Citation: AIR 1997SC 610

Court: Supreme Court of India

Bench: Kuldip Singh and Dr. A.S. Anand

Appellant: Shri D.K. Basu, Ashok K. Johri


DK Basu was the Executive Chairman of Legal Aid Services, West Bengal, a non-political organization. he addressed a letter to the Supreme Court of India  to draw the  attention of courts to a piece of news published in the Telegraph Newspaper dated 20, 21 and 22 of July 1986 and in the Statesman and India Express dated 17th August 1986 about deaths in police custody and lockups. the letter mentioned that such crimes of custodial violence always went unpunished despite the efforts made and urged the courts to look into the matter so that the family members of the victims are given some form of compensation. He requested that the letter be treated as a Writ Petition within the “Public Interest Litigation” category. Considering the significance of the issues brought up in the letter, it was treated as a written petition and the defendants were informed.

While the writ petition was being considered, Mr. Ashok Kumar Johri addressed a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by highlighting the death of a man named Mahesh Bihari from Aligarh in police custody. The letter was also treated as a Request for Writing and was included along with D.K. Basu’s Request for Writing. On 14/08/1987 the Court issued an order to all state governments and a notice was also issued to the Law Commission requesting appropriate suggestions and guidelines within two months. In response to the notification, several states submitted affidavits. Also, Dr. A.M. Singh, Principal Counsel was appointed as the Amicus Curiae to assist the Court.


Whether monetary compensation should be awarded  for established infringement of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by Articles 21 and 22 of the Constitution of India?


In the writ petition or Public Interest Litigation, the Apex Court, stated that “The importance of affirmed rights of every human being, needs no emphasis and, therefore, to deter breaches thereof becomes a sacred duty of the Court, as the custodian and protector of the fundamental and the basic human rights of the citizens.”

The Court was of the view that custodial deaths are one of the worst crimes in a civilized society governed by the Rule of Law, like India. The Court also issued certain guidelines and mandated their compliance by all governmental agencies alike, failing which prosecutions would be launched against the offenders. Additionally, the Court gave various directions regarding monetary compensation to victims of custodial violence, torture, and custodial deaths and held the State strictly as well as vicariously liable.


This judgment talks about the issue of custodial violence and how it is one of the worst crimes in the civilized society. The Court observed that “death in police custody is perhaps one of the worst kinds of crime in a civilized society, governed by the rule of law and poses a serious threat to an orderly civilized society”. The Supreme Court based its decision on the precedents and gave a correct judgment. The Court gave a landmark judgment in the present case and tried its best to curb the custodial violence.

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