Vicarious Liability of the Government of India

Vicarious liability describes a situation in which one person is accountable for the actions of another. The legal 'maxim qui facit per se per alium facit per se', which literally means "he who does an act through another is deemed in law to do it himself," is the foundation of this doctrine. The person at whose direction the act is performed as well as the person who performs the act are both liable in the case of vicarious liability.

Examples of Vicarious Liability

Common examples of such liability include −

  • Principal’s liability for the tort of his agent;

  • Partners’ liability of each other’s tort;

  • Master’s liability for the tort of his servant;

  • State’s liability of the administration.

Components of Vicarious Liability

Therefore, the following are the components of vicarious liability −

  • There must be a particular kind of relationship.

  • The wrongful act must in some way be connected to the relationship.

  • The wrongful act was committed within the course of employment.

The Legal Regime Governing State Liability

The legal system governing state liability for the tortious acts of its employees is based on Article 300 of the Indian Constitution. According to Article 300, actions may be brought by or against the Government of India or the Government of a State in the name of the Union of India or the State. Under this provision, the Government of India and the governments of each state may be held legally liable.

Origin and Evolution of the Doctrine

In the middle ages, when this state liability first appeared, the proverb "the king can do no wrong" began to lose significance in the eyes of the population. In order to bring justice to those who had been harmed by the government's illegal actions, new industries, and democracies began to emerge after the 18th century.

These new industries and democracies subjected government actions to judicial investigation and review. Due to expanding state obligations, the Crown Proceedings Act was enacted in 1947. By doing this, the crown was held just as liable as the individual.

Evolution in India

There was no law establishing the state's liability in India, unlike the Crown Proceedings Act, of 1947, which established the state's liability in England. The East India Company developed this law long before 1858, then. A person could sue the government under Article 300. However, this article came into effect in 1950 after the adaptation of the Constitution.

Sovereign and Non-Sovereign Functions

  • Sovereign Functions − The term "sovereign functions" refers to government tasks for which the state is immune from legal liability for the actions of its agents. Defense operations, maintaining armed forces, maintaining peace and war, and diplomacy are examples of sovereign functions for which the state is not responsible.

  • Non-Sovereign Functions − These are the state functions that are not Sovereign Functions.

Present Position of Sovereign and Non-Sovereign Functions

There is no longer a distinction between sovereign and non-sovereign power.

  • It all depends on the nature of the power and how it is used. It would contradict even modern notions of sovereignty.

  • Thus, the outdated and antiquated idea of sovereignty is lost. The people now possess sovereignty. The people are the reason why the legislature, executive, and judicial branches were established and put into place. In reality, our country's rulers never imposed the concept of sovereignty in the Austinian sense, in which the king served as the source of law and the fountain of justice.

  • No civilized system can allow a government's executive to oppress its citizens while asserting its sovereign right to do whatever it pleases. Changing social structures have altered how we think about the public interest.


Sovereign immunity as a defense was never admissible when the State engaged in commercial or private activities, nor is it admissible when its officers violate a citizen's rights to life and liberty without a valid legal basis. In both cases of infringement, the State is morally, legally, and constitutionally required to compensate the victim's damages and defend them. Given the significant changes that have been made to the idea of sovereignty itself, the doctrine of sovereign immunity is no longer applicable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is the vicarious liability of the state in India?

Ans. The legal concept of vicarious liability of the state allows the state to be held accountable for the actions or omissions on the part of its agents, officers, or employees when those actions are taken in the course of their employment or official responsibilities.

Q2. What is the legal basis for vicarious liability of the state in India?

Ans. In India, the common law doctrine of "respondeat superior," which literally means to "let the master answer," serves as the foundation for the state's vicarious liability. This principle states that an employer is liable for the actions of their employees in the course of their employment.

Q3. What is the legal basis for vicarious liability of the state in India?

Ans. Article 300 of the Indian Constitution, which states that the government may be sued in its own courts in the same way as a private individual, is the primary source of the law that forms the basis of the state's vicarious liability in India.

Q4. Who can sue the state for vicarious liability in India?

Ans. Anyone who has been affected due to the negligence of a public servant may bring a vicarious liability claim against the state.

Updated on: 11-May-2023


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