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Punishment in the system of criminal jurisprudence is the final stage. Court has to decide over the quantum of punishment that should be awarded to the convict once it arrives at a conclusion that the accused has been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt after having evaluated the evidence presented before it. Chapter 3 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the broad principles used to determine the quantum of punishment. Sentences reflect the individual philosophy of the judges as the sentencing policy across the country isn’t uniform.[1]

In order to prevent committing the crime again the wrongdoer is punished. Result or consequence of a wrong committed by a person is punishment. Chapter 3 and S. 53 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provide provision for punishment. Various kinds of punishments which the offenders are liable for are defined in the section. S. 53 applies only to offences given under this code.

In India, to provide punishment the reformative theory is followed. Generating impact on the offender and as an eye-opener for others is the purpose for the punishment. Nature of punishment should bring reform in a person's personality and thinking.[2]

Definitions of punishment

o Hobbes defines punishment as punishment is for the transgression of rules; and it is inflicted by legally authorized persons.

o Punishment according to Hall 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.

o Bentham defines punishment as an empirical question of desire and of the infliction of sufficient pain to provide an effective deterrent.[3]

Object of punishment

Protecting society by deterring potential offenders from disobedient and undesirable elements by reforming and turning actual offenders into law-abiding citizens from committing further offences. An offender can be stopped from doing offences against person, property, and government through punishment. rehabilitative, retributive, restorative and deterrent are various types of punishments.[4]

Kinds of punishments are prescribed in S. 53 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. They are –

Death Penalty

Ordered by the court which is sanctioned by the government is a punishment where a person is hanged to death for a crime by him.[5]

Also called the capital punishment, a person is hanged till death. Death penalty or capital punishment is taking away the offenders’ life or infliction of death sentence for an offence as a punishment by authority. In India, it is awarded in the rarest of rare cases.

The following offences is where death sentence is awarded –

● S. 121 – Waging war against the government of India

● S. 132 – Abetting mutually actually committed

● S. 194 – fabricating or giving false evidence upon which an innocent person suffers death

● S. 302 – Murder

● S. 303 – Murder by life convicts

● S. 305 – Abetment of suicide of a minor or an insane or intoxicated person

● S. 396 – Dacoity accompanied with murder

● Sec 364A – Kidnapping for ransom[6]

However, Indian criminal courts rarely give the death sentences. The Supreme Court in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab[7], held that in “rarest of the rare” cases the death penalty shall be given. However, the legislature or the Supreme Court does not prescribe what constitutes the “rarest of the rare cases”.

However, people like intellectually disabled, pregnant women and minors are an exception to the death penalty as a punishment.

Constitutional Validity of Death Penalty

A. 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees the right to life and liberty and the right to live with human dignity. There are certain exceptions that the state can restrict the rights in the name of law and public order which are recognized by the law.

The argument in the case of Jagmohan Singh v. State of U.P[8] was that the death penalty is in violation of Right to Equality (A. 14), Right to Freedom (A. 19) and right to life (A. 21) which Supreme Court constituting of the five-judge bench unanimously rejected.

However, the five-judge bench in the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab(4:1- Bhagwati J. dissenting) overruled the decision of Rajendra Prasad’s case within a year. The judgment held that A. 14,19 and 21 of the Constitution of India are not violated.

The Supreme Court in Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab[9] laid down the broad outlines of the circumstances under which the death sentence can be imposed. five categories of cases the death penalty can be given as pointed by court are as follows –

a) Manner of commission of murder;

b) Motive;

c) The magnitude of the crime;

d) Anti-social abhorrent nature of the crime;

e) The personality of the victim of murder.[10]

Life imprisonment

Act XXVI of 1955 called Imprisonment for life also as transportation for life. Imprisonment for life means imprisonment for the whole of the remaining life period of the convicted person's natural life in its ordinary connotation.

Fractions of terms of punishment is calculated using S. 57 of the IPC. However, the prisoner does not have any implied or explicit right under this section to reduce his life imprisonment to 20 years of the sentence. S. 116,119,120 and 511 of the Code allow the prisoners to ask for relief under this section.[11]

Does Life Sentence mean a period of 14 Years?

The Apex Court clearly stated in the case of Duryodhan Rout v. State of Orissa[12] that life imprisonment is not confined to 14 years of imprisonment by reading S. 55 of the Code and S. 433 and 433A of CrPC only the appropriate government can commute the life imprisonment of the prisoner.

The punishment of life imprisonment can be commuted by the government to the imprisonment of term less than or equal to 14 years or he can be released if the prisoner exceeded 14 years of imprisonment.


In general, putting a person in prison by taking away freedom is imprisonment. Imprisonment can be of two types i.e., simple and rigorous under S. 53 of IPC. The competent court has the discretion as per S. 60 of the IPC to decide the description of sentencing.

Minimum wages for prisoners

The prisoners get wages for working inside the jail. It can either be voluntary or it can be part of their punishment. As per prisoners’ skills their wages are fixed. Their classification is based on - unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled. The first High Court to take the initiative of giving minimum wages to the prisoners was Kerala High Court. Indian Prisons Bill 1996 was proposed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) after the Mulla Committee was taken into the recommendation. As prescribed by the Bill the wages should be equitable wage rates, fair and adequate.

It shall be prevalent to Union territory and each State agricultural, industry, etc. wage rate. For such minimum wages the units of work shall also be prescribed. The wages shall be paid to the prisoners after reducing the average per capita cost of the food and clothing from the wages. The wages are paid on a daily basis. Compensating the victim or the relative of the victim is the idea of the prisoner’s wage from the fund made by the prisoner’s wage.[13]

o Simple

The offender is put to hard labour such as digging, grinding corn, cutting wood etc. Some offences which are punishable with rigorous imprisonment are as follows: