Saket Kumar
in Constitutional Law
Asked April 09, 2015

Compensation in case of PIL

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Whether Petitioner is entitled for compensation in case of PIL in a High Court ? On what ground he can claim the same ?

Answer 1

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Shruthee Srinivasan
Granting Compensation to victims is a recognised principle of law that is enforced through ordinary civil courts for any pecuniary or contractual damage suffered. Under the law of torts the victims can claim compensation for the injury to the person or property suffered by them. There is no specific legislation that lays down the grounds on which compensation can be granted. With judicial activism being an integral part of our justice delivery system today, compensatory jurisprudence has emerged as a necessary aspect of the human rights philosophy that India is keenly following today.1 With the concept of Public Interest Litigation gaining ground, a new legal system - where judges themselves can initiate and enforce actions against any significant issue of general public interest – has been established. Here, the requirement of a petitioner being directly affected by issue at hand has been dispensed with, and the judiciary has taken the task of securing the right to life and liberty of all people irrespective of the absence of any express constitutional provision and of judicial precedents. A host of international covenants on human rights and the concern for effective implementation of them are radical and revolutionary steps towards the guarantee of liberty, equality and justice, like Article 5(5) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 9(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 etc. India adopted the Covenant with a reservation regarding the enforceable right to compensation. Though the concept is new, the content is not and these rights have been recognised since ages and have become part of the constitutional mechanism of several countries. India recognised these rights under Part III of the Constitution providing remedies for enforcement of such rights. Article 32(1) provides for the right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the fundamental rights. The Supreme Court under Article 32(2) has unfettered powers to ensure that the Fundamental Right is not violated and the Court may issue any directions that it deems fit. In view of this constitutional provision, the Supreme Court may even give remedial assistance, which includes monetary compensation. The Supreme Court through its decision in various cases like Khatri v. State of Bihar, Sant Bir v. State of Bihar and Veena Sethi Vs State of Bihar has observed the requirement of a compensatory angle to the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of our Constitution. Though the Court did not actually grant compensation in any of these cases, it was in Rudul Shah v. State of Bihar that the Court felt it justified to grant monetary compensation to victim of state negligence for keeping him in illegal detention for over 14 years after his acquittal of murder charge. In the hands of the Supreme Court public interest litigation in India has taken multidimensional character. With the advent of judicial activism violation of fundamental rights were dealt with treating them as writ petitions and the relief of compensation was also granted through writ jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution. Thus, any violation of fundamental rights can be treated as warrantying remedial action in the form of compensation by Courts. Generally, in PILs, Courts tend to set up fact-finding commissions and deal only with the question of law. When a matter with disputed fact is placed before the Court for consideration the Court refuses to take up such issue and directs the petitioner to approach a civil court for resolving the disputed question of fact. But in cases of claim for compensation through public law remedy under Article 32, the Supreme Court instead of making the petitioner to resort to private law remedy, invented the process of fact-finding commissions to inquire into the disputed facts and submit reports before the Court to consider the correctness of the facts placed before the Court. By taking the aid of such reports the Court is coming to a conclusion whether there is infringement of the right to life and personal liberty and determines if it is fit to award compensation in such cases. In Oleum Gas Leak Case, the court expanded the remedial potential of Article 32 by empowering the SC to award compensation not only in cases involving wrongful arrest or detention, but in all ‘appropriate cases’ involving violation of a fundamental right of a person. Thus, PILs is a completely judicially evolved legal system, including the grounds for awarding compensation in PILs. It all depends on the degree of fundamental right violation occurring in each case and of course, the judge presiding over the matter. For example, in a landmark judgement of Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum v. Union of India Supreme Court issued guidelines for rehabilitation and compensation for the rape on working women. Clearly, Courts have been doing the needful in regard to PIL cases and will continue to do so.
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