Point Of Distinction Between Theft And Extortion

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Offences against property find a prominent place in the Indian Penal Code. It is the second longest Chapter consisting of 85 sections from Section 378 to Section 462.

The basic element common to the offences under this chapter is dishonestly. Section 24 of IPC defines dishonestly as “whoever does anything with the intention of causing wrongful gain to one person or wrongful loss to another person, is said to do that thing ‘dishonestly’.”  But the manner in which dishonesty is exercised, differs in different cases.

Offence of Theft

Section 378 of Indian Penal Code defines theft as an offence against property. It states that  “Whoever, intending to take dishonestly any moveable property out of the possession of any person without that person’s consent, moves that property in order to such taking, is said to commit theft.”

In layman’s language, theft is the dishonest removal of movable property out of the possession of any person without his consent. Thus it is clear, that it is an offence against possession and not against ownership.

There are various essential ingredients that must be present to constitute the offence of theft such as :

  1. Dishonest intention to take the property – Intention is the gist of the offence. Property must be taken away with the intention to cause wrongful gain to one person and wrongful loss to another. In the case of  Nobin Chunder Holder[i], the accused, who as a servant, took the possession of nets of the group of fishermen, in bona fide interest, as they were poaching on his master’s fisheries. The court didn’t held him guilty for the offence of theft because of the absence of mala fide intention on his part to take the property dishonestly.
  2. Subject matter of the theft should be a movable property – The subject of theft must be a movable property i.e. corporeal property of every description except land and things attached to earth or permanently fixed to anything which is attached to earth. Explanation 1 of Section 378 explains that a property becomes a movable when it is severed from the earth.
  3. Theft must be committed without the person’s consent
      – The offence of theft is committed if the property of another person is taken away from him without his consent either express or implied, with a dishonest intention. But a consent obtained by force is no consent.

Offence Of Extortion

Section 383 of Indian Penal Code, defines the offence of extortion. It states that “Whoever intentionally puts any person in fear of any injury to that person, or to any other, and thereby dishonestly induces the person so put in fear to deliver to any person any property or valuable security, or anything signed or sealed which may be converted into a valuable security, commits ‘extortion’.”

In Dhananjay v. State of Bihar[ii], the court laid down the essential ingredients that would constitute an offence of extortion, which are (1) the accused must put any person in fear of injury to that person or any other person (2) the putting of person in such fear must be intentional (3) the accused must thereby induce the person so put in fear to deliver to any person any property, valuable security or anything signed or sealed with may be converted into a valuable security (4) such inducement must be done dishonestly.

The fear of injury must be of a real nature, so as to unsettle the mind of the man upon whom it is exercised in such a way that the act doesn’t remain voluntary.[iii]

Delivery of property by the person put in fear is the essence of the offence under this section. In other words, to constitute the offence of extortion there must be fear and delivery of the property. The fear of injury can be upon the person himself delivering the property or any other person.

Distinction Between Theft And Extortion

Though being the offence against the same subject matter, theft and extortion has various points of distinction.

  1. Theft is an offence where property is taken away from other’s possession without the consent of his owner.  Consent can be expressed or implied. But a consent obtained by force is no consent. In the case of K. N. Mehera v. State of Rajasthan the Court ruled that absence of the person’s consent at the time of moving and the presence of dishonest intention in so taking at the time, are essential ingredients of theft. Whereas in extortion, the consent of the owner is obtained but wrongfully. It means that person reluctantly agrees to transfer the possession of his property due to fear of injury or alike.
  2. Theft may be only in respect of movable property. Section 378 clears outlines that theft is concerned only with the movable property and also explains the term movable property. Property is movable when it is capable of being carried about. It is said to be immovable when it is permanently attached to the Earth. In the case of  State of Himachal Pradesh v. Prem Singh[iv], cutting down of trees by accused was held to be theft of trees, when the prosecution was successfully able to prove that Government was the owner of the forest. But in the offence of extortion, the property against which offence is committed may be either movable or immovable. This was clearly pointed out by the court in the case of Hyderabad State v. Beerappa,[v] that property under section 383 means both movable and immovable property.
  3. In theft, there is no element of force or compulsion. But in the offence of extortion, property is obtained by putting a person in fear of injury and thereby inducing him to part with his property. Person is threatened and induced to transfer his property.
  4. There is no delivery of property by the owner. The person committing the theft takes away the property out of the possession of an individual without his consent. Person doesn’t gives away the property by himself. And in extortion, there is actual delivery of the property. Delivery of property by the person put in fear is the essence of the offence. Offence of extortion is complete when there is fear and delivery of property.

Conclusion

The offence of theft and extortion have many common features. Both are offence against property and are committed dishonestly. The object of both the offence is wrongful gain or property. Also, the punishment of both the offences is same. But nevertheless, there are various points of distinction. Court has time and again focused and considered these distinctions and had accordingly decided the matter.

(Author: Muskan Krishnani, pursuing B.B.A,. LLB (Second Year) from Amity University, Chhattisgarh.)


[i] Nobin Chunder Holder( \866) 6 WR (Cr) 79.

[ii] Dhananjay v. State of Bihar (2007) 14 SCC 768

[iii] Reg. v. George Walton & Joseph Ogden, (1873) 169 ER 1399.

[iv] State of Himachal Pradesh v. Prem Singh, (1989) 3 Crimes 12 (15)

[v] Hyderabad State v. Beerappa, AIR 1951 Hyd 91.