This article has been written by Subhadeepa Sen, a student from the School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bangalore. In this article, the author seeks to explore Section 503 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and explain the ambit of the punishment provided therein. In addition, the author has also delved into the ingredients of the offence and analysed certain landmark judgements in that regard.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Table of Contents
An action is said to be an offence under Section 503 when someone threatens a person with physical harm, damage to their property or reputation in order to induce alarm to them. This creates a sense of fear in the victim, and in order to avoid the execution of such a threat, the perpetrator causes the victim to do an act which is not legally bound to do, or causes him to omit doing an act that he is legally bound to do. It is noteworthy that Section 503 is guided by a ‘two-fold’ criteria, one being the Actus Reus component and the Mens Rea component.
Crimes under Section 503 IPC
The offence of criminal intimidation is defined under Section 503 of the Indian Penal Code. The term ‘intimidation’ has been defined in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “to make someone feel timid or fearful.” When a person threatens or intimidates anyone with any injury or harm to his person, reputation or property in order to compel him to do an act that he is not legally bound to do or cause him to omit to do an act he is legally entitled to do in order to avoid the execution of the threat, it is said to be criminal intimidation.
It also constitutes an offence under this Section when the person threatens another with harm to the person or property of a person he is interested in. This threatening action must have a tendency to cause alarm in the victim and create a sense of fear in his mind. The perpetrator may use words or actions in the way of gestures to threaten the victim’s person, property, reputation or anyone who the victim might be interested in.
For instance, A makes B sign a contract at gun-point. A is said to be committing the offence of criminal intimidation under Section 503 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The reason being that A is intimidating B by holding him at gunpoint, there is a threat of injury to the person of B therefore fitting into the category of the offence of criminal intimidation. Another instance would be P threatening Q by swinging a knife towards him to hand over the wallet with money to P. This creates a sense of fear in Q’s mind because the knife could potentially hurt him and be fatal.
Nature of offence under Section 503 IPC
The offence under Section 503 is a non-cognizable offence. In case of any non-cognizable offence, the accused cannot be arrested by the police without a warrant from the magistrate which orders the arrest of the accused. Additionally, the police, upon receipt of a complaint under Section 503 cannot start the investigation suo moto. The investigation in such a case can only begin with the permission of the court.
The offence under Section 503 is a bailable offence. The accused arrested for an offence under this Act has the right to get bail. It is not at the discretion of the judge to grant bail or not. Once a person is arrested for an offence under Section 503 IPC, the person is entitled to get bail from the police station itself. The accused is required to submit a Form-45 provided in the Second Schedule of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973. Upon applying for bail at the police station, the officer has the authority to grant the bail. In case the officer refuses to grant bail, the accused can apply for bail before the court which has jurisdiction over the matter.
Furthermore, the offence under Section 503 IPC is compoundable. It means that the complaint can be taken back by the complainant upon a compromise between the accused and the complainant. If the complainant and the accused come to a compromise, the charges can be dropped against the accused at the option of the complainant. This compounding of offences shall take place under Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973. However, it is to be kept in mind that such a compromise must be bona fide in nature. If the complainant agrees to compromise in exchange of consideration which he/she is not entitled to, this shall not cause the charges to drop and the accused can still be prosecuted for Section 503. Such a transaction would not be bona fide in nature and therefore would not amount to compounding of the offence.
Essentials of criminal intimidation
In order to understand the scope of the offence under Section 503, one must first break down the definition of the offence. The Section provides that:
- when a person threatens another with an injury to his person, his property, reputation;
- to the person in any of whom the victim is interested with the intention of causing alarm to such a person;
- to compel him to do something that he is not legally bound to do; or
- to omit him from doing something that he is legally bound to do in order to avoid the execution of the threat is said to have committed the offence of criminal intimidation.
From the above definition, the following essentials of the offence can be drawn out.
- It must be a positive act of causing threat to a person;
- It must be directed towards his person, property or reputation;
- It must be directed towards the person or reputation or property of anyone in whom the victim is interested;
- It must be done with the intention of causing alarm to such a person; or
- It must cause him to do something which he is not legally bound to do or refrain him from doing something which he is legally bound to do.
Elaboration on the ingredients
Threat to a person
This may be understood as an expression or act of a person which causes fear in the mind of another person. It may be both a threat of physical harm as well as creating a state of fear in the mind without any physical threat. It must be understood that not all acts which create fear in the mind of a person would be considered as a threat under this provision. For example, A threatens B by saying that if he doesn’t follow A’s instruction, A will sue B in court. This shall not be considered as a threat since the act of taking recourse to legal action is not an illegal act and the action of A would not amount to criminal intimidation under Section 503.
