Causation has long been a significant and perplexing subject in criminal law. Explanation 1 and 2 of Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code,1860 have been introduced to offer clarification on the issue of causality in homicide cases. However, it has been seen that both Indian courts and prominent scholars have misconstrued the interpretation of reasons 1 and 2, resulting in incorrect rulings. This research paper aims to investigate the research topic and clarify the understanding of explanations 1 and 2 by accessing the proper understanding. The investigation is exploratory and interpretive in character. This article is intended to highlight the repercussions of such flawed understanding and seeks to clarify law on this point by tapping the understanding in right perspective. This research paper is divided into four parts. The paper begins with the discussion on the relevant law of section 299 of Indian penal Code, 1860. It will then go on to explore the existing misreading of explanation 1 of section 299 which has led to erroneous judgment. Thereafter, the importance of cause of death as an essentiality for invoking liability under Section 299 will be established. Afterwards, the difficulty which arises in ascertaining the actual cause of death will be delineated. Following this, the correct understanding related to the identified research problem will be tapped and final part will be dealing with conclusion.
‘Homicide’ means the killing of one person by another. It is believed to be the gravest act committed against any human being. However, every case of homicide is not punishable, for instance, excusable homicide (killing in self-defense), justifiable homicide (killing in pursuance of lawful authority), or accidental homicide (killing by reason of a mistake of fact, etc.).
Under the scheme of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 the punishable homicide is dealt with in different sections depending on the variant degrees of mens rea with which such homicides are committed. Of these, two such gravest cases are dealt with under Sections 299 and 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in which homicide is committed either intentionally or knowingly wherein section 299 defines the term culpable homicide simpliciter and section 300 mentions the circumstances when culpable homicide becomes murder.
Since the codification, it is worth noting that the law relating to culpable homicide and murder under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 has always remained one of the most misunderstood and perplexing provisions. Amongst it, one of the widely held misconception is concerning Explanation 1 and 2 of section 299 of the Indian Penal Code, which is that these two explanations are actually referring to circumstances in which the presence or absence of certain factors in causing death nevertheless treated as culpable homicide which the researcher fear has nothing to do with it. This flawed misunderstanding has led to some very erroneous judgments.
The researcher will try to establish that in real these two explanations are only clarifying the question of cause of death and not the culpability of homicide. As the question of cause of death is the first and foremost requirement to be clarified before invoking the culpability under sections 299 & 300. Surprisingly, till date this issue has hardly been noticed and investigated. Accordingly, so far, no such attempt is found in the research literature where any attempt has been made to address this issue. Perhaps this will be the first study of its kind, which will investigate, unravel and clear up following questions like (1) Whether Explanation 1 of Section 299 is limited to the question of cause of death only or with the culpability of homicide or both? (2) Whether the existing understanding has led to erroneous judgment in the cases of homicide? (3) Whether there exists legislative error or it is the case of misconstruction of the explanation 1?
The Law: Section 299- Culpable Homicide & its Explanations
Before clarifying the meaning of relevant section 299 and its explanations, it is imperative to outline the essential ingredients of the offence of culpable homicide which are as follows:
- there must be death of a person.
- the death should have been caused by the act of accused person and
- the act causing death should have been done with:
(a) The intention of causing death; or
(b) The intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or
(c) With knowledge that such act is likely to cause death.
The word “whoever causes death” in the above-mentioned phrase denotes, first, the death of a human being, unless the contrary appears from the context which is the first and foremost prerequisite to satisfy in order to attract the provision of section 299. Second, the accused’s act (which includes both action and omission) must be proven to have caused the death. Third, the death had to have been caused intentionally or knowingly. As a result, in order to bring a case of murder within the scope of culpable homicide, the accused’s behavior must have resulted in the death of the dead; otherwise, the question of culpable homicide cannot be raised. The second key factor, intention or knowledge, comes into action only once this prerequisite has been met. Consequently, the first two explanations of section 299’s definition are only attached to clarify the question of cause of death, and not the liability of culpable homicide. Whether homicide was culpable homicide or not, these two explanations do not relate at all to this question.
It is, however, a common misunderstanding that Explanation 1 talks about a situation wherein the injured person was already suffering from some disease, disorder or bodily infirmity which accelerated his death. The fact that it was his peculiar physical condition that accelerated his death will not mitigate the culpability or guilt of the person who caused injury. Simply put, the accused cannot escape liability of committing culpable homicide by saying that the victim would not have died had he not suffered from such disease, disorder or infirmity. In reality, explanation 1 deals with such situations when it becomes difficult to ascertain the actual cause of death as certain types of injuries do not always result immediately in the death of the deceased; the injured person dies after a gap of long or short period of time.
