The Indian Penal Code in chapter XIV from sections 268 to 294A deals with the offence of public nuisance. These offences include affecting public health, safety, convenience, decency and morals. Nuisance is a French term which means ‘to harm’ or ‘to injure’. Anything that causes hurt, inconvenience, or damage or which essentially interferes with the enjoyment of life or property. The objective of this chapter is to safeguard the public health; safety and convenience by making those acts which pollute the environment or threaten endanger public health directly or indirectly have been brought under the purview of the penal code.
Public Health Section 269-278
Public Safety Section 279 to 291
Public Morals and Decency Section 292 to 294A
Chapter XIV is a comprehensive document on public nuisance. It consists of 28 sections. Eleven principles have been made publishable under this code.
In the case of, Public Health:
Spread of infections
Sections 269-270 deals with this in detail, it is necessary for the preservation of society that no one should jeopardise its existence by any criminal, unlawful or negligent act. The current COVID-19, coronavirus, would be an example under this section, someone escaping quarantine and endangering people in society could be criminally liable under this section. Some of the diseases that are dangerous to life are Syphilis, smallpox, Cholera, Plague, AIDS.
Adulteration of food, drink and drugs
Section 271 deals with adulteration of food and drink intended for sale and the next section deals with the sale of noxious drink. It is an offence to knowingly sell food unfit for consumption or mix the same with other food and supply it as food for human consumption. Adulteration means infusion of some foreign substance or mixing of food, drink or drugs with other articles of inferior quality or deleterious character.
Section 277 deals with when water has been made foul in a public spring or reservoir to render it less fit for the purpose for which it is ordinarily used, this is punishable under this section. The purpose for which the water is ordinarily used must be considered in determining whether there has been a voluntary corruption, within the meaning of this section. The words ‘corrupts’ or ‘fouls’ means some act which physically defiles or fouls the water, bathing in a tank or spitting into a public well fouls drinking water.
Making the atmosphere noxious to health
Section 278 deals with a specific form of public nuisance and not a private nuisance. It punishes the public nuisance of vitiating the atmosphere of a place in sucha manner as to make it noxious to the health of all the people living and carrying their business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way.
In the case of, Public Safety
Section 279 deals with rash or negligent driving that endangers the life or is likely to cause hurt or injury to any person. The accused was riding rashly, negligently without exercising due care for the safety of others which a prudent man might reasonably be expected to exercise, he would be guilty under this section.
Section 280 & 282 deals with rash navigation, these sections deal with the cases of rash navigation of a vessel on the sea and all waterways, public or private lakes but not to navigation on the high seas. 282 deals with conveying passengers by water for hire in an unsafe or overloaded vessel. The section is not only confined to overloading but also the conveyance of a passenger in an unsafe vessel.
Endangering public ways
Section 281 deals with exhibition of false signals to a vessel with a desire to mislead a navigator. Due to the gravity of this offence, punishment in such cases may extend to seven years imprisonment or fine or both. Section 283 deals with the causing of danger or obstruction in a public way or public line of navigation an offence. This section seeks to punish persons who do acts causing danger, obstruction or injury to any person in a public way.
Negligent handling of poisons, combustibles and explosives
Sections 284 to 289 require absolute care on the part of those handling substances, such as poisons, which may prove dangerous to life, if not handled carefully. These sections deal with negligent conduct concerning fire, machinery, explosive substances, repairing buildings, pulling down buildings, animals and so on.
In the case of, Public Morals and Decency
Spread of obscenity
Section 292 deals with sale, etc., of obscene books, etc., the fundamental object and purpose of criminal law is to protect and conserve the safety and security of primary personal rights of individuals, such as right to life, body, right to property, habitation etc,. But also to protect and guard morals and public decency and to conserve the moral welfare of the state. A careful perusal of the provisions in section 292 would reveal the word obscenity has not been defined. However, judicial attempts to explain the words have indicated a test to explain the context. The test of obscenity given Cockburn,CJ of the House of Lords in R. v. Hicklin stated the test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influence and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall. It is quite certain that it would suggest to the minds of the young of either sex, or even to persons or more advanced year, thoughts of a most impure and lubricious character.
Section 293 deals with sale of obscene books to young people, and 294 deals with obscene acts and songs.
Section 294A prohibits the keeping of any lottery office to draw any lottery etc and provides punishment of imprisonment upto six months or fine or both. The lottery is treated on the same footing as gambling because a lottery is a distribution of prizes by lot or chance without the use of any skill as in gambling. The section makes an exception in favour of state-owned or sponsored lotteries.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is outraging public decency?
The related common law offence of outraging public decency involves indecent actions or displays that may cause offence to members of the public. Outraging public decency is a related offence which criminalizes behaviour or displays which are lewd, obscene or disgusting and take place in public.
What is the punishment for animal cruelty in India?
Killing, poisoning, maiming or torturing an animal is a cognizable offence under Section 428 and Section 429 of the Indian Penal Code. The punishment for such an act is rigorous imprisonment which may extend for up to 2 years or a fine or both.
What is a rash or negligent act?
A rash act is primarily an over-hasty act. It is opposed to a deliberate act. It denotes want of proper care and caution and connotes and overt act with a consequence of risk that evil consequences might follow but with hope it will not happen. Negligence is a breach of duty imposed by law.
- The Indian Penal Code, K.D. Gaur, fourth Edition, Universal Law Publishing Co.
- Criminal Law, PSA Pillai, 11th Edition , Lexis Nexis
- Cecil Turner.J. (2013), Kenny’s Outllines of Criminal Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University
- PressTextbook of Criminal Law, Glanville Williams, fourth Edition, Sweet & Maxwell South Asian Edition
- R. v. Hicklin