Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code: A Comprehensive Guide

by  Adv. Rupa K.N  




3 mins


420 IPC


In its broadest sense, cheating refers to various practices intended to violate the law to one’s own unfair benefit. It is possible to identify cheating since the broken rules may be stated or come from an unwritten code of conduct based on morals or customs.

Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code has a rich historical context that traces back to the colonial era. The IPC was drafted in 1860 during the British rule of India, and Section 420 was a part of this original code. The purpose of this section was to address the prevalent issue of fraud and cheating, which was disrupting the economic and social fabric of society. Over the years, Section 420 has undergone various amendments to adapt to the changing societal norms and legal landscape.

In the early years, the application of Section 420 was primarily limited to cases of tangible property fraud. However, with the advent of modern technology and the digital era, its scope has expanded to cover various forms of online fraud and cybercrimes. This evolution reflects the law’s adaptability and its role in maintaining social order.

Despite its long-standing presence in the IPC, Section 420 has been controversial and criticised. Critics argue that its broad definition and severe punishment can lead to misuse, particularly in business disputes. Nonetheless, IPC Section 420 is a significant legal provision in India’s fight against fraud and cheating..

Section 420 of the IPC, often referred to as IPC 420, deals with this and provides punishment for cases of cheating in which the criminal deceitfully compels the handover of property or tampers with valuable security. In India, the term “420” has come to symbolize acts of cheating and fraud, leading to the common question: What is the meaning of 420 in India?

Section 420 of IPC: Cheating and dishonestly inducing the delivery of property

Section 420 of the IPC, or IPC 420 as it is commonly known, deals with the act of cheating and dishonestly inducing the person deceived to deliver any property to any person, or to make, alter or destroy the whole or any part of a valuable security, or anything which is signed or sealed, capable of being converted into a valuable security.

The person found guilty under this section shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term that may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to a fine.

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Details on Punishment under Section 420 of IPC

Understanding IPC 420 Punishment

The punishment under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is quite severe, reflecting the seriousness of the offence. Section 420 IPC punishment includes imprisonment for up to seven years and a fine.

However, the exact punishment can vary based on several factors:

1. Severity of the Offence: The severity of the offence plays a significant role in determining the punishment. If the offence involves a large amount of money or property or if it has caused significant harm to the victim, the punishment is likely to be more severe.

2. Repeat Offenders: Repeat offenders are likely to receive a harsher punishment. If the offender has been previously convicted of a similar offence, the court may consider this when determining the sentence.

3. Mitigating Factors: The court may also consider any mitigating factors when determining the punishment. These could include the offender’s age, health, personal circumstances, and any efforts they have made to compensate the victim.

4. Aggravating Factors: Any aggravating factors could lead to more severe punishment. These could include the use of violence or threats, the involvement of other people in the offence, or the use of sophisticated methods to carry out the offence.

Understanding these factors can help individuals better understand the potential consequences of being convicted under Section 420 of the IPC.

Understanding the Meaning of 420 in India

The 420 meaning in India is deeply associated with acts of cheating and fraud. This association comes from Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property. Over time, the term “420” has permeated popular culture and is now commonly used to refer to acts of cheating or fraud.

Societal and Cultural Impact of Section 420

Section 420 of the IPC has profoundly impacted Indian society and culture, extending far beyond the realm of law. The term ‘420’ has permeated everyday language and popular culture, becoming synonymous with acts of cheating and fraud. It’s common to hear the term ‘420’ used colloquially to label someone as a cheat or a fraudster. This linguistic impact reflects the societal recognition of the seriousness of the offences covered under this section.

Section 420 has been the subject of numerous films, songs, and literature in popular culture. For instance, the classic Bollywood film ‘Shree 420’, starring Raj Kapoor, used the term ‘420’ in its title to symbolize the protagonist’s transformation into a con artist. Similarly, various songs and literature have used ‘420’ as a metaphor for deceit and dishonesty.

However, the cultural impact of Section 420 also has a darker side. The broad scope and severe penalties associated with Section 420 can lead to its misuse, particularly in personal disputes and business conflicts. This has led to a societal debate about the need for legal reforms to prevent such misuse while still effectively deterring and punishing acts of cheating and fraud.

