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Property Crimes And Their Legal Provisions In India

Any offense that is related to private property of any individual or group of individuals is known as property crime. In common parlance, acts such as theft, burglary, shoplifting, vandalism are attributed as property crimes. The Indian judiciary has applicable provisions for acts that encroach upon the right of ownership of private properties of individuals and in the process affect the life and safety of individuals. Crimes related to property always tend to enrich the offenders. These crimes are more penal than civil in nature. Often these crimes usually involve threats of violence, force, extortion, robbery, etc.

Usually property crimes have been broadly classified into two types, namely destroyed property and lost property. Crimes falling under destroyed property may be an act of vandalism or mischief, whereas, crimes under lost property can easily be embezzlement or robbery. Under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the provisions that are applicable for property crimes in India are laid down from Sections 378 to 460.

Societal Impact Of Property Crimes In India:
India is a developing country and therefore, its flourishing economy and population puts a major impact on the crime rate in India. Along with heinous crimes, petty crimes are also committed and many crimes go unreported for various reasons. India is still not economically stable and does not witness adequate availability of resources to the growing population and hence, poverty becomes one such determining factor that leads to the commission of property crimes. The lack of education for most people leaves them with not many choices but to plunder and loot people by deceiving them or by using crude violence.

Also, illiteracy in people also induces the miscreants to easily dupe the illiterate property owners and misappropriate property in their names. Poverty leads them to live in ignorance of the awareness of the law of the land.

In many states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh the property crime rate is high and is characterized by violence. The nexus between police, criminals and politicians in many such places results in lawlessness and also propagates lack of deterrent consequences for the criminals. Therefore, the general public to a major extent lose faith in the system and avoid even reporting of the incidents out of fear for further escalation and problems resulting from it.

The public is of the opinion that politicians are corrupted and they use petty offenders, who commit robbery and small scale vandalism on a daily basis, for achieving their own means and in the process such offenders contribute to committing more severe and violent crimes as a means to achieve instill fear and allow property crimes to occur.

The social condition of a state regulates the occurrence of offenses. Unemployment, religion, politics, poverty among others, unequal rights, unfair justice system have always been crucial in determining the crime rate. Therefore, the whole system needs to be reformed from the roots which is a very challenging process and will demand a considerable amount of time,

Analysis of legal provisions for contemporary property crimes in India:

In order to understand the nature and pattern of property crimes in India, offenses related to property crimes need to be analyzed in detail for better understanding of the subject in contemporary times.
  1. Theft (Section 378-382):

    An act by which a person illegally causes a movable property to be taken away from the lawful possession of another person without his/her consent, is called theft.

    In order to qualify an act as theft, the property must be movable or anything that is not attached to earth or has lost the quality of being attached to earth by a moving which affects the severance of the act of theft.

    Illustration: if A with dishonest intention cuts the trees planted on B�s territory and takes them away without the consent of B, A is said to have committed theft the moment A has cut off the trees with the dishonest intention of taking them away.

    Under section 379, theft has been penalized with either imprisonment for a period which may extend to 3 years or with fine or with both.

    Section 380 lays down that when theft is committed in any building, tent or any property which is treated as a human dwelling, such act of theft is penalized with imprisonment which may extend to 7 years and fine.

    The State of Tamil Nadu made amendments in respect of Section 380 and laid down that theft of any idol or icon of worship or religious importance from any building of worship is penalized with imprisonment not less than 2 years but extending upto 3 years and also liable with penalty of not less than 2000 rupees. An imprisonment of less than two years may be subject to the discretion of the Court on consideration of special and adequate reasons.

    Section 381 lays down that when theft is committed by a person of a subordinate rank like a clerk or a servant, with regards to any property in the possession of the employer or the master, as the case may be, such clerk or servant is liable for imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and fine.

    Section 382 shall be explained with an example: A decides to commit theft on B�s property and he keeps a loaded gun with him with the purpose of hurting B if B tries to resist A while committing the theft. A will be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to 10 years and fine because A had the intention to kill or cause hurt, or cause fear of death or hurt as the case may be, or to cause wrongful restraint of B, for the act of commission of theft.
  2. Robbery and Dacoity (section 390- 402):

    The illegal act of taking away the property from the lawful possession of another person without his consent by inflicting force and causing apprehension to life and property of that person or to any other person is called robbery.

    Robbery qualifies as an act of theft under Section 382. Robbery qualifies as an act of extortion when the act or omission causes instant fear of death, hurt or wrongful restraint which induces the person to give up his/her property forcefully against his/her will to another person.

    Robbery becomes dacoity when five or more members jointly commit or attempt to commit robbery or aid in the commitment of robbery. Hence, it is clear that preparation in the commitment of robbery is in itself an offense punishable with imprisonment which may extend to 10 years and fine.

    Dacoity is also coupled with other offenses namely:
    • Dacoity with murder (S. 396),
    • Dacoity with attempt to cause death or grievous hurt (S.397),
    • Attempt to dacoity when armed with deadly weapon (S.398),
    • Preparation of dacoity (S. 399),
    • Member of gang of dacoits (S.400), and
    • Assembling for the purpose of committing dacoity (S.402).
  3. Criminal Misappropriation of Property (Section 403):

    When a movable property is misappropriated or converted for own use by a person deceitfully, the act of criminal misappropriation of property is said to have been committed. It would still be held under criminal misappropriation of property if such misappropriation is done for a limited period or any period of time.

