Libertatem Magazine

Punishments Under the Indian Penal Code, 1860

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Humankind is governed by punishment for every criminal activity as it serves and meets the ends of justice. A lawful society is a condition wherein all the innately independent individuals can stay united to serve the purpose of humanity.

As not all the fingers are the same in society to there are citizens who obey the laws and others who flung the laws for their evil motive. It is the state’s responsibility to protect its interest, when any crime is committed it is not committed against any single person but a state at large. If a crime is committed it attracts punishments for the commission of such offense so that it should not get repeated.


 Meaning of punishment :

Punishment is the remedy that the commonwealth takes against an offending member of the society. It has been defined by many scholars some of them are as follows :

H.kelson in his general theory of ‘law and state’ described “ sanction is socially organized consists in the deprivation of possession -life, freedom or property

Jeremy Bentham stated that “punishment is evil in the form of remedy which operates by fear” and in the words of John Finnish delinquent behavior of a person needs to be taught a lesson not with melody but with an iron hand”.


 The object of punishment: 

Punishments are imposed on the wrongdoers with the object to deter them from committing further offenses, by reforming and turning them into law-abiding citizens. The object of punishment has been very well summarised by Manu, in the following words,

“ punishments govern all mankind; punishment alone preserves them; punishment wakes while their guards are asleep; the wise consider the punishment (Danda) as the perfection of justice.”

 Theories of punishments :


Deterrent theory: Deter means to refrain a person from doing an act. The main purpose of this theory is to inflict the deterrent effect on the criminals themselves from repeating the crime. So that they don’t commit the crime fearing the punishment.


Retributive theory: This theory is also known as the theory of vengeance. Retribute means to give in return, this theory proposes that the punishment has to be corresponding to that of the crime committed. ‘An eye for an eye, ‘tooth for a tooth’ etc are the basic principles of this theory.


Preventive theory: By this theory, the criminal is prevented from committing the crime Either by putting him into prison, by inflicting the death penalty, or by ending the modes by which he used to commit a crime.


Reformative theory: this theory is based on the principle of ‘hate the sin, not the sinner ‘. The object of this theory is to reform the sinner, the behavior of the criminal. It tries to modify the attitude of the offender so so that he can become a law-abiding member of society.

 Types of punishments in IPC :

The penal code in chapter III sections 53 to 75 has provided for the general provisions relating to punishment for different offenses. Depending upon the nature and gravity of offense the code has prescribed 5 types of punishments under section 53, they are

  1. Death
  2. Imprisonment for life
  3. Imprisonment – (a) Rigorous with hard labor, (b). Simple
  4. Forfeiture of property
  5. Fine
  6. Death sentence  or (Capital punishment ) :

One of the harshest punishments provided in the IPC is the death sentence. It is the punishment where the accused is executed to death if he has been found guilty of the offense. The IPC provides for capital punishment for the following offenses.

  1. Section 121, I.e waging, attempting, or abetting to wage war against the government of India.
  2. Section 132, Abetment of mutiny
  3. Section 194, Perjury resulting in the conviction and death of an innocent person
  4. Section 302, Murder
  5. Section 305, Abetment of suicide by a minor or an insane person or an intoxicated person
  6. Section 307, Attempted murder by A life convict if hurt is caused and
  7. Section 396 I.e Dacoity accompanied with murder

It is also significant to note here that in all the above-mentioned categories of offenses, the death sentence only sets the upper limit of punishment. There is no single offense in IPC which is made punishable with a mandatory sentence of death.


The constitutional validity of the Death sentence : 

The constitutional validity of the death sentence has been challenged from Time to time in numerous cases :

In Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, [1973 AIR 947, 1973 SCR (2) 541] the court upheld the constitutional validity of the death sentence and held that capital punishment is not violative of articles 14,19 and 21. The court observed that “ Deprivation of life is constitutionally permissible if that is done according to procedure established by law”.

The court in Rajendra Prasad v. the State of Punjab,[1979 AIR 916, 1979 SCR (3) 78] Observed that “ The retributive theory has had its day and is no longer valid. Deterrence and reformation are the primary social goals which make deprivation of life and liberty reasonable as penal panacea”. And further while discussing the meaning of special reasons the court observed: “special reasons necessary for imposing death penalty must relate not to the crime as such but to the criminal.”

