Indian Penal Code, being a substantive law deals, covers within its ambit every aspect of criminal law and prescribes its punishment. Under this law, all crimes committed, by an individuals or group of individuals, are defined and punishments are prescribed. This code includes within its ambit the concept of common object and common intention. These two concepts are introduced in case a crime is committed by several persons.
Concept Of Common Intention
The concept of common intention is dealt under Section 34 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860. It lays down a rule of evidence that if two or more persons commit a crime in furtherance of a common intention, each of them will be liable jointly on the principle of group or joint liability.
Thus, if two or more persons commit an illegal act conjointly, it is the same as each of them had done the act separately and each will be liable constructively for the act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.
Essential Ingredients Of Common Intention
To attract the application of Section 34, the following three conditions must exist, namely
- Criminal act must be done by several persons – The most essential ingredient to attract section 34 is that the act must be done by several persons. The essence of section 34 is simultaneous consensus of minds of the persons participating in the criminal action to bring about a particular result. The apex court in the case of Ramaswami Ayyanger v. State of Tamil Nadu, has held that such consensus can be developed on the spot and thereby intended by all those persons.
- There must be common intention of all to commit the criminal act – The essence of joint liability under Section 34 lies in the existence of common intention to do a criminal act in the furtherance of the common objective of all the members of the group. The acts done by each of the participants may differ and vary character, but they must be actuated by the same common intention. There must be a prior concert among the members of the group in regard to the design in question, so that each of them is aware of the act to be committed.
- There must be participation of all in the commission of the offence in furtherance of that common intention – The participation in the criminal act of the group is a condition precedent in order to fix joint liability and there must be some overt act indicative of a common intention to commit an offence in order to sustain a conviction with the aid of Section 34.
In the case of Zabar Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme court held that for application of section 34, it is essential that the court find the accused shared with others a common intention to commit the crime and participated in its commission.
Concept Of Common Object
Section 149 deals with the concept of common object. This section incorporates the principle of vicarious liability and holds a person liable for an offence, which he might not have actually committed, by reason of his being a member of an unlawful assembly.
The term unlawful assembly is defined under section 141 of IPC. It states that an assembly of five or more persons is designated as unlawful assembly if the common object of all the person constituting the assembly is to use criminal force to commit any offence or mischief,etc.
As ruled by the apex Supreme Court in the case of Umesh Singh v State of Bihar, an accused under section 149 cannot put forward the defence that he did not with his own hand commit the offence committed in the prosecution of the common object of the unlawful assembly. Everyone must be taken to have intended the probable and natural results of the combination of the acts in which he had joined.
Essential Ingredients Of Common Object
To hold a person liable of an unlawful assembly under this section, the following two conditions must be fulfilled namely :
- The offence must be committed by one or the other member of the assembly – In other words, it means that the Section 149 contemplates the commission of an offence by any member of an unlawful assembly in the prosecution of the common object.
- The offence must be such as the members of the unlawful assembly knew it to be likely to be committed in the prosecution of the common object – This essential embraces within its fold the commission of an act, which may not be necessarily be the common object of the assembly, nevertheless the members of the assembly had the knowledge of the likelihood of the commission of an offence.
Difference Between Common Object And Common Intention
- Section 34 is explanatory while section 149 creates a specific offence – Section 34 is explanatory clause which falls within Chapter II of the Code dealing with ‘General Explanations’ and creates no offence whereas section 149 finds its place in Chapter VIII : ‘Offences against Public Tranquility’ and creates a specific offence in the membership of an unlawful assembly itself, for which the participants may be liable to punishment.
- Difference in number of participants – Section 34 can be invoked even if two persons are involved in committing an offence, but section 149 can postulates the existence of an unlawful assembly, which can be formed only if the members of the group are five or more in number.
- Difference of participation and membership – The essential ingredient under section 34 is the participation in action. On the other hand, the apex court made it clear in the case of Mohan Singh v. State of Punjab that section 149 requires no participation in the commission of an offence, but only the membership of the unlawful assembly at the time of its commission by another member of that assembly.
- Operation of section 34 and section 149 – Section 34 requires some overt act, however small, for the operation of its provision, whereas under section 149 mere membership in assembly suffices to fix criminal liability.
The court had, through various judgments, explained and elaborated the application of both section 34 and section 149.
In the case of Chittarmal v. State of Rajasthan, the court observed that there is clear distinction between the common object and common intention as in common intention denotes action in concert and necessary postulates the existence of prior meetings of minds with prearranged plans, while the common object does not necessarily require proof of prior meeting of minds or pre-concert.
In the remarkable judgment of Mannam Venkatadasi v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the court ruled that the community of intention required by section 34 is replaced in section 149 by the community of object. Common intention presupposes prior consent whereas common object maybe formed without it.
Section 34 and section 149 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with the cases of constructive criminal liability imposed on the persons for an act not actually done by him but by his associates. However, there is a clear distinction between the provisions of the sections 34 and 149. The scope, extent, operation, number of participants, etc, vary among the two provisions and must not be confused.
(Author: Muskan Krishnani, pursuing B.B.A,. LLB (Second Year) from Amity University, Chhattisgarh.)
 Ramaswami Ayyanger v. State of Tamil Nadu (1976) 3 SCC 779
 Zabar Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1957 SC 465
 Umesh Singh v State of Bihar (2000) 6 SCC 89
 Mohan Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1963 SC 174
 Chittarmal v. State of Rajasthan (2003) 2 SCC 266
 Mannam Venkatadasi v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1971) 3 SCC 254