mischief
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This article is written by Muskaan Garg, a first-year student currently pursuing BBA.LLB (Hons) from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. This article explains ‘mischief’ as stated in the IPC. It includes all the sections covered by the topic with an adequate explanation for each of them.  

Introduction 

Mischief is defined in Section 425 of the Indian Penal Code. It states that whoever, with an intention to cause, or knowing that he is likely to cause, wrongful loss or damage to the public or to any person, causes the destruction of any property or in the situation with the intent to destroy or diminish its value or utility, or affects it injuriously, commits mischief. In a layman’s understanding mischief is obstructing a person from the enjoyment of their property by causing destruction of the property in one way or the other. It is an act that is done with the intention of causing wrongful loss or damage to the public or any person. It is synonymous with terms like ‘criminal mischief’, ‘malicious mischief’ and ‘vandalism’.

Illustrations

For a simple understanding, some examples of mischief that can be seen are:

  1. ‘A’ destroys a car jointly owned by ‘A’ and ‘B’, intending wrongful loss to ‘B’.
  2. ‘A’, a student takes a copy of the question paper before the exam in order to diminish its utility.
  3. ‘A’ damages important documents belonging to ‘B’, intending wrongful loss to ‘B’.
  4. ‘A’ causes cattle to enter into the property of ‘B’ so as to cause damage to his crops.
  5. ‘A’ deliberately throws a ball at the neighbor’s window.

Scope 

Mischief covers all the acts which are done with the intention of causing damage to the property. Any act intending to cause wrongful loss to any person by diminishing the value of something owned by the person amounts to mischief. Acts done with the intention of causing wrongful gains to oneself are also constituted as mischief. An act shall be made punishable of mischief only when the acts causing damage are done willfully and with the knowledge of the consequences. In the case of Ved Prakash vs Chaman Singh And Ors. , it was held that an act was not to be considered mischief when it was caused negligently or accidentally. 

Essential Ingredients

The elements essential for an act to be considered as mischief are: 

  • Intention or Knowledge to Cause Wrongful Loss or Damage (mens rea)

Mens rea is the most essential element of any act constituting mischief. The accused should have an intention or knowledge of causing damage to any property or wrongful loss to any person. The intention of causing damage or wrongful loss alone is enough for it to be called mischief. The act may or may not be directed straight towards the owner of the property.

An example of a communal disturbance, where people have the intention of destroying property but are least concerned about the ownership of the property. This falls into the criteria of mischief.

In the case of Krishna Gopal Singh And Ors. vs the State Of U.P., it was held that the offense of mischief would not be committed if the accused has not committed an act with the intent to cause wrongful loss or damage to any person or the public at large. It also implies that acts done under any pressure, without the free consent of the accused, do not come under the ambit of mischief.

  • Wrongful Loss or Damage

The essential mental element while committing mischief should be directed towards causing ‘destruction to the property’, ‘damage’ or ‘wrongful loss’ to the public or any individual which will constitute the actus reus for the offense of mischief. The intention of the accuser can be that of causing wrongful loss or damage to any person. For example, tearing off some important documents relating to property or finances.

  • Causing Destruction of Any Property or Any Change in It

It is important that damage is caused by one way or the other and the damage should be a direct consequence of the alleged act. Mischief can also be caused by causing destruction or changes in any property. For example, changing the words of a speech or intentionally destroying something owned by somebody. 

  • Destroys or Diminishes Value or Utility, etc.

Diminishing the value of something like, leaking out an exam paper or deliberately misplacing important files and folders in time of need constitutes mischief. The utility of the object shall be conceived from the perception of the owner and not the accused. In the case of Indian Oil Corporation v. NEPC India Ltd. and Ors, the defendant removed the engines of the aircraft hence diminishing its utility and rendering it useless. It was held that the damage caused satisfied all elements of mischief and thus the offense of mischief was constituted.

Aggravated Forms of Mischief 

We would now look upon the various forms and criteria of mischief stated in the IPC, which are as follows: 

  • Based on The Value of Damage

When mischief is committed and the damage caused can be quantified in terms then the punishment is based upon the magnitude of damage. Damage caused to any property amounting to fifty rupees and upwards or ten rupees and upwards in cases of damage to animals or agriculture is entitled with the punishment of imprisonment, fine or both. 

  • Based on the nature of the property damage

Section 428  to Section 434 deals with the punishment of aggravated forms of mischief based upon the nature of the property damaged. These sections state the difference in the punishment with the change in the magnitude of damage caused. General punishment is imprisonment or fine. In cases with a higher magnitude of damage, both can also be awarded. The term of imprisonment and the amount of fine is not constant and keeps varying according to the degree of mischief, damage caused and its effects.

  • Mischief by killing or maiming animal of the value of ten rupees or more

Section 428 states the punishment for committing mischief of maiming or killing any animal of the value of ten rupees or above. Maiming refers to permanently injuring the animal and rendering it useless. The section states imprisonment for a term which may be extended to two years, a fine as deemed appropriate or both. The intention of the law here is to prevent cruelty on animals.

  • Mischief by Killing or Maiming Cattle, etc.

Section 429 deals with the punishment for the same nature of the crime but for killing or maiming of ‘cattle’ which refers to an animal used for commercial purposes. The IPC tries to analyze the intent and motive behind any crime and thus it is assumed in this section that the accuser had the intention of maiming or killing the cattle with a motive to cause wrongful loss to the owner. Hence, it states imprisonment for a term which may be extended for five years, a fine or both for causing mischief to the cattle of the value of rupees fifty and upwards.

