|In the Supreme Court of India|
|Name of the Case||The Chairman Railway Board & Ors v. Mrs. Chandrima Das & Ors|
|Citation||(2000) 2 SCC 465; MANU/SC/0046/2000; AIR 2000 SC 98|
|Date of the Case||28th January, 2000|
|Petitioner||The Chairman, Railway Board & Others|
|Respondent||Mrs. Chandrima Das & Others|
|Bench/ Judges||R.P. Sethi, S. Saghir Ahmad|
|Statutes/Constitution Involved||Constitution of India|
|Important Sections/ Articles||Art. 21, 32, 226|
Case Analysis: Chairman, Railway Board v. Chandrima Das
Chairman, Railway Board v. Chandrima Das is essential to be discussed when there is a discussion on Article 226 and Article 21. This case analysis aims to lay down the facts of the case in brief through which principles of law are examined which were not earlier. The instant case clarifies the difference between Public and Private Law, the jurisdiction of the High Court, the fundamental rights that are available to citizens and non-citizens and also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Further, the arguments of either sides along with the cases used to support their arguments have also been specified.
Rape, Public Law, Life, Vicarious Liability, Fundamental Rights
This is a case of gang-rape under public law because the accused were employees of the national railway. The case includes a discussion of the application of UN resolutions domestically, including the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Court concludes that the victim can recover under public law due to the violation of her fundamental rights, enshrined in the declarations and the Indian Constitution.
Background of the Case
Prior to this case there was a state of uncertainty about the jurisdiction of Article 226 and the extent of fundamental rights of non-citizens in India. Before appealing in the Supreme Court, the matter was first dealt in the High Court of Calcutta where Mrs. Chandrima Das claimed compensation for the victim who was a Bangladeshi national. ‘She also claimed several other reliefs including a direction to the respondents to eradicate anti-social and anti-criminal activities at Howrah Railway Station. The High Court then awarded a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh to the victim as it was of the opinion that the rape was committed at the building belonging to Railways and was perpetrated by the railway employees. The respondents then appealed to the Supreme Court against the decision of High Court. Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld the view of the High Court and said that Right to Life was also extended to people who are not citizens of India. The court also found the government to be vicariously liable for the offence.’
‘Mrs. Chandrima Das, a practicing advocate of the Calcutta High Court, filed a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution against the Chairman, claiming compensation for victim Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, a Bangladeshi national who was gang-raped by employees of the Railways.
Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon arrived at Calcutta and was said to wait at Ladies waiting room by a Train ticket examiner for confirmation of her berth ticket. Two men came to her, claiming to be influential persons of railway and confirmed her ticket. After that, one of those men came again and told her to accompany a boy to restaurant for food. She went for dinner and came back to ladies’ room again. When 2 another male came to her and asked her to follow her to Yatri Niwas for resting there which she doubted earlier about them but after getting confirmation by lady attendants, she accompanied them. They took her to room which was booked by the name of Ashoke Singh where already 3 male attendants were present. Hanuffa Khatoon suspected something amiss when Ashoke Singh forced her into the room. All the four men who were present inside the room brutally raped Hanuffa Khatoon. When she could recover, she managed to escape from the room of Yatri Niwas and came back to the platform where again she met Siya Ram Singh and found him talking to Ashoke Singh. Seeing her condition, he pretended to help her and requested to come to his residence to rest for the night with his wife and children and assured her to help catching the following train as she missed her train while rescuing herself. Thereafter, he took Hanuffa Khatoon to a rented flat of his Ashok Singh and raped her. Hearing the voices from the flat landlord of the building rescued her by calling Jorabagan police.’ 
The Hon’ble court remarked in the said case that “the only question argued before us was that the Railways would not be liable to pay compensation to Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon who was a foreigner and was not an Indian national. It is also contended that commission of the offence by the person concerned would not make the Railway or the Union of India liable to pay compensation to the victim of the offence. It is contended that since it was the individual act of those persons, they alone would be prosecuted and on being found guilty would be punished and may also be liable to pay fine or compensation, but having regard to the facts of this case, the Railways, or, for that matter, the Union of India would not even be vicariously liable. It is also contended that for claiming damages for the offence perpetrated on Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, the remedy lay in the domain of Private Law and not under Public Law and, therefore, no compensation could have been legally awarded by the High Court in a proceeding under Article 226 of the Constitution and, that too, at the instance of a practicing advocate who, in no way, was concerned or connected with the victim.”
