Abhayanand Mishra v. State of Bihar [1962 SC]

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Facts of the case

The appellant applied to the Patna University for permission to appear at the 1954 MA examination in English as a private candidate, representing that he was a graduate having obtained his B.A. degree in 1951 and that he had been teaching in a certain school. In support of his application, he attached certain certificates purporting to be from the Headmaster of the School and the Inspector of Schools. The university authorities accepted the appellant’s statements and gave permission and wrote to him asking for the remission of the fees and two copies of his photograph. The appellant furnished these and on April 9, 1954, proper admission card for him was dispatched to the Headmaster of the School.

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Information reached the University about the appellant’s not being a graduate and not being a teacher. Inquiries were made and it was found that the certificates attached to the application were forged, that the appellant was not a graduate and was not a teacher and that in fact he had been de-barred from taking any university examination for a certain number of years on account of his having committed corrupt practice at a university examination. In consequence, the matter was reported to the police which on investigation prosecuted the appellant.

The appellant was acquitted of the charge of forging those certificates, but was convicted of the offence of attempting to cheat inasmuch as he, by false representations, deceived the University and induced the authorities to issue the admission card, which, if the fraud had not been detected, would have been ultimately delivered to the appellant.

Learned counsel for the appellant raised two contentions. The first is that the facts found did not amount to the appellant’s committing an attempt to cheat the University but amounted just to his making preparations to cheat the University. The second is that even if the appellant had obtained the admission card and appeared at the M.A. examination, no offence of cheating under Section 420 IPC would have been committed as the University would not have suffered any harm to its reputation. The idea of the University suffering in reputation is too remote.

The offence of cheating is defined in Section 415 IPC, which reads:

Whoever, by deceiving any person, fraudulently or dishonestly induces the person so deceived to deliver any property to any person, or to consent that any person shall retain any property, or intentionally induces the person so deceived to do or omit to do anything which he would not do or omit if he were not so deceived, and which act or omission causes or is likely to cause damage or harm to that person in body, mind, reputation or property, is said to ‘cheat’.

The appellant would therefore have cheated the University if he had (i) deceived the University; (ii) fraudulently or dishonestly induced the University to deliver any property to him; or (iii) had intentionally induced the University to permit him to sit at the MA examination which it would not have done if it was not so deceived and the giving of such permission by the University caused or was likely to cause damage or harm to the University in reputation.

There is no doubt that the appellant, by making false statements about his being a graduate and a teacher, in the applications he had submitted to the University, did deceive the University and that his intention was to make the University give him permission and deliver to him the admission card which would have enabled him to sit for the MA examination. This card is property. The appellant would therefore have committed the offence of cheating if the admission card had not been withdrawn due to certain information reaching the University.

We do not accept the contention for the appellant that the admission card has no pecuniary value and is therefore not property. The admission card as such has no pecuniary value, but it has immense value to the candidate for the examination. Without it he cannot secure admission to the examination hall and consequently cannot appear at the examination.

Another contention for the appellant is that the facts proved do not go beyond the stage of preparation for the commission of the offence of cheating, and do not make out the offence of attempting to cheat.

There is a thin line between the preparation for and an attempt to commit an offence. Undoubtedly, a culprit first intends to commit the offence, then makes preparation for committing it and thereafter attempts to commit the offence. If the attempt succeeds, he has committed the offence; if it fails due to reasons beyond his control, he is said to have attempted to commit the offence.

Attempt to commit an offence, therefore, can be said to begin when the preparations are complete and the culprit commences to do something with the intention of committing the offence and which is a step towards the commission of the offence. The moment he commences to do an act with the necessary intention, he commences his attempt to commit the offence. This is clear from the general expression attempt to commit an offence and is exactly what the provisions of Section 511 IPC require.

These provisions require that it is only when one, firstly, attempts to commit an offence and, secondly, in such attempt, does any act towards the commission of the offence, that he is punishable for that attempt to commit the offence. It follows, therefore, that the act which would make the culprit’s attempt to commit an offence punishable must be an act which, by itself or in combination with other acts, leads to the commission of the offence.

The first step in the commission of the offence of cheating, therefore, must be an act which would lead to the deception of the person sought to be cheated. The moment a person takes some step to deceive the person sought to be cheated, he has embarked on a course of conduct which is nothing less than an attempt to commit the offence, as contemplated by Section 511. He does the act with the intention to commit the offence and the act is a step towards the commission of the offence.

