This article on ‘Laws Relating to Public Nuisance in India‘ was written by Madhur Anand, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
Have you ever gotten annoyed by a person smoking a cigarette just near you in any public place? or What about the night when you could not sleep because your neighbor was playing loud music at her retirement party? Did you know that you can initiate a legal proceeding against that person for public nuisance?
Unlike trespass, which is punishable per se, nuisance is the unreasonable intrusion of one’s right to access and cherish his property. And when the nuisance is done to the public at large, it shapes and identifies itself as a public nuisance. Since public nuisance is a criminal rather than a civil wrong, the State will generally try cases of public nuisance except if the person can demonstrate specific harm to him. This is because public nuisances are deemed to be improper for society at large or as a whole and consist of minor offenses that harm health and life rather than being committed against a single person.
The primary emphasis of this article is on the definition of public nuisance as established in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Who is the public?
Section 12 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, defines the word “public.” Any group or community that falls under the definition of “public” is included. Thus, a group or community living in a particular area may be considered “public.” The term “public” in everyday speech refers to the entire population of a country, state, or municipality.
However, according to the IPC, it covers “any group of the public that is substantial enough to constitute a class and which obviates the notion of a single individual. Again, the terms “community” and “public” are used here interchangeably because a community can include a sect, a race, or a group of people who share a common principle.”
Constituents of Public Nuisance?
The foundation of public nuisance is the civil law maxim sic uteretuout rem publicam non laedas, which literally translates to “enjoy your property in such a way as not to infringe upon the rights of the public.” Public nuisance refers to a broad range of petty offenses that may jeopardize public safety, morals, or general welfare. The offender may face a fine, a jail sentence, or even both forms of punishment. The statutes define–
“A person is guilty of a public nuisance who does any act or is guilty of an illegal omission which causes any common injury, danger or annoyance to the public in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity, or which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger or annoyance to persons who may have occasion to use any public right. A common nuisance is not excused on the ground that it causes some convenience or advantage.”
The constituents of Public Nuisance are––
- A deceptive act or omission.
- Should result in any typical harm, risk, or irritation.
- Generally speaking, harm should be done to nearby residents or property owners.
- Must inevitably result in harm, an impediment, danger, or any irritation to others who might need to use a public right.
Some illustrations of public nuisances include unsafe public fireworks, the storage of explosives, unlicensed medical practice, and the keeping of ferocious animals. Other instances of public nuisances that impair public morals include unauthorized prize fights or illicit booze outlets. Threatening public conveniences include the prior instances of impeding a highway or making conditions that make travel dangerous.
Who can sue for Public Nuisance?
A person that has been harmed may file a criminal complaint against a guilty party due to a public nuisance. Nevertheless, these situations might be transferred hastily without any legal action being taken. The majority of the time, state courts have jurisdiction over nuisance cases. However, the federal courts have the final say in cases where the Constitution, specific federal statutes, regulations, or case law establish the existence of a nuisance.
An individual may have a private right of action in relation to a public nuisance under the following circumstances:
He must show that he has suffered specific harm beyond what the rest of the public has to bear. For instance, he must show that his injuries go beyond what the rest of the public was required to endure. The harm must appear to be significant in nature.
In general, a gathering can be eliminated by a million lawsuits, but public nuisances must be the focus of one activity. Additionally, it would give rise to a variety of cases that would burden the legal system.
In General, Public Nuisance does not provide a path to civil action. Nevertheless, certain circumstances may allow for the use of tort law.
Punishment for committing a Public Nuisance
The Indian Penal Code’s Section 290 addresses the penalties that can result from a public nuisance act.
“The person committing the public nuisance shall be liable to a fine of two hundred rupees and if the person further continues to create havoc and nuisance even after the lawful public authority issues an injunction in such a case that the person will be liable for imprisonment which may extend to 6 months or fine or both.”
It states that anyone found guilty of causing a public nuisance faces a fine of up to 200 rupees as punishment. However, Section 291 states that if an injunction has been issued against the offender and he continues to do the nuisance act, he may face imprisonment that may last up to 6 months or a fine, or both, depending on the severity of the offense.
One of the fundamental tenets of administering a nation is keeping the populace tranquil and restoring order. It also falls under the ambit of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, but that provision has been broadened to cover peoples’ rights to life and health, both of which are highly dependent on a clean environment.
Additionally, it has been made clear in several decisions that Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code provides a remedy for public nuisance. According to the code, whenever a District Magistrate, Sub-divisional Magistrate, or any other Executive Magistrate specially authorized in this matter by the State Government, receives a police officer’s report or other information, he is required to take whatever evidence he deems appropriate and consider for the removal of public nuisance.
So, the next time you get annoyed by the smoke of a cigarette or loud music, don’t forget that you’ve been incumbent the right to proceed against the wrongdoer.
- K Ramakrishnan V. State of Kerala (1999)
- Vasant Manga v. Baburao Bhikanna Naidu (1955)
- “Indian Penal Code, 1860”, India Code, available at: https://www.indiacode.nic.in/ViewSelectedActDetailsServlet?act_name=The%20Indian%20Penal%20Code,%201860&handleid=123456789/1362
- B&B Associates, “Public Nuisance”, BnB Legal, 7 November 2017, available at: https://bnblegal.com/article/public-nuisance/