Accordingly, all that is explained in these two explanations is to clarify the law that in such cases of homicide wherein the accused’s act shall be considered as the cause of death which is the first essential condition for the application of Section 299. The fact that the death of a human being is caused by an injury of the accused is not enough to attract the liability of culpable homicide under section 299, save that such death is caused intentionally or knowingly which are the essential ingredients of culpable homicide under section 299.
Precisely for that very reason the Supreme Court in Anda v. State of Rajasthan outlined that the words ‘intention’ or ‘knowledge’ embodied in Section 299 signifies the existence of positive mental condition and this mental state is the special mens rea essential for the offence. Hence, wherein the death is caused without ‘requisite condition i.e., intention’ or ‘knowledge’ won’t be considered culpable homicide even if that act is criminal in nature which resulted in death. Moreover, unless the cause of death relates to the direct result of accused’s act, provision of section 299 won’t be attracted. As a result, it becomes imperative to clarify the law on such question of cause of death which is addressed in the first two explanations.
Statutory Misconstruction: Indian Courts & Illustrious Scholars
As already pointed out that Explanations 1 and 2 of Section 299 do not deal with the culpability of the offender for homicide, but, only to the actual cause of death but Courts have been misconstruing the understanding of these two explanations into one of a case of culpable homicide. One of the main reasons for such misunderstanding is that courts often in the case of homicide assume in advance that such cases either will be Murder or Culpable Homicide not amounting to murder.
Nonetheless, homicide, in every case may not necessarily be murder or culpable homicide not amounting to murder, but it can also be a case of hurt or grievous hurt or causing death by negligence which are altogether different offences punishable under various sections of Indian Penal Code. It is only where homicide is caused intentionally or knowingly that such cases would fall within the ambit of culpable homicide. Hence, when the victim was suffering from a disease of which accused has no knowledge and the accused inflicts such an intentional injury which is not likely to cause death in the ordinary course of nature, causes death of such ailing person won’t be considered as a case of culpable homicide because knowledge of illness is must before invoking liability for murder under clause (2) of Section 300.
To illustrate the gravity of this issue, it is necessary to look at some of the cases decided in this regard by the Supreme Court of India and various High Courts. For instance, in Balbir Singh & Others vs. State of Punjab  the Punjab and Haryana High Court had held accused accountable under sec. 304 part II of IPC for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The deceased was already suffering from the disease of enlarged heart and some blockade in the artery of which accused were unaware. Deceased was attacked and assaulted by the accused in such a manner that all the accused took the deceased in their grip. They pressed him and threw him on the ground. Subsequently, all the accused left the spot. When deceased’s aides came to the spot, they found that he has already died. The medical report of the deceased found that there were no internal injuries, and the cause of death was due to cardiac arrest as a result of ischemic heart disease (for short I.H.D), which was sufficient to cause death in the normal course of nature.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court, instead of interpreting Explanation 1 of section 299 as a mere explanation clarifying the issue of the cause of death, misunderstood it as one of the cases of culpable homicide, consequently, held them liable under sec. 304-part II IPC for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The said High Court failed to appreciate the fact the liability under section 299 arises only because of intention or knowledge. In this case, the concerned court assumed the knowledge on the part of the accused about the illness of deceased, as there was no fact which establishes that the accused were having knowledge about the enlarged heart of the deceased nonetheless Punjab and Haryana High Court held them liable under sec. 304 part II IPC by invoking the Explanation 1 of section 299 to cover this case as one of the cases of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Furthermore, the Court also failed to appreciate the law that Clause 2 of section 300 IPC covers such cases of homicide wherein if the death is caused with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused is murder and punishable under section 302 and not under section 304 Part II of IPC.
