Criminal Conspiracy under IPC Explained!


In this article, we will discuss criminal conspiracy under IPC, the difference between criminal conspiracy and abetment, criminal conspiracy IPC case laws, and in and around this topic.

We will look into this with a rudamentary approach.

What does criminal conspiracy mean?

If we break up this term, we get criminal and conspiracy.

Criminal in this context refers to acts or offences that are done against the public at large or serious infractions of law.

Conspiracy is a term that refers to an act agreeing to be undertaken by more than one person. It is not necessary that such an act must be accomplished to constitute an offence of Criminal Conspiracy.
However, we shall come to this in a bit.

Therefore, criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal code refers to constituting an intention by two or more people in doing an act that is unlawful or merely doing a lawful act in an unlawful way or by unlawful means.

Criminal Conspiracy under IPC provision

Section 120A of the Indian Penal Code covers offences of Criminal Conspiracy

Section 120A Ipc states that: When two or more per­sons agree to do, or cause to be done,—

(1) an illegal act, or
(2) an act which is not illegal by illegal means,

such an agreement is designated a criminal conspiracy: Provided that no agreement except an agreement to commit an offence shall amount to a criminal conspiracy unless some act besides the agreement is done by one or more parties to such agreement in pursuance thereof.

Explanation.—It is immaterial whether the illegal act is the ultimate object of such agreement, or is merely incidental to that object.

Indian Penal Code, 1980

It must be noted that these conditions must be satisfied to constitute an offence of criminal conspiracy under IPC.

That is the act must be agreed to be done or be actually done and such an act must be either be Illegal or done in an Illegal way or manner.

The gist of Criminal conspiracy under Ipc is that there must be an agreement. An agreement refers to meeting of two or more minds to carry out a common intention. As long as the conspirators does not decide or act on a plan of action, the conspiracy cannot said to have occured.

In other words, just the meeting of minds is not necessary, there must not only be a meeting of minds but also a performance on the plan of action.

For example:
5 Men in Delhi have agreed to kill Mr. A with a gun. This is a mere agreement.
When these individuals actually chalk out a plan of action to kill Mr. A and they set out to acquire the gun needed for the murder, this adherence to the plan by way of acquiring the gun would constitute an offence of Criminal Conspiracy.

So long the design remains in mind the offence is not indictable, but when two or more people agree to carry into effect their design, the very plot is an act in itself and the act of each of the parties, promise against promise, actus contra actum, becomes punishable if for a criminal object or for the use of criminal means,
Source: Gulab Singh AIR 1916 ALL, 141

There must be two or more persons

It was held by the supreme court in Central Bureau of Investigation v. V.C Shukla, that where the prosecution failed to prove that one of the two accused was a party to a criminal conspiracy, the charge of criminal conspiracy cannot stand against the other as in order to constitute an offence of criminal conspiracy under IPC, there must be more than one person.

In other words, the Supreme Court decided that a person cannot conspire alone under section 120A of IPC.

But this doesn’t mean one person cannot be convicted alone. If the court is in a position to establish that the act was done by two or more persons and only one could be caught then the one person alone can be convicted.

Bimbdhar Pradhan V. State of Orissa, AIR 1956, S.C 649
Kasim Ali, AIR 1927 Cal. 949

However, when only two persons are charged with the offence under 120A IPC and one is acquitted, the other person cannot alone be convicted.

Source: R.V thompson, (1851) 16 Q.B 832

Evidence against one conspirator is evidence against all conspirator

“When several persons are proved to be combined together for the same illegal purpose, any act done by one of the parties in pursuance of their common object is in the contemplation of law the act of the whole party and, therefore, the proof of such act would be evidence against any of the others who were engaged in the same conspiracy”


Evidence Against Conspiracy

Since the gist of Criminal conspiracy under IPC section 120A is an agreement and more often proof of agreement or direct evidence can be difficult to establish, the evidence that there was an agreement must be established on the basis of surrounding circumstances either prior to the occurrence or afterward or conduct of the accused.

Source: CBI Hyderabad, v. Narayan Rao, (2012) IV Cri. L.J. 4610(S.C)

Must have knowledge of the main object

For a person to conspire with another, he must have knowledge of what the co-conspirators were wanting to achieve and thereafter having the intent to further the illegal act takes recourse to a course of conduct to achieve the illegal end or facilitate its accomplishment.”

State of  Maharashtra & Ors. v. Som Nath Thapa &Ors. (1996) 4 SCC 659.