    If a person finds any property which is not possessed by any other person, or takes the property for protecting it or restoring it to the rightful owner, such act will not be held under criminal misappropriation unless:
    • he converts it for his own use, or
    • when he knows or has the access of knowing the owner, or before he has used rational efforts to find the owner and provided notice to the owner, if he has used the property for himself,
    • without waiting for a considerable period of time for the owner to claim it, if he has used the property for himself.
    A sees B dropping his gold watch by mistake; A picks up the gold watch to restore it to B, but later on converts it for his own use. A is said to have committed an offense under this section.
  4. Dishonest Misappropriation of property possessed by deceased person at the time of death (Section 404):

    This section could be explained with the help of an illustration. If A dies in possession of a car, household furniture and cash, his house attendant, B, just after A�s death and before anyone comes in possession of such movable properties, dishonestly and deceitfully misappropriates all such properties in is name, B is said to have committed offense under this section.

    If the offender is a clerk or a servant, he will be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 7 years. If the offender is not a clerk or a servant and is any other person, such person shall be imprisoned which may extend to 3 years and fine.
  5. Criminal breach of trust (Section 405):

    • If a person is entrusted with a property or has supremacy over any property,
    • and the same person breaches the trust of the other person whose interest is involved in such property,
    • and such breach is caused by misappropriation or conversion for own use by the person breaching,
    • which contravenes the law governing the manner in which such trust is to be disposed off, or legal obligations pertaining to any contract made in this regard for the discharge of such legal contract, as the case may be,
    • such a person is said to have committed offense under this section.
    If a public officer is directed by the Government to pay a certain amount to a treasury, but the officer withholds the money instead of following the directions of the Government, and then he misappropriated the money, he has committed criminal breach of trust.
  6. Stolen Property (Section 410):

    Again, stolen property is classified under offenses of theft, extortion, robbery, criminal misappropriation and criminal breach of trust. Provided that, under this section such misappropriation or breach of trust or transfer immaterially consider the place of occurrence of such event, hence, such event taking place within or outside India becomes immaterial. In the later event, if the property which is stolen comes in possession of the real owner, the property ceases to be a stolen property.
  7. Cheating (Section 415):

    Under this section, the essential elements are:
    • A person should be cheated upon
    • Presence of dishonest or fraudulent incitement by another person
    • The person who is cheated upon should be encouraged to give any movable property to any other person, or give consent that any other person shall keep any movable property
    • The person who is cheated upon must be deceived with an intention to commit or omit doing of anything which he would not have done if he was not deceived to do so.
    In a contract, A and B are parties. A dishonestly induces B to believe that A has performed his part of obligation in the contract. B, deceived upon believing so, pays A the consideration payable for discharge of such obligation. A has committed an offense under this section.
  8. Mischief (Section 425):

    Under this section, elements that constitute mischief are as follows:
    • A person should have an intention to cause or should know that he is likely to cause damage to any person or the public in general, or wrongful loss.
    • The person should know that in order to cause wrongful loss to any person or public im general he should cause demolition of any property or tamper with the form of property as is to deform it from its original state
    • As a result of such demolition or deformation of the property, the property�s value must be diminished and its utility must be severely affected as is to cause injury.
    If A burns the documents of an immovable property of B intentionally to cause wrongful loss to B, A is said to have committed the offense of mischief.
  9. Criminal Trespass (Section 441):

    An act done by a person to enter another person�s property with the intention to commit an offense, humiliate, annoy or intimidate such other person, such person is said to have committed the offense of criminal trespass. The act of entry must be unlawful and without consent of the property owner and the intention must be malafide.
  10. House Trespass (Section 442), Lurking House Trespass(Section 443) and Lurking House Trespass by Night (Section 444):

    • House trespass is committed when anybody unlawfully enters any building, tent or vessel used for human dwelling, or any building used as a place of worship, or any place used as a safe custody for property.
    • Lurking house trespass is committed when someone commits house trespass by taking precautions as to guarding himself/herself or hiding from anyone who is supposed to eject him or exclude him from the property of either human dwelling, place of worship or place of custody of property.
    • Lurking house trespass by night is committed after sunset and before sunrise.
  11. House Breaking (Section 445) and House Breaking by Night (Section 446):

    The act of committing house trespass for the purpose of committing an offense in any of the following ways:
    • Enters or quits through a passage made by himself or any abettor of such house trespass;
    • Enters or quits by breaking a lock;
    • Enters or quits by committing assault or threats anybody to commit assault on such person; and
    • Enters or quits through any passage known to him to be fastened to obstruct entry and exit, but he unfastens such passage in order to commit house trespass, is called house breaking.
    If A enters B�s house by breaking the glass of B�s window, A is said to have committed house breaking.
Under Section 446, the commission of house breaking after sunset and before sunrise has been defined as the offense of house breaking by night.

The socio- economic irregularity forms a major component in determining the crime rate in India. Not to forget that property crimes and other violent crimes have gradually risen in India because political, biological and social factors have played a part in the scene for decades. It is the Government�s duty to scrutinize each state individually and take up manifold measures to educate the people in living a modest living as a decent, responsible and law abiding citizen, and distribute the resources adequately among all groups of people to avoid crimes arising out of factors that regulate the operation of a society.

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