IPC
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This article is written by Yatin Gaur, a student, pursuing B.A.LL.B. from Hidayatullah National Law University. In this blog post, the author discusses the offence of Mischief as mentioned under IPC. To substantiate the concept, reference is made to all the Sections covered by the topic, with relevant illustrations and case laws. 

Introduction

Let’s imagine a situation when one fine afternoon, a person named Soham was taking a small nap after a long day of labour. But he gets interrupted by his neighbour’s calf who breaks in his home and starts creating chaos. Infuriated with this sudden disruption, Soham starts abusing his neighbour. This starts up an altercation between the two. In a fit of anger, Soham throws a brick towards his neighbour but by accident, it hits his neighbour’s calf tethering its nasal region & the calf subsequently dies. Soham now approaches his lawyer for legal advice.

This incident gives rise to a lot of legal questions that what will be the nature of this offence? Will it amount to mischief against animals? Or are all the essentials of mischief satisfied ? or the fact that it was an accident and not a deliberate intention to harm the calf will play an important role in deciding the fate of the case? To answer all these questions we have to understand the Law of Mischief and how it can land someone in trouble as per IPC.

What is Mischief 

The definition of mischief is mentioned under Section 425 of IPC & the punishment is prescribed under Section 426 of IPC. Further Section 427 to 440 lays down the specific punishment prescribed for aggravated forms of mischief depending upon the nature & the value of the property damage.

As per the Section 425 of the Indian Penal Code,1860 (hereinafter referred to as IPC) that whenever anyone performs an act either having an intention to cause or is aware that his act is likely to bring, some destruction or damage to any property, destroying or diminishing its value and utility, hence, resulting in an undue loss or damage to the public or any person is said to commit mischief. 

In simpler terms, it can be understood as when an individual intends to perform an act or has the knowledge that his/her act will create hindrance in allowing another person to enjoy the benefit of their property by one means or other, it is called a mischief. However, this act can be even against the public or against a specific person as well.

Objective

The Law of Mischief under IPC is specifically drafted with an objective to provide protection against the destruction of the property causing any wrongful loss or damage to the public or an individual. It is an extension to the legal maxim sic utretuoleadas which means “use your own property, but not in a way that can injure your neighbour’s or other’s property.”

Illustrations

  1. “A” intentionally sets X’s home on fire causing him wrongful loss or injury.
  2. “A” a doctor deliberately prescribed wrong medicine to “B’s” cattle with an intent to cause wrongful loss or injury.
  3. “C” diverts the flow of canal in such a way to prevent “B” from irrigating his field causing him loss by damage of crops.
  4. “B” tears off some important business-related documents of A to cause him financial loss.
  5. “A” deliberately burns off the standing crop that was jointly cultivated by “A” and “B”.
  6. “B” intentionally damages a “signboard“ installed by the order of municipality causing wrongful losses & injury.

Scope of Mischief 

Mischief under Section 425 of IPC covers all those acts that cause any damage or destruction to the property resulting in any wrongful loss or damage. The scope of this section is wide and it applies in the case of both public as well as private damages.

However, the most important point is that it will not have any application in the cases where the element of intention is absent which is further elaborated in this article under the heading of Ingredients of mischief. It is also not essential that the person accused had some valid motive behind or must have been benefited from the act of “mischief”. 

But some other significant questions of consideration are whether this act can be applied in the cases when the accused has damaged his/her own property? Or will it cover situations when the damage caused to the property is a consequence of an illegal act or default in payment?

When accused is the owner of the damaged property 

In the case of Indian Oil Corporation v. NEPC India Ltd. and Ors., the Court held that ownership or possession of the property is not a deciding factor in the matter of the application of section 425 of IPC. Thus, mischief is said to be committed even in cases when the accused is the owner of the property provided all the other essential ingredients mentioned are satisfied.

This is further evident from the illustrations (d) and (e) to Section 425. According to the facts of the above case, the petitioner alleged that the respondent removed the engines of the aircraft diminishing their value and utility. Since the appellants had the right to possess the aircraft it resulted in wrongful loss or injury Hence the Supreme held that the allegations amounted to the offence of mischief as all the essential ingredients of mischief had been satisfied.

Default of Payment or Illegal Act 

In case of disconnection of water supply, sewerage supply, electricity supply, telephone connection, etc., by the concerned departments resulting from the default in payment or an illegal act after following a due process will not come under the ambit of “Mischief”.

Ingredients of Mischief

Essentially there are three key elements to establish Mischief as per the definition laid down in section 425 of IPC which are as follows:

  • Intention or the knowledge of the act (mens rea);
  • The act resulting in destruction, damage or change in the property or situation thereof; and (actus rea)
  • The change must lead to diminishing the value or utility.

