LCI Learning

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Share on LinkedIn

Share on Email

Share More


  • Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code defines the term ‘public servant’.
  • This Section has been incorporated separately to avoid confusion regarding the definition of ‘public servants’ and the people who count as one.
  • There are numerous sections in the Indian Penal Code which include the term ‘public servant’.
  • To differentiate between public servants and other persons hence is of utmost importance.
  • Section 21 basically lists out the various categories of public servants.
  • The categories are primarily based on function carried out by the person concerned.


It is commonly observed in a country like India that public servants engaged in the upliftment of society comand a lot of respect and power. They are looked upon as the linkages between the Government and the general public. Their role in society is quite a significant one as they are the ones responsible for the implementation of government schemes and putting forth the problems faced by the people to the right authorities which are competent to tackle them. This awe behind being a public servant motivates lakhs of candidates to study and prepare for examinations that will make them a public servant. However, the term public servant has generalised connotations which may or may not be correct. In this article, we will be looking into the term ‘public servant’ as defined in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC).


The words ‘public servant’ applies to any person mentioned in the clauses below.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every Commissioned Officer in the Military, Naval and Air Forces of India. The term Commissioned Officer refers to those Officers who receive a rank officially before taking up the said provision. On the other hand, a Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) is an officer who has not yet earned a rank or position in the Defence Forces of the country. As is obvious from the definition given in Clause 2 of Section 21of the Indian Penal Code, only Commissioned Officers of the Military, Navy and the Air Force of India are included within the ambit of the term, ‘public servant’. Added to this, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has stated that a member of the Auxiliary Air Force under the Reserve and Auxiliary Air Forces Act, 1952 is as much a public servant as any other acting member of the Indian Air Force.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every Judge, which also includes any person who is empowered by law to discharge any adjudicatory functions, either by himself or as a member of a body of persons. This definition has been taken from Section 19 of the Indian Penal code, 1860. In the case of K. Veeraswami v. Union of India, it was held by the Supreme Court that the term public servant will also take into account the Judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court as they also fall under the scope of the term ‘Judge’. The High Court of Andhra Pradesh, in the case of Advocate-General, Andhra Pradesh v. Rachapudi Subba Rao, decided that the Central government was not a competent authority to sanction the prosecution of a High court judge. Moreover, as held by the Supreme Court in R. S. Nayak v. A. K. Antulay, a Member of the Legislative Assembly is not to be included under the definitions and scope of the term ‘public servant’. This is because a Member of the Legislative Assembly cannot be held responsible for taking action for a breach of privilege or for voting in a manner contrary to the House rules. As a result, the function executed is of a constitutional nature rather than an adjudicatory one.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every officer in a Court of Justice who investigates or reports on any matter of law or fact, or makes, authenticates or keeps any document, or takes charge or disposes of any property, or executes any judicial process, or administers any oath, or interprets, or preserves order in the Court, and every person who is specially authorized by a Court of Justice to perform any of the abovementioned duties. Under the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923, a public servant will also include a Receiver in Insolvency, or a Bench Clerk in charge of the compensation seat in the Office of the Labor Commissioner.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every juryman, assessor, or member of a panchayat assist­ing a Court of Justice or public servant.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every arbitrator or other person to whom any cause or matter has been referred for decision or report by any Court of Justice, or by any other competent public authority.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every person holding any office by virtue of which he has been empowered to place or keep any person in confinement. A police officer investigating a cognizable offence under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and submitting his report thereof is a public servant. However, even though Members of Legislative Assemblies can impose a prison sentence, this does not mean that a Member of Legislative Assembly is to be included under the ambit of Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every person Officer of the Government who has a duty to prevent offences, or give information of offences, to bring offenders to justice, or to protect the public health, safety and convenience. A person is said to be a public officer if he or she is involved in the service of the Government or has been entrusted with the execution and performance of a public duty. For example: a teacher in a Government school, a bus driver, an employee of Air India, are all referred to as public servants.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every officer with a duty to take, receive, keep or expend any property on behalf of the Govern­ment, or to make any survey, assessment or contract on behalf of the Government, or to execute any revenue process, or to investigate, or to report, on any matter affecting the pecuniary interests of the Government, or to make, authenticate or keep any document relating to the pecuniary interests of the Govern­ment, or to prevent the infraction of any law for the protection of the pecuniary interests of the Government. The word ‘officer’ in this clause does not include a lecturer in a Government college. This is because a university is an autonomous institution and the lecturer is simply discharging his function under that autonomous institution. In the case of Ram Avtar Shah v. State of Bihar, it was held that any surveyor performing his legitimate function under any of the Revenue Civil Courts is a public servant. Even a khalasi in the railway carriage shop preparing and selling railway tickets is a public servant. The position of the Chief Minister is also included in Section 21 (9) of the Indian Penal code, 1860. The Supreme Court in the case of Dilawar Babu Kurane v. State of Maharashtra, decided that a lecturer in a private college appointed by a University is not covered in the definition of public servants under this section. However, all persons receiving any compensation under Section 73(4) of Shivaji University Act, 1974 are deemed to be public servants with regard to all criminal laws under the abovementioned Act.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every officer who takes, receives, keeps or expends any property, and makes any survey or assessment or levies any rate or tax for any secular common purpose of any village, town or district, or makes, authenti­cates or keeps any document for the ascertaining of the rights of the people of any village, town or district. Under this, the Sarpanch of a Gram Panchayat and the Pradhan of a Gram Sabha are also public servants. As held in R. B. Kulkarni v. State, a Municipal Commissioner is not a public servant. This is due to the fact that a Municipal Councilor is elected by the people. He or she is not appointed by the Government. There is however an exception to this rule. Statutes such as the Madhya Pradesh Municipalities Act, 1916 explicitly provide that a Councillor is a public servant.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every officer person holding any office in virtue of which he is empowered to prepare, publish, maintain or revise an elec­toral roll or to conduct an election or part of an election. This clause is exclusively with respect to persons who are connected with the electoral processes and was added by the Indian Election Offences and Inquiries Act, 1920.


