Section 179 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!

This section lays down liability on one who refuses to answer a public servant authorised to question even though legally bound to state the truth. It says that whoever is legally bound to state the truth on any subject to any public servant, but refuses to answer any question touching that subject while being demanded to do so by such public servant who is so acting under the powers conferred to him by the law, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term extending up to six months, or with fine extending up to one thousand rupees, or with both.

The section requires that the one to be held guilty under this section must be legally bound to state the truth on any subject. If he is not so bound the section does not apply. There must be a refusal on his part to answer even though answer was demanded of him by the public servant. The public servant must be vested with powers under the law to demand an answer. If he does not hold this power under the law, the person refusing to answer cannot be held guilty under this section. Giving false answers may make him liable under section 193 of the Code and not under this section.

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 vide sections 121 to 132 also exempts a witness to answer certain questions. Protection against self-incrimination continues to be available as a fundamental right under Article 20 (1) of the Constitution. But otherwise an accused is legally bound to answer a question put by a police officer during examination as provided by section 161, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

Whether there is self-incrimination of a witness is to be determined by the Court. It has been held that Railway Protection Force personnel are not public servants. This section makes no provision for imposition of rigorous imprisonment.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court has held following the Supreme Court that conduct of inquiry by Railway Protection Force personnel under the Railway Property (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1966 is more like a judicial proceeding and not a police investigation, and refusal to answer is an offence under section 9 of this Act and section 179 of the Indian Penal Code.

The offence under this section is non-cognizable, bailable and non-compoundable, and is triable by the court in which the offence is committed subject to the provisions of Chapter XXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973; and if no offence is committed, it is triable by any magistrate.