Intention or the knowledge of the act may result in wrongful loss or damage (mens rea)

One of the most essential elements of all offences under IPC is that any crime is composed of two parts- Mens Rea & Actus rea. Similarly, “Mens rea” is required to be present in order to establish the offence of Mischief.

The definition of the law of mischief makes it very clear that the only way to prove the act of mischief does not essentially mean that it has to be proved that the accused essentially had any deliberate intention to cause unjustified damage to the property. But rather what can also serve as sufficient proof is the fact that the individual had the knowledge that such action of his/her can result in damage or degradation of the property, causing wrongful loss or damage. 

This can also be understood with a real-life example that if some children while playing street cricket break-up a glass window, it will not amount to mischief but will rather constitute negligence. But if those children deliberately throw the ball to aim at the window resulting in breaking up the glass and causing loss to the owner, then it will amount to mischief.

Similar was the judgement pronounced in the case of Nagendranath Roy v. Dr. Bijoy Kumar Dasburma where the court observed that mere negligence does not constitute mischief. However in certain situations when facts indicate that intention to cause wrongful loss was present along with the negligence causing damage will amount to mischief. 

In the case of Krishna Gopal Singh And Ors. v. the State Of U.P., it was stipulated that if the accused has committed an act without any intent or knowledge that the act in question is likely to cause wrongful loss or damage to any person or the public at large, it will not fall under the ambit of mischief as the element of “Mens rea” is absent. Similarly, if an act is committed without free consent i.e.under some pressure or duress it will also not amount to mischief.

In Arjun Singh v. The State (AIR 1958 Raj 347) it has been observed by this Court:”In order to establish the offence of mischief, it is essential for the prosecution to establish that the accused must have an intention or knowledge of likelihood to cause wrongful loss or damage to the public or any person.”

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Wrongful loss or damage (actus rea) by diminishing the value and utility

The second important requirement is that the act must have resulted in some wrongful loss or damage to the owner of the property depriving him of enjoying the same. The act must have caused some damage, injury or destruction to the property to the effect of diminishing its value or utility. This will constitute the “actus reus” of the offence.

Similarly, even a change in the property can also amount to property. For example, altering someone’s research notes. It is also very important that the damage must be the direct consequence of the alleged act and must not be based on some hypothetical or imaginary relation.

In Arjuna vs. State (AIR 1969 Ori 200) case, the court found the accused guilty for damaging the standing crops grown by the complainant on the land belonging to the Government as it caused wrongful loss to the government by diminishing its value.

In the case of Gopi Naik vs. Somnath (1977 CrLJ 1665 Goa), the respondent alleged that the accused had cut their water pipe connection causing them wrongful loss & damage. Upon investigation, the Court found the accused guilty of the offence of Mischief as this act has resulted in diminishing the value of the property, i.e., water supply.

One very important case in this regard is the case of Sippattar Singh vs. Krishna (AIR 1957 All 405) case, where the court separated the offence of theft from mischief. In this specific case, the respondent was guilty of cutting the sugar cane from the field of the petitioner and taking it away. 

The Court found the respondent not to be guilty of the offence of mischief, but he was held guilty of theft, because of two important reasons: first that the respondent had not caused any damage to the remaining field of the sugar cane, & second because the respondent had physically moved certain quantity of sugarcane coupled with dishonest intention to misappropriate it.

In another case of E. In Shriram vs. Thakurdas case, the complainant alleged that the accused, an officer of Municipal Corporation, demolished his house thus was guilty of the offence of mischief causing him wrongful loss and damage. But upon investigation, it was found that it was an unauthorised construction and the accused took the action only after serving due notices.

The Bombay High Court held that the officer acted in the due course of his duties by demolishing the unauthorized construction as per law, thus this act of his attracts no offence under section 425 of IPC.

In the case of Punjaji Chandrabhan v. Maroti, the Court ruled that no mischief was committed under Section 425 of IPC when in a particular case ‘easement right’ to carry water to the field of the complainant through the drain running through the land of the accused. The court observed that the field being a tangible property was not capable of being destroyed thus no wrongful loss or harm was incurred. Hence the accused, the landowner.

Punishment for Mischief

The punishment for Mischief is prescribed under Section 426 which states that it attracts imprisonment of a term which may extend up to three months, or with fine, or with both, as the court may deem fit.

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is non-cognizable, bailable, compoundable, and triable by any Magistrate.

