Under the constitution, criminal law diction belongs concurrently to the central government and the states. The prevailing law on crime prevention and punishment is embodied in two principal statutes: the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973. These laws take precedence over any state legislation, and the states cannot alter or amend them. Separate legislation enacted by both the states and the central government also has established criminal liability for acts such as smuggling, illegal use of arms and ammunition, and corruption. All legislation, however, remains subordinate to the constitution.
The Indian Penal Code came into force in 1862; as amended, it continued in force in 1993. Based on British criminal law, the code defines basic crimes and punishments, applies to resident foreigners and citizens alike, and recognizes offenses committed abroad by Indian nationals.
The penal code classifies crimes under various categories: crimes against the state, the armed forces, public order, the human body, and property; and crimes relating to elections, religion, marriage, and health, safety, decency, and morals. Crimes are cognizable or non cognizable, comparable to the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors in legal use in the United States. Six categories of punishment include fines, forfeiture of property, simple imprisonment, rigorous imprisonment with hard labor, life imprisonment, and death. An individual can be imprisoned for failure to pay fines, and up to three months' solitary confinement can occur during rare rigorous imprisonment sentences. Commutation is possible for death and life sentences. Executions are by hanging and are rare--there were only three in 1993 and two in 1994--and are usually reserved for crimes such as political assassination and multiple murders.
Courts of law try cases under procedures that resemble the Anglo-American pattern. The machinery for prevention and punishment through the criminal court system rests on the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973, which came into force on April 1, 1974, replacing a code dating from 1898. The code includes provisions to expedite the judicial process, increase efficiency, prevent abuses, and provide legal relief to the poor. The basic framework of the criminal justice system, however, was left unchanged.