Mischief and Cheating are criminal offenses against property and provisions related to them are dealt with under Chapter XVII of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. For a layman, mischief and cheating could seem identical. Mischief is commonly understood as a vexatious act that causes harm, loss or damage to any person by causing destruction of their property in any way. Cheating is understood as a dishonest or deceitful act to causes loss or injury to a person. Even though their usage parallels; visibly, both are separate offenses with a fair share of differences among them, which are highlighted in this article.
Definition and Meaning of Mischief
Mischief has been defined under Section 425 of the Indian Penal Code as under:
“Whoever with intent to cause, or knowing that he is likely to cause, wrongful loss or damage to the public or to any person, causes the destruction of any property, or any such change in any property or in the situation thereof as destroys or diminishes its value or utility, or affects it injuriously, commits “mischief”.”
A reading of the Section makes it clear what mischief is. Mischief has been stated to be an offense whereby a person causes destruction of property of another, causing loss to that another person. The men’s rea standard is that the offender must have the intention to cause such wrongful loss or has the knowledge that the act will result in loss to another person. The word ‘wrongful loss’ has been defined under Section 23 of IPC as ‘…the loss by unlawful means of property to which the person losing it is legally entitled”. The actus reus element requires that there must be destruction or change in the property so as to decrease its value or utility.
The offense of mischief is similar to the offense of ‘malicious injury to property’ in English law. Also, the offense underpins the maxim, “Sic utre tuo ut allenum non laedas”, which means that one must use their own property in a way that does not injure neighbor’s or other’s rights to enjoy the property.
Explanation 1: To the Section says, “It is not essential to the offence of mischief that the offender should 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.”
This explanation iterates that the wrongful loss need not be necessarily directed toward the owner of the property destroyed but to any person.
Explanation 2: States, “Mischief may be committed by an act affecting property belonging to the person who commits the act, or to that person and others jointly.”
This explanation simply put, states that mischief need not occur by destroying the property of another, but can also occur while destroying one’s own property in a way that affects others.
Essentials of Mischief
To constitute ‘Mischief’, the following elements must be fulfilled:
- There must be complete or partial destruction of a tangible public or private property, so as to diminish its value or utility;
- By doing so, there must be wrongful loss or damage caused to the public or any person;
- Such act must be committed with mala fide intention or the knowledge of causing wrongful loss or damage.
Specific and Aggravated Forms of Mischief and Related Provisions
1. Section 427 deals with ‘mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 3 years and/or fine.
2. Section 428 deals with ‘Mischief by killing or maiming (Injury) animal of the value of ten rupees’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 2 years and/or fine.
3. Section 429 deals with ‘Mischief by killing or maiming cattle etc, of any value or any animal of the value of fifty rupees’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 5 years and/or fine.
4. Section 430 deals with ‘Mischief by injury to works of irrigation or by wrongfully diverting water’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 5 years and/or fine.
5. Section 431 deals with ‘Mischief by injury to a public road, bridge, river or channel’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 5 years and/or fine.
6. Section 432 deals with ‘Mischief by causing inundation or obstruction to public drainage attended with damage channel’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 5 years and/or fine.
7. Section 433 deals with ‘Mischief by destroying, moving or rendering less useful a light-house or sea-mark’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 7 years and/or fine.
8. Section 434 deals with ‘Mischief by destroying or moving etc. a land-mark fixed by public authority’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 1 year and/or fine.
9. Section 435 deals with ‘Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage to the amount of one hundred or (in case of agriculture produce) ten rupees’ and prescribes a punishment of upto 7 years and/or fine.
10. Section 436 deals with ‘Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc.’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment of upto 10 years and fine.
11. Section 437 deals with ‘Mischief with intent to destroy or make unsafe a decked vessel (ready to move vessel) or one of twenty tons burden (stock of 20 tons or more)’ and section 438 prescribes a punishment of upto 10 years and fine.
12. Section 439 prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 10 years and fine for ‘intentionally running the vessel aground or ashore with intent to commit theft, etc.’
13. Section 440 deals with ‘Mischief committed after preparation made for causing death or hurt’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 5 years and fine.
