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Mischief

In this article, the author discusses the offence of Mischief as mentioned under IPC. To substantiate the concept, reference is made to all the Sections covered by the topic, with relevant illustrations and case laws.

Introduction
According to section 425 of IPC Mischief- Whoever with intent to cause, or knowing that he is likely to cause, wrongful loss or damage to the general public or to a person, causes the destruction of any property, or any such change in any property or within the situation thereof as destroys or diminishes its value or utility, or affects it injuriously, commits mischief

Explanation 1:
It isn’t essential to the offence of mischief that the offender shall 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 could also be committed by an act affecting property belonging to the one that commits the act, or to that person and others jointly.[1]

Illustrations:
  1. B voluntarily burns a valuable security belonging to C in­tending to cause wrongful loss to C. B has committed mischief.
  2. B introduces water into an ice-house belonging to C and thus causes the ice to melt, intending wrongful loss to C. B has committed mischief.
  3. B has committed mischief if B voluntarily throws into a river a ring that belongs to C, with the intention of thereby causing wrongful loss to C.
  4. B has committed mischief if B, knowing that his effects are about to be taken in execution in order to satisfy a debt due from him to C, destroys those effects, with the intention of thereby preventing C from obtaining satisfaction of the debt, and of thus causing damage to C.
  5. B has committed mischief if B, having insured a ship, voluntarily causes the same to be destroyed, with the intention of causing damage to the under-writers.
  6. B has committed mischief if B causes a ship to be cast away, intending thereby to cause damage to C who has lent money on bottomry on the ship.
  7. B has committed mischief if B, having joint property with C which is a horse and B shoots the horse, intending thereby to cause wrongful loss to C.
  8. B has committed mischief if B causes his/her cattle to enter upon a field belonging to C, intending to cause and knowing that he is likely to cause damage to C’s crop.

Scope of Mischief
Mischief under Section 425 of IPC covers all those acts that cause any damage or destruction to the property resulting in any wrongful loss or damage. The scope of this section is wide and it applies in the case of both public as well as private damages.

However, the most important point is that it will not have any application in the cases where the element of intention is absent which is further elaborated in this article under the heading of Ingredients of mischief. It is also not essential that the person accused had some valid motive behind or must have been benefited from the act of mischief.

But some other significant questions of consideration are whether this act can be applied in the cases when the accused has damaged his/her own property? Or will it cover situations when the damage caused to the property is a consequence of an illegal act or default in payment?

When accused is the owner of the damaged property
In the case of Indian Oil Corporation v. NEPC India Ltd. and Ors., the Court held that ownership or possession of the property is not a deciding factor in the matter of the application of section 425 of IPC. Thus, mischief is said to be committed even in cases when the accused is the owner of the property provided all the other essential ingredients mentioned are satisfied.

This is further evident from the illustrations (d) and (e) to Section 425. According to the facts of the above case, the petitioner alleged that the respondent removed the engines of the aircraft diminishing their value and utility. Since the appellants had the right to possess the aircraft it resulted in wrongful loss or injury Hence the Supreme held that the allegations amounted to the offence of mischief as all the essential ingredients of mischief had been satisfied.

Default of Payment or Illegal Act
In case of disconnection of water supply, sewerage supply, electricity supply, telephone connection, etc., by the concerned departments resulting from the default in payment or an illegal act after following a due process will not come under the ambit of Mischief.

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:
  1. Mens Rea and
  2. 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 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.

This can also be understood with a real-life example that if some children while playing street cricket break-up a glass window, it will not amount to mischief but will rather constitute negligence. But if those children deliberately throw the ball to aim at the window resulting in breaking up the glass and causing loss to the owner, then it will amount to mischief.

Similar was the judgement pronounced in the case of Nagendranath Roy v. Dr. Bijoy Kumar Dasburma where the court observed that mere negligence does not constitute mischief. However in certain situations when facts indicate that intention to cause wrongful loss was present along with the negligence causing damage will amount to mischief.

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.

In Arjun Singh v. The State (AIR 1958 Raj 347) it has been observed by this Court:
In order to establish the offence of mischief, it is essential for the prosecution to establish that the accused must have an intention or knowledge of likelihood to cause wrongful loss or damage to the public or any person.

Punishment for Mischief
The punishment for Mischief is prescribed under Section 426 which states that it attracts imprisonment of a term which may extend up to three months, or with fine, or with both, as the court may deem fit.

Nature of offence:
The offence under this Section is non-cognizable, bailable, compoundable, and triable by any Magistrate.

Aggravated forms of Mischief
Though the punishment for the offence of mischief has been laid down as imprisonment until 3 months, or fine, or both in Section 426 of the Indian Penal Code. However, the IPC recognizes and lists down certain aggravated forms of mischief which have been described under Sections 427 to Section 440, IPC.

Conclusion
As society advances, new situations also emerge, and new issues are encountered. Similarly, though 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.

End-Notes:
  1. Section 425 Indian Penal Code
Written By: Mohit Bhardwaj. A 2nd year Law student, currently pursuing BBA-LL.B (Hons.) from United World School of Law, Karnavati University

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