973
  • Khatri (II) v. State of Bihar [1981] 1 SCC 627
  • https://indiankanoon.org/
  • http://www.ijtr.nic.in/cirorders/Chapter5.pdf., 12,accessed 24 April 2020

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