The Gujarat High Court on Friday ordered the state government to give Rs 90,000 as compensation to the family of a man who was killed in firing by the Army during the annual Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra in 1985. Justice J B Pardiwala ordered the state government to grant compensation to the family of Gulam Rasul Umedmiya Rathod, killed over three decades ago by an Army bullet. The court held the state government responsible for his death, while observing that the Army was deployed to assist the local authorities in maintaining law and order. “The civil suit is allowed with a decree of the compensation of Rs 90,000 with interest at the rate of 7 per cent per annum from the date of the suit until the amount is realised,” it said.
On June 20, 1985 during Rath Yatra or procession of Lord Jagannath was passing through the Delhi Darwaja via Prem Darwaja at Jordan Road in communally sensitive Dariapur area, Rathod had gone to the terrace of his neighbour’s building for collecting quilt, which was put up for drying. It was alleged that a team of Army, deployed to maintain law and order during the Yatra, opened fire indiscriminately to control the unruly mob. Rathod was hit by a bullet and later succumbed to his injuries. Rathod’s family alleged the Army, without any warning or reason, opened fire.
It was claimed that on that day curfew had been imposed in the walled city and the government authorities had not given permission for taking out the Rath Yatra. Still the procession was taken out. The high court order says that “Instead of taking the procession through outside Prem Darwaja, the procession entered into the walled city area through Prem Darwaja under the surveillance of the Army and all of a sudden, as alleged, the Army opened fire resulting in the death of the husband of the appellant No.3 (Aminabibi)”.
The family members filed suit for damage in 1986, but was rejected in 1995. They filed an appeal in the high court which was also rejected by a single bench. The matter reached before the division bench in 2011 which gave a split verdict with one judge justice Jayant Patel ordering compensation of Rs 90,000 be paid to the family of the deceased, while the other judge S R Brahmbhatt differed while observing that “…looking to the attending circumstances five round of firing were taken place and looking to fact that Jordan Road area is popular for such acts and sensitive area, go to show that firing was not unjustifiable for such acts thereof unfortunate incident of death has occurred, to which, though sympathy would flow, the claim under the law of tort cannot be accepted.”
Following the split verdict, the chief justice placed before the single bench of justice J B Pardiwala to decide the case in 2013. On Friday, justice Pardiwala held that the petitioners grievance for compensation is proper and ordered the state government to pay Rs 90,000 with 7 per cent interest since 1986 based on the math that the victim was early about Rs 700 per month.
Justice Pardiwala noted, “In England the immunity of the Crown from liability for a tort was based on the maxim : ‘The King can do no wrong’. Ours is a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and Article 21 of our Constitution protects the life and liberty of the citizens, except according to procedure established by law. In cases where this guaranteed right is invaded or infringed, may be by the State or by another citizen or body, an action lies under law for proper remedy.”