Therefore, the supreme court observed that each of the persons involved in the criminal conspiracy under IPC section 120A must have the main object in mind.

It is not essential to have knowledge of all of the objects though, the essential is the end goal. Some conspirators may not know all of the plans, they may agree to execute their part and still be liable under section 120A of the IPC.

Also, It is not necessary that each of the conspirators must be a party to the agreement since the very inception, one may join in mid-way or one may exit before the end goal is achieved. [Raghuvir Singh v. State of Bihar AIR 1987 SC149]

The role of conspirators in criminal conspiracy under ipc has been explained by the supreme court:

The agreement is the gist of the offence. In order to constitute a single general conspiracy there must be a common design and a common intention of all to work in furtherance of the common design.

Each conspirator plays his separate part in one integrated and united effort to achieve the common purpose.
Each one is aware that he has a part to play in a general conspiracy though he may not know all its secrets or the means by which the common purpose is to be accomplished. The evil scheme may be promoted by a few, some may drop put and some may join at a later stage, but conspiracy continues till it is broken up.

The conspiracy may develop in successive stages. There may be a general plan to accomplish the common design by such means as may from time to time be found expedient. New technologies may be invented and new means may be devised for advancement of the common plan.

A general conspiracy must be distinguished from a number of separate conspiracies having a similar, general-purpose. Where different groups of persons cooperate towards their separate ends without any privity with each other, each combination constitutes a separate conspiracy.

The common intention of the conspirators is then to work for the furtherance of the common design of his group only.

Mohd Hussain Umar Kochra v. KS Dalip Singhji AIR 1970 SC 45.

Criminal Conspiracy 120 b Punishment

120B. Punishment of criminal conspiracy.—

(1) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death, 2[imprisonment for life] or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards, shall, where no express provision is made in this Code for the punishment of such a conspiracy, be punished in the same manner as if he had abetted such offence.

(2) Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy other than a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable as aforesaid shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months, or with fine or with both.]

Section 120B, Indian Penal COde, 1860

There are two parts in this section of ipc.

Subsection 1 of section 120b states that whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy shall be punished with either death sentence, or life imprisonment, or rigorous imprisonment for a term of not less than 2 years.

And, where no provisions in the IPC is made in relation to a conspiracy that doesn’t fall under section 120 A shall be dealt in a manner as if such an offence has been abetted.

Subsection 2 of section 120b states that if a person is a party to a criminal conspiracy but not involved in the conspiracy itself, he shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months, or with fine or with both

Sanction for prosecution

This section has to be read along with Section 196 of the Cr. Pc which requires pervious sanction of the state government or the District Magistrate to launch prosecution in respect of a criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with less than 2 years imprisonment.

Thus, where the object of the conspiracy was cheating by false personation under Section 419 IPC which is an offence punishable with 3 years’ imprisonment the mere fact that there were other non-cognizable offences for which to the accuses has been charged would not vitiate the trial in absence of sanction under Section 196(1A) (2) Cr. Pc as that section is meant to be applicable to a case where the object of the conspiracy is to punish an offence punishable with less than 2 years imprisonment.

196. Prosecution for offences against the State and for criminal conspiracy to commit such offence.

(1) No Court shall take cognizance of-
(a) any offence punishable under Chapter VI or under section 153A, of Indian Penal Code, or 2 Section 295 A or sub section (1) of section 505] of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860 ) or
(b) a criminal conspiracy to commit such offence, or
(c) any such abetment, as is described in section 108A of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860 ), except with the previous sanction of the Central Government or of the State Government.

(1A) 2 No Court shall take cognizance of-
(a) any offence punishable under section 153B or sub- section (2) or sub- section (3) of section 505 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860 ), or(b) a criminal conspiracy to commit such offence, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government or of the State Government or of the District Magistrate.]

(2) No Court shall take cognizance of the offence of any criminal conspiracy punishable under section 120B of the Indian Penal code (45 of 1860 ), other than a criminal conspiracy to commit 1 an offence] punishable with death, imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards, unless the State Government or the District Magistrate has consented in writing to the initiation of the proceedings: Provided that where the criminal conspiracy is one to which the provisions of section 195 apply, no such consent shall be necessary.

Section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Can a company be prosecuted for Criminal Conspiracy under IPC?

A company or a corporation is in the same position as an individual and may be convicted of the common law as well as statutory offenses including those requiring men’s rea.

