This case analysis is written by Niti Shah studying BLS/LLB from Pravin Gandhi College of Law, University of Mumbai.
28 January 2000
2000- 2 SCC 465
The Chairman, Railway Board & Others.
Mrs. Chandrima Das & Others.
R.P. Sethi, S. Saghir Ahmad
Relevant Act/ Section
Brief Facts and Procedural History
Mrs. Chandrima Das who is a practising barrister of the Calcutta High Court filed a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution against the Chairman, Railway Board; General Manager, Eastern Railway; Divisional Railway Manager, Howrah Division; Chief Commercial Manager, Eastern Railway; State of West Bengal through the Chief Secretary; Home Secretary, Government of West Bengal; Superintendent of Police (Railways), Howrah; Superintendent of Police, Howrah; Director General of Police, West Bengal and many other Officers including the Deputy High Commissioner, Republic of Bangladesh; claiming compensation for the victim, Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, a Bangladeshi national who was gang-raped by many including employees of the Railways in a room at Yatri Niwas at Howrah Station of the Eastern Railway regarding which G.R.P.S. Case No. 19/98 was registered on 27th February 1998. She arrived at Howrah Railway Station on 26th February 1998 at about 14.00 hours to avail Jodhpur Express at 23.00 Hours. With that intention in mind, she reached Calcutta on 24th February 1998 and stayed at a hotel at 10, Sudder Street, Police Station Taltola, and came to Howrah Station on the date and time aforementioned. She had, however, a waitlisted ticket and so she approached a Train Ticket Examiner at the Station for confirmation of berth against her ticket
Smt. Hanuufa Khatoon lived in Calcutta and was said to wait at Ladies’ waiting room by a Train ticket examiner for confirmation of her ticket. Two men came to her claiming that they are an influential personality of the railway department and confirmed her ticket. After that, again one of those men came and told her to accompany a boy to a restaurant for food. She went for dinner and returned to the ladies’ room again. When 2 another male came to her and asked her to follow her to the resting room which is also called yatri niwas they are which she doubted earlier about them but after getting confirmation by lady attendants, she accompanied them. They took her to the room which was booked by the name of Ashoke Singh where already 3 male attendants were present. Hanufa Khatun suspected something when Ashoke Singh forced her into the room. The four men who were present inside the room brutally raped Hanufa Khatun. When she could recover, she escaped 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 to catch the following train as she missed her train while rescuing herself. Thereafter, He took Hanufa 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.
Issues before the Court
- Is Railway liable to pay compensation to Hanuffa Khatoon who was a foreigner?
Argument of Petitioner
- The first contention made is that the offense has been committed by the person it is an individual act and would not make the Railway or the Union of India liable to pay compensation to the victim of the offense. Since it was the individual act of those persons, they alone would be prosecuted and after being found guilty they would be punished and may also require to pay fine but regarding the facts of this case, the Railways for that matter would not even be vicariously liable.
- The second contention for claiming damages for the offense on Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, the remedy for the same lays in the domain of Private Law and not under Public Law, therefore, no compensation could have been legally awarded by the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.
- The third contention by the counsel on behalf of the appellants, that Hanuffa Khatoon was a foreign national and, therefore, no relief under Public Law could be granted under it as there was no violation of the Fundamental Rights available under the Constitution. It was asserted that the Fundamental Rights in Part III of the Constitution are available only to citizens of this country and since Hanuffa Khatoon was a Bangladeshi national.
- Hanuffa Khatoon was not the citizen of this country but visited here as a citizen of Bangladesh
- The fourth contention by the Learned counsel for the appellants then contended that the Central Govt. cannot be held vicariously liable for the offense of rape committed by the employees of the Railways.
The Argument of Respondent
- The dispute that Hanuffa Khatoon should have filed her case under the civil court for damages and the issue should not have been considered in a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution, which is unacceptable.In this case, it is not a matter of violation of an ordinary right of a person but the violation of Fundamental Rights which is involved.Hanuffa Khatoon is a victim of rape. According to precedent, it has been held that non-citizen cannot claim Fundamental Rights under Articles 20, 21, and 22 which are available not only to “citizens” but also to “persons” which would include “non-citizens”.
- According to 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 following the Constitutional provisions. They also have a right to “Life” in this country. they also have the right to live, so long as they are here all the citizens of our country should treat them with human dignity. Just as the State is under an obligation to protect the life of every citizen in this country similarly 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 held that “rape” amounts to a violation of the Fundamental Right guaranteed to a woman under Article 21 of the Constitution.
- She was entitled to be treated with respect and was also entitled to the protection as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. As a citizen of another country, she had come here with the trust that she will protect even if she is not a citizen and then she cannot be subjected to a treatment which was below dignity. The Right of Article 21 was thus violated.
After all the contentions the court says that the operation of Railways is a commercial activity. Establishment of Yatri Niwas at various Railway Stations to provide facilities to passengers on payment of charges is a part of the commercial activity of the Union of India and this activity cannot be compared with the exercise of Sovereign power. The employees who run the Railways and to manage the establishment, including the Railway Stations and Yatri Niwas, are essential components of the Govt. machinery which carry on the commercial activity. 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.
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