-By Preyoshi Bhattacharjee
Theft, extortion, robbery and dacoity generally are crime against property, but these in certain cases can also involve harm to person. These crimes look somewhat similar but all are different crimes. They are mentioned under Section 378 to 402 of the Indian Penal Code.
Section 378 defines the offence of theft, it states that-
Whoever, intending to take dishonestly any movable property out of the possession of any person without that person's consent, moves that property in order to such taking, is said to commit theft.
Explanation 1.—A thing so long as it is attached to the earth, not being movable property, is not the subject of theft; but it becomes capable of being the subject of theft as soon as it is severed from the earth.
Explanation 2.—A moving effected by the same act which effects the severance may be a theft.
Explanation 3.—A person is said to cause a thing to move by removing an obstacle which prevented it from moving or by separating it from any other thing, as well as by actually moving it.
Explanation 4.—A person, who by any means causes an animal to move, is said to move that animal, and to move everything which, in consequence of the motion so caused, is moved by that animal.
Explanation 5.—The consent mentioned in the definition may be express or implied, and may be given either by the person in possession, or by any person having for that purpose authority either express or implied.
(a) A cuts down a tree on Z's ground, with the intention of dishonestly taking the tree out of Z's possession without Z's consent. Here, as soon as A has severed the tree in order to such taking, he has committed theft.
(b) A puts a bait for dogs in his pocket, and thus induces Z's dog to follow it. Here, if A's intention be dishonestly to take the dog out of Z's possession without Z's consent, A has committed theft as soon as Z's dog has begun to follow A.
(c) A meets a bullock carrying a box of treasure. He drives the bullock in a certain direction, in order that he may dishonestly take the treasure. As soon as the bullock begins to move, A has committed theft of the treasure.
Essentials of Theft
The essentials of theft have been given in Section 378 of IPC but they have been reiterated in the case of KN Mehra v. State of Rajasthan[] this case related to the theft of an aircraft of air force. Two cadets Mehra and Philips were the accused in the case. Philips was discharged of the academy due to his misconduct, he had to board his train the next morning, whereas, Mehra, as a part of his training had a flight due with Om Prakash another flying cadet on Dakota the next morning at 6:30 a.m. But what happened was that Mehra and Philip took off at 5 but not in Dakota but by another flight Harvard T-22. On the forenoon of the same day they landed in Pakistan, where the contacted the Indian High Commissioner and they asked for their help saying that they had lost their way. They were then sent back to Delhi and on their way they were arrested for the offence of theft. In the trial Court they contended that if they had an intention to take the plane they would not have contacted the Indian High Commission for its help. However, they were held guilty of the offence of theft under Section 378, as the prosecution was able to prove that the fact that they took help of the Indian High Commission did not make them innocent at the time when the plane took off.
The Court here analysed the offence of theft as under: Commission of theft consists of-
(1) Moving a movable property out of the possession of a person without his consent;
(2) The moving being in order to taking out a property with a dishonest intention;
It was argued that since cadet Mehra has been allowed the use of a plane (Dakota), he should have taken the consent before taking another plane (Harvard T-22).
Thus, in order to constitute the offence of Theft, the following five elements are required:
i. it should be a movable property;
ii. in the possession of anyone;
iii. a dishonest intention to take it out of that person’s possession;
iv. without his consent; and
v. a moving in order to such taking.[]
Section 22 of IPC defines ‘Movable property’ as:
The words “movable property” are intended to include corporeal property of every description, except land and things attached to the earth or permanently fastened to anything which is attached to the earth.
Explanation I to Section 378 also provides that as soon as an immovable property is severed from earth and is capable of being moved becomes a movable property. Animals[] , fish[] , electricity[] and cattle[] etc can be a subject of theft.
It is necessary for the offence of theft that the movable which is taken with a dishonest intention should be in the possession of a person. The word ‘possession’ is used instead of ‘ownership’ to cover a wide variety of cases. The word possession is not defined anywhere. Possession may be-
1. de facto possession
2. de jure possession
De facto possession is mere custody. A servant has merely the custody of the articles which belong to his master. Example- A, the master throws a party at his house. The plates are in the possession of the master but for the time being the plates may be in the custody of his servants and his guests.