Ingredients of Section 420 of IPC

The following elements must be shown to establish the offence of cheating under Section 420 of IPC in inducing the delivery of property:

1. The claim made by the individual must be false.

2. The accused was aware that the claim he made was false and untrue.

3. In an effort to mislead the recipient, the accused made false statements with malice aforethought.

4. The act in which the accused persuaded the subject to deliver the object or to carry out or refrain from acting in a way that the subject would not have done or would have otherwise committed.

5. There must be Mens rea, which is a legal term that denotes a person’s mental condition or state when committing a crime and is the motive behind every crime. It is a specific anticipated or preplanned intention to conduct a specific act.

420 Section

One of the most important ingredients needed to establish the offence of cheating under Section 420 of the IPC is the making of a false representation. It is not enough to show that a false representation was made to establish a case under Section 420 of IPC for cheating; moreover, it must be shown that the accused knew the representation to be false and that it was made with the intent to deceive the complainant. Section 420 of the IPC for Cheating can only be used after that.

Comparison with Other Related Sections of the IPC

Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is often compared with other related sections, such as Sections 417, 416, and 418. These sections, while distinct, all deal with various forms of cheating and dishonesty.

Section 417: This section deals with cheating in general. Unlike Section 420, which involves cheating that leads to the delivery of property or the alteration of valuable security, Section 417 covers any act of cheating that doesn’t necessarily involve property or valuable security. The punishment under this section is less severe than under Section 420, with imprisonment extending up to one year, or a fine, or both.

Section 416: This section pertains to cheating by personation, which involves pretending to be another person or falsely representing oneself as another person. This specific form of cheating can lead to more severe consequences if it results in the delivery of property or the alteration of a valuable security (which would then fall under Section 420).

Section 418: This section deals with cheating with the knowledge that wrongful loss may ensue to a person whose interest the offender is bound to protect. This is a more specific form of cheating involving a breach of trust and can lead to more severe consequences if it results in the delivery of property or the alteration of a valuable security (which would fall under Section 420).

Understanding these distinctions can help individuals better navigate the legal landscape and understand the different cheating forms covered under the IPC.

Aggravated Forms of Cheating

Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code covers basic forms of cheating and extends to more severe or aggravated forms. These instances occur when the offender dishonestly induces the deceived person to deliver any property or to make, alter, or destroy a valuable security or anything signed or sealed that can be converted into a valuable security.

This means that the law considers not just the cheating act but also the severity and impact of the deceit. It’s important to note that the gravity of the offence and the punishment meted out can increase significantly in these aggravated situations. This comprehensive coverage ensures that all forms of cheating, from simple to complex, are adequately addressed by the law.

Nature of offence under Section 420 of the IPC

A violation of Schedule 1 of the Criminal Procedure Code is a crime under Indian Penal Code Section 420. A court lower than a first-class magistrate cannot hear the matter. Section 320 of the Criminal Procedure Code allows for the compounding or settlement of cheating offences with the court’s consent.

Offence under CrPCCheating and thereby dishonestly inducing delivery of property, or the making, alteration or destruction of a valuable security
PunishmentImprisonment up to 7 years + Fine
CognizanceCognizable (Police can arrest without a warrant)
BailNon-Bailable (Bail is not a matter of right, it’s at the discretion of the court)
Triable ByMagistrate First Class
Composition under Section 320 CrPCThe offence is Compoundable by the person cheated, with the permission of the Court
Classification u/schedule 1 CrPC and Composition u/s 320 CrPC

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How can cheating under Section 420 of IPC be proved?

You must show that there was an expectation to cheat at the time of the deceit, and this reality must be proved via every subsequent action as acts and oversights of the condemned. In this regard, all of the charge’s demonstrations and exclusions must be clearly and readably laid out from the development period of the fraudulent depiction to the recording of the objection.

Challenges to Section 420 IPC

Like any law, Section 420 of the IPC has faced its share of challenges and scrutiny. For instance, there have been cases where the constitutionality of this section has been questioned. One such case was recently presented in the Allahabad High Court.

The argument was that Section 420 IPC might infringe on fundamental rights. This case is a reminder that laws are not set in stone but are subject to interpretation and challenge. It’s part of the dynamic nature of our legal system, which continually evolves to balance the need for justice with the protection of individual rights.

