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Report No. 42

Chapter 10

Contempt of The Lawful Authority of Public Servants

10.1. Introductory.-

This Chapter deals with contempt of the lawful authority of public servants and is meant to enforce obedience and respect to their lawful authority. The penal provisions in this Chapter are in addition to, and not in derogation of, the powers and methods of enforcing such obedience as provided for in the laws conferring such powers, e.g., by attachment and sale of property, cancellation of licences and permits etc. It will be noticed that practically every section in this Chapter is linked with substantive provisions to be found in other laws which confer the relevant powers on public servants.

This is indicated by the use of expressions like "legally competent", "legally bound", "lawfully empowered", "lawful powers", "lawful authority", "exercise of public functions", and so on. In any concrete case falling under a particular section of this Chapter, it will be necessary to read it with the provisions of the substantive law from which the public servant derives his authority and power to act. Consequently, many questions which arise in trials for offences under this Chapter turn more on an interpretation of the provisions of such substantive law than on an interpretation of the provisions of this Chapter.

Some controversies which have arisen under the individual sections, however, require to be considered and will be dealt with in the succeeding paragraphs. One general observation which we may make at the beginning is that the punishments provided in the several sections err on the side of leniency and, in our opinion, require to be increased.

10.2. Section 172 amended.-

Section 172 punishes any person who absconds in order to avoid service of summons or other proceeding. The word 'absconds' in this section has been given a wide meaning by the courts so as practically to cover cases of evasion. We regard this to be satisfactory and do not consider that any clarificatory amendment is required.

It is noticed that the second paragraph refers only to the production of documents in court, not to the production of other things. This omission should be rectified by inserting the words "or other thing" after the word "document".

The punishment provisions should be amended as follows.-

(i) In the first paragraph of this section for "one month, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both", substitute "three months, or with fine, or with both."

(ii) In the second paragraph, for "six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both", substitute "one year, or with fine, or with both".

10.3. Section 173 amended.- We propose that the same amendments should also be made in section 173.

10.4. Section 174 amended.-

In section 174 also, the punishment provisions should be amended as in section 172. The illustrations appear to be wholly unnecessary as they do not clarify any doubtful point and may safely be omitted.

The expression "intentionally omits" has been given a somewhat narrow meaning by the courts and the plea of there having been sufficient cause for the omission although intentional has been accepted as valid. We do not think, however, that an amendment on this point is necessary.

10.5. Section 175 amended.-

In section 175, the same amendments are required to be made as those proposed above in section 172. The illustration also is unnecessary and should be omitted.

10.6. Section 176 amended.-

The punishments provided in section 176 should be increased to the same extent as in the preceding sections. Under the first paragraph, the maximum punishment should be three months' imprisonment and unlimited fine; and under the second and third paragraphs, it should be one year's imprisonment and unlimited fine.

10.7. Section 17.-meaning of "subject".-

The question as to what exactly is the "subject" on which a village headman is "legally bound to furnish information" to the officer in charge of a police station under section 45(1)(d) of the Code of Criminal Procedure gave rise to a difference of opinion when it came up before a Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court. The headman who had in fact taken away a girl from the village signed a panchayatnama in which it was stated that the girl had died of drowning and sent it to the police station. On the question whether section 177 of the Penal Code was applicable, Sulaiman, C.J., held:-1

"Taking this section [section 45(1)(d), Cr. P.C.1 as it stands, it only enjoins upon him the duty of communicating the information which he may possess respecting 'the occurrence of any sudden or unnatural death or of any death under suspicious circumstances' etc... The section does not say on the alleged occurrence of any death. The word 'subject' used in section 177 of the Indian Penal Code means on (sic) any matter. Section 45 of the Criminal Procedure Code does not say that he is bound to supply information on the subject of a death, which might perhaps have included both the cases where a death took place and a case where no death, in fact, took place; but it says merely on the occurrence of a death.

