Contempt of the Lawful Authority of the Public Servants

By | October 7, 2019
Contempt of the Lawful Authority of the Public Servants

Chapter X of the Indian Penal Code deals with consequences which follow from the disobedience of the lawful authority of public servants. Originally as was conceived by the lawmakers this Section was supposed to subject sanctions to those who showed disobedience to the public servants, courts of justice, officers of revenue and of the police.

Further, it is essential that two core ingredients be satisfied absolutely before the contempt sanctions can be used against the individuals so disobeying the authority of a public servant and that is –

  • Required to show that the authority disobeyed was legal
  • Disobedience was with an intent

Section.172 Absconding to avoid service of summons or other proceedings:

Under this section the persons who wilfully avoid the receipt of notices, summons or orders which are issued by a legally competent person who has been authorised to issue it can be penalised. Hereunder are the ingredients which are necessary to be satisfied under this section-

  • Issuance of notices, summons and orders has been completed
  • The issue must be done by a public servant
  • A public servant must have the legal authority to issue
  • It must be established that the accused knew or at least had reasons to believe that he had been served with a notice, summon or an order.
  • In case the accused has absconded, it is because of the issuance of such notice, summon or order

The second part of the Section deals with an aggravated form of the offence that needs additional conditions to be satisfied-

  • Production of a document or an electronic record, or personal attendance of the accused or his agent was necessary for the process
  • The court of justice necessitated such attendance to be made

It is worthwhile to see that the section only discusses the evasion of service of notice, summons or order. Hence, if a person disappears apprehending the issuance of any such instrument will not be held guilty under this Section. Further, warrant of arrest is also out of the purview of this Section,[1] as the service of such an order is merely an order to the police to arrest the accused and per se is not served to the accused.

The non-appearance after the receipt of such a notice, summon or order is not contemplated to be an offence under this Section which is a flaw in the Section.[2] The term ‘absconding’ in this context would mean an act of hiding in his residence or not returning to it.[3] However, if a person has left for abroad before a considerable time when the issue was made cannot be said to have absconded or concealed him. A proclamation vide Section 82 of CrPC cannot be made.

Section 173. Preventing service of summons or other proceedings, or preventing publication thereof.

A person can be booked under this section when he actively resists and has the intent to prevent the serving of summons. Three ingredients need to be satisfied to establish guilt under this section those are:

  • Intention
  • Prevention
  • Lawful authority of public servants

The act of prevention could be by means of concealment or evasion. Here it should be noted that there must be the presence of intentional prevention or removal of serving of summons or affixing of summons to any other place. The offence takes an aggravated form when any summons related to attendance at the court of justice is intentionally prevented and because of this reason, such an act is punishable with imprisonment for six months.

If an accused refuses to receive summons then he cannot be held guilty for intentionally preventing to serve summons because CrPC and CPC lay down the rule that such an act of refusal itself implies that summon has been served.[4]

Section 174. Non-attendance in obedience to orders from a public servant.

This section requires the summons or orders to be legitimate and furnished by a legally competent person. Further, it is required that the summons and order must reflect the person’s address, mention comprehensively the place, time and date when he is required to present himself before the authority or court named in that summons or order making the presence of the accused mandatory. However, the section contemplates that the absence of the accused must be intentional.

The summons must be complete in all aspects of law, for instance, when the summon only indicated the day when the accused was to be present leaving out the time and the place where he had to be present, hence the judgment was ruled in his favour observing that the summons was not legally enforceable as it was not served properly.[5]

The section supposes that the accused must be legally bound to be present before the authority which has sent summons or orders. Further, there must willful omission on the accused’s part in instances of absence and hence, the section cannot charge a person who owing to sickness[6] or unanticipated disability could not present as their absence did not amount to ‘intentional’ disobedience.

Section 171A. Non-appearance in response to a proclamation under Section 82 of Act 2 of 1974.

To give effect to Section 82 (4) which had been inserted owing to the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2005, insertion of Section 174A was important. If proclamation has been made vide Section 82 of CrPC and the accused fails to appear, he shall be punished under Sections 302, 304, 364, 367 382, 392, 393-400, 402, 436, 449, 459 or 460 of the IPC. Further, this Section lays down penalty for such accused who does not appear even after the proclamation.

Section 175. Omission to produce document or electronic record to public servant by person legally bound to produce it.

The section mandates that the person must be legally authorised to deliver or produce the document or electronic record which he was required to deliver or produce. However, since the constitution provides every citizen with the right against self-incrimination, so a person refusing to present a document which might implicate him would not amount to him violating Section 175.[7]

Section 176. Omission to give notice or information to public servant by person legally bound to give it.

