State of Rajasthan v. Vidyawati;1962 AIR 933

Every person who read law, is supposed to compulsorily know the case of ‘State of Rajasthan v. Vidyawati’ (1962). Without reading this, law of torts does not complete. It is a landmark case on ‘negligence’ and ‘vicarious liability of state on the wrongful acts of its employees’.

The case mainly raised the question, namely, the extent of the vicarious liability of Government for the tortious acts of its employees, acting in the course of their employment as such.

Facts of the Case

The facts of this case may shortly be stated as follows.

  • Lokumal, was a temporary employee of the State of Rajhasthan, as a motor driver on probation. In February, 1952, he was employed as the driver of a Government jeep car, registered as No. RUM 49, under the Collector of Udaipur.
  • The car had been sent to a workshop for necessary repairs. After repairs had been carried out, Lokumal, while driving the car back along a public road, in the evening of February 11, 1952, knocked down one Jagdishlal, who was walking on the footpath by the side of the public road in Udaipur city, causing him multiple injuries, including fractures of the skull and backbone, resulting in his death three days later, in the hospital where he had been removed for treatment.
  • Jagdishlal’s widow and a minor daughter, aged three years, through her mother as next friend sued the said Lokumal and the State of Rajasthan for damages for the tort aforesaid. They claimed the compensation of Rs. 25,000/- from both the defendants.
  • The Trial Court, after an elaborate discussion of the evidence, decreed the suit against the first defendant ex-parte(Lokumal), and dismissed it without costs against the second defendant.
  • On appeal by the plaintiffs, the High Court of Rajasthan allowed the appeal and decreed the suit against the second defendant also, with costs in both the Courts.
  • The State of Rajasthan applied for and obtained the necessary certificate “that the case fulfils the requirements of Art. 133(1)(c) of the Constitution of India/ important point of law of general public importance, namely, the extent of the liability of the State, in tort.”

Issues before the Court

In support of the appeal, counsel for the Appellant i.e. state of Rajasthan, raised substantially two questions, namely,

  • that under Art. 300 of the Constitution, the State of Rajasthan, was not liable as the corresponding Indian State would not have been liable if the case had arisen before the Constitution came into force; and
  • that the jeep car, the rash and negligent driving of which led to the claim in the suit was being maintained “in exercise of sovereign powers” and not as part of any commercial activity of the State.

Answers of the Court

Ist Question- Vicarious liability of the state

Article 300 is produced here for convenience of reading,

Article 300(1)-

The Government of India may sue or be sued by the name of the Union of India and the Government of a State may sue or be sued by the name of the State and may, subject to any provisions which may be made by Act of Parliament or of the Legislature of such State enacted by virtue of powers conferred by this Constitution, sue or be sued in relation to their respective affairs in the like cases as the Dominion of India and the corresponding Provinces or the corresponding Indian States might have sued or been sued if this Constitution had not been enacted.”

Arguments of the Counsels

The Advocate-General for the State of Rajasthan argued that the second part of the article has reference to the extent of the liability of a State to be sued, and that, therefore, we have to determine the question of the liability of the State in this case in terms of the Article.

On the other hand, it has been argued on behalf of the plaintiffs- respondents that chapter III of part XII of the Constitution, which is headed as “Property, Contracts, Rights, Liabilities, Obligations and Suits”, contains other Articles in the Chapter dealing with rights and liabilities, namely, Arts. 294 and 295 and that Art. 300 is confined to only the question in whose name suits and proceedings may be commenced, in which the Government of a State may figure as plaintiff or as defendant, and that the Article is not concerned with defining the extent of liability of a State.

