Section 53 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!


Death sentence may be awarded for offences under sections 121, 132, 194, 195-A, 302, 305, 307, 364-A, and 396 of the Code.

Imprisonment for life:

The words ‘imprisonment for life’ were substituted for ‘transportation for life’ by Act XXVI of 1955. Imprisonment for life is always rigorous, never simple. Imprisonment for life may be awarded under sections 121, 121-A, 122, 124-A, 125, 128, 130, 131, 132, 194, 195, 195-A, 222, 225, 232, 238, 255, 302, 304, 305, 307, 311, 313, 314, 326, 329, 364, 364-A, 371, 376, 377, 388, 389, 394, 396, 400. 409, 412, 433, 436, 437, 449, 460, 467, 472, 474, 475, 477 and 511 of the Code.

Meaning of imprisonment for life

A question that has often been asked is as to what is the exact term of imprisonment for life. The matter came up before the Supreme Court in Gopal Vinayak Godse v. State wherein it was observed that life imprisonment means an imprisonment that continues till the life of the convict and is nothing less. Since the span of life is uncertain, imprisonment for life is not an imprisonment for a fixed term. The Supreme Court reiterated the view in Kartar Singh v. State. In Bhagirath v. Delhi Administration, the Supreme Court said that imprisonment for life is a sentence for the term of one’s life. In Maru Ram v. State, the Supreme Court ruled that the section will apply prospectively.


There are two kinds of imprisonment under this section rigorous, that is, with hard labour, and simple. The former means that during the tenure of his imprisonment one has to do hard labour. The latter, on the other hand, is a case of imprisonment only without any hard labour.

Rigorous imprisonment only

Offences under sections 194 and 449 of the Code are punishable with rigorous imprisonment only without any alternative of simple imprisonment being imposed.

Simple imprisonment only

An offender is punishable with simple imprisonment only, and not rigorous imprisonment, for committing an offence under any of the sections 168, 169, 172, 173, 174, 175, 176, 178, 179, 180, 187, 188, 223, 225- A, 228, 291, 341, 500, 501, 502, 509 and 510 of the Code.

Minimum mandatory imprisonment

There are a few sections in the Indian Panel Code, like sections 304-B, 397 and 398, wherein a minimum mandatory imprisonment of seven years have been provided. In section 376 also a minimum mandatory of imprisonment of seven years for ordinary rape and ten years for custodial rape as well as gang rape has been provided. However, in this section the Court has been empowered to impose less than the minimum mandatory imprisonment also by stating special reasons for the same in the judgment.

Minimum imprisonment

The minimum duration of imprisonment provided for an offence under the Code is imprisonment for twenty four hours under section 510 of the Code. However, sentences of imprisonment till rising of the Court have been imposed in very exceptional cases and they mean that the convict shall remain confined in the premises of the Court till the Court rises.

Counting of the first day of imprisonment

The day of passing of imprisonment is the first day of the sentence of imprisonment. The duration of the imprisonment, therefore, is to be counted from that day.

Forfeiture of property

The Indian Penal Code provides the punishment of forfeiture of specific property for offences under sections 126, 127, 169 and 263-A of the Code. However, absolute forfeiture of property dealt with under sections 61 and 62, previously in operation for offences of high political nature and offences punishable with death, has been abolished by the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 1921. The Rajasthan High Court has held in Brijlal v. State, that confiscation of a weapon of offence is not forfeiture of property within the meaning of section 53 of the Code.


Punishments in the form of imprisonment or fine or both have been provided under many sections of the Code and the Courts have been empowered to award whatever sentence they deem fit out of the above. Consequently, it is at the discretion of the Court to decide as to whether either imprisonment or fine or both are to be awarded in a particular case. Fine is the only punishment provided under the Indian Penal Code in the following sections:

Unlimited Fine

Provision has been made under sections 155, 156 and 171-G for imposition of unlimited amount as fine.

Fine limited to Rs. 1000/-

In sections 154 and 294-A the maximum limit of fine has been fixed at Rs. 1000/- only.

Fine limited to Rs. 500/-

Sections 137, 171-H, 171-1 and 278 provide for a maximum fine of Rs. 500/- only.

Fine limited to Rs. 200/-

Under sections 263-A, 283 and 290 the maximum limit of fine has been fixed at Rs. 200/- only.

While imposing fine the Courts have kept in mind many important factors including the nature of the offence committed, capacity of the offender to pay and usefulness of the imposition of fine. A heavy fine may be imposed where there have been a conspiracy to smuggle a large quantity of gold into India worth crores of rupees. A college student held guilty of theft of a scooter could be let off with a fine and the imprisonment already undergone as he had a wife and small children to maintain.

Where an appeal against acquittal under section 420 of the Code for making substantial gains by the accused partners took about fifteen years to decide against them, the Court held that fine, and not imprisonment, was the proper punishment. In a case against the accused under sections 467, 471, 477A and 409 of the Code, the period of imprisonment was reduced to that already undergone mainly on the grounds that he was an old man and it was his first offence, but the amount of fine against him was enhanced to Rs. 100/-.Where a young man accused of murder was in prison for some time and then remained out of prison on bail for about thirteen years, it was held that in addition to the period he had already been in prison a fine of Rs. 50,000/- would meet the ends of justice.

In a case against the accused under section 354 of the Code, where a deterrent punishment was called for, imposition of Rs. 100/- only as fine by the Magistrate was held to be too lenient. But as enough time had passed since the date of the incident, the High Court merely raised the amount of fine to Rs. 300/- out of which Rs. 150/- would be paid to the outraged woman, and in case of default of fine a rigorous imprisonment of one month was ordered. A fine of one rupee only was imposed on the accused who had committed theft, partly because he was being paid very low wages and partly because he was subsequently turned out of employment.

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