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Socio-economic Offences in India


In India where social crimes are rampant, there is a fairly new set of socio-economic offences which are coming into the light. With the advancement in industrial sectors and coming-age technology everybody wants to get richer ‘faster’. Offence or crimes as a whole can be broadly divided into two parts, Conventional and Non-Conventional offences. Conventional crimes are those traditional, illegal behaviors that most people think of as crime which includes murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary and theft. Most crime is conventional crime. Non-conventional crime, may be White-Collar Crime, Blue-collar Crime, Pink-collar Crime, Political Crime, Corporate Crime, Occupational Crime etc. In non-conventional crimes there is an absence of mens rea.

Vijay Mallya faces several cases in India, where his companies have defaulted on loans of around Rs9,000 crore from Indian banks. Nirav Modi faces allegations of defrauding Punjab National Bank of more than Rs 11,300 crore. Up until 2015 when FSSAI banned Maggi, it had a 70% share of the Rs 4000 Crore (+) Noodles market in India. Monosodium Glutamate in Maggi Noodles was tested at the U.P. Food Safety and Drug Administration lab at Gorakhpur, U.P. and then at the Central Food Lab, Kolkata in June 2015. It was found to be containing lead at 17.2 parts per million (ppm). Under Food Safety and Standard Regulations, 2011, the permissible levels lead range from 0.2 ppm in milk substitutes and baby foods, to 10ppm in categories like baking powder, tea, onion powder (Dehydrated) and Masalas used to add flavor. These are some of the examples of high profile socio-economic crimes currently prevalent in the country.

Need for including Socio-Economic Crimes

The Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1860, and though it has been amended here and there, its main structure has continued intact during the last 100 years and more. But the social and economic structure of India has changed to such a large extent, in many respects the Code does not truly reflect the needs of the present day.[1]The Penal Code does not deal in any satisfactory manner with acts which may be described as social offences having regard to the special circumstances under which they are committed, and which have now become a dominant feature of certain powerful sections of modern society. Such offences may broadly be classified into:

  1. Offences calculated to prevent or obstruct the economic development of the country and endanger its economic health;
  2. Evasion and avoidance of taxes lawfully imposed;
  3. Misuse of their position by public servants in making of contracts and disposal of public property, issue of licenses and permits and similar other matters;
  4. Delivery by individuals and industrial and commercial undertakings of goods not in accordance with agreed specifications in fulfilment of contracts entered into with public authorities;
  5. Profiteering, black-marketing and hoarding;
  6. Adulteration of foodstuffs and drugs;
  7. Theft and misappropriation of public property and funds; and
  8. Trafficking in licenses, permits, etc.[2]

In the 47th report of the Law Commission, the commission noted the following salient features

  1. ‘Motive’ of the criminal is avarice or rapaciousness (not lust or hate).
  2. ‘Background’ of the crime is non-emotional.
  3. ‘Victim’ is usually the State or ‘consuming public’.
  4. Mode of operation is fraud, not force.
  5. Act is deliberate and wilful.
  6. Social interest is protected for preservation and augmentation of general economy.[3]



Types of Socio-Economic offences

White Collar Crimes

Edwin Sutherland, was the originator of the concept: “white collar crimes”. He defined white collar crime as follows:[4]

“White Collar Crime means a crime committed by a. person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation”.

The old notion of crime was considered to be associated and connected with the lower socio-economic class. Crime as a behavior of the lower class primarily consisted of burglary, robbery, rape and other similar traditional crimes. Of late a new concept of criminal behavior developed wherein upper and middle class tradesmen and persons in professions involved, which Sutherland names as white collar crime.[5] He explained the following types of law-breaking by them: (i) . Restraint of trade, (ii) Misrepresentation in advertising, (iii) Rebates (iv) Infringement of patents, trademarks and copyrights, (v) Unfair labour practices, (vi) Financial Manipulations etc.

Public Welfare Offences

The other term deserving analysis is ‘public welfare offences’ coined by Francis Sayre in a classic article.[6] He used it to denote “a group of offences and public nuisances punishable irrespective of the actor’s state of mind.” Sayre observed that they could be roughly classified into subdivisions of (i) illegal sale of intoxicating liquor, (ii) sales of impure or adulterated food or drugs, (iii) sale of misbranded articles, (iv) violations of anti-narcotic acts, (v) criminal nuisances, (vi) violations of traffic regulations, (vii) violations of motor-vehicles laws and (viii) violations of general police regulations passed for the safety or well-being of the community.

Victimless Crimes

Next, let us consider the term ‘victimless crimes’. Victimless crimes are created when “we attempt to ban through criminal legislation the exchange between willing partners of strongly desired goods and services.” Prostitution is a clear example. But, in such cases, there may be certain objective consequences (enforcement of morality, in the case of prostitution) regardless of victimization. As the ‘victims’ are diverse and unorganized, it is the duty of the State to protect them.[7]

Measure Recommended

In Law Commission’s report “Report on the Trial and Punishment of Social and Economic Offences”, they studied causes for defective enforcement like absence of legislative provisions, absence of the relevant statutory notification, faulty investigation, lack of legal expertise, procedural drawbacks, want of evidence and administrative difficulties and defects.[8] The Commission suggested[9] viz., stringent action, departure from conventional mens rea and burden of proof doctrines, increase in. minimum and maximum punishment, establishment of special courts, appeal should from special court to High Court, mandatory imprisonment, need for preventive detention, and stoppage of business or cancellation of license, probation.

Besides the above mentioned Acts, some main enactments which deal with socio-economic offences are as follows:


  • The Prevention of Corruption Act.
  • The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.
  • The Prevention of Immoral Traffic (Amendment) Act, 1986.
  • The Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
  • The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
  • The Narcotic Drugs Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
  • The Standard of Weights and Measures Act.
  • The Customs Act.
  • The Drug (Control) Act.
  • The Income Tax Act


[1]The SanthanamCommittee available at

[2] Ibid

[3] 47th Law Commision Report available at

[4]Edwin H. Sutherland, White Collar Crime. (1949), pp.9-10

[5] p.16

[6]Francis Bower Sayre, “Public Welfare Offences”, 33 Col.L.R. 55 (1933)

[7]All Answers ltd, 'Exclusion of Mens Rea and Socio-Economic Offences in India' (, June 2019) <> accessed 18 June 2019

[8] Supra, n. 3 at pp.29-38.

[9]Supra, n. 3 pp.115-162


Submitted by Varun Ahuja

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