Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Share on LinkedIn

Share on Email

Share More

Key takeaways

  • Section 378 of the IPC defines "theft" as the dishonest removal of moveable property "from the possession of any person" without that person's consent.
  • According to the Indian Penal Code, theft is punishable by imprisonment of either type, which can last up to three years, a fine, or both.
  • Theft is a compoundable offence that is both cognizable and non-bailable
  • In stealing, intent (in any form, such as dishonesty) plays a significant role.


Property is divided into two categories: movable and immovable. Under the Indian Penal Code, any offence done against either of them is punishable. These offences are detailed in Chapter 17 of the Indian Penal Code, which spans Sections 378 to 462. Theft, extortion, robbery, and dacoity, as well as criminal misappropriation of property, criminal breach of trust, receiving stolen goods, deceit, mischief, and criminal trespass, are all on the list.


“Whoever, intending to remove dishonestly any movable property out of the custody of any person without that person's consent, moves such property to such taking, is said to constitute theft,” according to Section 378 of the IPC. The code (IPC) contains five explanations for the said definition, each of which is accompanied by 16 examples.

As a result, Section 378 of the IPC defines "theft" as the dishonest removal of moveable property "from the possession of any person" without that person's consent.

Theft is defined as the stealing of another person's property without their permission or consent with the purpose to deprive them of their rightful possession. Burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting, and fraud are some examples of property crimes for which the phrase is used as an informal shorthand.

According to the Indian Penal Code, theft is punishable by imprisonment of either type, which can last up to three years, a fine, or both. Theft is a compoundable offence that is both cognizable and non-bailable (where the accused and the victim can enter into a compromise to drop charges against the accused). When an offence is compoundable, it is not considered a serious offence in most cases, according to penal law. The fact and circumstances surrounding any crime can also be used to determine the level and intensity of an offence.

In stealing, intent (in any form, such as dishonesty) plays a significant role. As a result, if B owes C money for having his automobile fixed, and C maintains the car with him legitimately as security for a debt, and B takes the car out of C's possession with the goal of depriving C of the property (car) that worked as security for B's debt, B commits theft. As a result of the preceding situation, a person can be found guilty of stealing his property if he obtains it dishonestly from another.

Essential of theft

The absence of a person's consent at the time of relocation, as well as the presence of dishonest purpose in doing so at the time, are both necessary elements of a theft offence (K.N. Mehra v. State of Rajasthan AIR 1957 SC 369).

  • Dishonest purpose exists when the person taking the property aims to make a wrongful profit (even if it is just temporary) for himself or a wrongful loss for the other; either is sufficient.
  • The intent to steal is called animus furandi (intention to steal), and the crime of stealing is incomplete without it. Thus, it was considered that if a respectable person simply pinches the cycle of another person because his own cycle was gone at the time and returns it, he had not committed stealing.
  • Unless he participates in his master's knowledge of the dishonest character of the activities, a servant is not guilty of stealing when what he performs is at his master's command.
  • Any property that can be moved - When separated from the soil, a watercraft, valuable security, a Hindu idol, stones, sand, or minerals become mobile property. Wild animals, birds, and other creatures are not stolen in the wild, but tamed animals are stolen. Theft of a human body, whether alive or dead, is prohibited.
  • Taking property from the custody of another person - It makes no difference if the person from whose possession the property is stolen is not the true owner or has an apparent rather than a real title to the property for the purposes of stealing. The crucial aspect of the offence is possession, not ownership. A heist is a heist. As a result, if a person steals something from a thief, he is committing stealing.
  • Removing ornaments from a dead body is not theft because it is not taking property out of a person's custody, but it is a criminal misappropriation, similar to picking up lost stuff. Theft occurs when an item has been attached by the court and the owner removes it.
  • Taking something from someone else's ownership may not be permanent or done with the goal to take it. Pyare Lai v. State (AIR 1963 SC 1094) concluded that if he stole any movable object out of the custody of another person with the intention of returning it later, he had committed theft. However, under English law, the property must be taken in order to permanently deprive another. The appellant worked as a Superintendent in a government office in the issue at hand.
  • He took a file home with him and gave it to a stranger who tampered with the documents. The file was returned to the office by the appellant. It is held that a momentary deprivation or dispossession of another's property results in loss to the other. In K.N. Mehra v. State of Rajasthan (AIR 1957 SC 369), the accused was found guilty of taking a LAF jet out on an unauthorised trip, even though it was just for a short time.
  • Taking without consent - Consent obtained by deception, which leads to a misunderstanding of facts, is not valid. Moving property in preparation for such a taking - No theft can be committed until the property is relocated, even if the accused criminal had meant to take the goods dishonestly out of the hands of any person without his agreement.