Aggravated forms of Mischief

Though the punishment for the offence of mischief has been laid down as imprisonment until 3 months, or fine, or both in Section 426 of the Indian Penal Code. However, the IPC recognizes and lists down certain aggravated forms of mischief which have been described under Sections 427 to Section 440, IPC. It prescribes a different level of punishment for each category which is described as under:

Mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees

Explanation: When a Mischief committed results in some pecuniary damage i.e. the damage is quantifiable the magnitude of the punishment will depend upon the amount of damage incurred. 

Punishment: According to section 427 whoever commits any mischief causing loss or damage to the amount of fifty rupees or upwards, will be subject to the imprisonment of either description of a term with a maximum of two years, or with fine, or with both. 

Proof requirement: It is important to establish the element of “Mens rea” in section 427 as well. 

Nature of offence: The nature of the offence under this section is bailable, compoundable, non-cognizable, and triable by the Magistrate.

Mischief by killing or maiming of animals of the value of ten rupees

Explanation: Section 428 provides the punishment in case of mischief committed upon any animal or animals of the value of ten rupees or upwards which includes killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering that animal useless. 

Definition: The word ‘animal’ used in the statute refers to ‘all living creature except human being (see here). By ‘Maiming’ the legislature does not intend causing wounds or temporary injuries (see here) but rather It has to be an injury permanently affecting the use of a limb or other parts of the body.

Object: The object of the legislature to prevent cruelty against animals.

Punishment: It attracts the imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. 

Nature of the offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, bailable, compoundable with the permission of the Court before which any prosecution of such offence is pending, and triable by any Magistrate.

Mischief by killing or maiming cattle, etc., of any value or any animal of the value of fifty rupees

Explanation: Section 429 also lays down the punishment of similar nature of the crime but characterises the offence as more grave considering their utility for commercial purposes. punishes those who commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless, any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, bull, cow, or ox, whatever may be the value thereof or any other animal of the value of fifty rupees or upwards.

Object: Apart from preventing cruelty against the animals with commercial viability it looks that another reason behind this statue is to punish the person who tries to cause wrongful loss or damage to the person by inflicting cruelty on animals.

Punishment: The punishment prescribed under this Section is the imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. 

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, bailable, compoundable with the permission of the Court before which any prosecution of such offence is pending, and triable by any Magistrate.

Mischief by injury to works to irrigation or by wrongfully diverting water

Explanation: Section 430 of IPC specifically aims at those cases where the act of mischief results in some injury to the work of irrigation or by unduly diverting the flow of water resulting in wrongful losses & damage. This section applies in the cases where weakening or obstructing the supply of water causes wrongful disturbances & losses in commercial activities such as agriculture, manufacturing or interfering with the drinking and food requirement of human beings or animals.

Object: The object behind the statue is to prevent diminution in the supply of water for agriculture, commercial purposes or to punish any alteration in the water supply resulting in some sort of interference with the drinking and food requirements of humans and animals.

Proof requirement: Mens rea or intention to cause wrongful injury is important to be established for proving the offence.

Punishment: The punishment prescribed in IPC for this offence will be either a description of a term which may extend up to 5 years, fine or both as the court may deem fit.

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, bailable, compoundable with the permission of the Court before which any prosecution of such offence is pending, and triable by any Magistrate.

Mischief by injury to the public road, bridge, river or channel

Explanation: Section 431 deals with the punishment when an individual does an act which has the consequence of or which he knows has the consequence of causing inconvenience to the public. It covers those acts which result in damage to public roads, bridge, navigable river or navigable channels (natural or artificial) by making them impassable or rendering them less safe for travelling or conveying property.

Definition: A public road refers to a road used by the public generally (see here). Hence the term public’ under this section mentions the use and not the ownership.

Object: The object is to prevent any damage to the public property causing disruption, trouble and losses to the public at large.

Proof Requirement: Proving Mens rea is essential here, i.e. the intention to wrongful loss or injury to the person.

Punishment: The punishment prescribed under IPC is imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by Magistrate of the first class.

Mischief by causing inundation or obstruction to public drainage attended with damage

Explanation: Section 432 is specifically drafted to prevent any damage, obstruction or injury causing inundation, overflow or diminution to public drainage.

Object: The object behind this is to punish those mischiefs which aim at causing disturbance and interference to public life depriving them of basic requirements of cleanliness and sanitation.

Punishment: The punishment prescribed under this section is either description of a term or extending up to 5 years, or fine, or both i.e. same as the previous section since it is also a public nature offence.

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by Magistrate of the first class.

Mischief by destroying, moving or rendering less useful a light-house or sea-mark.

Explanation: According to Section 433 anyone commits mischief that results in destroying, moving or rendering less useful anything placed as a guide for navigators. This may include any lighthouse, sea-mark, buoy or any other thing fulfilling such purpose.