Summary of Arguments Raised
Arguments of the Petitioner
- First contention made is the offence committed by a person concerned would not make the Railway / the Union of India liable to pay compensation to the victim of the offence. It is contended that since it was the individual act of those persons, only they would be prosecuted and if they are found guilty, they would be punished and may also be liable to pay fine or compensation, but with regards to the facts of this case, the Railways, or, for that matter, the Union of India would not even be vicariously liable.
- It is also contended that for claiming damages for the offence committed on Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, the remedy lay in the domain of Private Law and not under Public Law and, therefore no compensation could have been legally awarded by the High Court in a proceeding under Article 226 of the Constitution and, that too at the instance of a practicing advocate who was not concerned or connected with the victim in any manner.
- It was also challenged by the learned counsel, that Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon was a foreign national and, therefore, no relief under Public Law could be granted to her as there was no violation of the Fundamental Rights available under the Constitution. It was contended that the Fundamental Rights in Part III of the Constitution are available only to citizens of this country and since Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon was a Bangladeshi national, she cannot complain of the violation of Fundamental Rights and she cannot be granted any relief on that basis.
- Hanuffa Khatoon, who was not the citizen of this country but came here as a citizen of Bangladesh was, nevertheless, entitled to all the constitutional rights available to a citizen so far as “Right to Life” was concerned.
- Learned counsel then asserted that the Central Government cannot be held vicariously liable for the offence of rape committed by the employees of the Railways. It was contended that the liability under the Law of Torts would arise only when the act was performed in the course of official duty/ employment and since rape cannot be said to be an official act, the Central Government would not be liable even under the Law of Torts. The argument is wholly corrupt and is contrary to the law settled by this Court on the question of vicarious liability in its various decisions.’
Arguments of the Respondent
- The contention that Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon should have approached civil court for damages and the matter should not have been considered in a petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution, cannot be recognized. Where public functionaries are involved and the matter relates to the violation of Fundamental Rights or the enforcement of public duties, the remedy would still be available under the Public Law notwithstanding that a suit could be filed for damages under Private Law. In the instant case, it is not merely a matter of violation of an ordinary right of a person but the violation of Fundamental Rights which is involved. Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon was a victim of rape.
- Having regard to the nature of the petition filed by respondent Mrs. Chandrima Das and the relief claimed therein it cannot be doubted that this petition was filed in public interest which could legally be filed by the respondent and the argument that she could not file that petition as there was nothing personal to her involved in that petition must be rejected. First, on the ground of Domestic Jurisprudence based on Constitutional provisions and secondly, on the ground of Human Rights Jurisprudence based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, which has the international recognition as the “Moral Code of Conduct” having been adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
- The International Covenants and Declarations as adopted by the United Nations have to be respected by all signatory States and the meaning given to the above words in those Declarations and Covenants have to be such as would help in effective implementation of those Rights. The applicability of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and principles thereof may have to be read, if need be, into the domestic jurisprudence. Such as Article 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9 which states that The Fundamental Rights are available to all the “citizens” of the country but a few of them are also available to “persons”. While Article 14, which guarantees equality before law or the equal protection of laws within the territory of India, is applicable to “person” which would also include the “citizen” of the country and “non- citizen” both, similarly Articles 15, 16, 19, 20, 21 and 22 support the Universal Declaration too. This is an example of conformity with the International Declaration and the respondent urges for meaning of words to be construed in such way which would not disregard the Declaration.
- On this principle, even those who are not citizens of this country and come here merely as tourists or in any other capacity will be entitled to the protection of their lives in accordance with the Constitutional provisions. They also have a right to “Life” in this country. Thus, they also have the right to live, so long as they are here, with human dignity. Just as the State is under an obligation to protect the life of every citizen in this country, so also the State is under an obligation to protect the life of the persons who are not citizen It has already been pointed out above that this Court in Bodhisatwa’s case (supra) has already held that “rape” amounts to violation of the Fundamental Right guaranteed to a woman under Article 21 of the Constitution.
- She was entitled to be treated with dignity and was also entitled to the protection of her person as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. As a national of another country, she could not be subjected to a treatment which was below dignity nor could she be subjected to physical violence at the hands of Govt. employees who outraged her modesty. The Right available to her under Article 21 was thus violated.
- Consequently, the State was under the Constitutional liability to pay compensation to her. The judgment passed by the Calcutta High Court, therefore, allowing compensation to her for having been gang-raped, cannot be said to suffer from any infirmity.