Threat directed towards the person, property or reputation
This Section talks about three kinds of threats. In one case, the threat is directed towards the person. This refers to the threat of physical harm or harm to the body of a person. The second is a threat to the property of a person. The term “property” refers to both movable as well as immovable property. Any threat of doing an act which causes the value of the property to diminish shall constitute intimidation under this Section.
Any threat of causing harm to the reputation of a person will fall into the purview of criminal intimidation. Harm to reputation includes harming the goodwill, insult to the dignity or modesty etc. The action may be directed at the complainant directly or towards any person (his body, property or reputation) in whom the complainant has any interest.
Intention to cause alarm to such a person
This implies that the offender must do such an act with the intention of creating fear in the mind of the complainant. Intention to create fear is a key element to constitute the offence of criminal intimidation under Section 503 of the Indian Penal Code.
It must cause him to do something which he is not legally bound to do or refrain him from doing something which he is legally bound to do.
In order to avoid suffering from the action that the offender threatens the victim, the victim may do any act which he is not legally bound to do or refrain from doing an act which he is legally bound to do.
For example, if A threatens B to hand over his wallet to him or he will stab B, B in order to save himself, hands over his wallet to B. There has been an offence of criminal intimidation in this case.
Interpretation of actus reus in Section 503 IPC
The act of threatening someone with the aim of causing hurt, damage to the property or reputation or of someone he may be interested in, shall constitute the Actus Reus aspect of Section 503. This action shall be done by the offender in order to create a sense of fear and timidness which in a way coerces him to act in a way that is directed by the offender. In the case of Priyanath Gupta vs Laljhi Chowkidar (1923), the Calcutta High Court stated that the threat must constitute a “direct threat” to cause harm and “not by way of insinuation of probability or even probability of such harm.”
Interpretation of mens rea in Section 503 IPC
Like any other act to be considered criminal, there must be a mens rea for the same. Similarly, for Section 503 to take effect, there must be an “intention” on the part of the offender to cause harm to the person, property, or reputation of the victim and compel him to do an act he is not legally bound to do or cause him to “not” do an act he is legally bound to do in order to escape the execution of the threat made by the offender. It can be better elucidated using the case of Sunil Shetty Chairman Popcorn Entertainment P. Ltd. v. Puran Chauhan and Anr. (2017) The Delhi High Court in this case held that the act of threatening must be with the intention to cause alarm to the complainant, and sufficient evidence to prove the same must be placed. A mere expression in the absence of intention shall not constitute an offence under the provision.
One must be wondering why there is a need to curb such an offence. It is required since the consequences of such offences are manifold. Threatening someone induces a sense of fear and anxiety that has the potential to jeopardise the peace and stability of a society. Such an action can not only lead to emotional distress but can also lead to the infliction of bodily harm. In aggravated circumstances, it can even lead to death. Hence, in order to protect individuals and their basic human rights, such threatening behaviour must be made punishable.
This article shall deal with Section 503 with a special emphasis on the scope and nature of punishment of the said offence provided under Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code.
Criminal intimidation and extortion
Both the offences involve certain common elements. Causing a threat to a person is a common ingredient in both the offences. Extortion requires the offender to intentionally put any person in fear of any injury to that person, or to any other. Similarly, criminal intimidation requires the offender to cause a threat in the mind of a person.
Despite having these similarities, there are significant differences between the two offences. Extortion is defined under Section 383 of the IPC whereas criminal intimidation is defined under Section 503 of the IPC. In case of extortion, the act is done with the intention of obtaining property from the victim. Whereas in case of criminal intimidation, this is not the only purpose.
Criminal Intimidation is said to have taken place even if there has been a constructive force; however, in case of extortion, both actual as well as constructive force is required. Punishment for extortion is a maximum 3 years imprisonment and that of criminal intimidation is 2 years.
Difference between abatement and criminal intimidation
The offence of abatement has been defined under Section 107 of the IPC. It essentially means to aid or support an individual to commit a crime.
There are three ingredients to constitute the offence of abatement:
- There should be an act of instigating a person to commit an offence; or
- There should be an act of engaging in an conspiracy to commit an offence; or
- There should be an act of intentionally aiding a person committing.