A person is legally obligated to report any commission of a crime which he comes across or an offence which has the effect of causing injury and harm to others. This is a mandate in all countries across the globe. Under this Section, a person is held punishable for not adhering to his obligation of assisting a public servant when two conditions are satisfied:

  • The accused must have been entrusted with a public duty
  • Non-performance must be intentional[8]

The effect of this non-performance must lead to an injury due to the non-disclosure for such an act or omission to be punishable. In cases where the public servant has already been intimated non-disclosure by the accused cannot be charged under this section for the reason that he ought to have made the disclosure to the concerned officer.[9] The information which is being withheld by the accused must give rise to real apprehension of a commission of an offence. Additionally, the section contemplates that the omission to deliver information must be intentional.

In the case Dr Sathyasheel Nandhal Naik v. State of Maharashtra,[10] it was held by the Bombay High court that if an omission cannot be explained properly, then it must be held to be intentional making such an act punishable.

Section 177. Furnishing false information.

Hereunder are the ingredients mandatory to be satisfied to charge a person under this Section:

  • There must be a legal obligation of the accused to produce information
  • The information must be produced to a public servant
  • Pursuant to such requirement, accused did produce certain information
  • That information produced was false
  • The falsity of the information was known to the person or the accused had reasons to believe that the information was false[11]
  • The aggravated form of the offence must be in relation to the commission of offence.

In case a police officer suppresses the report of a cognizable offence naming it to be non-cognizable offence, in order to decrease his task of investigation, the police officer will be said to have committed an offence.[12] Likewise, when a sub-inspector files a riot as a petty assault was held punishable.

Section 179. Refusing to answer public servant authorised to question.

Section 178 makes the act of taking an oath or making an affirmation punishable, while Section 179 makes the act of refusing to answer the public servant or to produce evidence punishable. Therefore, the present section is premised on the fact that even after binding himself to an oath or affirming, a person can still refuse to state the truth.

Sections 121-132 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which are pertinent to the exemptions available to witnesses qualifies the liability of an accused.  These exemptions to refuse to answer such answer questions are not covered and hence not punishable under Section 179. Likewise, the witnesses under examination have the privilege to refuse or not answer such questions which are likely to implicate them or expose them to a charge.

This section contemplates the presence of men’s rea as an important condition to establish a conviction under this provision. Hence, for instances, where the person has not refused wilfully but has unwittingly omitted or innocently warded off to produce information, then he may be awarded the benefit of the doubt.

Section 180. Refusing to sing statement:

Under Section 162 of CrPC, it is not a mandate that the witnesses are required to sign their statements. However, in case a complaint is registered under Section 154 of CrPC then the statement has to bear the signature of the corresponding first informant.

Likewise, Section 164 of CrPC mandates that the accused or persons to render their signatures against their statements or confessions made before the judicial magistrate. Therefore, this Section requires that a person must be made punishable under this Section if he refuses to sign his statement in the absence of any statutory bar with respect to it.

Section 181. False statement on oath or affirmation to public servant or person authorised to administer an oath or affirmation:

Certain ingredients which have to establish to prove guilt under this Section are:

  • Oath or affirmation was taken or made by the accused respectively
  • Accused was legally bound to produce the public servant
  • The accused was aware of the falsity or had reasons to believe that the statement was not true.
  • A public servant must have the jurisdiction and authority to administer the oath

Section 182. False information, with intent to cause public servant to use his lawful power to the injury of another person: The Section comes into play a person having the knowledge or belief that the information to be produced by him to be false, tells such information to the public servant with an intent that he exercise his lawful authority to cause annoyance and harm to another person.  Thus the objective of the section is to discourage acts wherein an accused furnishes false or misleading information to the public servant thereby making him do what he ought not to do or omit what he ought to do.[13]

The misleading or wrong information must lead to an injury to the other party for the act or omission so caused to be charged under this section.[14] In another case, Daulat Ram v State of Punjab, an offence under this action is deemed as complete the instance the public servant moves for action. Yet it is not required that a person be prosecuted in all cases for furnishing of false statement and thus restricting this Section only to grievances which involve larger interest of justice.[15]

Section 183. Resistance to the taking of property by the lawful authority of a public servant.

Essential ingredients which are required to be fulfilled under this section are:

  • Resistance must have been offered by the accused to the taking of the property
  • Public servant was exercising while seizing the property
  • Authority must be lawful
  • The resistance shown by the person to the seizure of property must be done with the knowledge or reasons of being aware that the public servant was exercising a lawful authority while seizing the property.