This misreading of explanation 1 is not a new phenomenon, in the year 1943 the Hon’ble Allahabad High Court in Munni Lal vs. Emperor  case convicted the accused under section 304 part II for culpable homicide even though the accused was unaware of the enlarged spleen which was found in the medical report as the cause of death. In this case, the prime accused Munni Lal along with his nephew Megh nath chased the deceased and Meghnath with a stick blow knocked the deceased down. Subsequently, Munni Lal sat on deceased chest and began to strangle him and suddenly deceased died. The medical report found many injuries which include fracture of ribs and of the windpipe, but the actual cause of death was the shock and internal bleeding due to the rupture of spleen which was significantly enlarged of which accused had no knowledge. The report further suggested that had that spleen was not enlarged, deceased would not have died of other injuries including fracture of ribs, and despite this the Allahabad High Court convicted the accused under section 304 part II for culpable homicide. The operative part reads as follows:
Section 304, second part must be read with the last few words of S.299. It has no reference to S.300 or to the exceptions mentioned therein and must not be confused with culpable homicide not amounting to murder. When a man kneels on the body of another and presses his throat with great violence he knows he is likely to cause death and if death results of strangulation, the knowledge merges into intention and he is guilty of murder under S.300 firstly, unless he can obtain the benefit of any of the exceptions to S.300. But when during the act of strangulation the victim dies suddenly due to rupture of the enlarged spleen and the enlargement of the spleen was not known to the accused and the other injuries would not have been sufficient to cause death if spleen had not been ruptured the accused’s knowledge stops short of intention and the case comes under S.304 part 2.
Similarly, in another case wherein the accused had beaten the deceased with fist and leg blows but as per the medical report the death has been caused due to cardiac arrest which could be on account of fear of beating nevertheless the High Court held the accused guilty for culpable homicide not amounting under section 304 part II of the Indian Penal Code.
Equally, in the case of Sundaram vs. State of Andhra Pradesh deceased’s medical report suggested that the cause of death was the shock from the injuries leading to the cardio-respiratory failure, despite this, the Supreme Court observed that there exist grey area concerning the exact cause of death and accordingly held that the accused can’t be convicted under section 302 for murder and find him guilty for the offence of culpable homicide punishable under 304 of the Indian Penal Code. In another case accused attacked the deceased with knife and hit the abdomen and afterward ran away with weapon. After that, the deceased was taken to hospital immediately and the doctor operated the deceased and stitched the wound, but the deceased died of cardiac arrest the next day. The Medical report found the injury fatal, but it was not clear whether the cardiac arrest occurred due to the injury caused by the accused.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court observed that cardiac arrest may have occurred due to subsequent supervening event as it cannot be said with certainty from the available evidence that the cardiac arrest occurred due to the injury inflicted by the accused nevertheless held that the offence committed by the accused is culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable under section 304 part II of Indian Penal Code.
In all these cases of homicide it is evident that respective Courts held accused liable under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code even though the actual cause of death was not attributable to the injury caused by the accused. It is a well-established principle that liability for culpable homicide can arise only when it is established with evidence that the accused act or injury caused the death of the deceased and otherwise not, whatsoever the case may be.
The courts have failed to realise this very basic and essential requirement in all of these case due to the misreading of first two explanations of section 299 as the cases actually referring to circumstances in which the presence or absence of certain factors in causing death nevertheless treated as culpable homicide instead of understanding these two explanations as the clarifications on the question of cause of death which is the first and foremost requirement before invoking accused’s liability for culpable homicide amounting or not amounting to murder under sections 302 and 304 respectively.
Not only the Indian Courts but many illustrious commentators and jurists have misunderstood the explanation 1 and 2 in terms of offence of culpable homicide. For instance, Morgan and MacPherson instead of interpreting the meaning of explanation 1 as a clarification on the cause of death misconstrues the action of the accused person as an offence and him as an offender, which has accelerated the death of the deceased who is already ailing under an illness and going to die soon. He writes,
An offence affecting the life of a person who must soon die, either from a mortal disease or in the course of nature from old age and decay, is not less offence than one which affects the life of a person in strong health. The offender causes death in one case by accelerating that event by a few months, or days, or hours; in the other case, possibly, he hastens the event by many years.
In the same vein eminent Scholar R.A. Nelson in his commentary of Indian Penal Code also misconstrued the meaning of Explanation 1 of Section 299 into the culpability of homicide rather than limiting the meaning of the explanation 1 only to question of cause of death. For that end, illustrious scholar assumed the presence of the two essential elements (i.e., intention and knowledge) in the statutory provision of explanation 1, without which a liability for culpable homicide cannot arise at all. As he writes in the interpretation of explanation 1,
“The explanation assumes that the bodily injury was inflicted with the intention of causing death or the knowledge that it would be likely to cause death.”
Similarly, illustrious commentator PSA Pillai has also misunderstood the meaning of attached explanations 1 and 2 as follows,
The definition itself provides for three circumstances, wherein the presence or absence of certain factors in causing death is nevertheless treated as causing culpable homicide. These circumstances are dealt with in explanations 1-3.