The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, explains the basic elements of the stealing offence under Section 378 of the IPC. The alleged theft in this instance was an aircraft that belonged to the government (Indian Air Force Academy). Mehra and Phillips, two young cadets in the Indian Air Force, were stationed at Jodhpur for training. Phillips was expelled from the Academy on May 13, 1952, for misbehaviour. He was scheduled to leave Jodhpur by rail on May 14, 1952. Mehra and a flying cadet named Om Prakash were scheduled to fly in a Dakota as part of their training.

On the morning of May 14th, the flight was scheduled to take off between 6 and 6.30 a.m. Mehra and Phillips, on the other hand, took off in a Harvard T-22 before the prescribed time of 5 a.m., without authorization and without following any of the pre-requisites for an aircraft flight. They landed in Pakistan in the morning on the same day, roughly 100 miles from the Indo-Pakistan border. Both of them met the Indian Commissioner in Pakistan in Karachi at 7 a.m. on May 16, 1952, and informed him that they had lost their way and had forced-landed in a field, leaving the plane there. They asked for his assistance in returning to Delhi.

The Indian High Commissioner arranged for them both to be flown back to Delhi on a different plane. They were detained and convicted for stealing while on their way to Delhi when the jet came to a stop in Jodhpur.

One of the accused's primary arguments was that if they had intended to fly the plane to Pakistan, they would not have contacted the Indian High Commissioner in Karachi later. However, the prosecution was successful in demonstrating that this seemingly innocuous manoeuvre did not necessarily negate their intent at the moment of takeoff. It's possible that after arriving in Pakistan, the impossibility of their plan to find work in Pakistan dawned on them, and they abandoned it. It was enough that they had a dishonest intention at the start of the travel to constitute an offence.

They had the dishonest intention of taking off a Harvard T-22 plane rather than the allowed Dakota, and they left India at 5 a.m. instead of the scheduled 6 a.m. They also refused to respond to wireless messages from Indian aerodrome authorities at 11 a.m., indicating that they had taken off a Harvard T-22 plane.

The court examined the crime of theft under Section 378 and determined the following fundamental characteristics of theft:

  • A movable property should be the target of the heist.
  • Anyone should be able to obtain it;
  • There must be a dishonest purpose to remove it from that person's possession without his agreement, as well as a move to facilitate such removal.

Theft is punishable under the IPC

The Indian Penal Code, Section 379, specifies the punishment for theft. Theft is punishable under this section of the Indian Penal Code by imprisonment of any description for a term up to three years, a fine, or both. This provision states that anyone who commits the crime of theft will be sentenced to three years in jail or a fine determined by the court, or both.


The property is said to be an extension of an individual's personality in theory. Its objective is to satisfy the individual's need for self-satisfaction in society. The fact that the Indian Constitution recognises the right to property as a legal right refers to the importance of property in one's survival in society. By imposing punishments and fines for numerous property-related offences, the Indian Penal Code further protects property owners and serves as a deterrent to those that seek to infringe on others' rights.

In this context, looking into the jurisprudential foundations of the concept of property is both interesting and beneficial. When the origins of the institution of property are investigated, it is discovered that the concept of property has been identified as an individual's self-satisfaction in society.

Property has been defined as something of value to an individual that may be protected. It is also self-evident that the property sought to be safeguarded must be in a person's custody or ownership. This supports the core premise of property recognition as an extension of an individual's personality.

As a result, every effort should be made to protect property and related rights in order to ensure their beneficial contributions to society.

"Loved reading this piece by Brinda Kundu?
Join LAWyersClubIndia's network for daily News Updates, Judgment Summaries, Articles, Forum Threads, Online Law Courses, and MUCH MORE!!"

Tags :

Category Others, Other Articles by - Brinda Kundu 


Post a Suggestion for LCI Team
Post a Legal Query