Indian Penal Code

Offence Affecting Property – Theft under IPC

Apart from offences relating to humans, state, marriage and public tranquillity, the Indian Penal Code contains offences against properties also. Chapter 17 of the Code contains these provisions. Such offences include crimes like theft, extortion, robbery, dacoity and other aggravated forms of these crimes. Theft under IPC is generally the most basic and common offence against properties.

Theft under IPC

Theft under IPC

We generally describe theft to be the act of stealing property belonging to somebody else. However, theft under IPC has certain specific requirements and ingredients.

According to Section 378, theft means dishonestly taking any movable property out of the possession of a person. This taking must always be without the concerned person’s consent. Therefore, in order to constitute theft under IPC, the following conditions must exist:

(1) The offender must have a dishonest intention to take property;

(2) The property in question must always be a movable property and not immovable;

(3) The offender must take the property out of the other person’s possession without consent; and

(4) The offender must move the property to complete its taking.

All of these requirements must exist in order to complete the offence of theft. If anyone of them is missing, the offender is not guilty of theft. For example, a person may take and move somebody else’s property thinking it actually belongs to him. In this case, since the offender moved the property as a mistake, he did not commit theft.

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Let’s take a look at all of these ingredients in greater detail.

(1) Dishonest Intention to take Property

It is very important for the offender to possess dishonest intention while committing theft. Dishonest intention basically means that the offender causes wrongful losses to the victim and wrongful gain to himself.

The burden of proving that the offender had this dishonest intention lies completely on the prosecution. In the absence of such intention, the offender is not guilty of theft.

(2) The Property must be Movable

The property concerned in theft must always be movable and not immovable. Therefore, nobody can commit theft of land, buildings, etc. Even things attached to the earth, not being movable, are not subjects of theft.

However, they can become movable properties under Section 378 once they are severed from the earth. For example, trees are immovable properties, but if somebody cuts them down and takes them away, he commits theft.

(3) Taking the Property out of Possession without Consent

The property in question must be in the possession of the prosecutor but he need not be its owner. Furthermore, the offender must actively take the property out of the prosecutor’s possession.

Thus, merely claiming a property belongs to the offender is not sufficient; he must take possession of it. Secondly, he must take possession without the prosecutor’s consent. This consent may be either expressed or implied.

(4) Moving the Property

In order to complete the offence of theft and gain possession of the property, the offender must move it. In other words, merely taking physical possession is not enough; he must move it under his actual control.

If an obstacle is preventing the property from moving, removing that obstacle also amounts to moving. For example, opening the doors of a garage to drive a car out of it completes the offence of theft.

Punishment for Theft

According to Section 379, the punishment for theft is imprisonment up to 3 years or fine or both. Other succeeding provisions contain more severe punishment for theft under aggravating circumstances.

For example, Section 380 punishes committing of theft in a building, tent or vessel used for dwelling or residence. The object of this provision is to provide greater security to properties in dwelling premises. The punishment for this is imprisonment up to 7 years along with fine.

Theft by a Servant or Clerk

Theft of properties by servants or clerks is punishable with greater severity under Section 381. This is because their masters or employers impose greater trust in them to look after the properties.

Therefore, theft of these properties amounts to a violation of that trust. Whenever a servant/clerk commits theft of properties in possession of their master/employer, imprisonment extends to 7 years with fine.

Theft following preparation to cause death, hurt or restraint

Sometimes, theft is not an impulsive offence that happens in the heat of the moment. An offender may often prepare to kill, hurt or restain the victim to commit theft. For example, may keep a gun in his pocket to shoot the victim while committing theft in case he resists.

He may also place his accomplices nearby to restrain the victim so that he can escape from there immediately. In order to prevent such instances of theft, the punishment is higher and extends to 10 years imprisonment with fine.

Questions on Theft under IPC

(a) In order to commit theft, the offender must have a __________ intention.

(b) Punishment for simple theft includes imprisonment up to __________ or fine or both.

(c) Theft by __________ or __________ is punishable more severely for violaing a position of trust.

Answers:         (a) dishonest          (b) 3 years          (c) servant or clerk

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