The case primarily deals with Article 226 which confers the High Court powers, throughout the territories in relation to which it exercise jurisdiction, to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases, any Government, within those territories directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibitions, quo warranto and certiorari, or any of them, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III and for any other purpose.
The power conferred by clause (1) to issue directions, orders or writs to any Government, authority or person may also be exercised by any High Court exercising jurisdiction in relation to the territories within which the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises for the exercise of such power, notwithstanding that the seat of such Government or authority or the residence of such person is not within those territories. In the instant case, the court adjudged that the petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution is valid as not only the ordinary rights but also the Fundamental rights were violated.
Another provision that has assumed a crucial role in the case is Article 21 which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty. It mandates that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. The instant is a landmark case in extending this fundamental right to all people in India and not only the citizens.
Cases cited by Petitioner
In the discussion on availability of fundamental rights to ‘foreigners’ or ‘non-citizens’ the petitioner cited a case of the Calcutta High Court which is Md. Soleman vs. State of West Bengal and Another, in which it was held that Article 19 does not apply to a Commonwealth citizen. Further citing Hans Muller of Nurenburg vs. Superintendent Presidency Jail Calcutta, the petitioner asserted that this Article applies only to “citizens” in an attempt to generalise the availability of fundamental rights without any distinction between those available to non-citizens as well. This was then explicated by the Hon’ble Court further in the case.
Cases cited by Respondent
The Supreme Court in Bodhisatwa vs. Ms. Subdhra Chakrobortyhas held “rape” as an offence which is violation of the Fundamental Right of a person guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. therefore, the contention of the learned counsel for the appellants that the petition under Public Law was not maintainable.
In Anwar vs. State of J & K, it was held that Fundamental Rights under Articles 20, 21 and 22 are available not only to “citizens” but also to “persons” which would include “non-citizens”.
In cases relating to custodial deaths and those relating to medical negligence, the Supreme Court awarded compensation under Public Law domain in Nilabati Behera vs. State of Orissa (1993), State of M.P. vs. Shyam Sunder Trivedi (1995), People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India (1997), Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee v. State of Bihar (1991), Dr. Jacob George v. State of Kerala (1994); PaschimBanga Khet Mazdoor Samity v. State of West Bengal (1996) and Mrs. Manju Bhatia v. N.D.M.C. (1997).
In State of Rajasthan v. Mst. Vidhyawati , it was held that the Govt. will be vicariously liable for the tortious act of its employees. This was a case where a claim for damages was made by the heirs of a person who died in an accident caused by the negligence of the driver of a government vehicle.
Hearing all the contention the Hon’ble Court said that “Running of Railways is a commercial activity. Establishing Yatri Niwas at various Railway Stations to provide lodging and boarding facilities to passengers on payment of charges is a part of the commercial activity of the Union of India and this activity cannot be equated with the exercise of Sovereign power. The employees of the Union of India who are deputed to run the Railways and to manage the establishment, including the Railway Stations and Yatri Niwas, are essential components of the Govt. machinery which carries on the commercial activity. If any of such employees commits an act of tort, the Union Govt., of which they are the employees, can, subject to other legal requirements being satisfied, be held vicariously liable in damages to the person wronged by those employees. Moreover, we are dealing with this case under Public Law domain and not in a suit instituted under Private Law domain against persons who, utilizing their official position, got a room in the Yatri Niwas booked in their own name where the act complained of was committed.
Therefore, the appeal having no merit is dismissed with the observation that the amount of compensation shall be made over to the High Commissioner for Bangladesh in India for payment to the victim, Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon. The payment to the High Commissioner shall be made within three months. There will be no order as to costs.”
The learned counsel for the appellants held the view that Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon was a foreign national and therefore no relief could be granted to her under Public Law as there was no violation of Fundamental Rights mentioned in Part III of the Indian Constitution. But this argument failed on two grounds:
- On the ground of domestic jurisprudence based on Constitutional Provisions
- On the ground of Human Rights Jurisprudence based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, which has the international recognition as the “Moral Code of Conduct” having been adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The case elucidates the International Declaration and the way by which provisions of the Indian Constitution conform with it.
The declaration supports recognition of the Inherent Dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all. United Nations have affirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom in the Charter.