Equally, notable jurist Ratanlal & Dhirajlal instead of constructing the meaning of explanation 1 as a clarification on the question of cause of death, misread it as one of cases of culpable homicide. Accordingly, when he realizes that the requisite mens rea of culpable homicide is not present in the statutory language of explanation 1, he suggested that explanation 1 should be read by assuming the presence of one of the elements of the offence of culpable homicide,
A person causing bodily injury to another who is labouring under a disorder, disease, or bodily infirmity, and thereby accelerating the death of that other, is deemed to have ‘caused his death’. But one of the elements of the offence of culpable homicide must be present.
Similar view is expressed by Prof. S.N. Mishra as well. All these jurists failed to appreciate the fact that Explanation 1 is merely clarifying the question of cause of death of such cases of homicide, where it would have been difficult to ascertain whether the death is caused by the act or bodily injury of the accused or by pre-existing disease.
It is clear from the above that how scholars have misconstrued the meaning of explanations 1 and 2 into as one of the situations for culpable homicide. Additionally, these two explanations make no mention of the mental state of intention or knowledge, which is the sine quo non for section 299 to apply, but these commentators and jurists assume the presence of intention or knowledge on the part of the accused to bring it up as one of the liabilities for culpable homicide rather than taking it as a clarification on the question of the cause of death. However, it is not that every scholar has misunderstood the meaning of explanation 1 as a case of culpable homicide rather than construing it as a clarification on cause of death. Notable commentator Sir Mayne has very rightly interpreted its meaning into cause of death, which reads as follows,
“Explanation 1 of section 299 recognizes the rule of common law that even if a person is actually dying, any injury which accelerates the death is deemed to be cause of it.”
Therefore, to be charged with culpable homicide the accused must have caused death by doing an act with the intention to cause death, or with the intention to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death or with the knowledge that he is, by such act, likely to cause death. Despite this, Courts have clarified it that wherein the injury was not such as is likely to cause death in the ordinary course of nature but if death occurs due to any pre-existing disease of which accused has no knowledge, it won’t be an offence under section 299 i.e. culpable homicide.
“Cause of Death”: The First Essential Condition for Determining Culpable Homicide
The Section 299 begins with the words ‘whoever causes death’ which signifies that the liability of culpable homicide can emanates only when death is caused by the act of human being i.e., homicide. Notably, not every case of homicide is punishable. There may be situations when a person won’t be liable for homicide. Such as, killing in self-defence, or in pursuance of a lawful authority, or by reason of a mistake of fact, etc., is not punishable under the law. Similarly, wherein death is caused due to accident or misfortune, or by doing an act in good faith or with no malafide intention for the benefit of the deceased, the accused is exempted from criminal liability for such nature of homicide. Thus, killing of a human being by another human being when committed intentionally, knowingly, rashly, or negligently is punishable under the various sections of Indian Penal Code. As a result, the criminal liability under section 299 i.e., for culpable homicide originates when the death is caused intentionally or knowingly. Whereas when the death is caused by rash and negligent act, it is punishable under section 304-A, and if the death is caused by accident, then it is exonerated under section 80. Thus, firstly, it becomes important to ascertain the cause of death in case of homicide, only then the liability under section 299 can be invoked. It is not necessary that the cause of death be direct.
If we consider the above-mentioned law carefully, we will notice that in the first two explanations there is no mention of the word culpable homicide while in the third explanation it is clearly stated. This is because, the first two explanations of section 299 do not deal at all with the blameworthiness of culpable homicide but focus solely on the question of the cause of death. Whereas the explanation 3 is completely different from the first two explanations wherein the liability of culpable homicide is discussed rather than the cause of death, which arises only when any part of the child comes out of the mother’s womb and death is caused to such child, it would amount to culpable homicide irrespective of the fact whether the child was fully born or not. But, causing death to a child who is still (and completely) in the mother’s womb won’t amount to culpable homicide.
Now, naturally, the question arises here as to why the first two explanations provides the clarification for the issue of cause of death while the section is essentially defining the offence of culpable homicide. This is because the issue of ’cause of death’ is the first and foremost requirement to be established for the application of section 299 which in many cases of homicide becomes very difficult to ascertain. The term “whoever causes death” of section 299 may seem simple enough to understand, but in many cases of homicide, this phrase becomes very important term in determining the actual cause of death. As, it has to be ascertained in every case of homicide before the application of section 299 whether the accused’s act has caused the death of the deceased or some other supervening causes which is so unrelated to the act of the accused.
The section 299 commences with the phrase ‘whoever causes death’ which establishes the fact that in order to invoke the application of section 299 it is first and foremost essential condition to establish that the accused’s act has caused the death only then the question of culpable homicide could arise. And only when this condition is satisfied, the other important elements i.e. intention or knowledge of section 299 comes into play. Notably, the liability of culpable homicide is designed on the mental elements of intention and knowledge in section 299. Therefore, even when the death is caused by the act of accused but without the requisite intention or knowledge specified in section 299, such homicide won’t amount to culpable homicide.