This differs from the concept of criminal intimidation. In cases of criminal intimidation, causing fear in the mind of the victim is an essential ingredient, which is not the case in cases of abatement. Threat is an essential element which is absent in abatement. In case of abatement, both the persons are involved in the offence, whereas in the case of criminal intimidation, one is the offender and the other is the victim. In abatement, an offence is committed by the person who has abetted; thus, the person who is abetting as well as the person being abetted are committing a crime.
Difference between criminal Intimidation and duress
‘Duress’ has been mentioned in the general exceptions of the Indian Penal Code. As postulated in Section 94, it is a valid defence that can be used by a person accused of an offence. When an act has been committed in virtue of being compelled to do so by means of threat, the person shall be deemed to be in ‘duress’ during the commission of the act. Duress basically occurs when a person is forcibly compelled, restricted, or restrained to do or not do something by threat. IPC provides for the same as a valid defence by stating that nothing will be deemed an offence if it was committed by the person who was compelled by force to commit it by way of threat and if there is a reasonable fear of death that exists. It finds its roots in the legal maxim “actus me invito factus non-est meus act” which can be elucidated as meaning that a man shall not be accountable for an act that he was compelled to do against his will when his life was at stake.
‘P’ was caught by a thief and was compelled to open the shop locker and harm the shopkeepers using a knife because he was under a threat of instant harm. ‘P’ shall not be liable for the offence as he was under duress.
The essential elements of duress would be:
- Threat of instant death;
- The existence of threat during the commission of the act; or
- The accused must not have voluntarily landed into such a situation.
The difference between criminal intimidation and duress lies in their ‘mens rea’ aspect. In criminal intimidation, there is an intention of the offender to use threat in order to compel the person to do an act, which he is not legally bound to do, or omit doing an act that he is entitled to do, in fear of execution of the threat. However, in duress, the person is compelled to do an act under fear of instant harm. He responds to the harm by acting under the threat with no intention to do the same.
Punishment for criminal intimidation
The punishment for criminal intimidation is provided under Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code. It provides that a person convicted under this Section would be liable for an imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine or with both. However, such punishment shall be applicable if the offender’s action stops at threatening the victim.
If the offender goes on to cause hurt, grievous hurt or the death of the person being threatened, or causes the destruction of any property by fire, or causes an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, the punishment shall be of a maximum of seven years imprisonment, a fine or both. Furthermore, if the accused tarnishes the chastity of a woman while committing the act of criminal intimidation, it shall attract a punishment of imprisonment up to seven years or fine or both. The Apex Court has a conflicting view when it comes to probation in case of convicts under Section 506.
In Ramnaresh Pandey v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1973), the Supreme Court had granted probation to a convict for good behaviour, who had committed criminal intimidation against a female doctor. The Supreme Court, however, took a different standpoint in the case of Siyasaran Vanshkar v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2019). In this case, the fact matrix was similar; however, the Apex Court decided to refuse the grant of probation in this case despite the good behaviour of the convict.
Recent case law
State of U.P. v. Mukhtar Ansar (2022)
It is a landmark case wherein, the complainant was a jailer performing his public duty of frisking prisoners before letting them meet anyone. As he ordered for the frisking of the respondent, the respondent got annoyed and threatened him that he would get killed and also took the pistol from one of the persons that came to meet him. The Allahabad High Court held that the evidence clearly reflects that the act of pointing a pistol by the respondent towards the complainant was with an intent to deter him from performing his public duty as a jailer using criminal force. Hence, he shall be held liable under section 506 of the Indian Penal Code.
Landmark judicial pronouncements under Section 503
Manik Taneja and Anr. v. State of Karnataka (2015)
In the case of Manik Taneja and Anr. v. State of Karnataka, the appellant was involved in a motor vehicle accident and had also paid the compensation to the person who was injured in the same. The matter was somewhat settled. However, the appellant was still called in the police station and a very unfair treatment was meted out to her by the police officers. The police officer had allegedly threatened the appellant that he would drag her to court if she did not argue with him. Being treated in such a rude manner, the appellant was aggrieved and she posted certain comments about the police officers on facebook and the way appellants were being harassed by them. One respondent filed a complaint against the posting of the comment and an FIR was registered against the appellant.