Punishment: The punishment prescribed under this act is more severe that is imprisonment of either description for a term with a maximum period of seven years, or with fine, or both.

Object: The intention behind this is to punish the offender who incurred huge commercial and pecuniary loss caused by this mischief.

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by Magistrate of the first class.

Mischief by destroying or moving, etc., a land-mark fixed by public authority

Explanation: Section 434 lays down the punishment for the mischief when any particular act results in destroying, moving or rendering any land-mark less useful which has been fixed by the authority of a public servant.

Object: It assumes the intention of the accused is to cause wrongful loss to the public authorities as the performance of such an act leads to the wastage of the time and money of the public authorities. Further, the authorities must have put that landmark to convey some important message to the public, thus causing general inconvenience. But since the gravity of the offence.

Punishment: The punishment prescribed under this offence is smaller i.e. imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

Nature of offence: The offence under this section is non-cognizable, bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by any Magistrate.

Offences of Arson 

Section 435 to 438 of IPC characterises mischief by the method adopted to cause wrongful loss or damage. It deals with the remedies provided by IPC in case of damage being caused by fire. These sections are together called offences of Arson.

Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage 

Explanation: Sec. 435 covers those cases where the mischief is committed by fire or any explosive substance with an intent to cause, or the knowledge that the act is likely to cause damage to any property. This section applies when the amount of damage incurred is one hundred rupees or upwards or ten rupees or upwards when the “property” damaged is an agricultural produce.

Punishment: The section prescribes imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, bailable, compoundable, and triable by Magistrate of the first class.

Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy the house

Explanation: Section 436 also deals with the mischief committed by fire or any explosive substance, but specifically applies when the damage is caused to any building which can be a house, place of worship or as a human dwelling or as a place for the custody of property.

Punishment: Considering the seriousness of the offence the punishment prescribed under this section is more grave which may include life imprisonment, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and fine as the court may deem fit.

Scope: It has been pronounced by courts in various judgments that the word “property” used in this statute not only includes a well-furnished property with bricks and cement but is wide enough to cover structures made up of any material such as grass or matt hut and partially constructed structures as well. (see here)

Proof Requirement: One of the most essential requirements to establish an offence under Section 436 of IPC is that there must be some irrefutable evidence that the accused who actively set fire to the dwelling place or building or instigated someone to do it for him (see here). For example- a testimony of direct eye witness against the accused that he/she set the property on fire. 

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by the Court of Session.

Mischief with intent to destroy or make unsafe a decked vessel or one of twenty tons burden

Explanation: Section 437 deals with the mischief resulting in destroying or rendering unsafe any decked vessel or any vessel of burden twenty tons and above.

Punishment: The punishment for the offence includes imprisonment for a term which may extend up to ten years and fine.

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by the Court of Session.

Explanation: Section 438 is a special case of mischief specified in Section 437,i.e.when the similar mischief is committed with fire explosives destroying or rendering unsafe decked vessels of burden more than twenty tons.

Punishment: Though this offence attracts a more serious punishment i.e. life imprisonment or description of term extending up to 10 years & fine.

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by the Court of Session.

Intentionally Running Vessel Aground or Ashore to commit theft

Explanation: Section 439 specifically prescribes punishment for the mischief committed by running the vessel aground or ashore with the motive to commit theft or misappropriation of property.

Punishment: It attracts imprisonment for a term as the court may deem fit or maximum extending up to ten years, and fine.

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by the Court of Session.

Mischief committed after preparation made for causing death or hurt

Explanation: Section 440 describes the punishment for committing mischief by making preparations with an intent to cause or create fear of death, hurt or wrongful restraint. 

Punishment: It lays down the punishment of imprisonment for a description of a term which may extend up to five years and a fine.

Nature of offence: The offence under this Section is cognizable, bailable, non-compoundable, and triable by Magistrate of the first class.

Conclusion

As society advances, new situations also emerge, and new issues are encountered. Similarly, though the offence of Mischief appears to be very exhaustive and inclusive taking up the whole fifteen sections of IPC. It tries to cover all the possible forms of mischief laying down different punishments for each depending on the gravity of the offence.

But despite this, it still fails to lay down proper punishment for many other kinds of mischief that are very common. Further, it does not lay down various situations that may also fall under the ambit of mischief hence leaving this solely to the discretion of Judges to identify and classify it as an act of mischief and to declare the punishment for the same. Due to this, there have been cases, where different levels of punishment can be witnessed in offences having similar nature & gravity.

Thus it is imperative to identify and implement appropriate punishment for the offence of mischief so that the offender can get due punishment and further, more deterrence can be ensured.


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