This article is written by Anindita Deb, pursuing BBA.LLB. from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This article covers Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code in a detailed manner. 

This article has been published by Shoronya Banerjee.

Introduction

Apart from crimes against humans, the State, marriage, and public order, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 also includes crimes against property. These provisions are included in Chapter 17 of the Code. Theft, extortion, robbery, dacoity, and other aggravated variations of these crimes are examples of such offences. Theft is the most basic and widespread offence against property under the IPC. 

This article discusses the punishment of theft under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code, and its related provisions. 

Theft 

Theft is defined in Section 378 of the IPC as the dishonest removal of moveable property “out of the possession of any person” without that person’s consent. The Code contains five explanations for the said definition, each of which is accompanied by 16 examples.

In theft, intent (in any form, such as dishonesty) plays a significant role. However, Section 378 (Illustration clause ‘p’) suggests that if something is taken under a claim of right, the thing taken cannot be dishonest if the claim is fair, good, and bona fide. As a result, such taking cannot be considered theft.

Ingredients for theft

The crime of theft constitutes several ingredients or requirements. To complete the offence of theft, all of these requirements must be met. The criminal is not guilty of theft if any of them are missing. The following are the key attributes of theft that must be proven in any given case in order to punish a person under the provisions of Section 379, which lays down the punishment for theft:

1. Dishonest intention to take property

When committing theft, it is essential that the criminal has dishonest intent. Dishonest intent generally means that the offender causes the victim to suffer unfair losses while gaining wrongful profit.

Dishonest intent to take property is one of the important components in the crime of theft. One of the most crucial deciding factors in determining whether or not an act is a theft is the intention. At the time of the moving property, the intent to theft must be present.

The prosecution bears the entire burden of establishing that the defendant had this dishonest intent. The defendant is not guilty of theft if he or she did not intend to commit theft.

2. The property must be movable

The stolen property must always be movable rather than immovable. Therefore, no one can commit theft of land, buildings, or other valuables. Theft does not apply to things connected to the earth that are not movable. Once they are detached from the soil, they might become movable properties under Section 378. Trees, for example, are immovable property, but if someone cuts them down and removes them, he is committing theft.

3. Taking the property out of possession without consent

The prosecutor must have possession of the property in question, but he does not have to be the owner. In addition, the culprit must deliberately remove the property from the prosecutor’s possession. Thus, simply claiming ownership of a property does not suffice; the offender must also take possession of it.

Second, he must take possession of the property without the consent of the prosecutor. This consent might be expressed or implied.

4. Property must be moved

The offender must move the property in order to complete the theft and acquire possession of it. To put it in another way, simply having physical possession isn’t enough; he needs to move it under his actual control.

Removing an obstruction that is stopping the property from moving is equivalent to moving. For example, merely opening the doors of a garage in order to drive a car out of it will also constitute theft. 

Larceny and theft : what is the difference

Larceny is defined as the unlawful taking of another person’s personal property with the goal to deprive them of it. Petty or simple larceny is usually a misdemeanour, involving the theft of property valued at less than the local threshold for grand larceny, whereas grand larceny is usually a felony. Theft, on the other hand, is when someone takes someone else’s property with the goal of depriving the rightful owner of it.

As a result, we can deduce that larceny is a type of theft limited to personal property. Furthermore, we can also deduce that theft is a broad phrase that encompasses larceny. Hence, we can conclude that larceny and stealing are two distinct crimes.

Section 379 : what are the provisions

Theft is punishable under Section 379 of the IPC by up to three years in prison, a fine, or both. Other sections that follow contain harsher penalties for theft in aggravating circumstances. Theft in a building, tent, or vessel used for housing or residence, for example, is punishable under Section 380 of the IPC. The purpose of this provision is to increase the security of properties in residential properties. This carries a penalty of up to 7 years in prison as well as a monetary fine. 

Nature of Section 379 

Bailable or non-bailableNon-bailable 
Cognizable or non-cognizableCognizable 
Compoundable or non-compoundableNon-compoundable 
Triable by Any magistrate 

Extortion

Extortion, according to Section 383 of the Indian Penal Code, is an act of putting someone in fear of danger or other damage in order to gain his property or any other valuable object.

The following illustration can help you understand the definition of extortion:

X warns Y that if Y does not pay Rs.1 crore on his birthday, he will kill his wife. This is an obvious case of extortion on the part of X.

The principal purpose of Section 383 is to obtain the delivery of property or any other valuable thing by dishonest inducement. To be more specific, extortion requires the desire to inflict unlawful loss to one party and wrongful gain to another.

