Date of judgement: 13/12/2019
Court: High Court of Jharkhand at Ranchi
Manraj Tirkey was arrested on the 22nd of December 2005 by the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Sector XII, Bokaro. He was thereafter brutally assaulted in custody and later admitted to a hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries on the 28th of December, 2005. In 2006, the matter went to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and was subsequently handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), for its report. The Report affirmed the allegations of unlawful detention in addition to assault under custody. The action was taken against the responsible officers under the Indian Penal Code, and the State of Jharkhand compensated the victim’s family for a sum of Rs. 5,00,000 on directions by the NHRC.
The present case is a writ petition by Bindikta Devi, the mother of the victim, seeking a compensation of Rs. 50,00,000 from the State of Jharkhand for the custodial death of her son.
The two police officers responsible for the incident were already held liable for criminal conspiracy under section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, voluntarily causing hurt under section 323 and wrongful confinement under section 343 by a court of competent jurisdiction. The counsel for the petitioner contested that it was a proven case of custodial death in light of the orders passed under multiple documentary evidence, charge-sheet by the CBI and the payment of Rs. 5,00,000 by the State. However, they submitted that it was a settled principle not to award compensation for custodial deaths but sought exemplary damages to act as a deterrent against the public officers.
The respondents countered the claim by stating that a Trial Court in 2010 had acquitted the accused of the charge under section 304 and refuted the claim of it being a custodial death. The Honourable Court recognised that the victim was subjected to illegal detention by the authorities and the same was supported by evidence from lie detection tests. The verdict passed by the Trial Court on 10/05/2010 also made it evident that the proceedings were unable to establish the essential ingredients for murder under Section 304 whereas they were held liable for Sections 120B, 323, 343. The petitioners’ claim on the same being custodial death was derivative and relied on the Charge sheet by the CBI and verdict by the NHRC whereas the offence under 304 was negated by the Trial Court.
The Court was posed with the issue of comparing and weighing the material evidence on record supporting custodial death on one hand and the verdict of the Tribunal that acquitted the accused from Section 304 on the other. It was opined that the matter could not be seen as a matter of custodial death due to the conclusive evidence reached by the Trial Court with regard to section 304. The petitioners later brought to the notice of the court that they had challenged the verdict passed by the Trial Court and the High Court had the jurisdiction to pass an appropriate direction in that regard.
It was held that while passing an order in this regard, the court could do so only on the basis of material evidence and undisputed facts and it was not the jurisdiction of the court to pass a direction under writ jurisdiction when there was a controversy. The learned judge also added that the mere fact that an appeal was pending against the Trial Court order could not be treated as a replacement to the actual verdict. A presumption of merit of fact attributable to the petitioner was not sufficient ground for the court to use its extraordinary jurisdiction of awarding compensation.
The petitioner was already paid a sum of Rs. 5,00,000 by the State of Jharkhand and the court deemed it appropriate not to interfere with the monetary damages already compensated and held it would not provide any aid to the petitioner as it had already been given.
The right to compensation under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution was established in the case of Rudul Sah v State of Bihar wherein the learned judges held that the compensatory amount was to act as a palliative.  Infringements of fundamental rights are retributed by means of compensation by the imposition of tortious liability on the state and thus precluding the state from seeking the defence of sovereign immunity.  Punishments that are too cruel and torturous are prima facie unconstitutional and cannot be defended.  Illegal arrests and detentions are flagrant violations of a person's fundamental rights, for which the state is strictly liable.
The late Manraj Tirkey was subject to cruel punishment and inhumanely treatment in addition to being illegally detained resulting in his untimely death. A plethora of his rights and liberties were forsaken as a result of the state's action and even by causing hurt, the sacred nature of his human rights was infringed upon. However, the inability to attribute the offence under Section 304 of the IPC resulted in the High Court’s viewing of the matter, not as one of custodial death.
The learned single judge bench of the High Court deemed it appropriate not to interfere with the compensation already paid by the State by virtue of the directions of the NHRC but also added that it would not order the additional compensation of Rs. 50,00,000 sought by the petitioner due to the conclusive findings of the Trial Court. This case tackles the issue of the weighing of two sources of evidence whereby on the one hand there are supporting documents whereas, on the other, a competent court has upheld the same. Nonetheless, it was added that the petitioners could file against the order seeking compensation if the appeal against the decision of the Trial Court could attribute affixation of penalty under section 304 of the IPC against the accused.
Quantum of compensation is one that varies on a case to case basis.  From the perspective of the findings of the Trial Court and the NHRC, Rs. 5,00,000 was awarded for unlawful detention, causing of hurt and gross violation of fundamental rights. India currently lacks a statute for ascertaining the quantum of compensation and this has resulted in a lack of uniformity while awarding damages.  Articles 20, 21 and 22 are in a Trinity with regard to the matter of arrests. Violation of provisions under these articles or the guidelines set out in DK Basu v. State of West Bengal encompasses the right of compensation to an aggrieved. With regard to the present matter, had the issue of custodial death remained undisputed, the court would have had the power to pass an award for greater compensation.
 Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar, AIR 1983 SC 1086.
 Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa, (1993) 2 SCC 746.
 Inderjeet v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1979 SC 1867.
 Sube Singh v. State of Haryana and Ors., AIR 2006 SC 1117.
 Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Upahaar Tragedy Victims Association & Ors., (2011) 14 SCC 481.