While Section 420 IPC plays a crucial role in deterring and punishing acts of cheating, it’s also important to ensure that it is applied in a manner that respects the fundamental rights of individuals.

Criticism and Controversy Surrounding Section 420

While Section 420 of the IPC plays a crucial role in deterring and punishing acts of cheating and fraud, it has not been without its share of criticism and controversy. Critics argue that the broad definition of cheating under this section, coupled with severe penalties, can lead to its misuse. It’s not uncommon for Section 420 to be invoked in personal disputes and business conflicts, leading to potential harassment and misuse of the legal process.

Moreover, some legal scholars argue that the language of Section 420 is outdated and does not adequately cover modern forms of fraud, particularly those involving digital transactions and cybercrimes. They advocate for a comprehensive reform of this section to better align with the realities of the digital age.

There have also been arguments for the abolition of Section 420, primarily based on the premise that it infringes on fundamental rights. For instance, a recent case presented in the Allahabad High Court questioned the constitutionality of Section 420, arguing that it might infringe on fundamental rights.

These criticisms highlight the need for a balanced approach in applying and interpreting Section 420. While it serves an important function in maintaining social order, it’s also crucial to ensure that its application does not lead to injustice or violation of individual rights.

Case Laws on Cheating under Section 420 of IPC

420 Case Details

1. In the case of Shri Bhagwan Samardha Sreepadha Vallabha Venkata Vishwanandha Maharaj vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (AIR 1999 SC), In the preceding instance, the accused convinced the plaintiff that he possessed heavenly abilities. He claimed that he could cure a girl’s dumbness with his supernatural abilities and got money from the complainant. The court ruled that this behaviour amounted to deception and cheating under Section 420 of IPC.

2. In Pareed Pillai and Others v. State of Kerala (1972), A two-judge panel held in the case of Pareed Pillai and others that to find someone guilty of cheating, it must be demonstrated that the accused had a dishonest purpose at the time the pledge was made. The fact that the accused could not fulfil the pledge afterwards could not be used to establish dishonest intent under Section 420 of IPC.

3. In Laxmi Narayan Singh v. State of Bihar, the case concerned the election to the Bihar State Co-operative Bank Limited Management Committee, in which six people were appointed as directors to the management committee out of a total of thirteen vacancies. According to the court, the check was provided as security but did not offer credit aid from the bank. The court concluded that the prosecution, under Section 420 of IPC, crumbled in the lack of any dishonest purpose, and the conviction must be overturned.

4. In a recent case involving the company ‘Indiabulls Housing Finance Ltd. (IHFL)’, the company was accused of cheating under Section 420 IPC. IHFL had sanctioned loan facilities to a group, which later defaulted on the repayment. IHFL sold the pledged equity shares to recover the loan amount, leading to a loss for another party, which then lodged an FIR against IHFL under Section 420 IPC.

These cases highlight the diverse scenarios in which Section 420 IPC can be applied, ranging from personal disputes to complex corporate transactions.

People Also Read: Case Details of Section 307 of IPC

Understanding Section 420 Of IPC - Get Expert Legal Assistance And Protect Your Rights

The Procedure for Trial under Section 420, IPC

The trial procedure under Section 420, IPC, is similar to that of other criminal offences and is governed by the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). Here’s a step-by-step guide to understanding the process:

1. Investigation

The criminal procedure begins with the filing of a First Information Report (FIR) by the victim or an aggrieved person. This initiates the police investigation into the case. The accused person is then arrested and produced before the Magistrate within 24 hours of the arrest.

2. Filing of Final Report by the Police

After completing the investigation, the police file a final report under Section 173, CrPC. This report can either be a closure report, indicating insufficient evidence against the accused, or a charge sheet, suggesting there is enough evidence to prosecute the accused.

3. Plea of Guilty or Not Guilty by the Accused

Once the charges have been formally framed, they are read over and explained to the accused. The accused is then asked whether they plead guilty or not. If the accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate may convict them. If they claim trial, the case is posted for trial.

4. Evidence for Prosecution

The prosecution is invited to lead evidence and prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. This evidence can be either oral or documentary.