  • Mischief by Injuring Works of Irrigation

Section 430 deals with the punishment for causing damage to the works of irrigation and rendering it useless or wrongfully diverting it in order to cause mischief. This section aims to prevent any sort of disturbance in the supply of water used for commercial purposes such as agriculture, manufacturing or essential needs such as drinking and storage. The punishment stated is imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, a fine or both. It takes into account the intention of the accuser to cause wrongful loss to the person by committing the mischief. 

  • Mischief by Injuring Public Road, Bridge, River or Channel

Section 431 states the punishment for damaging any property used by the public at large for commutation. Causing damage to any public road, bridge, river or channel and rendering it useless or any less safe for traveling or conveying property attracts the application of this section. It assumes the intention of the accuser to cause wrongful loss to the public at large by destroying or diminishing the value of the property, for which, it states imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, a fine or both. 

  • Mischief by Obstructing Public Drainage

Section 432 deals with the punishment for causing inundation or obstruction to public drainage which is already damaged. It caters to the idea of causing destruction of the property and affecting the public at large for the sole purpose of mischief. Punishment stated remains the same as that of causing damage to public property.

  • Mischief by Destroyingof Lighthouse or Seamark

Section 433 deals with the punishment for causing destruction or disturbance to any lighthouse or sea mark placed as a guide for navigators. It takes into account the intention of misguiding the navigators as a part of mischief by either destroying or moving any sea mark in a way that renders it useless or diminishes its use. The punishment in this section is extended to imprisonment for a term with extension to seven years, fine or both. The increase of the punishment is due to the possibility of huge commercial or personal loss caused due to the mischief. 

  • Mischief by Destroying of Landmark

Section 434 also deals in a similar category as above, the only difference being the damage of landmarks instead of sea marks. The loss bared in this case would be less as compared to that of damaging sea marks. Hence the punishment in this section is reduced to imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year only, a fine or both. The landmark destroyed or diminished should be important and should have been fixed by the authority of a public servant. 

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Aggravated Forms of Mischief Based on the Method Adopted to Cause Damage: offenses of Arson

Section 435  to Section 438 deals with aggravated forms of mischief based upon the method adopted to cause damage. These sections are collectively termed as ‘offenses of arson’, defined as the willful and malicious burning or charring of property. They deal with the implications of destroying the property by fire.

Section 435 states the punishment for damaging the property amounting to hundred rupees and above by fire or explosive substances. In the case of agricultural produce, the damage caused by amounting to ten rupees and above is punishable. The punishment is stated as imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and a fine.

Scope of Section 436

This section deals with the punishment for committing mischief by destroying any human dwelling by fire or explosive substance. It includes properties that are ordinarily used as human dwellings like, any house, place of worship or place for the custody of property, etc. It may not necessarily be a completed well-furnished structure. It can be partially constructed and could be of any material. The establishment of this section requires clear evidence with regard to the identities of whoever actually set ablaze the property. The accused under this section may be punished with imprisonment for life or for a term which may extend to ten years and a fine.

Mischief to Deck Vessel by Fire or Explosive Substance

Section 437 states that destroying or rendering unsafe a decked vessel of burden twenty tons and above will attract a punishment of imprisonment for a term with extension to ten years and a fine. 

Section 438 also deals with the same category as of the above section, the only difference being that the decked vessel is damaged by fire or any explosive substance in which case the punishment can also be aggravated to imprisonment for life. 

Aggravated Forms of Mischief Based on Other Criminal Motives Influencing the Act

  • Intentionally Running Vessel Aground or Ashore

Section 439 deals with punishment for intentionally running the vessel aground or ashore with intent to commit theft of any property or dishonestly misappropriated such property. It provides imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and fine.

  • Mischief Committed after Having Made Preparation for Causing Death or Hurt

Section 440 deals with punishment for committing mischief after having made preparations for causing death, hurt or wrongful restraint. It states imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years and a fine.

Proposals to reform

Mischief, in the IPC, takes up 15 sections in all but still doesn’t include all possibilities of the crime itself. It mentions the definition which is then followed by some scenarios in which ‘mischief’ is punished as a crime. These few scenarios, mentioned in the IPC, do not suffice the wide possibilities of acts that can be charged with mischief, due to which major cases involving any acts of mischief, which are nowhere mentioned in the IPC, depend upon the discretion of the courts for establishment and punishment of the crime. Thus, it can be inferred that ‘mischief’ as a crime does not have a very solid hold of the procedural law and needs to be detailed further. Hence, a good reform under this section would be to elaborate further upon the acts which could in any possibility constitute mischief. 

Conclusion

Crime is an age-old phenomenon, a deep-rooted evil, born and developed along with the development of man, which gradually became a universal malady afflicting each and every society. There are various reformative steps that can be taken to curb different crimes which are increasing rampantly. The only way to control the crimes and to diminish its allied bad effects on society is by imposing proper punishment on the responsible persons and implementing them without any delay.

The purpose of the IPC is to express a formal social condemnation of forbidden conduct supported by sanction calculated to prevent it. It tries to assess the intent and motive of the act done. With the progressive development of our society, there are various kinds of problems and crimes which need to be dealt with. Thus we require modernization of our law system with correct interpretation and stricter implementation.


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