Legal Definition of Public Servant – Section 21 of IPC

Every Commissioned Officer in the Military, Naval or Air Forces of India.

Every Judge including any person empowered by law to discharge whether by himself or as a member of any body of persons, any adjudicatory functions;

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Every Officer of a Court of Justice whose duty it is, as such officer, to investigate or report on any matter of law or fact, or to make, authenticate, or keep any document, or to take charge or dispose of or administer any oath, or to interpret, or to preserve order in the Court, and every person specially authorised by a Court of Justice to perform any of such duties.

Every Juryman or member of a Panchayat assisting a Court of Justice or public servant.

Every arbitrator or other person to whom any cause or matter has been referred for decision or report by any Court of Justice, or by any other competent public authority.

Every person who holds any office by virtue of which he is empowered to place or keep any person in confinement.

Every officer of the Government, whose duty it is as such officer, to prevent offences, to give information of offences, to bring offenders to justice, or to protect the public health, safety or convenience.

Every officer whose duty it is, as such officer, to take, receive, keep or expend any property on behalf of the Government or to make any survey, assessment or contract on behalf of the Government, or to execute any revenue process, or to investigate, or to report, or any matter affecting the pecuniary interests of the Government, or to make, authenticate or keep any document relating to the pecuniary interests of the Government, or to prevent the infraction of any law for the protection of the pecuniary interests of the Government and every officer in the service or pay of the Government, or remunerated by fees or commission for the performance of any public duty.

Every officer whose duty it is, as such officer, to take, receive, keep or expend property, to make any survey or assessment or to levy any rate or to any secular common purpose of any village, town or district or to make, authenticate or keep any document for the ascertaining of the rights of the people of any village, town or district.

Every person who holds any office by virtue of which he is empowered to prepare, publish, maintain or revise an electoral roll or to conduct an election or part of an election.

Every person in the service of the Government remunerated for the performance of any public duty by the Government.

Every person in the service or pay of a Local Authority, a Corporation established by or under a Central, Provincial or State or a Government Company as defined in Section 617 of the Companies Act, 1956 (1 of 1956.)


A Municipal Commissioner is a public servant.

Explanation 1:

Persons falling under any of the above descriptions are public servants, whether appointed by the Government or not.

Explanation 2:

Wherever the words “public servant” occur, they shall be understood of every person who is in actual possession of the situation of a public servant whatever legal defect there may be in his right to hold that situation.

Explanation 3:

The word “election” denotes an election for the purpose of selecting members of any legislative, municipal or other public authority, or whatever character, the method of selection which is by, or under any law prescribed as by-election.

Test of a public servant:

As pointed out by the Supreme Court in Ramesh v. State of Maharashtra, a public servant is an authority who must be appointed by Government or a Semi-Government body and should be in the pay or salary of the same.

Secondly, a public servant is to discharge his duties in accordance with the rules and regulations made by the Government. Applying these two tests it has been held in the instant case that a Municipal Councillor who is not assisting a public servant is not a public servant within the meaning of Section 21, because he does not owe his appointment to any governmental authority.

Such a person is elected by the people and functions undeterred by the commands or edicts of a governmental authority. For the same reasons a MLA is also not a public servant. The mere fact that a MLA gets allowance by way of honorarium does not convert his status into that of a public servant.

It is, therefore, on the facts of a particular case that the Court comes to the conclusion that a particular person is an officer of the Government or not. Hence, a teacher who is in service and being paid by the Government and entrusted with the performance of a public duty to teach boys is a public servant.

A bill collector employed by a Municipality, and a railway servant are public servants. Even Railway khalasis of Railway carriage section dealing with the preparation and issuance of Railway passes have been held to be public servant in view of Explanation II to Section 21 notwithstanding the defect in their rights to hold that situation. A member of the Auxiliary Air Force is as much a public servant as an acting member of Indian Air Force.

The Supreme Court in Ram Avtar v. State of Bihar, has held that any surveyor while performing his legitimate function under any Revenue or Civil Court, is a public servant within the meaning of Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code.

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