The Courts also in several cases has underlined the importance for such verification is to appreciate whether the cause of death is a direct result of the accused’s act or not. The connection between the primary cause and the death should not be too remote. There needs to have a proximate causal link between the two. The test for the determination of cause of death in section 299 necessitates that the homicide must be a direct consequence of the accused’s act as any other intervening or supervening cause of death which is independent or unconnected with the injuries caused to the deceased won’t be able to attract the application of section 299 i.e. Culpable Homicide.
Difficulty in Ascertaining Cause of Death
It is now well established from the above, the question of cause of death is the first and foremost condition to be clarified before invoking liability for culpable homicide. However, it is to be borne in mind that there lies difficulty in ascertaining actual cause of death wherein inconspicuous multiple causation comes into play which ultimately resulted in the death of the victim. For instance,
- A person who must soon die due to disease or illness he’s already suffering from or old age, has received an injury by an accused which hasten the death.
- A person sustained an injury by an accused for which surgical operation is performed on him but ultimately dies.
- Accused caused the fatal injury which could be cured by the proper medical remedies and skillful treatment, but the man refuses to undergo such treatment or received such treatment but failed to observe the medical advice or somehow not able to get such medical treatment due to which he dies.
In the above-mentioned scenarios and other like manner cases, it becomes quite difficult to ascertain the actual cause of death. As the connection between the accused’s injury and the death could seems to be direct and distinct but not immediate. In each of the mentioned scenarios the deceased would not have died, had he not received an injury from the accused because it is very evident from the fact and circumstances of each case that some other supervening factors which were more immediate have caused the death. However, wherein death is caused due to the intervention of subsequent cause although the connection between the death and the injury is direct and distinct, but if other subsequent causes are distinct from and independent of the injury then such injury won’t be considered as the cause of death even in such cases accused is acting intentionally or knowingly. For instance, a, hoping that B, his enemy, will catch smallpox, induces him to visit an area where the disease is widespread. As a result, B gets smallpox and subsequently dies from it. Here of course, it seems that A’s act has ultimately resulted in the death of B, but so far and so dependent on so many contingencies that it can hardly be said that he killed him.
The crucial aspect that plays a vital part in identifying the cause of death is whether or not any intervening act breaks the chain of causation. In order to hold the accused’s person’s act liable for the death, it must be proven that factual and legal causation must concur. It is a well settled principle of ‘Egg Shell Rule’ that the accused must ‘‘take their victim as they find them’. Explanation 1 & 2 of Sec 299 are based on this principle wherein accused action is deemed to have caused the death of the victim.
Hence, the very rationale behind attaching first two explanations in section 299 is to clarify certain circumstances wherein it becomes difficult to ascertain the cause of death. As the establishment of cause of death is sine quo non for the liability of culpable homicide, the prosecution needs to establish the proximate cause of death and it is not required to exhaust all causes that may lead to a disease or ailment. In Simpler case of death where death results directly from the act of the accused, the ascertainment of cause of death won’t poses any difficulty. But, where the death is caused by remote or indirect causes, it becomes quite difficult to establish the exact cause of death. Consequently, causes of such cases of death should be ascertained in the light of explanation 1 and 2 of section 299. For that reason, in State of Kerala v. Narayanankutty the Kerala High Court tried to clarify the understanding in determination of cause of death in the following words,
An act is said to cause death when death results from the act itself or from some consequences necessarily or naturally flowing from the act, and reasonably contemplated as its result. Where without the intervention of any considerable change of circumstances death is connected with the act of violence by a chain of causes and effects, death must be regarded as the proximate and not too remote a consequence of the act. The cause must not only be the causa sine qua non, but it must also be a cause reasonably proximate; but the doctrine of criminal causation has reasonable limits.
Accordingly, only in cases of death wherein the intervening cause and its consequences thereof could not have been foreseen by the accused or by the man of ordinary prudence, accused’s act could be absolved as the cause of death, otherwise consequences necessarily or naturally flowing from the accused act will be considered as the cause of death. As the determination of cause of death doesn’t pose any problem in most of the cases of the death in which the death has resulted from the direct injury of the accused but becomes difficult in cases where the death is not directly caused by the injury of the accused but due to a complication or development or in a case where death is not immediate but gets delayed. Accordingly, in order to provide clarity on the difference of direct and remote causes in cases of death, framers of the Indian Penal Code suggested,
There is undoubtedly a great difference between acts which cause death immediately, and acts which cause death, remotely; between acts which are almost certain to cause death, and acts which cause death only under extraordinary circumstances. But that difference, we conceive, is a matter to be considered by the tribunals when estimating the effect of the evidence in a particular case, not by the legislature in framing the general rule.
