The devastating effects of explosives have been demonstrated over the years. Bombings conjure horrific scenes of devastation caused in the Ukraine–Russia conflict as well as the continuous bombing of the conflicted Gaza Strip during the Israel–Lebanon conflict. The legislation and implementation of laws to safeguard the world from destruction are paramount. Various nations have introduced legal mechanisms to curb explosives. India has borne the brunt of explosions and has been the victim of countless terrorist attacks.
The Explosive Substances Act of 1908 was enacted to govern the production and use of explosive substances.
History of the Act
Before the Explosive Substances Act was enacted, Section 286 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the only provision to govern explosives. However, this section provisions punishment for negligent conduct of explosive substances. The Punishment prescribed is 6 months of imprisonment or a fine of Rs. 1000 or both. The section is applicable only if human life is endangered due to negligence or failure to take precautions when handling explosives. The IPC failed to address the usage, possession, and production of explosives.
During the Swadeshi Movement, demonstrations were becoming increasingly violent by the day with an increased use of firearms and explosives. Large gatherings, sloganeering, and boycotts have become widespread. The Explosive Substances Act was rolled out to curtail uprisings and put an end to brash bombings in government premises. The British Government wanted to nip the newfound nationalism of students and professionals in the bud. The then Governor General Minto of Earl oversaw the implementation of the Act in 1908. The Act is covered by the purview of the Act. The Act extends to the citizens of India within and outside the country’s territories.
Definition of Explosive Substance
An explosive is a substance that can cause chemical reactions that produce gases at high speeds and temperatures.
As per Section 2 of the Act, explosive substance refers to the following:
- Any machine, material, apparatus, or implement used or adapted for causing an explosion.
- Any part of a machine, implement, or apparatus used or adapted for causing an explosion.
- Any material used for manufacturing an explosive substance.
This section also states that ‘special category explosive substances’ refers to the following:
- Penta Erythritol Tetra Nitrate (PETN)
- Tri Nitro Toluene (TNT)
- Composition Exploding (CE)
- Plastic Explosive Kirkee -1 (PEK-1)
- Research Development Explosive (RDX)
- High Melting Explosive (HMX)
- Low-Temperature Plastic Explosive (LTPE)
- Mixture of tri nitro toluene and high melting explosive (OCTOL)
- TNT/ RDX compounds
- Remote control devices causing explosions
- Any other substances or combinations
The Act details punishment for counselling, abetting, procuring, or aiding the commission of any offence under the Act by soliciting or supplying the provision of premises, materials, or money. Indians were banned from possessing explosive substances. The term explosive substance under the Act has an expansive scope and allows the detention and arrest of suspected persons.
Consequences of causing an explosion that may endanger life or property
Section 3 of the Explosive Substances Act discusses the Punishment provided for maliciously or unlawfully causing an explosion that is likely to endanger life or property. The Punishment prescribed is either rigorous imprisonment for a minimum of 10 years or life imprisonment in addition to a fine. Such punishment is sentenced irrespective of whether an actual injury has been caused to property or person.
In cases in which a special category of explosive substance causes the endangerment of property or life, the punishment prescribed is rigorous imprisonment for life or death in addition to a fine. Actual injury to life or property is not a prerequisite for conviction.
Consequences of possessing or making explosives with intent to endanger property or life or attempting to cause an explosion
The Punishment for maliciously or unlawfully attempting to cause an explosion or for making or keeping explosives with intent to endanger life or property is provided under Section 4 of the Act. Punishment is prescribed as follows:
- Having possession or control over or making a special category explosive substance or a general explosive substance to cause injury to property or endanger life. Enabling another person to do the same is also a crime.
- Conspiring or doing an act with the intention of causing an explosion likely to injure property or endanger life by using a special category of explosive or a general explosive substance.
A conviction for the aforementioned offences shall occur irrespective of whether damage to property or injury to life. Sentencing is also independent of an explosion.
If a general explosive substance is used as the weapon, then the Punishment shall be imprisonment that extends to 10 years or imprisonment for life, in addition to a fine. If a special category of explosive substance is used, the Punishment shall be rigorous imprisonment that extends to 10 years or rigorous imprisonment for life, in addition to a fine.