But the court denied to accept the contention of the plaintiff and said,

  • it is not correct to argue that the provisions of Art. 300 are wholly out of the way for determining the liability of appellant State. It is true that arts. 294 and 295 deal with rights to property, assets, liabilities and obligations of the erstwhile Governers’ Provinces or of the Indian States (specified in Part B of the First Schedule).
  • But Arts. 294 and 295 are primarily concerned with the devolution of those rights, assets and liabilities, and generally speaking, provide for the succession of a State in respect of the rights and liabilities of an Indian State. That is to say they do not define those rights and liabilities, but only provide for substitution of one Government in place of the other.
  • It is also true that first part of Art. 300, deals only with the nomenclature of the parties to a suit or proceeding but the second part defines the extent of liability by the use of the words “in the like cases” and refers back for the determination of such cases to the legal position before the enactment of the Constitution.
  • That legal position is indicated in the Government of India Act, 1935, s. 176(1) which is in these words:

“The Federation may sue or be sued by the name of the Federation of India and a Provincial Government may sue or be sued by the name of the Province, and, without prejudice to the subsequent provisions of this chapter, may subject to any provisions which may be made by Act of the Federal or a Provincial Legislature enacted by virtue of powers conferred on that Legislature by this Act, sue or be sued in relation to their respective affairs in the like cases as the Secretary of State in council might have sued or been sued if this Act had not been passed.”

  • It will be noticed that the provisions of Art. 300(1) and s. 176(1) are mutatis mutandis substantially the same.

The court further said that,

“it has to be remembered that under the Constitution we have established a welfare state, whose functions are not confined only to maintaining law and order, but extend to engaging in all activities including industry, public transport, state trading, to name only a few of them. In so far as the State activities have such wide ramifications involving not only the use of sovereign powers but also its powers as employers in so many public sectors, it is too much to claim that the State should be immune from the consequences of tortious acts of its employees committed in the course of their employment as such.”

The court while concluding the answer held that,

“We have not been shown any provision of law, statutory or otherwise, which would exonerate the Rajasthan Union from vicarious liability for the acts of its servant, analogous to the Common Law of England. It was impossible, by reason of the maxim “The King can do no wrong“, to sue the Crown for the tortious act of its servant. But it was realised in the United Kingdom that rule had become outmoded in the context of modern developments in state craft, and Parliament intervened by enacting the Crown Proceedings Act, 1947, which came into force on January 1, 1948.

Hence the very citadel of the absolute rule of immunity of the sovereign has now been blown up. Section 2(1) of the Act provides that the Crown shall be subject to all those liabilities, in tort, to which it would be subject if it were a private person of full age and capacity, in respect of torts committed by its Servants or agents, subject to the other provisions of the Act.

Viewing the case from the point of view of first principles, there should be no difficulty in holding that the State should be as much liable for tort in respect of a tortious act committed by its servant within the scope of his employment and functioning as such as any other employer.

The immunity of the Crown in the United Kingdom, was based on the old feudalistic notions of Justice, namely, that the King was incapable of doing a wrong, and, therefore, of authorising or instigating one, and that he could not be sued in his own courts.

Now that we have, by our Constitution, established a Republican form of Government, and one of the objectives is to establish a Socialistic State with its varied industrial and other activities, employing a large army of servants, there is no justification, in principle, or in public interest, that the State should not be held liable vicariously for the tortious act of its servant.

The Court has deliberately departed from the Common Law rule that a civil servant cannot maintain a suit against the Crown.

As the cause of action in this case arose after the coming into effect of the Constitution in, our opinion, it would be only recognising the old established rule, going back to more than 100 years at least, if we uphold the vicarious liability of the State. Art. 300 of the Constitution itself has saved the right of Parliament or the Legislature of a State to enact such law as it may think fit and proper in this behalf. But so long as the Legislature has not expressed its intention to the contrary, it must be held that the law is what it has been ever since the days of the East India Company.”

IInd Question- Negligence of driver and sovereign power of state

The court while agreeing with the view of the High Court, which was that,

In our opinion, the State is in no better position in so far as it supplies cars and keeps drivers for its civil service. It may be clarified that we are not here considering the case of drivers employed by the State for driving vehicles which are utilised for military or public service.”

As Lokumal was the driver of collector of Udaipur, the High Court granted a decree to the plaintiffs as against the second defendant i.e. state of Rajhasthan, also for the sum of Rs. 15,000/-

The supreme court affirmed the decision of the high court.


The State Of Rajasthan vs Mst. Vidhyawati; 1962 AIR 933

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