The Supreme Court laid down the essentials of the offence of criminal intimidation. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in this case held that in order for an action to amount to criminal intimidation as defined under Section 503, it must have the following ingredients:
- There must be an act of ‘threatening’ to cause injury to the victim;
- Intention to cause bodily harm to another;
- Intention to cause damage to his reputation;
- Intention to cause harm to his property;
- Intention to cause threat to the body of the person or his property or his reputation in which the original person has an interest; or
- Must cause alarm to the victim and cause him to do an act he is not entitled to do or cause him to omit to do an act he is legally entitled to do.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in this case held that the act of threatening must be done with the intention to cause alarm. Mere words, in the absence of an intention to cause alarm and harm to the victim, do not constitute an offence under the section. The act of the appellants does not fall under the offence of Section 503 because they did not intend to cause alarm and were just using a public platform to raise their grievances. A public platform such as Facebook is meant for helping the public; it does not attract the ingredients of the punishment under criminal intimidation provided under Section 503 of the Indian Penal Code.
Kolla Srinivas v. State of A.P. And Anr. (2005)
In the case of Kolla Srinivas v. State of A.P. and Anr., the accused here threatened the victim of commiting suicide in order to evade the payment. The accused in the present case threatened that he would stab himself and that caused alarm on the complainant. This was done in order to desist the complainant to take any legal action against the accused. The question before the Andhra High Court was whether the threat of self-harm would satisfy the ingredient of “threat” under Section 503 of the IPC. It was held that it would amount to criminal intimidation since the intention was to cause alarm to the complainant.
Shri Vasant Waman Pradhan v. Dattatraya Vithal Salvi (2004)
In the landmark case of Shri Vasant Waman Pradhan v. Dattatraya Vithal Salvi, the question before the Bombay High Court was whether intention was necessary in order to constitute the offence of criminal intimidation. It was set out that mens rea, or the intention was a primary ingredient in order to constitute this offence.
The Bombay High Court laid down in order to establish guilt under the Section 506, it is pertinent to prove the mens rea of the accused. Unless the accused had the intention to cause fear in the mind of the victim the provision shall not apply.
Romesh Chandra Arora v. State (1960)
In the case of Romesh Chandra Arora v. State, the victim was being blackmailed by the accused by threatening to publish private pictures of the victim. The question before the court was whether the act of giving online threats would amount to committing the offence of criminal intimidation.
The Court held that harm need not necessarily be physical in nature. The accused in this case had threatened a person by stating that he would leak the nude photograph of the person’s daughter. The accused was convicted of the offence of criminal intimidation since it constituted a threat to reputation and was intended to cause alarm.
Mewa Lal v. State of Uttarakhand (2015)
In the present case of Mewa Lal v. State of Uttarakhand, the applicant allegedly entered the chamber of the principal and threatened the principal that he would kill him. The applicant was a lecturer who entered the principal’s office and allegedly started threatening him. The issue that came before the Uttaranchal High Court was whether the ingredients of Section 506 were fulfilled. The Court laid down the ingredients of Section 503 as follows:
- The applicant had committed the act of threatening the applicant;
- This was done by threatening to cause injury to the person, property and reputation of the complainant;
- To the person on whom, the complainant is interested;
- Further, there was an intention on part of the offender to cause alarm to the complainant or the person the complainant may be interested in;
- Cause the complainant to do an act, he is not legally bound to do; or
- Deter him from doing an act that he is legally bound to do;
In order to avoid the execution of such a threat made by the offender to meet their demand.
The Uttaranchal High Court after carefully perusing the FIR held that the action by the applicant only fulfils the first ingredient of the offence i.e., threatening the complainant and rest of the ingredients of 503 were not fulfilled. Therefore, the alleged act by the applicant, does not make the offence under section 503 applicable in the present case.
Crimes such as these, breed a climate of fear and that deeply impacts the psychology of anyone who is a victim to them. Compelling someone to act in a certain way or in the whims and fancies of the offender ultimately, violates the victim’s fundamental right of freely expressing himself or being at his own liberty. This causes the wellbeing of the society being compromised and hampers its overall growth. An environment of constantly living in fear and anxiety builds mistrusts amongst the people and causes them to not stand for enforcing their own rights. The provision for criminal intimidation guarantees the safety of person, property and reputation to individuals. It makes sure that a person is not made to act against his or her will by creating fear in their mind. This provision acts as a preventive method which prevents an offender to force another person from committing a crime. Threat plays the key deciding factor in case of this offence. However it should be kept in mind that the threat posed should be practically possible to perform in nature which genuinely creates fear in the mind of the victim. The punishment provision for this offence has been designed in a manner which classifies simple intimidation as well as aggravated form of criminal intimidation which provides for greater punishment then the former category.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is the offence of criminal intimidation bailable?
Yes, it is a non-cognizable and bailable offence.
Can the charges of criminal intimidation be dropped if a compromise is reached?
Yes, since it is a compoundable offence, the charges of criminal intimidation can be dropped if a compromise is arrived at.
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