Similarly, Halsbury’s Law of England clarifies the law on the question of cause of death as follows,
For the purposes of offences of homicide, a person causes the death of another where by any act or omission he accelerates the death of that other. The act or omission need not be the sole or the substantial cause but ii must be one of the causes, and one that is more than minimal. It is, therefore, possible to have two or more independent operative causes of death, and any person whose conduct constitutes a cause may be convicted of an offence in respect of the death.
This means that in order to determine the true cause of death, the causal relationship between the act and the death must be direct and unmistakable. It does not have to be immediate, but it should not be too far away. Thus, if the relationship between the act and death is ambiguous or or if there are concurrent contributory causes that make the questioned act as a substantial cause highly improbable, or if the link between the act and death is severed by the involvement of a subsequent cause, the questioned act will not be considered as the true cause of death. As there may be numerous cases where the connection between the cause and effect is not only definite but obvious nonetheless such cases in which death is remote and highly improbable consequence of the act would not attract criminal responsibility unless done with the criminal intention or knowledge.
Noteworthy, the Supreme Court in a case observed that the cause of death need not be direct, but it is also equally important that there is proximate causal connection between the primary cause and the death. The causal connection should not be too remote. There needs to have a proximate causal link between the two. Additionally, wherein the cause of death is mainly due to injury of the accused but bleeding and resultant heart failure are the effects of such injury, then in such cases these effects won’t be treated as different causes of death. Similarly, wherein acid burnt victim has stayed alive and developed other complications for few days in an intentional acid burn case, still accused’s act of throwing acid will be considered as the cause of death bearing direct nexus between the burn injuries and resultant death. However, where homicide is a result of intervening superadded secondary haemorrhage caused due to secondary infection, then in such circumstances death may not be said to be a direct result of the injuries caused to the deceased. But if the supervening causes in a case of death can be attributed to the injuries inflicted by the accused even if the death was not the direct result of the injuries then in such case accused’s injury shall be deemed to be the cause of death. Similarly, the Kerala High Court held accused liable for murder, where the victim was stabbed in the back and suffered a spinal cord injury, which paralyzed her lower limbs and caused her to have bed-sores, and ultimately leads to the death of that women after several months. However, it is notable that where the intent to cause death is clearly stated, it does not matter that the death was caused by a remote cause. The cause of death may be determined on broad probabilities. Hence, when the death is principally owing to an injury caused by the accused, and bleeding and subsequent heart failure are the consequences of that injury, they will not be classified as separate causes of death. Furthermore, where a person is burned with acid, the fact that the victim lived for a few days and developed other complications during that period does not negate the clear link between the injuries and death.
Tapping the Correct Understanding and Rationale of Explanation 1 & 2
So far it has been made clear that before invoking the liability of culpable homicide under section 299 of IPC, the Court must ascertain the actual cause of death. Accordingly, explanations 1 and 2 are appended to Section 299 to provide clarity on the question of cause of death in specific cases of homicide wherein the act causing death operates not alone but other supervening causes also contribute to bring about that result. Consequently, these two explanations clear up the law that in such perplexed cases of homicides wherein it becomes difficult to ascertain the actual cause of death that the injury caused by the accused person shall be treated as the cause of death or not. For that very reason in the first two explanations there is no mention of the word ‘culpable homicide’ which is, however, present in the third explanation of the Section 299 but many jurists and scholars have failed to comprehend this. This very clearly depicts the legislative intention of the framer of the code that the first two explanations are not at all discussing the culpability of culpable homicide but only clarifies the question of death.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the two specific circumstances of homicide mentioned in Explanations 1 and 2 of section 299 are not the exhaustive situations in which the accused’s act is to be regarded as the cause of death, but only illustrative. The fact of the matter is that accused’s act shall be deemed to have caused the death in every such case of homicide wherein death has resulted from the act itself or from some necessary consequence or the consequence which naturally flowed from the act and the result of the act was reasonably contemplated. In such cases of death, the court, however, before imposing the liability of an accused person for culpable homicide, needs to address the question of cause of death by weighing the evidence to see which of the two causes i.e., bodily injury or disease is the real cause of death. It is, however, not necessary in such cases of homicide that such evidence should enable the court to assign the two causes and the degree in which each of such causes contributed to the homicide. What is required that the Court must be satisfied (1) that the death at the time when it occurs is not caused solely by the disease in which the deceased person already from (2) that death must be caused by the bodily injury of the accused in such a manner that it has accelerated the death.
