Section 73 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!

The period of solitary confinement must follow the scale provided in this section. Consequently, in cases of imprisonment not exceeding six months solitary confinement shall not exceed one month, in cases of imprisonment exceeding six months but not exceeding one year solitary confinement shall not exceed two months, and in cases of imprisonment exceeding one year solitary confinement shall not exceed three months.

The maximum period of solitary confinement provided under this section is three months as is clear from the scale given in the section as well as the use of the expression ‘not exceeding three months in the whole’. But there have been cases where it has been held that in the case of simultaneous convictions, the award of separate terms of solitary confinement, which in the aggregate exceed three months, is legal.

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This, with respect, does not seem to be the correct position because the principle is that penal statutes are to be strictly construed. This means that punishment can be inflicted on an accused only when his conduct falls under the letter of the law. If a penal provision can reasonably be so interpreted as to avoid punishment, it must be so construed.

If there can be two or more reasonable constructions of a penal provision, the more lenient one shall be given effect to. Therefore, whether it is a case of one conviction or simultaneous convictions no one can be put to solitary confinement beyond three months.

It is encouraging to note that the Courts have held that solitary confinement cannot be ordered in cases where imprisonment does not form part of the substantive sentence, or as part of imprisonment in default of payment of fine, or in default of furnishing security for good behaviour.

The Supreme Court has also held that solitary confinement should be ordered in exceptional circumstances only and that a prisoner sentenced to death can be segregated only when the sentence has become final and irrevocable. It has also been held by the Supreme Court that if a prisoner himself desires to be segregated for reasons of his own safety his written consent to that effect and approval by the higher authorities of the same are absolutely essential.