Punishment is the most important aspect of the criminal justice system as the
criminal procedure and the penal code work together to bring the offenders
behind the bars or any other punishment as provided for the offence committed by
them. The punishments need to be just appropriate and in proportion to the
nature of the offence committed not only to render just punishment to the
convict but also to render justice to the victim and society at large.
rehabilitation and reintegration of the convicts into the social fabric also
have to be kept in mind. However, it has been noticed that the nature of
punishments provided in the Penal Code has become outdated and there is a dire
need of reforms to be made in the penal code so as to incorporate recent changes
in the crime and the new crimes.
The imposition of an outcome which is not desirable or agreeable upon the
persons jointly involved or a single person by any authority or forum is nothing
but punishment. The study of the punishments meted out for various crimes and
their implication upon the receiver and the society as a whole is known as
Penology. A group of persons (known as recognized as Khaps or Panchayat in
villages) or a single person authorized under an established legal system can
The process by which a State inflicts some kind of
undesirable outcome or agony to to any person or his property who is proven to
be guilty by a Court of Law is punishment. The compelling factors behind
inflicting punishments can be summed up as retribution, deterrence,
rehabilitation, and incapacitation.
According to Edward Coke, "The law should be a shield for the innocent and a
sword against the guilty".
Punishments do not merely act as deterrent rather they also play a very
important and crucial role in any legal system because they not only maintain
social order but also tent to provide justice to victims and society at large.
In the context of the Indian Penal Code (herein after referred IPC), various
punishments are prescribed for the offences ranging from minor infringements and
breaches to heinous or graver crimes. Professor Robert Blecker says that "the
punishment must be painful in proportion to the crime".
With the evolution and advancement of societal norms, the perspective on
criminal justice has become broader and matured than before due to which there
is an ongoing need for reforms which aim to achieve the objects of fairness,
proportionality, and rehabilitation within the punishment system.
Kinds of punishment under IPC
The IPC is the primary penal code of India that defines different types of
offences and prescribes punishments for those offences. Section 53 and Chapter
III of IPC provides provision for punishments. The Criminal Courts are empowered
to try criminal offences and provide punishments to the offenders and these
punishments are applicable only to offences given under the penal code.
The maximum sentence for a specific offence is set down in the Code's structure,
leaving the Judge's discretion over the minimum punishment. The judge is fully
equipped to decide what punishment will best serve the interests of justice in a
- Death Penalty
The death sentence is the harshest type of punishment., in which, the convict is
sentenced to death. This death penalty is also known as the capital punishment.
The process of carrying out such practice/ punishment is called execution.
In India, such a convict is hanged by neck till he dies. In the other parts of
the world, death sentences are also executed by way of stoning, sawing, blowing
from a weapon, deadly infusion, electric shock, etc.
The Apex Court in Bachan Singh Vs State of Punjab, ruled that the death
penalty does not violate Articles 14, 19, or 21 of the Indian Constitution and
declared that it can be ordered in the "rare of the rarest case," or those
situations in which the community as a whole is so shocked that it will expect
the judiciary to impose the death penalty on the accused.
In the matter of State of Tamil Nadu v. Nalini, an appeal was filed in
opposition to the High Court of Tamil Nadu's ruling. The former Prime Minister
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in this case. There were 26 suspects and the
Supreme Court sentenced four of them to death.
It is an another of punishment which means putting someone behind the bars for a
specified time period or for his natural life time.
"Imprisonment should not be place where people are forgotten, but a space for
reflection, growth, and an opportunity for redemption."- Shaka Senghor
The prison system, though quite ancient in form, serves as a cornerstone of the
criminal justice system which aims to punish offenders, protects society, and
potentially tries to rehabilitate those incarcerated/ ostracized from the
society in order to assimilate them in the fabric of society so that they are
not inclined towards crime in future.
However, the concept of prison system has
always evoked myriad opinions from various intellectuals. They are basically
intended to separate offenders from the society in order to ensure public
safety, maintain law & order and also to vindicate the victims. Furthermore,
prisons act as deterrent and are designed to send a message to the offenders at
large that criminal behaviour does not go un-noticed and carry unfavourable
consequences of curbing their freedom.
- Life Imprisonment
By the Act XXVI of 1955, the words "imprisonment for life" have been substituted
for "transportation for life".
In common usage, the term "imprisonment for life" refers to incarceration for
the entirety of the condemned person's natural life. In serious offences, this
punishment is given and comes just next to death penalty. It amounts to curbing
the freedom of movement of an individual.
