Section 201 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!

The section is applicable only when the accused either knows or has reason to believe that an offence has been committed. In the absence of this requirement, no conviction can be maintained under this section. The accused must either cause any evidence of the commission of that offence to disappear, or give any information respecting the offence which he knows or believes to be false.

The intention of the accused must be to screen the offender from legal punishment. Three kinds of punishment have been prescribed under the section. The severest is when the accused knows or believes that a capital offence has been committed; a little less severe when the offence committed is punished a little less severely; and still less severe where the offence committed is still much less severe than the above.

has been held by the Supreme Court in Kalawati v. State, that the section is applicable not only against a person who causes disappearance of evidence with the intention of screening an offender from legal punishment, but also against one who does so intending to screen himself from legal punishment after having committed the offence himself, though as a matter of practice a court generally does not convict a person both of the main offence as well as of an offence under section 201 of the Code. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has followed this decision in Razak Khizar v. State, when it observed that there is nothing legally wrong if the same person is convicted of the main offence and also under this section.

In Palvinder Kaur v. State, the appellant and another were charged with murder and also under this section for disposing of the body of the deceased by putting it in a trunk and throwing it into a well after having killed him by poisoning. The Supreme Court held that this section was not applicable because the prosecution failed to prove the charge of murder against the accused and also that they had intentionally tried to screen themselves by causing the evidence to disappear with the knowledge that an offence had been committed.

The Patna High Court in Bakhora Chowdhary v. State, convicted that deceased’s husband and in-laws under this section, even though they had been acquitted of the murder charge because of lack of evidence, and they could not give any reasonable explanation of the unnatural death, and also because they had disposed of the body in suspicious circumstances.

In R. P. Tripathi v. State, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction of the accused person under this section by a three to two majority judgment because even though there were many facts which pointed towards the direction of the accused having killed a mother and her child, there were some reasonable doubts as well, and the prosecution could not establish the charge that the appellant had removed or concealed the dead bodies.

In Brij Kishore v. State, the accused was convicted under this section for lodging a false report that his daughter-in-law had committed suicide whereas in fact she was murdered and this was within his knowledge.

In Kushaba v. State, where the evidence neither proved that the second accused knew that the first accused had committed murder, nor did it prove that the second accused had caused disappearance of evidence with the intention of screening the offender from legal punishment he could not be convicted under this section read with section 34 of the Code even though it had been alleged that he had attended the deceased’s burial.

In Mohan Singh v. State, the prosecution case was that three persons including the appellant murdered the deceased and took the dead body in his car to finally dump it into a well. There was no evidence that he participated as an abettor or accomplice in the crime, or abetted in disposal of the body. The Supreme Court held that merely because the appellant got his car washed five days after the incident does not prove that he had committed an offence under this section.

Where the accused persons and the deceased had been seen going together, and her body was recovered from a well, while the accused were found selling the ornaments of the deceased the next day after the incident, it was held that they were guilty of murder and also of an offence under section 201 read with section 34 of the Code.

Where the evidence clearly proved that the two accused persons had committed the murder of a child in furtherance of common intention and thrown his body into a pond, it was held that both were liable under sections 302 and 201, read with section 34 of the Code.

Where the prosecution could not prove beyond doubt a case of murder and disappearance of evidence, the Supreme Court held that this section would not apply even though the trunk containing the dead body in a bag was found in the house of the accused.

In State v. Mahendra Singh, where the evidence showed that five murders were committed, the dead bodies beheaded and the limbs and bodies thrown in fire, and evidence destroyed in furtherance of common object of an unlawful assembly, and the members had a unity of purpose and done different acts relating to the crimes at various stages, it was held by the Supreme Court that they were guilty under sections 302 and 201 read with section 149 of the Code.

Similarly, the Supreme Court in State v. Dhanna Choudhry, refused to set aside the convictions of the accused persons under section 201 read with section 149 where the evidence established that the bodies of the two deceased persons had been disposed of by some members in prosecution of the common object of the unlawful assembly and so the bodies were never found.

Where it was established beyond doubt by evidence that dead bodies had been disposed of by some persons in prosecution of the common object of an unlawful assembly, the Supreme Court held all members of such assembly guilty of causing disappearance of evidence under section 201 read with section 149 of the Code.

In Henry W. Roberts v. State, the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the convictions of the accused persons first by the sessions court and then by the High Court, of kidnapping a minor boy for ransom, causing his death later, and then causing his body to disappear because the entire circumstantial evidence proved without a shadow of doubt the whole chain of events.

