DATE OF JUDGMENT: 28/01/2000

BENCH: R.P.Sethi, S.Saghir Ahmad


The criminal proceedings surrounding the horrific crime that was committed on the grounds of Howrah Railway Station raised intricate legal and public interest issues. The victim’s representative, Mrs. Chandrima Das, argued that the petition, which was based on public law, sought to address wider concerns about public safety in addition to providing compensation to the victim. Topics of discussion in the legal debate included the Railway Board’s vicarious liability, non-citizen’s ability to assert their fundamental rights, and the relationship between public and private law. The court emphasized the universality of human rights and the need of public authorities to prevent and redress abuses, depending on constitutional principles and international declarations.


The case of Chairman Railway Board v. Chandrima Das was heard on January 28, 2000, before a bench consisting of R.P. Sethi and S. Saghir Ahmad. The petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution is at the center of the discussion. Lawyer Mrs. Chandrima Das filed a claim for damages on behalf of Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, a citizen of Bangladesh, who was raped by a gang at Howrah Station. A number of issues are covered in this case, including locus standi, whether non-citizens may use the Fundamental Rights, the Railway Board’s vicarious liability, and whether private law remedies are available.


Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, an elected representative and citizen of Bangladesh, was the victim of a horrible murder in Yatri Niwas, Howrah Station, in 1998. Due to this occurrence, the General Manager of Eastern Railway, the Chairman of the Railway Board, and other officials were named in a petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution by Advocate Mrs. Chandrima Das. In addition to requesting action to end anti-social and illegal activity at Howrah Railway Station, the petition demanded compensation for Hanuffa Khatoon.

 On February 26, when Hanuffa landed in Howrah with plans to board the Jodhpur Express later that evening to travel to Ajmer Sharif. When she was having trouble getting her ticket confirmed, Ashok Singh and Siya Ram Singh approached her and claimed to be influential railway figures and arranged her reservation. However, things took a dark turn when she was misled to Yatri Niwas. That day, at about five o’clock in the evening, Hanuffa was contacted by Ashok Singh and Siya Ram Singh in the ladies waiting room. They took her ticket and verified her reservation in Jodhpur Express Coach No. S-3 (Berth No. 17). Later, at eight in the evening, Siya Ram Singh and a kid called Kashi suggested that she eat dinner at a neighbouring restaurant. Following lunch, Hanuffa went back to the ladies waiting area, where Ashok Singh and a parcel supervisor named Rafi Ahmed stopped by before Ashok Singh boarded the train. Hanuffa was first suspicious, but the credentials that female employees at the Ladies Waiting Room had attested to gave her comfort. As such, she went with them to Yatri Niwas, where they were joined en route by Sitaram Singh, a khalasi from the department of electricity. Beginning on February 25, 1998, Ashok Singh’s reservation was made for room No. 102 on the first floor of Yatri Niwas.

Lalan Singh, a parcel clerk, and Awdesh Singh, a parcel clearing agent, were the other two people who were waiting in room No. 2. Awdesh Singh fled the room while keeping watch, and Ashok Singh pushed Hanuffa Khatun inside out of suspicion. Apart from drinking alcohol, the four people in the room, Ashok, Lalan, Rafi and Sitaram also physically assaulted Hanuffa. Hanuffa, stunned and confused, made his way out of the chamber and back to the platform. She met Siya Ram Singh there, who gave the impression of being her saviour, slapped and chastised Ashok Singh, and offered help. The Jodhpur Express was already on its way, so Siya Ram Singh proposed that Hanuffa stay with him overnight at his house. But Siya Ram and his friend Ram Samiram Sharma sexually assaulted her at his home. They tried to gag her mouth and nose to stop her screaming when she struggled severely, which caused her to bleed heavily.

The issue was discovered when Hanuffa called for assistance and the building’s landlord notified Jorabagan Police. The police then came to her aid. The High Court stated that it acknowledged the gravity of the crime committed within railway premises by its employees, awarded a compensation of Rs.10 lakhs to Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon in its judgment.


The main focus of the matter is the legal action taken under Article 226 of the Constitution by practicing attorney Mrs. Chandrima Das, who is suing the Railways for rape-related damages on behalf of Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon. The argument questions Mrs. Chandrima Das’s standing to file the petition, whether it may be maintained under public law, and whether Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, a foreign national, can use the fundamental rights. 


