The Telangana High Court has said that the state government and the prisons department cannot get away from vicarious liability for the death of inmates by fellow-prisoners. Justice C.V. Bhaskar Reddy ruled that the jail authorities being the custodian of the prisoners were liable to pay compensation for such deaths. Citing Supreme Court orders, Justice Reddy ruled that the state was liable to pay compensation. He also set the principle to decide the quantum of compensation for custodial and unnatural deaths while in imprisonment.

He said that the compensation must be computed as in the case of deciding claims under the Motor Vehicles Act by the motor accident claims tribunal. In the instant case, the court computed the compensation as Rs 7.2 lakh. With `one lakh having been paid to the family on the orders of the National Human Rights Commission, the court directed the government to pay the remaining Rs 6.2 lakh along with six per cent annual interest from 2012.

Justice Bhaskar Reddy was dealing with a petition filed by one Karolla Jayamma from Medak district, whose husband Karolla Venkaiah was fatally attacked by co-prisoner Dasari Narasimulu on July 4, 2012, while serving life sentence at Cherlapalli central prison. It was stated that the incident occurred due to gross negligence of the jail authorities, who failed to prevent the

assailant from possessing a sharp weapon while in custody.

Jayamma approached the High Court seeking directions to the government and prisons department to pay compensation of Rs 10 lakh, arguing that the state was liable to pay compensation under public law remedy for deprivation of life and liberty of her husband. She also brought to the notice of the court her hardships due to the untimely demise of her husband. 

The prisons department argued before the court that the jail staff was in no way responsible for Venkaiah's death and disowned any responsibility to pay compensation in the absence of any specific finding to the effect that the prison staff had caused the death. They argued that the state could not be made vicariously responsible for the death of jail inmates by fellow-prisoners.

Justice Reddy reminded that as per the settled law, constitutional rights, jail manuals and rules, jail officials were enjoined to ensure safety of prisoners. He observed that the prisoner being entrusted to the care of the prisons department was entitled to protection, life and safety. These authorities cannot absolve themselves of this responsibility merely because the prisoners had been convicted by a court of law and were serving sentences.

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