In State v. Kamla, the Supreme Court refused to convict the accused under section 201 because of lack of unambiguous proof, even though the body of the deceased had been exhumed on the basis of information provided by him which would not in itself establish that he himself had buried the body there.

In Shamim Rahmani v. State, the main accused, a young college girl, fell in love with the deceased, a married doctor and father of three children. In the course of time the deceased started avoiding her causing immense frustration to her. The accused invited the deceased to her house one night and shot him dead by a gun belonging to her mother. Her conviction of murder was consistently maintained by the trial court, High Court and the Supreme Court. Her brother who was another accused in the case, was convicted under section 201 for giving false information to intentionally screen her from legal punishment and sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment by the sessions court which was reduced by the High Court to one years rigorous imprisonment.

The Supreme Court held that he may have known or may have reason to believe that an offence of murder had been committed by his sister. But the other possibility that he may not have known or may not have reason to believe so, and may have only suspected that the offence of murder had been committed by his sister, could not be ruled out. That being so, benefit of doubt must go to him.

The Allahabad High Court had held in Jagdish Kumar v. State, that where the dead body of a woman was intercepted by the police while being taken for cremation by the accused persons, this section did not apply since the interception actually prevented the offence of causing disappearance of evidence of the murder under this section being committed; and it did not matter if one of the accused refused to tell the true reason of the sudden death when asked because refusing to give correct information does not mean giving false evidence within the meaning of the section.

Where certain ornaments belonging to the deceased woman were recovered from the possession of a person, this by itself did not prove that he, along with other accused persons, was guilty of murder or causing disappearance of evidence, read with section 34 of the Code.

Removing a dead body from one place to another does not necessarily mean causing disappearance of evidence. For a conviction under this section it is essential to prove all the requirements of the offence as given by the section.

In Nathu v. State, a husband had allegedly beaten his wife to death and his brothers, living separately in the same village, had allegedly carried the dead body to the cremation ground. No other direct or circumstantial evidence existed which established that the brothers were present at the time of the beating or they had any knowledge of it. The Supreme Court refused to convict them under section 201 holding that the evidence against them was not enough.

The Supreme Court has held in Basanti v. State, that where a wife killed her husband with the help of a co-accused who also helped her in causing disappearance of the body, her conviction under section 201, read with section 34 of the Code, was legal even though the co-accused had been acquitted on the ground of benefit of doubt.

The conviction or acquittal of an accused of the main offence has no relationship with his conviction or acquittal under section 201 which is a separate offence altogether. The deceased was last seen in the company of the accused persons almost a month before his body was recovered from a field belonging to them at the instance of one of them. The Supreme Court held that even though the accused were acquitted of the charges of rioting and murder with common object, their conviction under section 201 of the Code was not barred under law.

In Ghuraiyaa v. State, the accused persons raped an eleven year old girl and then thrust a stick into her private part as a result of which she died. They told her mother falsely that they had already informed the police about the incident which prevented the mother of the victim from going to the police. In the meantime the evidence of the crime disappeared. It was held that they were guilty, inter alia, of an offence under this section.

In K. P. Rao v. Public Prosecutor, a police officer did not follow the statutory requirement laid down by section 174, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (same section in the new Code of 1973), distorted and suppressed material evidence and prepared false records regarding dead body of the girl being found on the sea-shore, cause of the death and other concerned circumstances.

It seemed that he either knew or had reason to believe that she was killed by others. The Supreme Court held that charges under sections 201, 218 and 468 were proved against him along with the fact that another person, who was also held guilty under this section, was associated in the crime under section 201 of the Code.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court convicted the accused under this section on the basis of his admission that he was associated with others in the dead body being tied to a scooter and then thrown into a well, even though because of lack of concrete evidence it could not be said that he was also associated with the murder despite the fact that, the body was recovered from the well at his instance.

The Orissa High Court went to the extent of holding that a charge under section 201. or 203 fails even if a dead body is removed and hanged from a tree to make it look a case of suicide, because the evidence was not clear enough to indicate as to how death resulted in a police station, which in effect meant that the commission of the offence of murder or culpable homicide not amounting to murder had not been established.

The Gauhati High Court had the opportunity to deliberate upon the meaning of the word ’cause’ used in section 201 of Code. It observed that it means some active step on the part of the accused. There must be active participation in the direction stated in the section, and mere passive suffering to enable something to happen could not be a part of the word ’cause’. Consequently, insufficient evidence to prove that an illegitimate child’s dead body was disposed of with the direct or indirect participation of the accused could not be the basis of her conviction under this section.

