Mens Rea in Indian Penal Code, 1860 with Case Analysis

Mens Rea is the whole essence of crime. “The fundamental principle of liability is that an act alone does not amount to crime. It must be accompanied by a guilty mind. The latin maxim “Actus Non Facit Nisi Mens Sit Rea” is a cardinal principal of criminal law.”
1.) The doctrine of mens rea is based on the latin maxim “actus non facit mens sit rea”
2.) The maxim means wrongful act must be done with a guilty mind and then alone criminal liability is to arise.
3.) The doctrine originated when criminal law dealt with undefined offences. Today, the offences have been precisely, strictly and accurately and statutorily defined. In that view of the matter the doctrine becomes irrelevant or unnecessary in relation to defined offences.
4.) Although the doctrine is unnecessarily concerning the defined offences, yet every such definition incorporates the doctrine through some specific words or expressions forming part of the definition, saying it the other way.
5.) It is a loose term which includes wide variety of mental states and conditions.
For Example ¬– A thief has a motive to get money so he forms an intention to steal.

Intention – Highest degree of Mens Rea, there is always the presence of knowledge with the presence of intention.
Knowledge – Second highest degree of mens rea, knowledge attracts lesser culpability if there is absence of intention
Recklessness – Recklessness signifies a state of being mentally indifferent to obvious risk. Higher degree than negligence because there is a certain risk for which the individual decides to remain indifferent.
Negligence – When there is required a certain degree of due or caution and the individual lacks in the aspect of care and precaution is termed to be behaving negligently.

CASE 1. B. NATHULAL vs. STATE OF M.P. (AIR 1966 SC 43)

In this case, the accused was a food grain dealer. He was prosecuted for having 885 maunds and 21/4 seer of wheat stored without a license. He was charged for the offence under section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act.
He pleaded not guilty because he had applied for the license and was assured by the licensing authority that his license will be approved. He had no idea that his license was cancelled and therefore, he had no ill intention (mens rea) in storing the food grains.
The trial court acquitted him on the ground that he had no ill intention. The matter on appeal went to the Madhya Pradesh High Court where the bench set aside the Trial Court’s order and convicted him on the ground that this case was of a different nature from those cases relating to theft and other cases that involved the test of the ill intention of the accused. B. Nathulal appealed to the Supreme Court of India.

Whether a factual non-compliance of Section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act by the dealer will amount to an offence even if there is no mens rea on his part?

The Supreme Court set aside the conviction order that was passed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court. It upheld the decision of the Trial Court and acquitted him all the offences that he was charged with.
The Supreme Court held that the state authorities have acted negligently by not hearing the accused before rejecting his license. So there was mens rea on his part while storing the grains.

Relevancy of the case with the topic:
“Means Rea is the ‘guilty mind’ or ‘guilty intention’ for the purpose of committing a crime. In the present case, the Supreme Court after taking into consideration the relevant facts of the case and hearing the contention of the parties had held that the accused had no ‘guilty intention’ while storing the grains whereas it was negligent on the part of the state authorities that had assured him that his license would be approved and even did not inform him when his license got rejected.”
He only stored the grain presuming that his license will be approved and hence no mens rea was found on the part of the accused.

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