Khatri and Ors. vs. State of Bihar (The Bhagalpur Blinding case)

Author: Amit Singh

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

Rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is permitted of people or owed to people according to some legal system, social convention, and ethical theory and these rights are protected by our constitution under fundamental rights. Art 21 Indian constitution gives the right for protection of life and personal liberty to the citizens. In this we are discussing the “Khatri vs. State of Bihar” also known as the “Bhagalpur blinding case”. This case had made criminal jurisprudence history by becoming the first in which the Supreme Court ordered compensation for violation of basic human rights. The incident was widely argued, debated and acutely criticized by numerous human rights organizations.

Facts

•     In 1980 in Bhagalpur in the state of Bihar India, when police blinded 31 individuals under trial by pouring acid into their eyes.

•     Hingorani on behalf of the blinded prisoners was whether that the State was liable to pay compensation to the blinded prisoners for violation of their Fundamental Right under Article 21 of the Constitution. She contended that the blinded prisoners were deprived of their eyesight by the Police Officers.

•     The police officers as Government servant acting on behalf of the State and since this constituted a violation of the constitutional right under Article 21, The State was liable to pay compensation to the blinded prisoners.

Issues raised:

  • Why should the court not be prepared to create new tools and invent new remedies for the purpose of justifying the most precious of the precious fundamental right to life and personal liberty?
  • Whether a person who has been deprived of his right to life or personal liberty by the state, and it could be compensated by granting monetary relief?

Judgment:

The only objective of a habeas corpus is to release a person from illegal detention. But even in a proceeding for habeas corpus, the Court is competent to mold the relief as to meet the requirements of a particular case or issue appropriate directions.

  • The Court said that the proceedings under Article 32 are neither inquiry nor a trial for an offense. Neither the Supreme Court is a criminal court nor the petitioners accused persons and so criminal procedural laws are not applicable to the Court’s writ jurisdiction under Article 32 of the constitution.
  • Justice Bhagwati, highlighted that the state governments cannot avoid their constitutional obligation to provide free legal service to the poor accused by pleading financial or administrative inability. A trial held without offering legal aid to an indigent accused at state cost will be vitiated and conviction will be set aside. Providing free legal service to the poor and the needy is an necessary element to any reasonable, fair and just procedure.
  • The Court also commended that the constitutional requirement to produce an arrested person before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest be strictly and conscientiously observed under section 209 of Crpc 1973
  • Legal aid is fundamental to certifying access to courts. This right of the indigent arises from the moment he is first produced before a magistrate. It is at this stage that the accused gets his first chance to apply for bail and obtain his release as also to resist remand to police or jail custody and so the accused needs competent legal advice and representation at this stage. The accused can also claim for free legal aid after he has been sentenced by a court but is allowed to appeal against the verdict.
  • Supreme Court further emphasized that under Section 304 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, it is the legal responsibility of the magistrate or judge before whom the accused is produced to inform him that if he is unable to appoint a lawyer on account of poverty or indigence, under article 39A of constitution, he is entitled to get free legal services at the cost of the state. The Court took the view that the right to free legal aid would be illusory for the needy accused unless the trial judge informs him of such a right.

Critical Analysis

In my opinion, this case shows two more instances of the cruel and barbaric manner in which the administrators of law deal with persons arrested by them. The police are supposed to enforce the law and not to break it, but here it seems that they have behaved in a most lawless manner and defied not only the constitutional protections but also perpetrated what may rightly described as a crime against the very essence of humanity. Art 39 (A) of the constitution provides free legal aid to every citizen of India. And it is a duty to offer to the person to maintain natural justice. I agree with Justice P. N. Bhagwati’s statement that “the poor and the illiterate should be able to approach the Courts and their ignorance and poverty should not be an impediment in the way of their obtaining Justice from the Courts.” The Bhagalpur blinding case had made criminal jurisprudence history by becoming the first in which the Indian Supreme Court ordered compensation for violation of basic human rights.

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