In Dhura v. State of Rajasthan, the accused asserted that his wife had died on account of a brief illness. Neither the doctor’s evidence nor the co-villagers’ support for the defence version was produced. The wife’s parents were also not informed of her death. The prosecution established the strong motive for murder while the cremation was also done

surreptitiously. The Supreme Court convicted all the accused persons under section 201 of the Code.

In Vithal Tukaram More v. State of Maharashtra, presence of the co-accused in the house on the date and the hour of the incident was proved. The deceased was physically assaulted and murdered by the convicted accused and was thrown into a well to the knowledge of the co-accused.

Even then the co-accused took the false plea that on the date and the hour of the incident the deceased was not in the house. The Supreme Court held that co-accused were guilty of screening the offenders and convicted them under section 201 read with section 34 of the Code.

In State of West Bengal v. Hari Ramalu, the Calcutta High Court relied on Harish Chandra Singh Sajjansingh Rathod v. State of Gujarat, and Bhagwan Swarup v. State of Rajasthan, and held that two most important ingredients out of three of an offence under section 201 are that—(1) the accused knew or had reason to believe that such an offence had been committed, and (2) the accused caused evidence thereof to disappear with the intent of screening the offender from legal punishment or had given any false information respecting the offence. There is no law which casts a duty on a criminal to give information which would incriminate himself. Secondly, the language used in sections 201 and 202 does not suggest that the sections would apply to a person who has committed an offence. Thirdly, the phrase “knowing or having reason to believe that an offence had been committed” clearly indicates that the actual culprit is a person other than the one who knows or has reason to believe that an offence had been committed. The language of the said section does not suggest that the section would apply to a person who has committed an offence.

In Jayendra Saraswatlii Swamigal, Tamilnadu v. State of Tamilnadu, the Supreme Court observed that the necessary ingredient of offence under section 201, Indian Penal Code is ‘actually’ causing any evidence of commission of offence to disappear. Oral threat or inducement allegedly given by lawyers to the approver not to give any statement against the accused cannot amount to commission of offence.

The Court granted the request through a petition by seer of Kanchi Mutt charged for murder and conspiracy to transfer the case to another State and transferred it to Pondicherry where the language of witnesses and others will not be a problem and recording of evidence could be done in the same language.

In Budhan Singh v. State of Bihar, the victim was assaulted. His body was being carried on by some persons on a cot so as to admit him to a hospital. One of the accused persons carrying a gun and another a rifle assisted the main accused in taking away the body along with the cot on which the body had been lying. Circumstances thus showed that the accused had knowledge of commission of assault.

There is a concurrent finding of fact by the lower Court to the effect. The Supreme Court held the accused guilty under section 201. The accused was more than seventy years old and was not connected with the main offence and so the sentence of imprisonment was reduced to the period already undergone by them.

In Ram Badan Sharma v. State of Bihar, a case of dowry death was proved. The deceased was killed by administering poison in a prasad. The accused persons neither took her to any doctor nor any kind of medical treatment was given to her. The dead body was secretly and clandestinely cremated without intimating her parents who lived only a few miles away from their village. The Supreme Court held that offence under section 201 was made out. There was persistent demand of dowry and because of non-fulfilment of the demand there was harassment, humiliation and continuous beating of the deceased by the accused husband and the deceased’s in-laws.

In State of Maharashtra v. Devahari Devasingli Pawar, HIV contaminated blood was supplied by the blood bank to a government hospital. There were allegations against the accused doctor about tampering with entries made in the official registers by tearing off pages from different official registers and stowing them away in his house.

The Supreme Court, in a case against him under sections 201, 204 and 269 of the Code, held that such acts had no nexus or connection in discharge of his official duties sanction for prosecution on the basis of such allegations is not required under section 197, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The Question whether sanction was required for prosecution for other offences under the Drugs Act was left open to be decided by the trial court.

According to the explanation attached to section 203 of the Code, the word ‘offence’ under sections 201, 202 and 203 includes any act committed at any place out of India, which, if committed in India, would be punishable under any of the sections 302, 304, 382, 392, to 399, 402, 435, 436, 449, 450 and 457 to 460 of the Code.

The offence under section 201 of the Code is non-cognizable, bailable and non- compoundable, and is triable by court of session where the case falls under the first para, by court of session or metropolitan magistrate or magistrate of the first class where it falls under the second para, and by metropolitan magistrate or magistrate of the first class or by the court by which the offence is triable, in cases falling under the third para.