Similarly, explanation 2 also provides clarification on the question of death in cases wherein the deceased, to whom injury was caused by the accused, could have recovered and the death could have been avoided if prompt and proper medical treatment had been given to him. In such situations too, bodily injury inflicted in the first place by the accused shall be treated as the cause of death even though the deceased eventually dies of not getting the proper remedies and skillful treatment. Notably, here again the culpability of the accused person is not what has been discussed rather only the question of cause of death is being clarified. In clarification of the phrase ‘Proper remedies and skillful treatment’ from explanation 2, illustrious scholars Morgan and Macpherson write as follows
“Proper remedies and skillful treatment” may not be within the reach of the wounded man; or, if they are at hand he may be unable or unwilling to resort to them. But this is immaterial so far as relates to the due interpretation of the words “cause of death.” The primary cause which sets in motion some other cause, -as the severe wound which induces gangrene or fever, -and the ultimate effect, death, are sufficiently connected as cause and effect, notwithstanding that supervening sickness or disease might have been cured by medical skill. All that it is essential is to establish is, that the death has been caused by the bodily injury, and, if there be any intervening cause, that is connected with a sufficient degree of probability with the primary one.
Accordingly, in Kishore Singh v. State of M. Pcase wherein accused inflicted grievous injuries to the deceased. Afterwards, the deceased had undergone a head operation which was successful. Doctor’s report suggested that the injuries caused to the skull were likely to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. The deceased recovered from the operation but died after the gap of one from operation. The post- mortem report establishes that death was due to the previous injury caused to scalp, the chest and the complications which followed from the same. The court held that in reaching conclusion whether the inflicted injuries were sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature, the possibility that the efficient and skillful medical treatment might have prevented the fatal consequence is totally irrelevant. However, one must be remindful of the fact that in all such cases of death wherein the inflicted injury has only caused a slight wound or hurt but the accused did not resort to the “proper remedies and skillful treatment” which ultimately aggravated the injury in such a manner that it resulted into the death, such injury won’t be considered as the cause of death. Consequently, in such circumstances, the death must be linked with the act or bodily injury or other primary cause, not only by a chain of causes and effects, but by such direct influence as is calculated to produce the effect without the intervention of any significant change of circumstance. Too, the Court of Appeal in R v Blaue held that refusal of medical treatment does not break chain of causation nevertheless it might have saved the life of the deceased. Similarly, the Court of Criminal Appeal in R v Malcherek held that the discontinuance of life support system does not break chain of causation. Lord Parker, CJ in R v Smith held as follows,
“If at the time of death the original wound is still an operating cause and a substantial cause, then the death can properly be said to be the result of the wound, albeit that some other cause of death is also operating. Only if it can be said that the original wounding is merely the setting in which another cause operates can it be said that the death did not result from the wound. Putting it another way, only if the second cause is so overwhelming as to make the original wound merely part of the history can it be said that the death does not flow from the wound.”
Hence, it is clear that the explanations 1 and 2 clarifies the perplexity in determining the cause of death by establishing the rule that the death must be a direct consequence of the injuries inflicted on the deceased. Intervening or supervening cause, if any, should not be independent or unconnected with the injuries sustained by the deceased. The prosecutor must demonstrate both factual and proximate (legal) causation in order to secure a conviction. The guiding principle in this respect is that the accused’s conduct will be regarded the proximate cause of death if the death occurs as a “natural and probable consequence” of the acts. Moreover, there must be no intervening circumstance that is sufficient to break the chain of causation.
To sum up the whole discussion, it is submitted that explanation 1 and 2 of Section 299 has been misunderstood for decades as one of the cases of culpable homicide, leading to many erroneous decisions by the courts. Explanations 1 and 2 of Section 299 does not at all deals with the culpability of homicide rather it only clarifies the question of death which is the first and foremost criteria to be established in order to invoke the liability of the accused for culpable homicide. As it is clear from the discussion that the question of culpability for homicide arises only when it is done with requisite mens rea under section 299 i.e., intention or knowledge. Hence the accused’s act causing death without ‘requisite intention’ or ‘knowledge’ provided under section 299 cannot be culpable homicide but may be punishable under hurt or grievous hurt or section 304-A i.e. causing death by negligence.