The constitutional validity of the death sentence was again challenged in Bachchan Singh v. the State of Bihar, [AIR 1980 SC 898 ], the supreme court, in this case, has laid down that life imprisonment is the rule and the death sentence is an exception, the court also pronounced the principle of awarding death penalty only in ‘rarest of rare cases.

The supreme courts ruling that the death sentence ought to be imposed only in the ‘rarest of the rare cases’ was expanded in Macchi Singh v. State of Punjab  [1983 AIR 957, 1983 SCR (3) 413], the following propositions were culled out by the supreme court from the guidelines indicated in the Bachan Singh case. They are

  1. the extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted except in gravest cases of extreme culpability;
  2. Before opting for the death penalty the circumstances of the ‘offender’ also require to be taken into consideration along with the circumstances of the crime’.
  3. Life imprisonment is the rule and death sentence is an exception. In other words, the death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inadequate punishment having regard to the relevant circumstances of the crime, and provided, and only provided the option to impose a sentence of imprisonment for life cannot be conscientiously exercised having regard to the nature and circumstances of the crime and all the relevant circumstances.
  4. A balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances has to be drawn up and in doing so the mitigating circumstances have to be accorded full weightage and a just balance has to be struck between the aggravating and the mitigating circumstances before the option is exercised.

In Lehna v. State of Haryana [Appeal (CRL.) 733 of 2001], the supreme court observed that“ In rarest of rare cases when the collective conscience of the community is so shocked, that it will expect the holders of the judicial power center to inflict death penalty irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability or otherwise of retaining the death penalty, a death sentence can be awarded.”

  1. Imprisonment for life : 

Imprisonment for life meant ‘rigorous imprisonment for life’ I.e till the last breath of the convict. It means imprisonment for the whole period of the convicted person’s natural life.

Imprisonment for life is not corresponding to imprisonment for 14 years or 20 years. There are no provisions either in the penal code or in the CrPC where life imprisonment could be treated as 14 years or 20 years without there being the formal remission by the appropriate government.


  1. Imprisonment :

 Imprisonment is of two kinds:

A . Rigorous imprisonment: The offender is put into hard labor.

B . Simple imprisonment:  It means the offender is confined to jail and is not put to any kind of work

  1. Forfeiture of property : 

 The punishment for absolute forfeiture of property has now been abolished. Sections 61 and 62 of the IPC are repealed by the Act XVI of 1921, there are however two offenses in which the offender is liable to forfeiture of a specific property. They are,

  1. Section 126 provides ‘Committing depredation on territories of Power at peace with the Government of India’, And
  2. Section 127, provides for ‘Receiving property taken by the war on depredation mentioned in sections 125 and 126’.
  3. Fine :

  Sections 63 to 69 cover various fines under IPC, the court may impose a fine as an alternative for the imprisonment or can add it as an addition to the imprisonment.

Apart from these punishments, the IPC provides for another punishment i.e solitary confinement which has been prescribed in sections 73 and 74

Solitary confinement is a form of punishment in which the prisoner or an inmate is isolated from any type of human contact, it is confinement in which there is complete isolation of a prisoner from other prisoners.

Section 73 of the penal code covers ‘solitary confinement and gives the description of how the punishment has to be ordered by the court and the court has to keep in mind while ordering solitary confinement that it should not exceed three months in total.

Section 74 of the IPC provides the limit of solitary confinement, while executing solitary confinement the duration shall not exceed 14 days, and further if the solitary confinement given exceeds 3 months, then confinement shall not exceed 7 days in a month.


Conclusion : 

It is stated that ‘every saint has a past and every sinner has a fortune’, criminals are also a part of the society, so society has to reform and correct them and make them sober citizens.

Human beings are neither angels capable of doing only good nor they are demons determined to destroy each other even at the cost of self-destruction. Taking the nature of humans as it is, complete elimination of crime is not only impossible but also unimaginable.


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