Article 2 read with Article 3 of the Charter lays down that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person and that it should not entertain distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Apart from the above, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, by its Resolution dated 20th December, 1993, observed in Article 1 that, “violence against women” means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
The International Covenants and Declarations as adopted by the United Nations have to be respected by all signatory States and the meaning given to the above words in those Declarations and Covenants have to be such as would help in effective implementation of those Rights. Our Constitution guarantees all the basic and fundamental human rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, to its citizens and other persons. The purpose of Part III of Indian Constitution containing the Fundamental rights, is to safeguard the basic human rights from the vicissitudes of political controversy and to place them beyond the reach of the political parties who, by virtue of their majority, may come to form the Govt. at the Centre or in the State.
The Fundamental Rights are available to all the “citizens” of the country but a few of them are also available to “persons”.” The case also discusses the fundamental rights that are available to citizens as well as non-citizens under Articles 14, 20, 21, 22 which are in consonance with Articles 3, 7 and 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
Various interpretations of “life” has been discussed in this case. The Court examined its purview by considering the meaning of the word interpreted by the Hon’ble Court from time to time. In Kharak Singh v. State of U.P.,it was held that the term “life” indicates something more than mere animal existence. The inhibitions contained in Article 21 against its deprivation extends even to those faculties by which life is enjoyed. In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. U.O.I., it was held that the right to life under Article 21 means the right to live with dignity, free from exploitation. On this principle, even those who are not citizens of this country and come here merely as tourists or in any other capacity will be entitled to the protection of their lives in accordance with the Constitutional provisions. They also have a right to “Life” in this country. It has already been pointed out above that in Bodhisatwa’s case it has already been held that “rape” amounts to violation of the Fundamental Right guaranteed to a woman under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Thus, they also have the right to live, so long as they are here, with human dignity. Just as the State is under an obligation to protect the life of every citizen in this country, so also the State is under an obligation to protect the life of the persons who are not citizens.
This case laid down that when public functionaries are involved and matter relates to violation of fundamental rights or enforcement of Public duties the matter would still fall into the ambit of Public Law and not necessarily Private Law. It also clarified the extent of application of fundamental rights to non-citizens and the way that Human rights have been incorporated into the constitution. The case also discussed the term ‘life’ through various interpretations of the Apex Court and how ‘rape’ stands as a violation of Art. 21.
- Explain the term ‘life’?
- Which fundamental rights are available to non-citizens?
- What is the Universal Declaration on Human Rights also called?
- What is Article 226?
- Was the Central government held vicariously liable?
 Legal Information Institute, The Chairman, Railway Board & ORS v. Mrs. Chandrima Das & ORS, Cornell Law School (July 23, 2020, 08:15AM),
 Manupatra & JUSTICE Adda, Chairman, Railway Board v. Chandrima Das, LawSkills (July 24, 2020, 07:20 AM), https://www.lawskills.in/FreeRes/Cases/chairman-railway-board.pdf.
 Aishwarya Lakhe, The Chairman, Railway Board & Others vs Mrs. Chandrima Das & Others, Lawlex. Org ( July 23, 2020, 11:30 AM), https://lawlex.org/case-summary/the-chairman-railway-board-others-vs-mrs-chandrima-das-others/20378.
 Indian Const, art. 19.
 Md. Soleman v. State of West Bengal and Another, AIR 1965 Cal 312.
 Hans Muller of Nurenburg v. Superintendent Presidency Jail Calcutta, AIR 1955 SC 367.
 Bodhisatwa v. Ms. Subdhra Chakroborty (1996) 1 SCC 490.
 Anwar v. The State of J & K, AIR 1971 SC 337.
 Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa MANU/SC/0307/1993.
 State of M.P. v. Shyam Sunder Trivedi MANU/SC/0722/1995.
 People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India AIR 1997 SC 1203.
 Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee v. State of Bihar MANU/SC/0604/1991.
 Jacob George v. State of Kerala MANU/SC/0684/1994.
 PaschimBanga Khet Mazdoor Samity v. State of West Bengal AIR 1996 SC 2426.
 Manju Bhatia v. N.D.M.C. MANU/SC/1235/1997.
 The State of Rajasthan v. Mst. Vidhyawati & Anr. AIR 1962 SC 993.
 Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. AIR 1963 SC 1295; State of Maharashtra v. Chandrabhan Tale, AIR 1983 SC 803.
 Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. U.O.I., AIR 1984 SC 802; Maneka Gandhi v. U.O.I., AIR 1978 SC 597; Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay v. Dilip Kumar Raghavendranath Nadkarni, AIR 1983 SC 109.
 supra note 6.