As stated in the Indian Penal Code, the term public servant includes every person in the service or pay of the Government or remunerated by fees for the performance of any public duty and every person in the pay or service of a local authority or a corporation established by a Central, Provincial or State Act or a Government company as defined in Section 617 of the Companies Act, 1956. For example, a Municipal Commissioner is a public servant. People falling under any of the above descrip­tions are public servants, regardless of whether they were appointed by the Government or not.


  • GHULAM RABBANI V. STATE OF ASSAM [2001 CriLJ 2331]: The Guwahati High Court held that the Branch Manager of a State Warehousing Corporation is not a public servant as the State Warehousing Corporation is not a statutory body as it had not been created by any statute.
  • NATIONAL SMALL INDUSTRIES CORPORATION LIMITED V. STATE (NCT OF DELHI) [Criminal Appeal No. 1802/2008]: It was held by the Supreme Court that a Government company is not a public servant but every employee of such a company is.
  • STATE THROUGH CBI V O.P. DOGRA [AIR 1986 SC 312]: Held that as far as the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), employees of the said Corporation came under the definition of public servant.
  • P. ARULSWAMI V. STATE OF MADRAS [AIR 1967 SC 776]: Held that not every offence committed by a public servant requires sanction for prosecution under Section 197(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
  • KALICHARAN MAHAPATRA V. STATE OF ORISSA [1998 6 SCC 411]: Held that a public servant who committed an offence while he was a public servant can be prosecuted with a sanction, however, if he ceases to be a public servant, cognizance can be taken without a sanction.
  • P. D. PATEL V. EMPEROR [AIR 1933 Rang 292]: The Division Bench of the High Court of Rangoon held that the public servant concerned under Section 195 (1)(a) of the Indian Penal Code also includes the successor of the office.


As we have seen, Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code includes an exhaustive list of who qualifies as a public servant. It is necessary to note that the definition of public servant in the Indian Penal Code is not the only one present. There are many other statutes which define this term. To become a public servant, mere appointment by the Government is not enough. The concerned person must come under any of the twelve clauses of this section.

"Loved reading this piece by Brinda Kundu?
Join LAWyersClubIndia's network for daily News Updates, Judgment Summaries, Articles, Forum Threads, Online Law Courses, and MUCH MORE!!"

Tags :

Category Others, Other Articles by - Brinda Kundu