Kinds Of Punishment Under IPC. When May Death Sentence Be Passed?


The Primary object of criminals is to punish the wrongdoer and to maintain law and order in society. Punishment is the penalty for the transgression of the law. It is the state which punishes the criminal because we know that crime is a public wrong which affects the whole society. punishment implies some kind of pain inflicted upon the offender for his criminal act. It may be intended to deter him from repeating such a crime or maybe an expression of social disapproval for his Anti-social conduct. This article focuses on the different kinds of punishments in India and when may sentences of death are passed. Along with various decisions regarding this are cited.

Meaning of Punishment

Punishment is any damage or pain inflicted on an offender through judicial procedure. It is a process by which the state inflicts some pain to the person or property of a person who is found guilty of the crime. In other words, punishment is the sanction imposed on an accused for infringement of the established rules. The term ‘punishment’ means torture that a person should undergo an account of doing a wrong. It is deliberately imposed on that individual without his consent and against his will.

Definitions of punishment[1]

  1. According to Hobbes, punishment is for the transgression of rules; and it is inflicted by legally authorised persons.
  2. According to Hall, punishment is a coercive deprivation intimately applied to an offender because of his voluntary commission of harm forbidden by penal law and implying his moral capacity.
  3. As per Bentham, punishment is an empirical question of desire and of the infliction of sufficient pain to provide an effective deterrent.

Object of punishment

The object of punishment is to protect society from disobedient and undesirable elements by deterring potential offenders, by proving the actual offenders from committing further offences and by reforming and turning them into law-abiding citizens.[2]

Kinds of punishment

Offences are the enemy of all; punishment is the common protector. The whole matter of punishment may be assigned under the following head.

  1. Capital Punishment: such as put an immediate end to the life of the offender.
  2. Afflictive punishments: just as consist in corporal sufferings but which produce only a temporary effect.

Eg; flagging, compulsory fasting etc.

  1. Indelible punishments: produces a permanent effect upon the body, as branding & amputation.
  2. Ignominious punishments: Its aim is to expose the offender to contempt of the spectators, and to make him an unworthy object in the eyes of the society of his old friends.
  3. Penitential punishments: destined to awaken the sentiment of shame, and to expose to a certain degree of censure. They are not severe or rigorous enough to bring infamy.
  4. Chronic punishments: They may be perpetual/temporary. their principal rigorous consists in their duration, so that they would be almost nothing if it were not for those circumstances.

Eg; Banishment & imprisonment

  1. Punishment simply restrictive: Those which, without participating in any of the preceding characters, consist in some restraint, some restriction, in being prevented from doing what one desires.
  2. Punishment simply compulsive: Those which oblige a man to do a thing from which he would wish to be exempted; This punishment consists not in the thing itself but in the inconvenience of the constraint.
  3. Pecuniary punishments: They consist in depriving the offender of a sum of money, or of some articles or actual property.
  4. Punishments quasi pecuniary: They consist in depriving the offender of a kind of property in services or services combined with some pecuniary profit.
  5. Characteristic punishment: it is the manner of inflicting one of the preceding punishments with some circumstances which have relation to the nature of offence.

Kinds of punishment under IPC

Chapter 3 of the Indian Penal Code 1860, defines different punishments for various offences. Section 53 of IPC enumerates the different punishments which the courts may award to a person convicted for a crime. The punishments to which offenders are liable under the provisions of IPC are;

Firstly: Death

Secondly: Imprisonment for Life

Thirdly: ( Repealed)

Fourthly: Imprisonment which is of two kinds namely

  • Rigorous
  • Simple

Fifthly: Forfeiture of property

Sixthly: Fine

Six kinds of punishments were originally prescribed in IPC, in the year of 1949 third punishment, “penal servitude” was removed. Now there are five kinds of punishments under IPC.[3]

1. Death sentence

The death sentence is a punishment which is sanctioned by the government and ordered by the court where a person is put to death for a crime acted by him. Earlier times sentencing offenders to death was a very common kind of punishment, even for minor offences. In modern times death sentences have always been used as an effective punishment for murderers and dangerous offenders. It has both the deterrent and preventive effect.

Some countries abolished it. Capital punishment/death penalty awarded in India in certain exceptional cases only.[4]

2. Imprisonment for life

Imprisonment is defined as the deprivation of the liberty of another without his consent. Life imprisonment means a sentence of imprisonment running throughout the remaining period of convicts’ natural life ( till death). But in practice, it is not so. In practice, it is 14 years and 20 years under section 57 of IPC.

Section 55 empowers the appropriate government to commute the period of life imprisonment. It was substituted for imprisonment for life is to be treated as rigorous imprisonment for life.

In IPC it is provided about fifty offences like,

  1. Waging war (alternative with death section 121)
  2. Conspiracy against State (section 121 A)
  3. Sedition (section 124 A) etc..

3. Imprisonment (Rigorous & simple)

i. Rigorous

In case of rigorous imprisonment, the offender is put into hard labour such as grinding corn, digging the earth, drawing water, cutting firewood, mowing grass etc.

IPC prescribes this punishment for offences includes,

  • Personating a public servant ( section 170)
  • Causing miscarriage ( section 312) etc..

ii. Simple

Simple imprisonment is imposed for small offences like wrongful restraint, defamation etc. In such cases, the offender is confined to jail and is not put to any kind of work.

