Pyare Lal Bhargava v. State of Rajasthan [1963 SC]

This appeal by special leave is directed against the decision of the High Court of Rajasthan  convicting the appellant under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code and sentencing him to a fine of Rs. 200.

To appreciate the questions raised in this appeal the following facts, either admitted or found by the High Court, may be stated. On November 24, 1945, one Ram Kumar Ram obtained permission, Ex. PB, from the Government of the former Alwar State to supply electricity at Rajgarh, Khertal and Kherli. Thereafter, he entered into partnership with 4 others with an understanding that the licence would be transferred to a company that be floated by the said partnership. After the company was formed it, put an application to the Government through its managing agents for the issue of a licence in its favour. Ex. PW 15/B is that application. On the advice given by the Government Advocate, the Government required Ram Kumar Ram to file a declaration attested by a Magistrate with regard to the transfer of his rights and the licence to the company. On April 8, 1948, Ram Kumar Ram filed a declaration to that effect.

The case of the prosecution is that Ram Kumar Ram was a friend of the appellant, Pyarelal Bhargava, who was a Superintendent in the Chief Engineer’s Office, Alwar. At the instance of Ram Kumar Ram, Pyarelal Bhargava got the file Ex. PA/1 from the Secretariat through Bishan Swarup, a clerk, before December 16, 1948, took the file to his house sometime between December 15 and 16, 1948, made it available to Ram Kumar Ram for removing the affidavit filed by him on April 9, 1948 and the application, Ex. PW 15/B from the file and substituting in their place another letter Ex. PC and another application Ex. PB. After replacing the said documents, Ram Kumar Ram made an application to the Chief Engineer on December 24, 1948 that the licence should not be issued in the name of the company. After the discovery of the tempering of the said documents, Pyarelal and Ram Kumar were prosecuted.

The facts found were that the appellant got the file between December 15 and 16, 1948, to his house, made it available to Ram Kumar Ram and on December 16, 1948 returned it to the office. On these facts it is contended that the prosecution has not made out that the appellant dishonestly took any movable property within the meaning of Section 378.

The section may be dissected into its component parts thus: a person will be guilty of the offence of theft, (1) if he intends to cause a wrongful gain or a wrongful loss by unlawful means of property to which the person gaining is not legally entitled or to which the person losing is legally entitled, as the case may be: see Sections 23 and 24 of the Indian Penal Code; (2) the said intention to act dishonestly is in respect of movable property; (3) the said property shall be taken out of the possession of another person without his consent; and (4) he shall move that property in order to such taking.

In the present case the record was in the possession of the Engineering Department under the control of the Chief Engineer. The appellant was the Superintendent in that office; he took the file out of the possession of the said engineer, removed the file from the office and handed it over to Ram Kumar Ram. But it is contended that the said facts do not constitute the offence of theft for three reasons, namely (i) the Superintendent was in possession of the file and therefore he could not have taken the file from himself; (ii) there was no intention to take in dishonestly, as he had taken it only for the purpose of showing the documents to Ram Kumar Ram and returned it the next day to the office and therefore he had not taken the said file out of the possession of any person; and (iii) he did not intend to take it dishonestly, as he did not receive any wrongful gain or cause any wrongful loss to any other person.

We cannot agree that the appellant was in possession of the file. The file was in the Secretariat of the Department concerned, which was in charge of the Chief Engineer. The appellant was only one of the officers working in that department and it cannot, therefore, be said that he was in legal possession of the file. Nor can we accept the argument that on the assumption that the Chief Engineer was in possession of the said file, the accused had not taken it out of his possession. To commit theft one need not take movable property permanently out of the possession of another with the intention not to return it to him. It would satisfy the definition if he took any movable property out of the possession of another person though he intended to return it later on.

We cannot also agree that there is no wrongful loss in the present case. Wrongful loss is loss by unlawful means of property to which the person losing it is legally entitled. It cannot be disputed that the appellant unauthorizedly took the file from the office and handed it over to Ram Kumar Ram. He had, therefore, unlawfully taken the file from the department, and for a short time he deprived the Engineering Department of the possession of the said file. The loss need not be caused by a permanent deprivation of property but may be caused even by temporary dispossession, though the person taking it intended to restore it sooner or later. A temporary period of deprivation or dispossession of the property of another causes loss to the other. That a person will act dishonestly if he temporarily dispossesses another of his property is made clear by illustrations (b) and (l) of Section 378.

It will be seen from the said illustrations that a temporary removal of a dog which might ultimately be returned to the owner or the temporary taking of an article with a view to return it after receiving some reward constitutes theft, indicating thereby that temporary deprivation of another person of his property causes wrongful loss to him. We, therefore, hold that the facts found in this case clearly bring them within the four corners of Section 378 and the courts have rightly held that the appellant had committed the offence of theft.

No other point was pressed before us. In the result the appeal fails and is dismissed.