Ingredients for extortion

In order to qualify as a crime of extortion, the following ingredients must be present:

  1. Intentionally putting another person in danger: The individual must have the purpose to create unlawful gain to one person and wrongful loss to another in a way that puts another person in danger. To be considered extortion, the property must be delivered in person.
  2. The intention of which is to deceitfully induce the person who is put in fear: The goal of the crime should have been to enhance the offence of extortion.
  3. To deliver property or valuable security: For the clause to apply in its entirety, the actual transaction must have happened, if at all, and for whatever reasons.

How is extortion different from theft

Extortion differs from theft in a number of ways, as the two terms are completely different. Some of the distinctions are listed below.

When it comes to distinguishing between theft and extortion, the delivery of property is a key issue. Theft occurs when the property is removed or taken without the agreement of the person who owns the thing in question. Extortion involves the handover of property with consent that has been obtained illegally by instilling fear.

Extortion can be used against both immovable and moveable objects. In the event of theft, however, only a moveable object can be the target.

The mode of delivery of the property is another major distinguishing feature. The property is taken by the offender without the approval of the property’s possessor in the event of theft. As a result, we can deduce that the item is taken by the offender in the case of theft, and the mode of delivery is the dishonest intention on the part of the culprit. In the instance of extortion, however, the property is transferred to the offender by the person in possession of the property because he or she has been convinced to fear danger to himself or to a person of his or her interest. Hence, extortion is carried out by acquiring the approval of the property owner, although this is done wrongfully.

The table below will help sum up the differences between extortion and theft:

Factor of differenceTheftExtortion
Defining Section(In IPC)Section 378Section 383
ConsentNo consent is obtained.Consent is obtained, but wrongfully.
PropertyOnly movable property is the subject of the offence.Both movable and immovable property may be the subject of the offence.
Element of ForceNo force is usedUse of force is employed.
Factor of FearNo factor of fear exists.A factor of fear does exist.
ScopeNarrow : as it covers only the cases of movable property.Wide: as it covers any kind of property, valuable security, or anything that may be converted into a valuable security.
EffectProperty is dishonestly removed.Property is delivered due to fear of injury.

Case laws 

In the case of Nobin Chunder Holder, (1866) 6 WR (Cr) 79, the accused discovered some outside fisherman poaching on his master’s fisheries while acting in the best interests of his owner. He took control of their nets and kept them under his control. The court determined that his purpose was to safeguard his master’s interests rather than to steal the fishermen’s nets. It was held that the accused cannot be punished under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code. 

In the case of Shriram v. Thakurdas, (1978)  the Chief Officer of the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai demolished an unlawful construction. He, the overseer, and others were accused of stealing the debris that had accumulated. They removed debris without intending to generate a wrongful gain, according to the Court. As a result, it is not a theft.

The prosecution demonstrated in State of Himachal Pradesh v. Prem Singh (1989) that the government owns the forest and that the trees were cut down by the accused. It was held by the court that it was theft and the accused was punishable under Section 379.

In Pyare Lal Bhargava v. State of Rajasthan (1963), The appellant accused was found guilty under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code. He was a Superintendent in the Chief Engineer’s office when he had a file removed from the Secretariat by a clerk, took it home, and gave it to his friend, the co-accused, who replaced certain documents with others. The Court held that removing an office file from a Chief Engineer’s office for a day or two and making it available to a private individual for a day or two is theft since the act fulfills all the ingredients of theft under Section 378 of IPC and can be punished under Section 379.

The Court stated in State of Maharashtra v. Vishwanath (1979), in which 5 accused were involved in the transfer of possession of seven tyres and seven tubes from a railway shed, that the transfer of possession of movable property without the consent of the person in possession does not have to be permanent or for a long period of time, nor does it have to be found in the accused’s custody. Even a temporary transfer will be enough to meet the criteria under Section 378. 

In the case of K. N. Mehra v.The State of Rajasthan (1957), The Appellant attended the Indian Air Force Academy in Jodhpur as a training cadet. Mehra was scheduled to fly in a Dakota as part of his training with Om Prakash, a flying cadet, but Mehra and Phillips took off in a Harvard H.T. 822 at around 5 a.m. (which was not the prescribed time). This was done without any authorization or observance of any of the formalities required for an aircraft flight. They were discovered to have force landed in Pakistan. They contacted the Indian High Commission a few days later, and on their way back to India, they were arrested in Jodhpur and charged with aircraft theft. The Court stated that the absence of the person’s consent at the time of moving and the presence of dishonest intent in so taking at the time are essential ingredients of theft and hence the appellant was rightfully convicted of theft.

Conclusion

Theft is a crime according to Indian criminal law and is punishable under Section 379 of IPC. in order to qualify as theft, it is important that all the ingredients or conditions of theft are met.

Theft differs from extortion and larceny. There are also aggravated forms of theft, i.e., robbery and dacoity. Intention plays a very important role in any theft. This is due to the reason that you cannot steal if you do not intend to do so in the first place. Hence, barely moving property from someone’s possession without any dishonest intention cannot qualify as theft. 

References


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