Some offence punishable with this includes;

  • Refusing to take an oath ( section 178)
  • Defamation (section 500)

As per section 60 of IPC in every case in which an offender is punishable with imprisonment which may be either description, it shall be competent to court in the sentences that such imprisonment shall be wholly rigorous, or that shall be wholly simple, or that any part shall be rigorous and the rest as simple.

iii. Solitary confinement

It means keeping a person isolated from any kind of contact with outside. Harsh and hardened convict may be confined in a separate cell to correct his conduct, the court can award this punishment only when the offence is punishable with rigorous imprisonment along with certain restrictions.[5]

4. Forfeiture of property

Forfeiture of property means taking away the property of criminals by the state as punishment. The punishment of absolute forfeiture of all property of offenders is now abolished.

It is imposed for the following offences :

  1. Committing depredation on territories of Power at peace with the government of India. ( section 126)
  2. Receiving property taken by war or depredation. ( section 127)
  3. The property purchased or bid by a public servant unlawfully. ( section 169)

5. Fine

Fine is derived from ‘finis’ and is so-called because its payment puts an end to the offence for which it is imposed. It is a pecuniary punishment.

IPC prescribes fine as penalty both independent and along with other penalties. The amount of fine varies with offences. It is at the discretion of the court as to whether either imprisonment or fine or both are to be awarded in a particular case.

Fine is the only punishment for some offences including :

  1. False statement in connection with the election. ( section 171 G)
  2. Failure to keep election accounts. ( section 171 I )
  3. Illegal payments in connection with the election. ( section 171 H)[6]

Important decisions of the Supreme Court

In Mithu v. State of Punjab:[7] The law confers on the judge wide discretionary power in the matter of passing a sentence. However, under section 303 of the IPC, the judge has no such discretionary power since section 303 prescribes capital/death sentence compulsory in case of a life imprisonment convict, who is found guilty of committing murder while undergoing the sentence of imprisonment for life. Therefore section 303 was struck down by the supreme court terming it as unconstitutional.[8]

In Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab:[9] Supreme court of India held that the death sentence is to be given only in rarest of rare cases.[10]

In State of Tamilnadu v. Nalini:[11] the case was filed as an appeal against the judgement of the High Court of Tamilnadu. This case is popularly known as Rajeev Gandhi’s assassination case. There were 26 accused out of which four accused were punished with the death penalty by the Apex court. The accused were from the LTTE ( Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ) group and were seeking revenge for the Indian Government’s decision for sending army troops in Sri Lanka. However, as per recent update, Nalini Sriharam, V Sriharam, and Murughan have applied plea for mercy killing as there is no response to their mercy petition till date.[12]

In Rajendra Rai v. State of Bihar:[13] the accused were held guilty of the murder of Krishnandan and sir Bahadur the son of deceased, as the accused and deceased had a dispute over the land situated between their houses, the High court confirmed the order of death penalty ordered by the trial court, however, the Apex court was of the view that the case cannot be regarded under the rarest of rare cases. thereby the death penalty was reduced to life imprisonment.

In K M Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra:[14] the supreme court held that imprisonment for life means rigorous imprisonment for life and not simple imprisonment.[15]

In Sambhal Singh v. State of UttarPradesh:[16] wherein the four accused murdered three children of the deceased, because of a family land dispute. The sessions court found them guilty and the high court confirmed the sentence. However, the Apex court observed that the age of the 4 accused was not considered by the lower court; one was old and the other three were young. Therefore court reduced the death penalty to life imprisonment. [17]

In Sushil Marmu v. State of Jharkhand:[18] the accused was punished with the death penalty for the sacrifice before Kali of a 9 years old child. He made the sacrifice for his own prosperity. The trial court held the accused liable under section 302 and section 201 of IPC, and the Jharkhand high court confirmed the death penalty. The appeal was made to the supreme court, however, the Apex court upheld the order of the lower court and affirmed that this is a rarest of rare case.  Therefore there is no exception to be given to this.

When may a sentence of death be passed?

The death sentence is the most serious kind of punishment. It is awarded in India in certain exceptional cases as following:

  1. Waging or attempting to wage war or abetting the waging of war against the Government of India [ section 121].
  2. Abetment of mutiny actually committed [ section 132].
  3. Giving, fabricating false evidence upon which an innocent person suffers death [section194].
  4. Murder [ section 302].
  5. Punishment for murder by a life convict [ section 303].
  6. Abetment of suicide of a child, an insane or intoxicated person [ section 305]
  7. Attempt to murder by a person under sentence of imprisonment for life, if the hurt is caused [ section 307].
  8. Punishment for causing death or resulting in a persistent vegetative state of the victim [ section 376 A].
  9. Punishment for repeat offenders ( previously convicted of an offence punishable under section 376 or section 376 A or section 376 D) [ section 376 E].
  10. Dacoity accompanied with murder [ section 396].


We have discussed various punishments which are imposed differently in different offences, the term, nature, amount etc varies in each case and offences and also according to courts. All the punishments are retributive, reformative and deterrent in nature. It is stated that a reformative approach to punishment should be the object of criminal law. Here we have also discussed the important decisions made by the supreme court and when the death sentence may be passed.

[1] Law of crimes [Indian Penal Code, 1860 ] Dr. S R Myneni


[3] Indian Penal Code, 1860




[7] AIR 1983 Sc 473

[8] Law of Crimes [ Indian Penal Code,1860 ] Dr. S R Myneni

[9] AIR 1980 SC 898


[11] on 11 – 05 – 1999


[13] on 2- 02 – 1999

[14] AIR 1962 SC 605


[16] 2004 Cri.LJ 1533


[18] on 12 -12- 2003

This Article is Authored by Adhithya KP, BBA LLB Student at Nehru Academy Of Law.

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