In certain circumstances, a person who has no actual possession of a good may still have the possession in the eyes of law. This is called de jure or constructive possession.
A dishonest intention is a must in the offence of theft, without a malafide intention there cannot be the offence of theft. The intention to take dishonestly exists when the taker intends to cause ‘wrongful gain’ to one ‘wrongful loss’ to another.[] In the case of Mohar Singh v. State of Rajasthan[] the accused had snatched the revolver of a person of the opposition party to prevent further bloodshed and later he surrendered the revolver to police. It was held by the Court that the person is not liable of theft as there was no bad intention.
The taking of the object should be without the consent of the person having the possession of the object. If the person having the possession consents to the taking then there can be no theft. Explanation V of Section 378 states that the consent may be express or implied; it may be given by a person having actual possession or any person having authority express or implied.
Illustration: (a) A, being on friendly terms with Z, goes into Z's library in Z's absence, and takes away a book without Z's express consent for the purpose merely of reading it, and with the intention of returning it. Here, it is probable that A may have conceived that he had Z's implied consent to use Z's book. If this was A's impression, A has not committed theft.
(b) A asks charity from Z's wife. She gives A money, food and clothes, which A knows to belong to Z her husband. Here it is probable that A may conceive that Z's wife is authorised to give away alms. If this was A's impression, A has not committed theft.
Moving Or Taking
With all the above elements, it is necessary that there must be the moving of a property with an intention to take it. Even if the person moving it does not have the possession of the good with himself, he will still be liable, the only requirement is that he should have moved the object.
(a) A, puts bait for dogs in his pocket, and thus induces Z's dog to follow it. Here, if A's intention be dishonestly to take the dog out of Z's possession without Z's consent, A has committed theft as soon as Z's dog has begun to follow A.
(b) A, meets a bullock carrying a box of treasure. He drives the bullock in a certain direction, in order that he may dishonestly take the treasure. As soon as the bullock begins to move, A has committed theft of the treasure.
Punishment For Theft
Section 379 of IPC states that whoever commits theft shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine or both.
Theft In Dwelling Homes
Section 380 states that whoever commits a theft in any building, tent or vessel which is used as human dwelling or for custody of property, he shall be punished with either imprisonment extending upto seven years and shall also be liable to pay fine.
For this section to apply this is necessary that the theft has been committed in a building, tent or vessel. The main purpose for giving a building, tent or vessel is that these are structures which provide protection. So, a structure which does not provide protection, though it serves as fencing or other means of preventing ingress, cannot be a building.[] This is also necessary that the place have been used for dwelling or living or for custody of property. It may be temporary or permanent. It was held in the case of State v. Nihal Singh[] that even a railway waiting room is a building within the meaning of Section 380, as it is used for human dwelling.
Section 381 states the punishment for a servant or a clerk for the theft of property within the possession of his master. It states that such servant or clerk should be punished with either an imprisonment which extends to seven years and shall also be liable to pay fine.
Section 382 deals with a case where the thief has made a preparation for causing-
(i) death, or
(ii) hurt, or
(iii) restraint to any person, in order to ensure –
(a) the commission of theft, or
(b) his escape after committing the theft, or
(c) retention of the stolen property.
In this case the convict shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also liable to pay fine.
Section 383 of IPC defines the offence of extortion, it states that-
Whoever intentionally puts any person in fear of any injury to that person, or to any other, and thereby dishonestly induces the person so put in fear to deliver to any person any property, or valuable security or anything signed or sealed which may be converted into a valuable security, commits “extortion”.
(a) A threatens to publish a defamatory libel concerning Z unless Z gives him money. He thus induces Z to give him money. A has committed extortion.
(b) A threatens Z that he will keep Z's child in wrongful confinement, unless Z will sign and deliver to A a promissory note binding Z to pay certain monies to A. Z sings and delivers the note. A has committed extortion.