The question of culpability for homicide arises only when it is done with requisite mens rea under section 299 i.e., intention or knowledge. Even if it is established that the death is caused by the act of the accused, but the accused had no knowledge or intention that the injury caused by him would endanger life or would likely cause but which in normal circumstances would not do so, the accused would not be liable for causing culpable homicide but may be liable for causing hurt or the grievous hurt depending upon the nature of the injury caused. The liability under Explanation 1 for causing culpable homicide would not arise where the injury inflicted by the accused person was not of such a nature that was likely to cause death but the victim died because his heart was weak and dilated, and there was no intention on the part of the accused to cause death and he had no knowledge about the heart disease the deceased was suffering from, it was held that the offence did not fall under this Section.
Whereas, if the act of the accused, which caused death, is done with intent to cause such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused is murder under section 300 and punishable under 302 of the IPC unless such case of murder falls under any of the exceptions of the Section 300 which is punishable under 304 of the IPC. It means that even if it is established that accused deliberate act has aggravated the underlying disease which ultimately resulted into the death of such person but if accused wasn’t aware of such underlying disease and his act was not likely to cause death of an ordinary person, he can’t be held liable for the culpable homicide defined under 299 of IPC. Hence, it clearly establishes the fact that the explanations 1 and 2 only answers the question pertaining to the cause of death when it becomes difficult in some cases of homicide to ascertain the real cause of death. Once it is cleared out that the accused act has caused the death then only second level inquiry starts concerning intention or knowledge.
The Author of this manuscript is Tauheed Alam, Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun.
 Section 299. Culpable homicide. —whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide.
Explanation 1. —A person who causes bodily injury to another who is labouring under a disorder, disease or bodily infirmity, and thereby accelerates the death of that other, shall be deemed to have caused his death.
Explanation 2. —where death is caused by bodily injury, the person who causes such bodily injury shall be deemed to have caused the death, although by resorting to proper remedies and skillful treatment the death might have been prevented.
Explanation 3. —The causing of the death of child in the mother’s womb is not homicide. But it may amount to culpable homicide to cause the death of a living child, if any part of that child has been brought forth, though the child may not have breathed or been completely born.
 Section 46, The Indian Penal Code, 1860
 AIR 1966 SC 148
 (Crl. Appeal No 877-SB of 2004)
 Munni Lal Vs. Emperor A.I.R (30) 1943
 Himachal Pradesh Vs. Tejinder Singh 2015(1) SimLC 104
 2000(1) JT 443
 Augustin alias Babu V. State of Kerela, 1994 Supreme Court Cases (Crl.) 1152
 Morgan W. and A.G. Macpherson, The Indian Penal Code, (Act. XLV. of 1860) with notes. 227, Calcutta and London G.C. Hay & Co., 1861.
 R.A. Nelson, Indian Penal Code 2617, Lexis Nexis, 3rd Vol, 10th edn., 2008.
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 Section 299 of Indian Penal Code.
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 Moti Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1964 SC 900; Joginder Singh v State of Punjab, AIR 1979 SC 1876
 Yashwant vs The State Of Maharashtra, (2018) 4MLJ (Crl)10(SC). It was observed that Section 299 of IPC indicates two types of causations, one the factual causation and the second the legal causation. Coming to the factual causation, it is a matter of fact as to whether the action of the accused caused death of the person. But the second aspect concerns itself, whether the death can be sufficiently imputed to the accused’s action as being responsible legally.
 R v Blaue (1975) 61 Cr App R 271
 Pritam Singh v State of Punjab, AIR 1993 SC 2604
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 Anderson, G. W., Macleod, J. M., Millett, F., Baron Macaulay, T. B. M., A Penal Code. India 56, Printed at the Bengal Military Orphan Press, by G.H. Huttmann. 1837
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 For instance, a very slight nervous shock might kill a person as effectively as a shot or a stab injury who is suffering from a heart disease or sudden communication of bad news can cause the death of a sick person as effectively as a man hanging over a steep precipice might be killed by loosening of a stone or a root.
 Moti Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1964 SC 900
 State of Rajasthan v Dhool Singh, AIR 2004 SC 1264
 Sudershan Kumar v State of Delhi, AIR 1974 SC 2328
 Dev Raj v State of Punjab, AIR 1992 SC 950
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 AIR 1958 Ker 207
 Patel Hiralal Joitaram v State of Gujarat, AIR 2001 SC 2944
 State of Rajasthan v Dhool Singh, AIR 2004 SC 1264
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 Supra note 9 at P 228
 (1977) 4 SCC
 Supra note 9 at 229
 (1975) 61 Cr App R 271.
 (1981) 2 All ER 422 (CA)
 (1959) 2 All ER 193