In the case of Bhagirath and Ors V. Delhi Administration, The supreme court
interpreted life imprisonment as confinement for the remainder of the convict's
natural life. If a person is sentenced to life in prison, he must serve a
minimum of 14 years there and a maximum of their entire lives.
In another case cited as Naib Singh V. State of Punjab and Ors., a life
sentenced prisoner cannot request his release after serving 14 years in prison,
the court said. If a prisoner is sentenced to life in jail, it is till his
death. Commutation and remission are the only exceptions to this rule.
- Simple Imprisonment
In this type of punishment, an offender is just kept in jail or prison and is
not required to perform any hard duty. It is ordered mainly in offences which
are much lesser in gravity and meant to nip the bud.
- Rigorous Imprisonment
Detention involving strenuous effort, such as carrying heavy goods, sawing wood,
or digging up soil.
As per the provisions of Section 60 of the IPC, the court which is competent has
been conferred the option to choose the kind of imprisonment to be given to the
convict which can be either wholly or partly rigorous; or it can be either
completely or partially simple; or any term or period must be strict, while the
remainder must be easy.
In the case of State of Gujarat vs. Honorable High Court of Gujarat, it was
decided that convicts who are subjected to strict incarceration and forced
labour are entitled to seek daily remuneration for the labour or task they
perform, as it will not only boost their dignity but it is also a matter of
right and penal jurisprudence.
- Forfeiture of property
The punishments covered by Section 53 also includes forfeiture of property. It
implies loss of property without receiving compensation. Under this, the
property of the accused may be forfeited by the concerned court, which means the
confiscation of assets or properties belonging to the offender that are deemed
to be connected to the offence committed.
Any property either movable or immovable may be forfeited.
This principle is no longer considered a punishment except in the following
three types of offences:
In the case of Shoba Suresh Jumani vs. appellant tribunal, Forfeiture of
property, the Hon'ble Supreme Court ruled that sections 61 and 62, which were
repealed in 1921, needed to be reinstated in the law because they serve as a
deterrent to those who launder money and do so at the expense of society by
abusing their positions of authority or power.
- When an offender attacks, destroys property belonging to the Indian
Government, or prepares to do so, he will be penalized by having his
property forfeited in accordance with under section 126.
- Any person determined to have received property taken during hostilities
or as a result of plunder is subject to forfeiture of their property, as
described in section 127.
- Any public employee who is discovered buying or purchasing property
illegally in his or another person's name will be punished by having the
property forfeited, as detailed in section 169.
A fine is a sum of money that is required to be paid as punishment for a crime
or other offence by a court of law or other authority. It may also be imposed in
addition to incarceration as a penalty. Common law imposes relatively modest
penalty on minor infractions.
Section 63 to 69 elaborates different types of fines which can be imposed under
the IPC. However, as per the terms of Section 64 of the Code, the sentencing
court may impose the appropriate amount of imprisonment in circumstances where
the fine is not paid on time.
As per the mandate of Section 63 of the IPC, the quantum of fine to which the
offender is accountable is unrestricted when the amount of the fine is not
indicated in accordance with the Code's rules. The fine must not be high,
though, at the same time.
In the ruling of Palaniappa Gounder v. State of Tamil Nadu, the Apex Court
held that the court's penalty or sentence must be proportionate to the type and
severity of the offence committed. This punishment also involves a fine, which
must not be overly severe.
Section 73 of the IPC allows for solitary confinement, a kind of punishment in
which the prisoner spends different specified durations of time alone in a cell
with little to no meaningful interaction with other prisoners or anybody else.
In the prison system, solitary confinement is a form of punishment technique
used to punish or segregate disruptive convicts who have a security risk to
other inmates, the prison staff, or the prison itself.
The legality of solitary confinement has been frequently contested over the past
60 years as attitudes towards the practise have changed.
In the case of Sunil Batra Etc vs Delhi Administration And Ors., the court
was of the opinion that the punishment of solitary confinement should not be
ordered unless it appears to be required taking into consideration the nature of
the crime done by the wrongdoer. The offence committed shall be of
life-threatening violence or if the manner of the commission of the offence by
the offender was so brutal. However, in-spite of the same, the court felt that
the punishment of solitary confinement is inhumane and horrendous.
Interpretation of Punishments
The interpretation of punishments under IPC involves understanding and then
strict application of the provisions of the IPC in relation to the offences
committed. When a court of law determines the appropriate punishment for an
offence, it construes the specific language of the section and provisions of the
IPC stringently, along with relevant case laws and legal principles. The
interpretation process involves analyzing the nature and severity of the
offence, the circumstances surrounding it, and any mitigating or aggravating
Courts interpret punishments under the IPC with the ultimate objective to
achieve not only justice for the victim but at the same time, deterrence, and
rehabilitation of the offenders. They aim to ensure that the punishment imposed
is proportionate to the offence committed, taking into account factors such as
the intent of the offender, the impact on the victim and society, and any other
Interpretation also involves understanding the different categories of
punishments prescribed under the IPC, including death penalty, imprisonment
(both rigorous and simple), fines, life imprisonment, and forfeiture of
property. The courts carefully evaluate the specific circumstances of each case
to determine the appropriate type and duration of punishment.
