In human society, men always tend to misplace or appropriate other’s property by any means. Theft is a crime that is committed against the whole society so it is defined under the Indian Penal Code. The offence of theft comes under the ambit of offences against property discussed in chapter 17 of the Indian Penal Code, 1890.
MEANING AND DEFINITION OF THEFT UNDER IPC
In section 378 of the Indian Penal Code, theft has been defined as 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.
EXPLANATIONS FOR THE COMMITMENT TO THEFT
- When a thing so long as it is attached to the earth and not movable property then that is not the subject of theft but when it becomes capable of being the subject of theft as soon as it is severed from the earth.
- Moving of the property by the same act which affects the severance may be a theft.
- A person is said to cause a thing to move if he/she removes an obstacle that prevented it from moving or by separating it from any other thing, as well as by actually moving it.
- A person, who causes an animal to move by any means, is said to move that animal, and to move everything which, in consequence of the motion so caused, is moved by that animal.
- The consent mentioned in the definition may be express or implied and may be either by the person in possession or by any person having for that purpose authority either express or implied.
ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS TO CONSTITUTE THE THEFT
- Dishonest intention to take property;
- The property must be movable;
- The property should be taken out of the possession of another person;
- The property should be taken without the consent of that person; and
- There must be some moving of the property in order to accomplish the taking of it.
1 . Intending to take dishonestly
The intention is the essence of an offence. The dishonest intention of taking something which causes the wrongful gain to one person and wrongful loss to another person. The dishonest intention is defined in section 24 of IPC. According to section 23 of IPC, wrongful gain means to take someone’s property by unlawful means whereas wrongful loss means a person is losing their legal entitlement over a particular property. The dishonest intention is also called mala-fide intention. Innocently taking someone’s property believing it to be one’s own does not amount to the crime of theft. Where a person pinches the cycle of another person, thinking it as his own cycle at the time was missing, then brings it back and the important element of criminal intent is completely absent and he did not intend to theft by his act to cause wrongful gain to himself, therefore, it does not amount to theft.
2 . Movable Property
To commit the crime of theft, a displacement of a property must have to occur. Property is not capable of being theft until it is separated from one place to another or until it is attached to the land. Thus, the thief who detaches and carries away should be put in exactly the same position as if he carried away what had previously been detached. A sale of trees belonging to others and not cut down at the time of sale does not amount to theft. But the removal of man’s trees that had been blown down by a storm amounts to theft.
3. Taken out of the possession of any person
To commit a crime of theft, the property in question must be in the possession of the prosecutor. It is not necessary that he/she must be the owner of that property. What matters is who is in the possession of that property when a theft has been committed. As soon as the property is taken away from the one who is in possession of that, the theft has been committed. If a property doesn’t have any owner or possessor, the such property can’t be capable of being theft. That’s why a wild animal can’t be a subject of theft because it doesn’t have any owner or possessor.
The thing is said to be stolen when it is taken without the consent of the person in possession of it. The consent must be expressed or implied by the person who is the owner or possessor of that property and that consent must be without any coercion, fear of injury, misrepresentation, fraud, etc as mentioned under section 14 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872. Consent given by a drunken person or by a person of unsound mind is not considered valid consent. Consent obtained by a false representation which leads to a misconception of facts will not be considered valid consent.
5. Moves that property
The last essential of theft is the moving of the property. When moving off the property is done with dishonest intention the offence of theft is completed. The least removal of the things taken from the place where it was before is a sufficient asportation though it is not quite carried off.
PUNISHMENT FOR THEFT
Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code states that whoever commits theft shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term that may extend to three years, or fine, or both.
Section 380 of the Indian Penal Code states that if a person commits theft in any dwelling- house which is used as a human dwelling or for the custody of the property, shall be punished with the imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to up to 7 years and shall also be liable to fine.
Section 381 of the Indian Penal Code states that if any person who is a employee, commits theft in respect of any property in the possession of his/her employer, shall be punished with the imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to up to 7 years and shall also be liable to fine.
Theft is one of the criminal offences which is done against property along with extortion, robbery, and dacoity, criminal misappropriation of property, etc. Society is changing and new forms of theft are emerging such as cyber theft. With the growth of the population theft cases is much more common in recent decades than ever before. The law must follow the evolution and changes in society, adapt to them, and provides preventive measures, sanctions, and penalties against such crimes. Crimes against property undermine the socio-economic growth of individuals as well the nation’s growth.
1). Sood, Jyoti Dogra. “PSA PILLAI’S CRIMINAL LAW.” (2018): 357-360.
2). Ratanlal Ranchhoddas. Ratanlal & Dhirajlal’s the Indian Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860). New Delhi :Wadhwa & Co., 2007.
 Rameshwar Singh, (1936) 12 Luck 92.
 Balos, (1882) 1 Weir 419.
 Dunyapat, (1919) 42 All 53.
 Hossenee v Rajkrishna, (1873) 20 WR (Cr) 80. Rabi Kumar Agarwal v State of WB, 2003 Cr LJ 1342 (Cal)
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