The word 'occurrence' in my opinion is not an equivalent of the word 'subject'; and necessarily implies that a death has actually occurred and not only that it is alleged to have occurred. If it was to be held that it is his duty to supply information on the "subject of an alleged death", even though no death has taken place, the position of a headman who is not a paid servant, would become intolerable as he would become guilty under section 176 of the Indian Penal Code where he merely omits to expose all sorts of false rumours that may be afloat about alleged deaths, even though he may know that the persons named are alive.

It seems that where a death has taken place in suspicious circumstances, it is the duty of the headman to supply the information he possesses, and his failure to do so makes him liable under section 177. But where no death has taken place at all, section 177 is inapplicable."

Bennet J., took a different view2.-

"The word 'subject' is much wider, and the subject here is 'sudden or unnatural death'. The duty of the mukhia under section 45 is to report true facts in regard to this subject; if he omits to report an occurrence he is guilty of an omission under section 176 of the Indian Penal Code, and if he falsely reports an occurrence where there was no occurrence, or if he makes some false statement about an occurrence, he is guilty under section 177. I do not consider it is correct to say that the subject under section 177 is the 'occurrence' because an occurrence is only a particular instance and the word 'subject' implies something which is common to a number of instances, all of which are classed under one subject. Here the mukhia is bound to 'communicate forthwith any information which he may possess respecting an instance of the subject of 'sudden or unnatural death'."

Rachpal Singh, J., to whom this difference of opinion was referred held3 "that as none of the events enumerated in clause (d) of section 45 of Criminal Procedure Code had happened, it cannot be said that the accused was legally bound to give information to the police and that the false information which he gave to the police does not bring his case within the four corners of section 177 of the Indian Penal Code.".

It appears to us, if we may say so with respect, that the view taken by Sulaiman, C.J., and Rachpal Singh, J., is very narrow. We find ourselves in agreement with Bennet, J.'s reasoning that the word "subject" in section 177 ought not to be confined to the particular matter to be reported but should be construed widely to cover the entire field within which that matter falls. Since, however, this question has not arisen in any other High Court, we do not recommend any amendment to clarify the position.

1. Emp. v. Lakhan, ILR 1937 All 162 (172): AIR 1936 All 788 (792).

2. Emp. v. Lakhan, ILR 1937 All 162 (171): AIR 1936 All 788 (793).

3. Emp. v. Lakhan, ILR 1937 All 162 (190): AIR 1936 All 788 (800).

10.8. Section 17.-Explanation revised.-

The Explanation to section 177 mentions some, but not all, of the offences mentioned in sections 44(1) and 45(1) (e) of the Criminal Procedure Code. Sections 121 to 126, 130, 143, 144, 145, 147 and 148 of the Penal Code mentioned in the former section and sections 231 to 238 and 489A to 489D mentioned in the latter section are left out of the Explanation for no apparent reason. The resultant position is unsatisfactory.

Since sections 44(1) and 45(1)(e) of the Criminal Procedure Code cast on persons in India a duty to report certain offences committed out of India, it is clear that all those offences should be covered by the Explanation to section 177 of the Penal Code. Enumeration of the sections of this Code relating to those offences is, however, not necessary since the duty to give information in respect of their commission arises from provisions (such as sections 44 and 45 of the Criminal Procedure Code) which enumerate or otherwise specify the offences in question.

The Explanation may accordingly be revised to read:

"Explanation.- In section 176 and in this section, the word 'offence' includes any act committed at any place out of India which, if committed in India, would be punishable under this Code; and the word 'offender' includes any person who is alleged to have been guilty of any such act."

10.9. Section 17.-Illustrations unnecessary.-

The two illustrations given in the section do not appear to be of any real help and may be omitted.

10.10. Section 17.-Punishment enhanced.-

The punishment for an offence under the first paragraph may be slightly enhanced by omitting the words "which may extend to one thousand rupees".

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