5. Statement of the Accused

After the prosecution concludes its evidence, the accused is given an opportunity to explain the circumstances appearing in the evidence against them.

6. Evidence for Defence

The defence is then invited to present evidence, if any. This is an opportunity for the accused to challenge the prosecution’s story.

7. Final Arguments

After the close of evidence, both parties present their final oral arguments in front of the Magistrate or Court.

8. Judgment

After examining the facts, evidence, and arguments, the Magistrate or Court decides whether to convict or acquit the accused. If the accused is pronounced guilty, they are convicted under Section 420, IPC. If pronounced not guilty, they are acquitted.

The Right to Appeal

If the accused is convicted, they have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court, High Court, or Sessions Court, depending on the circumstances. The appeal process is governed by the provisions laid down in the CrPC, the Indian Constitution, and the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Act, 1970.

How to File a Case under Section 420 of IPC

If you believe you have been a victim of an offence under Section 420 of the IPC, it’s important to take the following steps to file a case:

1. Collect Evidence: Gather all possible evidence related to the case. This could include documents, contracts, receipts, emails, text messages, or any other form of communication that proves the fraudulent activity.

2. File a Complaint: Visit your local police station and file a First Information Report (FIR). Provide all the details of the fraudulent activity and submit the evidence you have collected. It’s important to be as detailed as possible in your complaint.

3. Legal Assistance: Consider hiring a lawyer who can guide you through the legal process. They can help you understand your rights, represent you in court, and ensure that all legal procedures are correctly followed.

4. Court Proceedings: Once the police have investigated your complaint and found sufficient evidence, they will file a charge sheet in the court. The court will then begin the trial process. You may be required to appear in court to give your statement.

Verdict: After hearing the arguments from both sides and examining the evidence, the court will deliver its verdict. If the accused is found guilty, they will be sentenced according to the provisions of Section 420 of the IPC.

Remember, it’s important to act quickly if you believe you have been a victim of a Section 420 offence. The sooner you report the crime, the higher the chances of bringing the offender to justice.

Who is a 420 Person in India?

Often, people wonder, ‘Who is 420 in India? The term “420 person”(read as Char Sau Bees in Hindi) refers to someone who is a cheat or fraudster. This term comes from Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code. This section was also in use in other neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Myanmar, where the term 420 persists in popular culture to this date.

Preventing Section 420 Fraud: Tips to Protect Yourself

1. Verify Before Trusting: Always verify the credentials of individuals and companies before entering into any financial transactions. This includes checking their identity, reputation, and past records.

2. Be Cautious of Unusual Requests: Be wary of any requests for money transfers or payments that seem unusual or suspicious. This could include requests to send money to unfamiliar accounts or to make payments in unconventional ways.

3. Read Before Signing: Always read and understand any documents or contracts before signing them. Consult with a legal professional to ensure you fully understand the terms and conditions.

4. Keep Records: Maintain a record of all financial transactions and communications. This can be crucial evidence if you become a victim of fraud.

5. Report Suspicious Activity: If you suspect that you have been a victim of a Section 420 offence, report it to the police immediately. The sooner you report the crime, the higher the chances of recovering your money and bringing the fraudsters to justice.


The core of cheating is having a dishonest or deceptive purpose. It is one of the most crucial factors to establish in order to accuse someone of cheating. Furthermore, the transaction must have been initiated with the intention of being dishonest or fraudulent. Under Section 420 of IPC, a simple breach of a commitment or agreement does not constitute a criminal offence.

Even if there is certainly room for improvement, Section 420 of IPC has done a great job of deterring and punishing instances of dishonesty and cheating. Understanding the meaning of 420 in India and its implications under the IPC is crucial for both preventing and addressing instances of fraud and cheating.

A case under Section 420 of IPC can be established with sufficient proof, and bail can also be obtained for the same. Talk to a criminal lawyer now.

Adv. Rupa K.N

Adv. Rupa K.N


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Advocate Rupa K.N, with over 24 years of independent practice, specialises in providing legal expertise, advice and guidance to a broad range of customers. Having been practising law independently for several years after doing her B.A. LLB from Bangalore University and PGDM from the National Institute of Personnel Management.

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