[In the leave petition, the appellant was found guilty under section 379 (Punishment for theft). of the Indian Penal Code.]
He was a Superintendent in the Chief Engineer’s office who, with the assistance of a clerk, stole a file from the secretariat and gave it to his co-accused buddy, who substituted some of the documents in the file but returned it the next day. When the Chief Engineer threatened that if he did not tell the truth, the subject would be turned over to the police, he confessed. Later, the confession was rescinded. The petitioner’s attorney contested the High Court’s judgment, which dismissed the charges against the co-accused but upheld the petitioner’s orders.
- The first question posed by the court concerned the scope of section 24 of the Evidence Act.
- Is it possible that removing the file and then returning it would be considered “theft” under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code?
The Supreme Court bench was thoughtful in noting the parameters of irrelevance of a confession under Section 24 of the Evidence Act if it was induced, threatened, or promised by any personal authority in relation to the allegations against the accused. The reasonableness of the allegation, however, is decided by the court’s credibility. The petitioner’s lawyer contended that the “stated incentive, threat, or promise is adequate to offer the accused individual grounds that would appear reasonable to him.”
The lawyer argued that the term “appear” in Section 24 indicates a low level of probability, but that the term should be read in light of Section 3 of the Evidence Act, which requires a higher level of caution and firmness in one’s belief. However, the court reasoned that if that were the case, the code would not have used a far lower degree phrase. The lower level of assurance denotes the court’s intention to give itself some leeway in forming a conclusion in that case, rather than limiting it to hard evidence.
The last question was whether the facts turned out to be theft or not, as defined by section 378 of the Indian Penal Code. “Whoever transfers any movable property to be taken dishonestly out of the hands of any person without that person’s consent, is said to commit theft,” the law says. The reference was made to Sections 23 and 24 of the Indian Penal Code, which discuss the intent in committing an offense. While dissecting the provision, the court identified some elements, including the desire to create any wrongful loss or benefit from movable property to which he is not entitled, and acting dishonestly, as well as the property being taken out of possession without agreement and moved.
The court deviated from the arguments by establishing some points of disagreement over the conclusion based on the facts. It stated that because the accused was only an officer working in the office and not in charge, he could not be held to be in legal possession of the file. The court added that, while the above distinction is comprehensive, the definition nowhere expresses permanent dispossession of movable property from the victim; it can also be temporary; to commit theft, one does not need to take movable property permanently out of the possession of another with the intent not to return it to him.It would be sufficient if he took any movable property from the possession of another person with the intent to return it later. The bench also rejected the petitioner’s arguments, holding that wrongful loss can include the loss of any property lost through an illegal means to which the person at loss is legally entitled.
The court thus held that, in the case of theft under the IPC, there can be permanent or temporary unlawful possession of movable property that causes any wrongful loss, whether material or immaterial, but should cause unlawful loss of property, thus expanding the scope of the offense compared to what we have in the case of the definition so given in the Theft Act of 1968 or under the express definition under Section 378 of the IPC. The court also upheld the scope of the court’s flexibility of opinion on induced or coerced confessions under Section 24 of the Evidence Act.