In the case of Dhananjay Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar[] the essential elements of extortion were laid down and they are: (i) intentionally putting a person in fear of injury; (ii) the purpose of which is to dishonestly induce the person put in fear (iii) to deliver property or valuable security.
The word injury has also been defined by Section 44 of IPC. It states that-
‘The word “injury” denotes any harm whatever illegally caused to any person, in body, mind, reputation or property.’
In the case of Vishnu Shiv Bhoir v. State of Maharashtra[] the accused surrounded a person named Yakub and his party and extorted a sum of Rupees 300, as a price for sparing them. The amount demanded was paid up. The court convicted the accused of extortion under Section 383 of IPC.
Section 384 states the punishment for extortion. It states that whoever commits extortion shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with a fine or both.
Other Forms Of Extortion
The simple form of extortion mentioned in Section 383 is punishable with an imprisonment which may extend upto three years with or without a fine. But there are other particular forms of extortion which are mentioned in IPC and they are more severe than the one mentioned above.
Section 386 states that whoever commits extortion by putting any person in fear of death or of grievous hurt to that person or to any other person, that person shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to ten years and also be liable to pay a fine. In the case of Ram Chander v. State of Uttar Pradesh[] the accused had kidnapped a boy and wrote letters to the father of the boy stating that unless the money was paid the boy would be killed. It was held that the accused was guilty of extortion under Section 386 because the father and the boy were constantly under the fear that the boy would die.
Section 387 states that whoever, in order of committing extortion, puts or attempts to put any person in fear of death or grievous hurt to that person or to any other person, shall be punishable with an imprisonment which may extend to seven years with fine. In the case of Gurdeo Singh v. State of Punjab[] the accused was found demanding money from the public and also a constable, who passed by the Gurudwara by creating a fear of death. It was held that the accused was guilty of extortion under Section 387.
Section 388 states a form of extortion where a person extorts money by the threat of an accusation of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life. In this case the person extorting money will be punished with an imprisonment which may extend to ten years with a fine. Section 389 states that where a person in order to commit extortion puts the other person in fear of accusation of an offence punishable with imprisonment for life or imprisonment which may extend to ten years shall be punished with an imprisonment which may extend to ten years with fine.
Theft And Extortion: Distinction
1. The property which can be obtained be extortion is not always movable; it can be movable or immovable. However, in the case of theft the property must be movable.
2. In theft the property is obtained without the consent of the possessor. In case of extortion, the property is taken by inducing fear of injury or harm
3. Valuable security can also be taken in extortion which cannot be taken in theft. Section 30 defines valuable security as- The words “valuable security” denote a document which is, or purports to be, a document whereby any legal right is created, extended, transferred, restricted, extinguished or released, or whereby any person acknowledges that he lies under legal liability, or has not a certain legal right.
Section 390 of IPC defines what robbery is. It states robbery as follows:
In all robbery there is either theft or extortion.
When theft is robbery.—Theft is “robbery” if, in order to the committing of the theft, or in committing the theft, or in carrying away or attempting to carry away property obtained by the theft, the offender, for that end voluntarily causes or attempts to cause to any person death or hurt or wrongful restraint, or fear of instant death or of instant hurt, or of instant wrongful restraint.
When extortion is robbery.—Extortion is “robbery” if the offender, at the time of committing the extortion, is in the presence of the person put in fear, and commits the extortion by putting that person in fear of instant death, of instant hurt, or of instant wrongful restraint to that person or to some other person, and, by so putting in fear, induces the person so put in fear then and there to deliver up the thing extorted.
(a) A holds Z down, and fraudulently takes Z's money and jewels from Z's clothes, without Z's consent. Here A has committed theft, and, in order to the committing of that theft, has voluntarily caused wrongful restraint to Z. A has therefore committed robbery.
(b) A meets Z on the high road, shows a pistol, and demands Z's purse. Z, in consequence, surrenders his purse. Here A has extorted the purse from Z by putting him in fear of instant hurt, and being at the time of committing the extortion in his presence. A has therefore committed robbery.