A warrant must be shown by the public servant while seeking to seize property to make the seizure legitimate.[16] Likewise, for attachment of property, a warrant signed by the judge or bearing the seal of the court is necessary to make the warrant legal.[17] An act of resistance or obstruction to an unlawful warrant is not an offence.[18]

Section 184. Obstructing sale of property offered for sale by authority of public servant.—“Whoever intentionally obstructs any sale of property offered for sale by the lawful authority of any public servant, as such, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one month, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.”

Section 185. Illegal purchase or bid for property offered for sale by authority of public servant:“Whoever, at any sale of property held by the lawful authority of a public servant, as such, pur­chases or bids for any property on account of any person, whether himself or any other, whom he knows to be under a legal incapaci­ty to purchase that property at that sale, or bids for such prop­erty not intending to perform the obligations under which he lays himself by such bidding, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one month, or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees, or with both.”

Section 186. Obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions

The term ‘voluntarily’ indicates that there must be some overt act to obstruct as distinguished from mere passive conduct to constitute an offence under this provision.[19] Also, the word ‘obstruction’ in the Section can be defined as an overt act in the nature of the show of violence.[20]

It is not required to show an exercise of actual criminal force to prove obstruction. In fact, only establishing that there was involvement of a show of force or threat or any other act to prevent the public servant from executing an act is sufficient under this provision. The mere verbal objection wouldn’t amount to show of force and thus cannot be penalised under this section.

Section 187. Omission to assist public servant when bound by law to give assistance

This provision provides for penalty for an act of intentional omission of a person who is legally bound to provide assistance to a public servant would in:

  • Execution of his public duty; and
  • Executing any process legally issued by the court of justice
  • Preventing the commission of an offence
  • And suppressing an affray or riot, or apprehending a person who has escaped custody or is charged and guilty of an offence

Section 188. Disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant

Hereunder the essential ingredient to be fulfilled to book a person guilty under this section:

  • Public servant must have promulgated an order
  • Public servant must be legally competent to promulgate such an order
  • Non-compliance of such an order
  • Disobedience of such order must result in annoyance, injury, obstruction or risk to any legally employed person or danger to human life, health or safety or affray or riot.

When orders passed under the provisions provided under Section 144 CrPC are not complied with then such disobedience will amount to an offence under this section. However. Following the Bharat Raut v. State[21] case, mere disobedience cannot establish guilt under this section and other consequences as provided under the section must subsequent to such disobedience. In another case, Ratlam Municipality v. Vardichand,[22] the municipal council was held liable as its officers had not followed the order passed by a magistrate under Section 133, CrPC which asked them to close certain pits and repair drain.

Finally, Section 189 and Section 190 make punishable such acts which involve criminal threats directed towards the public servant or the person who is seeking his protection, respectively.


[1] Sheo Jangal Prasad v. Emperor [1928] AIR 232(All)

[2] State of Uttar Pradesh v. Hem Narain Singh [1953] AIR 200(All)

[3] KTMS Abdul Kader v. Union of India [1977] Cr LJ 1708 (Mad)

[4] Banwari Lal v. Jhunka [1926] AIR 229(All)

[5] Latormal v. Emperor [1948] AIR 137(All)

[6] Bohra Birbal v. Emperor [1922] AIR 82(All)

[7] Ishwar Chandra v. Ghoshal (1908) 12 Cal WN 1016

[8] Shridhar v. State [1954] AIR 67(HP)

[9] Jothi Bai v State [1989] LW 308 (Mad)(Cri)

[10] [1996] Cr LJ 1463 (Bom)

[11] Jagan Nath v. Rex [1950] AIR 19(Ajmer)

[12] Mohammad Ismail [1893] ILR 20 151(All)

[13] State of Maharashtra v. Limbaje Mhaske [1976] Mah 475(LJ)

[14] Baleshwar Singh v. District Magistrate and Collector [1959] AIR 71(All)

[15] Shiv Kumar Prasad v. State of Bihar [1984] Cr LJ 1417

[16] Emperor  v. Ganeshilal [1904] Cr LJ 896 (All)

[17] Karamatullah v. Emperor [1920] AIR 51(All)

[18] Mohini Mohan Banerji v. Emperor [1916] AIR 272(Pat)

[19] Jaswant Singh v. Emperor [1925] AIR 139(Lah)

[20] Phudki v State [1955] AIR 104(All)

[21] [1953] AIR 376(Pat)

[22] [1980] AIR 1622(SC)


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Shreya Sahoo
Author: Shreya Sahoo

Shreya is a law student studying at the National Law University, Odisha. She is a good researcher and enjoys reading. She is interested in Intellectual Property Rights and International Law. Additionally, in her spare time, she also enjoys cubing.

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