In addition, the interpretation of punishments under the IPC is influenced by
legal principles such as proportionality, fairness, and the fundamental rights
of the accused. The courts aim to ensure that punishments are neither excessive
and arbitrary nor violative of the constitutional rights of the accused, such as
the right to life and personal liberty.
The interpretation of punishments under the IPC has evolved over time through
judicial precedents, legislative amendments, and societal changes. Courts have a
significant role to play in order to interpret and apply the provisions of the
IPC to ensure fair and just outcome as per the principles of law and justice.
Proposals for Reforms
Analysis of Punishments in Current Scenarios
- The punishments should be effective enough to act as deterrent as well
as the same should not be severe. Therefore, it is time for Indian Judiciary
to have a sentencing policy where there is no space for ambiguity and
prejudice on the part of the Judge which creates a barrier while sentencing.
An effective implementation of this reform will also reduce the appeals for
enhancing or reducing punishment and it will in turn remove the burden of
growing number of pending appeals and the Court can devote the crucial time
to matters of concern.
Comprehensive and standardized sentencing guidelines need
to be introduced in order to ensure consistency and proportionality in
punishments. These guidelines will act as a framework for judges within which
they have to determine the appropriate sentences and that it shall be based on
the factors such as nature and severity of the offence after taking into account
mitigating and aggravating factors and no other.
- Rehabilitation and Restorative Justice:
The purpose of punishments should not
be merely punitive but the rehabilitation and reintegration of the offenders in
the social fabric are also of much importance. This is what a restorative
justice is which acts as an alternative to incarceration of offenders for
certain offences and also to prevent them from resorting to crime in their
remaining part of their lives. The focal point of punishment should not only be
to address the root causes of criminal behavior but also to provide support and
opportunities for offenders to reintegrate into society.
- Community Service and Probation:
In the cases of non-violent offences, the
use of community service and probation as alternatives to imprisonment should be
wide expanded. These measures can contribute in promoting accountability,
providing opportunities for offenders to make amends, and thus reducing the
burden on the correctional system.
- The Code can allow for the establishment of an appropriate victim
compensation fund that may also contain confiscated assets from organised crime.
The society is evolving my leaps and bounds as never before due to advancement
in technology and mode of communication and transport, easy access to
information and resources. As a result of which, the nature and manner of
commission of crime has aggravated and even some new methods of commission of
crime have come into picture. But the law dealing with these crimes is still
belonging to the colonial era and even the punishments are not in consonance
In order to maintain law and order in the society, it is incumbent
that the law and society should go hand in hand. It has now become imperative to
incorporate the recent trend in the crimes and to enhance the punishments so
that their relevance is not lost. For example, a fine of Rs 50 or Rs 100 sounds
too minimal. Even the method of execution of death penalty is too archaic.
- Edward Coke served as England and Wales' former attorney general and he was also remembered as one of the best jurists of the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages.
- Robert Blecker is a well-known death penalty expert. He is a professor at New York Law School.
- "Bachan Singh Vs State of Punjab (AIR 1980 SC 898, 1980)"
- "State of Tamil Nadu Vs Nalini (11th May, 1999)"
- Shaka Senghor is the Head of Diversity, Equality & Inclusion at TripActions.
- "Bhagirath and Ors V. Delhi Administration (1985 AIR 1050)"
- "Naib Singh V. State of Punjab and Ors. (AIR 1986 SC 2192)"
- "State of Gujarat vs. Honorable High Court of Gujarat AIR 1998 SC 3164: (1998) 7 SCC 392"
- "Shoba Suresh Jumani vs. appellant tribunal, Forfeiture of property AIR 2001 SC 2288: (2001) 5 SCC 755: (2001) Cr LJ 2583 (SC)"
- "Palaniappa Gounder V. State of Tamil Nadu 1977 AIR 1323, 1977 SCR (3) 132"
- "Sunil Batra Etc V. Delhi Administration and Ors. 1978 AIR 1675, 1979 SCR (1) 392"
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Yavnika Jain, 4th Year BA LLB student at Delhi Metropolitan Education affiliated to GGSIP University, New Delhi
Authentication No: JL354945339303-2-0723