Section 425 to 440 of the Penal Code lay down the law relating to “mischief”. Section 425 defines the offence of mischief, while section 426 provides punishment therefor. The succeeding 14 sections cover the aggravated forms of mischief differing in terms of punishment, depending on the value of the wrongful loss or damage of the property. Based on this criterion (of the value of damage), the IPC prescribes punishment of greater severity. It may be noted that the varying degrees of punishment have reference to the amount of loss sustained, an aspect not admitted in determining the degree of criminality in other offences.
MEANING AND DEFINITION OF MISCHIEF UNDER IPC
Section 425 of the Indian Penal Code states that whoever, with intent 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 any such change in any property or in the situation thereof as destroys or diminishes its value or utility, or affects in injuriously, commits ‘mischief’.
Explanation 1: It is not essential to the offence of mischief that the offender should intend to cause loss or damage to the owner of the property injured or destroyed. It is sufficient if he intends to cause, or knows that he is likely to cause, wrongful loss or damage to any person by injuring any property, whether it belongs to that person or not.
Explanation 2: Mischief may be committed by an act affecting property belonging to the person who commits the act, or to that person and others jointly.
- A voluntarily burns a valuable security belonging to Z intending to cause wrongful loss to Z. A has committed mischief.
- A introduces water into an ice-house belonging to Z and thus causes the ice to melt, intending wrongful loss to Z. A has committed mischief.
- A voluntarily throws into a river a ring belonging to Z with the intention of thereby causing wrongful loss to Z. A has committed mischief.
PUNISHMENT FOR MISCHIEF
Section 426 of the Indian Penal Code states that whoever commits mischief shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months or with fine, or with both.
ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS OF MISCHIEF
Essentially there are three key elements to establish Mischief as per the definition laid down in section 425 of IPC which are as follows:
- Intention or the knowledge of the act (mens rea);
- The act resulting in destruction, damage or change in the property or situation thereof; and (actus rea)
- The change must lead to diminishing the value or utility.
- Intention or the knowledge of the act may result in wrongful loss or damage (mens rea).
One of the most essential elements of all offences under IPC is that any crime is composed of two parts- Mens Rea & Actus rea. Similarly, “Mens rea” is required to be present in order to establish the offence of Mischief.
The definition of the law of mischief makes it very clear that the only way to prove the act of mischief does not essentially mean that it has to be proved that the accused essentially had any deliberate intention to cause unjustified damage to the property. But rather what can also serve as a sufficient proof is the fact that the individual had the knowledge that such action of his/her can result in damage or degradation of the property, causing wrongful loss or damage.
In the case of Krishna Gopal Singh and Ors. v. the State Of U.P., it was stipulated that if the accused has committed an act without any intent or knowledge that the act in question is likely to cause wrongful loss or damage to any person or the public at large, it will not fall under the ambit of mischief as the element of “Mens rea” is absent. Similarly, if an act is committed without free consent i.e. under some pressure or duress it will also not amount to mischief.
- Wrongful loss or damage (actus rea) by diminishing the value and utility
The second important requirement is that the act must have resulted in some wrongful loss or damage to the owner of the property depriving him of enjoying the same. The act must have caused some damage, injury or destruction to the property to the effect of diminishing its value or utility. This will constitute the “actus reus” of the offence.
In Arjuna vs. State case, the court found the accused guilty for damaging the standing crops grown by the complainant on the land belonging to the Government as it caused wrongful loss to the government by diminishing its value.
AGGRAVATED FORMS OF MISCHIEF
- Mischief by killing or maiming animal of the value of ten rupees
Section 428 of the IPC states that whoever commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless, any animal or animals of the value of ten rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
- Mischief by killing or maiming cattle, etc, of any value or any animal of the value of fifty rupees
Section 429 of the IPC states that whoever commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless, any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, bull, cow, or ox, whatever may be the value thereof, or any other animal of the value of fifty rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.
- Mischief by injury to works of irrigation or by wrongfully diverting water
Section 430 of the IPC states that whoever commits mischief by doing any act which causes, or which he knows to be likely to cause, a diminution of the supply of water for agricultural purposes, or for food or drink for human beings or for animals which are property, or for cleanliness or for carrying on any manufacture, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.
- Mischief by injury to public road, bridge, river or channel
Section 431 of the IPC states that whoever commits mischief by doing any act which renders or which he knows to be likely to render any public road, bridge, navigable river or navigable channel, natural or artificial, impassable or less safe for travelling or conveying property, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.
- Mischief by fire or explosive substances with intent to cause damages to the amount of one hundred or (in case of agricultural produce) ten rupees
Section 435 of the IPC states that whoever commits mischief by fire or any explosive substances intending to cause or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause, damage to any property to the amount of one hundred rupees or upwards or (where the property is agricultural produce) ten rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine, or with both.
- Mischief by fire or explosive substances with intent to destroy the house, etc
Section 436 of the IPC states that whoever commits mischief by fire or any explosive substances intending to cause or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause, the destruction of any building which is ordinarily used as a place of worship or as a human dwelling or as a place for the custody of the property, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both.
As society advances, new situations also emerge, and new issues are encountered. Similarly, the offence of Mischief appears to be very exhaustive and inclusive taking up the whole fifteen sections of IPC. It tries to cover all the possible forms of mischief laying down different punishments for each depending on the gravity of the offence.
But despite this, it still fails to lay down proper punishment for many other kinds of mischief that are very common. Further, it does not lay down various situations that may also fall under the ambit of mischief hence leaving this solely to the discretion of Judges to identify and classify it as an act of mischief and to declare the punishment for the same. Due to this, there have been cases, where different levels of punishment can be witnessed in offences having similar nature & gravity.
Thus it is imperative to identify and implement appropriate punishment for the offence of mischief so that the offender can get due punishment and further, more deterrence can be ensured.
- Sood, Jyoti Dogra. “PSA PILLAI’S CRIMINAL LAW.” (2018): 357-360.
- Ratanlal Ranchhoddas. Ratanlal & Dhirajlal’s the Indian Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860). New Delhi :Wadhwa & Co., 2007.
 AIR 2000 SC 3616
 (AIR 1969 Ori 200)
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