Mrs. Chandrima Das filed a petition that addressed a number of issues related to the public interest, including the removal of criminal and anti-social activity from Howrah Railway Station, in addition to demanding damages for Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon. The contention was that, regardless of Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon’s capacity to bring a lawsuit under private law, the petition might be maintained under public law for the execution of public obligations and the infringement of fundamental rights. In addition, the petition cited the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as support for its claim that Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon was entitled to the protection of her rights even though she was a foreign national, highlighting the universal recognition of human dignity and rights that cut beyond national and citizenship boundaries.


The appellants argued that Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon ought to have pursued her claim in a civil court under private law and that the Article 226 proceedings for damages were not lawfully tenable. In light of Mrs. Chandrima Das’s absence of a personal relationship with Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, they also questioned her locus standi. Moreover, it was maintained that Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon could not seek Public Law redress for the violation of her Fundamental Rights since she was a foreign national, and that relief was exclusively available to Indian nationals. Last but not least, the appellants contested the Central Government’s vicarious accountability for the crime committed by Railway personnel, claiming that this obligation under the Law of Torts does not extend to activities outside the purview of  official duties, such as the offence of rape.


A three-judge bench of the court examined the distinction between public and private law in the 1999 case of Common Cause, A Regd. Society vs. Union of India & Ors. High Courts may issue Writs for the enforcement of fundamental rights and other reasons in accordance with Article 226 of the Constitution. Enforcing the rule of law, stopping arbitrary conduct, and resolving conflicts between individuals or groups and the State are all included in the jurisdiction. Equal enjoyment and protection of human rights, including the rights to life, equality, and liberty, are guaranteed by the Fundamental Rights, as stated in Article 3. While most of these rights are granted to citizens, some also apply to individuals. Both citizens and noncitizens are guaranteed equality before the law under Article 14. But in addition, Article 15 and Article 16 specifically apply to citizens, prohibiting discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex, and ensuring equality in public employment.

Article 19, which deals with fundamental liberties, solely applies to citizens. The word “citizen” is used in a manner commensurate with that of the Citizenship Clause of the Constitution. Reasonable limitations may be imposed on Article 19 rights in order to protect national security. Protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, protection against violations of one’s life and personal liberty, and protection against convictions are all guaranteed by Articles 20, 21, and 22. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is in line with these rights. The decision states that the protections afforded by Part III of the Constitution are not unqualified and can be subject to reasonable limitations, particularly with regard to non-citizens. State security and the interests of the country come first.

The instance of Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, a Bangladeshi noncitizen, serves as an example of implementation of rights guaranteed by the constitution. She was entitled to protection under Article 21 and the right to life even though she was not an Indian citizen. Particularly in light of an occurrence of gang rape by government workers, the Calcutta High Court appropriately granted compensation for the breach of her rights.


The basic claim of the appeal is that Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, a foreign national, should not be forced to pay compensation for an act of criminality done by persons, and hence the Railways should not be held accountable. The argument is that the Union of India or the Railways shouldn’t be held vicariously accountable for the unlawful activities of the individual perpetrators. In an appeal under Article 226 the petitioner argues that the High Court erred in awarding compensation and that private law remedies ought to have been sought at the outset. The court cites earlier rulings that demonstrate the expanding range of public law remedies, such as those in which damages were granted in situations involving incapacitated individuals and medical malpractice. It stresses how fundamental rights are violated, particularly when it comes to rape, and it says that everyone in the nation has the right to live in dignity. The court says that notions of sovereign authority are no longer relevant in welfare states, particularly when it comes to commercial operations like operating railroads, and so rejects the interpretation of the previous Kasturi Lal decision.


All of the fundamental and basic human rights outlined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights are guaranteed to both citizens and other individuals by our constitution. Part III of the Constitution contains the chapter that addresses the Fundamental Rights. This Part seeks to protect fundamental human rights from the whims of political dispute and to keep them out of the hands of political parties that could eventually form the federal government or state governments based on their majority.


The appeal is denied as without merit, with the stipulation that the victim, Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon, will receive her compensation from the High Commissioner for Bangladesh in India. The money is to be sent to the High Commissioner in three months. There won’t be a cost-based hierarchy. The compensation granted to Smt. Hanuffa Khatoon was ultimately upheld by the court when it dismissed the appeal. The decision affirmed the expanded interpretation of the Fundamental Rights, maintaining that although they are not unqualified, both citizens and non-citizens are protected by them. The judgement emphasized the need for public bodies, like the Railway Board, to identify and correct situations where people’s basic rights are violated, reflecting the changing landscape of public law remedies. A major precedent was set by the case, which showed the judiciary’s dedication to justice, accountability, and human rights across national boundaries for the defense of people’s dignity and well being.

Author – Disha Sable, Student at RTMNU’S Babasaheb Ambedkar College of Law, Nagpur



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