Punishment for suspiciously possessing or making explosives
An imprisonment for a maximum of 10 years in addition to a fine if an explosive substance and rigorous imprisonment for a maximum of 10 years or rigorous imprisonment for life in addition to a fine in case of a special category of an explosive substance, is prescribed for the following offences:
- Making an explosive substance or a special category of explosive substance.
- Having control over or possessing an explosive or special category of explosive substance.
- Inability to prove that one has made or has control or possession over the explosive for a lawful purpose.
- Controlling, possessing, or making of such explosives for a purpose that is not lawful.
Section 5 of the Explosive Substances Act prescribes the aforementioned provision.
Punishment of abettors
Individuals who counsel, abet, procure, or aid the commission of any offence under the Act shall be punishable as per the provision for that particular offence. Punishment is also prescribed for providing materials or premises and soliciting or supplying money. Thus, as per the Act, the actual commission of an offence is not necessary; merely conspiring or aiding the commission of the offence is sufficient for conviction and sentencing. Additionally, the consent of a District Magistrate is required to try an individual for an offence under this Act.
Sambasivan and Others v. State of Kerala
In this case, a trade union rivalry between INTUC and CITU on one hand and BMS on the other culminated into an atrocious incident. The incident caused injuries to three persons and the death of one individual. The members of the complainant group had been preventing the accused group from working in an industrial estate. The accused group conspired to murder workers of the complainant group using country-made bombs. The accused were convicted and sentenced to life under Sections 302 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, rigorous imprisonment for 7 years under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code, and imprisonment for 5 years under Section 3 of the Explosive Substances Act.
Abdul Gafoor v. State of Delhi and Another
In this case, the accused was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for seven years and a fine of Rs. 15000 under Section 4(b) of the Explosive Substances Act. Additionally, he was also sentenced to rigorous imprisonment of 5 years and a fine of Rs. 15000 under Section 5 of the Act. A further imprisonment of 6 months was to be served in case of default of the fine. The conviction was a result of the accused being in possession of explosives and conspiring to cause deadly explosions.
Harpal Singh v. State of Punjab
The accused was found in possession of 1 kilogram of explosive powder. A trial took place, and the accused was convicted under Section 5 of the Explosive Substances Act of 1908. He was sentenced to 5 years of rigorous imprisonment in addition to a fine liability of Rs. 1000. However, in the appeal, the designated court that carried out the trial did not have jurisdiction to try the offences. Thus, the conviction was ruled to be illegal. An appeal was allowed, and the sentence imposed was set aside.
Despite the enactment of the Explosive Substance Act, the illegal sale and production of explosive substances still prevail. Such practices blind the eyes of the law. The manufacture of explosives is a hazardous process and may cause injuries, permanent disabilities, or even death of factory workers. Moreover, children and adolescents are employed in these workplaces, which endangers their futures. Awareness campaigns should be undertaken to people aware of the ill effects of wrongfully manufacturing, procuring, and using explosives. The Act serves as a vital legislation that is inclusive. The Act aims to punish a wide range of offences in addition to curbing the offences from taking place.
FAQs on Explosive Substances Act
What was the immediate precursor that led to the legislation of the Explosive Substances Act?
The violent uprisings during the Swadeshi movement led to the legislation and enactment of the Explosive Substances Act.
What is the Punishment for attempting to cause an explosion or for making or keeping explosives with intent to endanger life or property?
If a general explosive substance is used, then the Punishment shall be imprisonment that extends to 10 years or imprisonment for life, in addition to a fine. If a special category of explosive substance is used, then Punishment shall be rigorous imprisonment that extends to 10 years or rigorous imprisonment for life, in addition to a fine.
What is the Punishment for making or possessing explosives under suspicious circumstances?
In the case of any explosive substance, imprisonment for a maximum of 10 years in addition to a fine, and in the case of a special category of an explosive substance, rigorous imprisonment for a maximum of 10 years or rigorous imprisonment for life in addition to a fine liability is prescribed.
Which penal provision provides Punishment for the negligent conduct of explosive substances?
Section 286 of the Indian Penal Code details punishment for the negligent conduct of explosive substances.
What is the definition of explosive substance according to the Act?
Explosive substance refers to any machine, material, apparatus, or implement used or adapted for causing an explosion, any part of a machine, implement, or apparatus used or adapted for causing an explosion, or any material used for manufacturing an explosive substance.