The criminal liability of a corporation arises when an offence is committed in relation to the business of a corporation by persons or by the body of persons in control of its affairs.
In such circumstances, it would be necessary to ascertain that the degree and control of a person or body of persons are so intense that a corporation may be said to think and act through that a corporation may be said to think and act through that person or the body of the persons.

Difference between Criminal Conspiracy and Abetment

The term ‘abet’ in general usage means to assist, advance, aid, conduce, help and promote. The word ‘abet’ has been defined as meaning to aid; to assist or to give aid; to command, to procure, or to counsel; to countenance; to encourage; induce, or assist, to encourage or to set another one to commit.

Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab, 1994 Cri LJ 3139

Abetment has been defined under section 107, IPC

107. Abetment of a thing.—A person abets the doing of a thing, who—(First) — Instigates any person to do that thing; or

(Secondly) —Engages with one or more other person or persons in any conspiracy for the doing of that thing, if an act or illegal omission takes place in pursuance of that conspiracy, and in order to the doing of that thing; or

(Thirdly) — Intentionally aids, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of that thing.

Explanation 1.—A person who, by wilful misrepresentation, or by wilful concealment of a material fact which he is bound to dis­close, voluntarily causes or procures, or attempts to cause or procure, a thing to be done, is said to instigate the doing of that thing. Illustration A, a public officer, is authorized by a warrant from a Court of Justice to apprehend Z. B, knowing that fact and also that C is not Z, wilfully represents to A that C is Z, and thereby intentionally causes A to apprehend C. Here B abets by instigation the apprehension of C.

Explanation 2.—Whoever, either prior to or at the time of the commission of an act, does anything in order to facilitate the commission of that act, and thereby facilitate the commission thereof, is said to aid the doing of that act.

Section 107, Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Abetment means instigating someone to do some act. In the case of abetment, the instigator does not do the act by himself, he rather instigator or abets someone else to do it.
    On the other side, Criminal conspiracy is an agreement between individuals to carry out an unlawful act or a lawful act in an unlawful manner.
  • In the case of Criminal Conspiracy, each offender is a principal accused, while in the case of abetment, the person instigating is not a principal offender.
  • In the offence of abetment, a mere meeting of minds of persons or agreement between them is not enough but an act or illegal omission must take place in pursuance of the conspiracy and in order to the doing of the thing conspired for, But in the criminal conspiracy under ipc, the mere agreement is enough, if the agreement is to commit an offence.
  • Abetment can be committed by one or more individuals, whereas criminal conspiracy under IPC can be committed by two or more individuals.

Criminal conspiracy IPC case laws

In the case of Kuldeep Sharma v. State of Himachal Pradesh, the appellant and co-accused Rajinder Sharma were posted as Junior Engineer and Assistant Engineer respectively in Jubbal Sub-Division of Irrigation and Public Health Department in 1984. They were charged of offence of criminal conspiracy and for preparing a false muster roll in which names of two casual laborers, who were not actually engaged, were inserted and their wages were drawn by the appellant and co-accused.

Investigation proved that the two laborers did not work for the period for which they were marked ‘present’ in the muster roll but their wages were drawn. The appellant had verified and countersigned the muster roll and given false certificate regarding wages having been paid and disbursed to the said laborers. They were convicted for the offence under Sections 120-B, 467, 468, 471 and 420 of IPC and Section 5(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, and sentenced to one-year imprisonment which was upheld by the Supreme Court.

In Sherimon v. State of Kerala,’ accused appellant was engaged in the business of auto finance who hatched a conspiracy with three others to seize auto-rickshaw from the possession of hirer on account of default in payment of installments. In pursuance of conspiracy other accused persons hired an auto-rickshaw and murdered its driver and took away the auto-rickshaw. The Appellant was not present when the murder of the driver was committed. No overt act was attributed to the appellant by any witness. It was held that for offence of conspiracy there must be a meeting of minds resulting in the decision taken by conspirators regarding commission of crime. In this case no such evidence had come on record as only witness turned hostile Evidence on record is totally inadequate to come to conclusion that appellant and other accused hatched criminal conspiracy. Therefore conviction of appellant with aid of section 120-B is liable to be set aside.

1 thought on “Criminal Conspiracy under IPC Explained!”

  1. Great article. You have explained all the major details of Criminal conspiracy. But what is the prior objectives of doing a criminal conspiracy? Why people do criminal conspiracy? What is the mental psychology behind once conspiracy? Can the magistrate take the cognizance of an FIR on criminal conspiracy?

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