The offence of robbery can either be a theft or extortion. So, without theft or extortion there cannot be robbery. The offence of theft becomes robbery, if the offender at the time of carrying away the stolen property causes or attempts to cause death, hurt or wrongful restraint or fear of instant death, instant hurt or instant wrongful restraint. The offence of extortion becomes robbery, if at the time of omission of offence the extortionist is present and puts the victim in fear of instant death, hurt or wrongful confinement and by using that fear he induces the victim to deliver any such property or valuable security. In the case of Harish Chandra v. State of Uttar Pradesh[] the victim and the accused as well as the co accused were on a train. When the train reached the station, the accused snatched the wristwatch of the victim and when he tried to raise an alarm, the accused slapped him and the co accused hit him with a stick. The Court held them liable for robbery.
Section 392 provides for punishment for robbery. It states that any person guilty of robbery shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to pay a fine.
Section 391 of IPC defines the offence of dacoity. It states that-
When five or more persons conjointly commit or attempt to commit a robbery, or where the whole number of persons conjointly committing or attempting to commit a robbery, and persons present and aiding such commission or attempt, amount to five or more, every person so committing, attempting or aiding, is said to commit “dacoity”.
Dacoity is robbery committed by five or more than five persons. The number of persons involved in the crime must be five or more than that.
The essential ingredients of dacoity are as follows:
a) Five or more persons shall act in association
b) Such act must be robbery or attempt to commit robbery
c) The five person should be those who themselves commit or attempt to commit or those who are present and aid the principle actors in the commission or attempt of such robbery.[]
Five Or More Persons
The commission of the offence of robbery by five or more persons is an essential ingredient of dacoity. In the case of Ram Shankar Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh[] six persons were charged with offence of dacoity and three of them were acquitted. The rest three could not be charged of dacoity as for the offence of dacoity a minimum of five persons are required. Thus three of them were convicted for robbery under Section 392 of IPC.
Conjointly Commit Or Attempt To Commit Dacoity
To constitute the offence of dacoity, it is necessary that there should not only be the presence of five or more persons but they should also act conjointly to commit the offence of robbery. In the case of Re Muppanna Appanna[] a group of five persons came to a house and beat up a family who were sleeping. One accused broke open the door. Three of the accused went inside and the other two kept guarding outside. All the accused helped to move the boxes. It was held by the Court that the accused were guilty of robbery under Section 391.
Section 395 states the punishment for commitment of dacoity. It states that whoever commits dacoit shall be punished with imprisonment for live or rigorous imprisonment for ten years and shall also be liable to pay a fine.
Section 396 states that if any of the five person commit murder then every one of them shall be punished either with death or imprisonment of life or rigorous imprisonment which may extend upto ten years and he shall also be liable to pay fine.
The offences of theft, extortion, robbery and dacoity are, we may say interlinked but are also distinct and separate as well. Punishments to all these offences are different depending upon the degree of their intensity. Robbery is a wider term as it includes both, theft as well as extortion. Whereas, dacoity is robbery involving five or more persons, thus, the difference between robbery dacoity and robbery is the number of people involved in it. So, these offences are related but are distinct also.
1) AIR 1957 SC 369
2) Prafula Saikia v. State of Assam, (2012) Cr Lj 3889(Gau).
3) Adharjir v. State, AIR 1954 Nag 55
4) Subba Reddy v. Munshoor Ali Sahib (1900) ILR 24 Mad. 81
5) Avtar Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1956 SC 666
6) Supra note 3
7) KN Mehra v. State of Rajasthan AIR 1957 SC 369
8) (1980) Supp SCC 655, (1981) SCC (Cri) 552.
9) Kounden v. Emperor AIR 1927 Mad 343.
10) (1971) 73 Punj LR 440.
11) (2007) 14 SCC 768
12) AIR 1979 SC 1943
13) AIR 1957 SC 381
14) (1996) 10 SCC 90
15) AIR 1976 SC 1430
16) Shyam Behari v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1957 SC 320
17) AIR 1956 SC 441
18) AIR 1948 Mad 96, (1949) Cr Lj 36 (Mad)(DB)