Section 425 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!
The section requires that the offender must have intention to cause wrongful loss or damage to the public or to any person, or he must have knowledge that he is likely to cause wrongful loss or damage to the public or to any person. With such intention or knowledge, as the case may be, he must cause the destruction of any property, or any such change in any property or in the situation of that property as either destroys or diminishes the value of the property or utility of the property, or affects it injuriously.
There are two explanations attached to the section. The first one explains that it is not necessary that the offender should have intention to cause loss or damage to the owner of that property which is injured or destroyed. It is sufficient if his intention is to cause wrongful loss or damage to any person by injuring any property, whether that property belongs to that person or not. It is sufficient if he has knowledge that he is likely to cause wrongful loss or damage to any person by injuring any property, whether it is his property or not.
According to the second explanation, mischief may be committed by any act affecting property which belongs to the person who commits the acts, or to that person and other persons jointly. In other words, an owner of a property may be guilty of committing mischief against his own property or against such property of which he is a joint owner with other persons.
The eight illustrations appended to the section appropriately illustrate the law declared through this section.
Where the accused was driving lorry with hopelessly inadequate lights which resulted in an accident in which some animals belonging to the complainant were killed, it was held that he was guilty of mischief as he knew that his act was likely to cause damage. Where the accused wished to eject a trespasser and with this object in view he set fire to his own house, no mischief was held to be committed because there was neither any intention to cause, nor any knowledge that he was likely thereby to cause, wrongful loss or damage to the public or to any person.
Where a person dug out from his land tombs of the forefathers of the complainant, he could not be held to have committed mischief because he had absolute right over his land. Where the land of the accused was higher in comparison to the adjoining land of the complainant and the former opened his sluices in violation of an injunction order as a result of which water flowed into the complainant’s land causing damage to him, it was held that his doing so was not bona fide and thus violation of the complainant’s civil right would also amount to mischief, a crime.
Similarly, where the accused knew that by locking a channel through which the complainant had a right to take water he would deprive him of this right, and yet he locked the same, he would be guilty of the crime of mischief and it did not matter at all that the complainant had a civil remedy available.
Where the accused killed such an animal over which there is no right of property in law, that is to say, animals belonging to the ferocious category, he could not be held guilty of committing mischief. Where the accused trespasser entered into an educational institution, turned its records and books, threatened its staff with serious consequences and put a bomb therein, it was held that the intention of the accused was to scare away the students, teachers and the non-teaching staff of the institution so that it was closed down and the purpose of such institution was altogether defeated, and thus to cause wrongful loss or damage, and as such it amounted to mischief as defined under section 425 as well as mischief which was known to be likely to disturb public order.
No one is permitted to take the law into his own hands. Consequently, where the accused persons assembled on a public road and demolished part of a building which was causing an encroachment on the road, it was held that they had committed mischief and simple rioting. Where the accused took delivery of a registered parcel from a village branch postmaster and when requested to sign on the acknowledgement slip he tore and threw it on the floor, it was held that the acknowledgement slip being a property, he was guilty of committing mischief.
Where the cattle belonging to the accused strayed into the property of another and caused damage there the owner could be held guilty of mischief provided it could be proved that by not providing enough fodder to the cattle to eat and by not keeping proper care and custody over them they had been allowed to stray in public places or in private property.
Bona fide mistake
Where an accused acts under a bona fide mistake and causes mischief, the requisite intention or knowledge being absent on his part, he could not be held guilty. It is not for the court to see as to whether the mistake was unfounded or not, but was it bona fide so as to eliminate the necessary intent or knowledge.
Therefore, where the accused asserted a right in relation to a disputed property it was for the court to see as to whether it was bona fide, and if it was so he could not be held guilty of mischief. Where the accused and the complainant were immediate neighbours, and certain projections from the property of the latter were projecting on to the accused’s property which he demolished with a view to protect his rights, thus causing damage to the property of the complainant, he could not be held guilty of committing mischief.
Where the accused landlord disconnected the electric supply of the portion of the house occupied by the tenant because he had not agreed to pay enhanced electric charges demanded by the landlord, it was held that the landlord had committed the offence of mischief because cutting off the electricity connection diminished the utility of the house.
It is not necessary to prove in such cases that the distribution board had been damaged by him or that the cable supplying the power from the board to the tenant’s premises had been cut or destroyed. Similarly, disconnecting the water supply to the premises of the tenant by the landlord constitutes such destructive change in the flat as diminishes its value or utility, and is mischief.
Harvesting unripe crop
Harvesting a crop ready for reaping but belonging to another may amount to theft but is not mischief. But cutting unripe crop of another with the intention to cause, or with the knowledge that it is likely to cause, damage to another is mischief. Where the accused harvested green paddy crop grown by another person on his land, he was held to have committed mischief.
Act done by a municipality under law
Where the complainant built a structure without authority and was served with a notice by the municipal corporation which was ignored by him, and the officers of the corporation later on demolished the structure, it was held that they could not be held guilty of mischief as they had acted in accordance with the law.
Importance of physical injury from physical cause
Certain caste Hindus had already seated themselves for a caste dinner and the food had been served to them. When some other members of the caste came some of them who had already been seated were asked to move to another place which was not acceptable to them. A leather shoe was then thrown near the persons who were already seated.
The lower court convicted the persons, believed to be responsible for the throwing of the shoe, of mischief. The High Court, on reference, held that even though religious feelings of some of the persons seated may have been injured, the shoe had not rendered the food unfit for consumption, and as such no charge of mischief could be made out in the absence of physical injury from a physical cause which is contemplated by section 425 of the Code.
Separate convictions for theft and mischief, whether possible
As to the question whether separate convictions for theft and mischief are permissible under law, there seems to be a difference of opinion of the courts. The Patna High Court held that an accused who first stole a sheep and then killed the same could not be convicted of both theft and mischief, and the Madras High Court held the same view.
But the Bombay High Court held the view that where an accused first stole a calf and then killed the same, he could be convicted both of theft and mischief and there was nothing in the law which prevented such a course. The Rangoon High Court followed the Bombay decision and held an accused liable of theft and mischief both who stole a bullock first and then killed it for food.