Two illustrations of the offence of attempt as defined in this Section are given in the Code; both are illustrations of cases in which the offence has been committed. In each we find an act done with the intent of committing an offence and immediately enabling the commission of the offence, although it was not an act which constituted a part of the offence, and in each we find the intention of the person making the attempt was frustrated by circumstances independent of his own volition. From the illustrations it may be inferred that the legislature did not mean that the act done must be itself an ingredient (so to say) of the offence attempted....

We do not agree that the “act towards the commission of such offence” must be “an act which leads immediately to the commission of the offence”. The purpose of the illustration is not to indicate such a construction of the section, but to point out that the culprit has done all that is necessary for the commission of the offence even though he may not actually succeed in his object and commit the offence.

In the matter of the petition of R. MacCrea [All] it was held that whether any given act or series of acts amounted to an attempt which the law would take notice of or merely to preparation, was a question of fact in each case and that Section 511 was not meant to cover only the penultimate act towards the completion of an offence and not acts precedent, if those acts are done in the course of the attempt to commit the offence, and were done with the intent to commit it and done towards its commission. Knox, J., said:

Many offences can easily be conceived where, with all necessary preparations made, a long interval will still elapse between the hour when the attempt to commit the offence commences and the hour when it is completed. The offence of cheating and inducing delivery is an offence in point. The time that may elapse between the moment when the preparations made for committing the fraud are brought to bear upon the mind of the person to be deceived and the moment when he yields to the deception practised upon him may be a very considerable interval of time. There may be the interposition of  inquiries and other acts upon his part. The acts whereby those preparations may be brought to bear upon her mind may be several in point of number, and yet the first act after preparations completed will, if criminal in itself be beyond all doubt, equally an attempt with the ninety and ninth act in the series.

Again, the attempt once begun and a criminal act done in pursuance of it towards the commission of the act attempted, does not cease to be a criminal attempt, in my opinion, because the person committing the offence does or may repent before the attempt is completed.

Blair, J., said:

It seems to me that that the section uses the word ‘attempt’ in a very large sense; it seems to imply that such an attempt may be made up of a series of acts, and that any one of those acts done towards the commission of the offence, that is, conducive to its commission, is itself punishable, and though the act does not use the words, it can mean nothing but punishable as an attempt. It does not say that the last act which would form the final part of an attempt in the larger sense is the only act punishable under the section. It says expressly that whosoever in such attempt, obviously using the word in the larger sense, does any act, shall be punishable. The term ‘any act’ excludes the notion that the final act short of actual commission is alone punishable.

We fully approve of the decision and the reasons therefor.

The distinction between preparation to commit a crime and an attempt to commit it was indicated by quoting from Mayne’s Commentaries on the Indian Penal Code to the effect:

Preparation consists in devising or arranging the means or measures necessary for the commission of the offence; the attempt is the direct movement towards the commission, after the preparations have been made.

In Regina v. Padala Venkatasami [1881 Mad.] the preparation of a copy of an intended false document, together with the purchase of stamped paper for the purpose of writing that false document and the securing of information about the facts to be inserted in the document, were held not to amount to an attempt to commit forgery, because the accused had not, in doing these acts, proceeded to do an act towards the commission of the offence of forgery.

It is not necessary for the offence under Section 511 IPC that the transaction commenced must end in the crime or offence, if not interrupted.

We may summarise our views about the construction of Section 511 IPC thus: A person commits the offence of “attempt to commit a particular offence when (i) he intends to commit that particular offence; and (ii) he, having made preparations and with the intention to commit the offence, does an act towards its commission; such an act need not be the penultimate act towards the commission of that offence but must be an act during the course of committing that offence.

In the present case, the appellant intended to deceive the University and obtain the necessary permission and the admission card and, not only sent an application for permission to sit at the university examination, but also followed it up, on getting the necessary permission, by remitting the necessary fees and sending the copies of his photograph, on the receipt of which the University did issue the admission card. There is therefore hardly any scope for saying that what the appellant had actually done did not amount to his attempting to commit the offence and had not gone beyond the stage of preparation. The preparation was complete when he had prepared the application for the purpose of submission to the University. The moment he despatched it, he entered the realm of attempting to commit the offence of “cheating”. He did succeed in deceiving the University and inducing it to issue the admission card. He just failed to get it and sit for the examination because something beyond his control took place inasmuch as the University was informed about his being neither a graduate nor a teacher.

We therefore hold that the appellant has been rightly convicted of the offence under Section 420, read with Section 511 IPC, and accordingly dismiss the appeal.

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