How should the expression, “any offence alleged to have been committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty”, be understood? What does it mean?


Official” according to the dictionary, means pertaining to an office, and official act or official duty means an act or duty done by an officer in his official capacity.”

State of Orissa & Ors. v. Ganesh Chandra Jew1 

Protection under section 197 would be available only when the act done by the public servant is reasonably connected with the discharge of his official duty. The protection given under Section 197 is to protect responsible public servants against the institution of possibly vexatious criminal proceedings for offences alleged to have been committed by them while they are acting or purporting to act as public servants. The policy of the legislature is to afford adequate protection to public servants to ensure that they are not prosecuted for anything done by them in the discharge of their official duties without reasonable cause, and if sanction is granted, to confer on the Government, if they choose to exercise it, complete control of the prosecution.

This protection has certain limits and is available only when the alleged act done by the public servant is reasonably connected with the discharge of his official duty and is not merely a cloak for doing the objectionable act. If in doing his official duty, he acted in excess of his duty, but there is a reasonable connection between the act and the performance of the official duty, the excess will not be a sufficient ground to deprive the public servant of the protection. The question is not as to the nature of the offence such as whether the alleged offence contained an element necessarily dependent upon the offender being a public servant, but whether it was committed by a public servant acting or purporting to act as such in the discharge of his official capacity.

Before Section 197 can be invoked, it must be shown that the official concerned was accused of an offence alleged to have been committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duties. It is not the duty which requires examination so much as the act, because the official act can be performed both in the discharge of the official duty as well as in dereliction of it. The act must fall within the scope and range of the official duties of the public servant concerned. It is the quality of the act which is important and the protection of this section is available if the act falls within the scope and range of his official duty.

There cannot be any universal rule to determine whether there is a reasonable connection between the act done and the official duty, nor is it possible to lay down any such rule. One safe and sure test in this regard would be to consider if the omission or neglect on the part of the public servant to commit the act complained of could have made him answerable for a charge of dereliction of his official duty. If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, it may be said that such act was committed by the public servant while acting in the discharge of his official duty and there was every connection with the act complained of and the official duty of the public servant. This aspect makes it clear that the concept of Section 197 does not get immediately attracted on institution of the complaint case.

“For the purpose of attracting the provisions of Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, it is not necessary that they must act in their official capacity but even where public servants purport to act in their official capacity, the same would attract the provisions of Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”2

Kalimuthu v. State DSP3 

If on facts, therefore, it is prima facie found that the act or omission for which the accused was charged had reasonable connection with discharge of his duty then it must be held to be official to which applicability of Section 197 of the Code cannot be disputed.

 The question relating to the need of sanction under Section 197 of the Code is not necessarily to be considered as soon as the complaint is lodged and on the allegations contained therein. This question may arise at any stage of the proceeding. The question whether sanction is necessary or not may have to be determined from stage to stage. Further, in cases where offences under the Act are concerned, the effect of Section 197, dealing with the question of prejudice has also to be noted.

Saha v. M.S. Kochar4

The words ‘any offence alleged to have been committed by him while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty’ employed in Section 197(1) of the Code, are capable of a narrow as well as a wide interpretation. If these words are construed too narrowly, the section will be rendered altogether sterile, for, ‘it is no part of an official duty to commit an offence, and never can be’. In the wider sense, these words will take under their umbrella every act constituting an offence, committed in the course of the same transaction in which the official duty is performed or purports to be performed. The right approach to the import of these words lies between these two extremes. While on the one hand, it is not every offence committed by a public servant while engaged in the performance of his official duty, which is entitled to the protection of Section 197(1), an act constituting an offence, directly and reasonably connected with his official duty will require sanction for prosecution under the said provision. As pointed out by Ramaswami, J. in Baijnath v. State of M.P.5 :  It is the quality of the act that is important, and if it falls within the scope and range of his official duties the protection contemplated by Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code will be attracted’.


  1. 2004 (8) SCC 40.
  2. Sankaran Moitra v. Sadhna Das (2006) 4 SCC 584.
  3. 2005 (4) SCC 512.
  4. (1979) 4 SCC 177.
  5. AIR 1966 SC 220.

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