Case Laws Regarding Mischief
1. The court held in Indian Oil Corporation v. NEPC India Ltd. that property ownership or possession is not a decisive element in the application of Section 425 of the IPC. In the instant case, the petitioner contended that the respondent removed the aircraft’s engines, reducing their value and utility. It resulted in wrongful loss or harm since the appellants had the right to possess the aircraft. The Supreme Court ruled that the claims amounted to mischief since all of the elements of mischief were present. As a result, even though the person who is harmed is not the owner of the property, mischief is considered to have been done.
2. The court stated in Nagendranath Roy vs. Dr. Bijoy Kumar Dasburma that mere negligence does not constitute mischief. In other cases, however, inflicting damage will be considered mischief if the evidence shows that the intention to cause wrongful loss was present along with negligence. Likewise, mischief does not apply to accidental acts.
Definition and Meaning of Cheating
Cheating has been defined under Section 415 of the Indian Penal Code as under:
“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”.”
To reiterate, cheating is an offence wherein a person is deceived into delivering up property or letting the offender retain the property or doing or omitting to do something which the person wouldn’t have done if they were not so deceived. Such act of the person so deceived must cause damage or injury to his or her well-being, property etc. The words ‘fraudulently’ and ‘dishonestly’ have been used to point to the nature of the act of cheating. The term ‘dishonestly’ is defined under Section 24 of IPC and in the present context, signifies that the offense of cheating must be done with the intention of making a wrongful gain or causing wrongful loss. The term ‘fraudulently’ has been defined under Section 25 to mean that the act must be done with the intent to defraud.
The explanation of the section reads, “A dishonest concealment of facts is a deception within the meaning of this section.”
Essentials of Cheating
To constitute ‘Cheating’, the following essentials must be fulfilled:
1. There must be ‘deception’ or any act to deceive a person;
2. The intention must be to dishonestly or fraudulently cause wrongful loss or have a wrongful gain;
3. It must cause the person so deceived to deliver any property or do or to consent any other person to retain any property or omit to do what the person might not have done otherwise (if not deceived);
4. Proximate damage or harm must be caused to the mind, body, property, or reputation of the person (who is deceived).
Specific and Aggravated Forms of Cheating and Related Provisions
1. Section 416 deals with the offense of ‘cheating by personation’ and Section 419 prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 3 years and/or fine.
2. Section 418 deals with ‘Cheating with knowledge that wrongful loss may ensue to person whose interest offender is bound to protect’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 3 years and/or fine.
3. Section 420 deals with ‘Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property’ and prescribes a punishment of imprisonment upto 7 years and fine.
Case Laws Regarding Cheating
1. In Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari v. Shailendar Bhushan, The court held that the accused, Swami Brahmachari, knowingly made false proclamations that the yoga course run by him through the Vishwayatan Yogashram was recognized by the Government of India, thereby inducing unwary students to pay Rs 1,000 as a caution deposit, thereby cheating students. The Delhi High Court refused to reject the criminal case of cheating pending against him since the accusation against him was prima facie found to be made out in the complaint and information obtained by the investigating authorities.
2. In Mailsami v. State of Tamil Nadu, The Madras High Court was considering the matter of an accused person who had made false promises to marry a woman and on that pretext, got close to her, impregnating her. He then imposed an impossible condition for marriage, namely that she terminate the six-month pregnancy, and when she refused, he refused to marry her. The Madras High Court ruled that all of the elements of Section 417 had been established, including inducements that caused the victim to do something she would not have done otherwise. As a result, the high court refused to dismiss the criminal case against the accused.
Difference Between Mischief And Cheating
|Basis of Difference||Mischief||Cheating|
|Meaning||Mischief is the act of destroying property so as to cause wrongful loss to any other person or the public in general.||Cheating is the act of deceiving a person so as to make wrongful gains or cause the other person wrongful loss.|
|Sections||Sections 425 to 440 cover provisions related to Mischief.||Sections 415 to 420 cover provisions related to Cheating.|
|Illustration||A voluntarily throws into a river a ring belonging to Z, with the intention of thereby causing wrongful loss to Z. A has committed mischief.||A, by exhibiting to Z a false sample of an article, intentionally deceives Z into believing. that the article corresponds with the sample, and thereby, dishonestly induces Z to buy and pay for the article. A Cheat.|
|The objective of the Offender||In Mischief, the objective of the offender is to cause wrongful loss or damage to the person(s) to whom the property belongs.||In Cheating, the objective of the offender is to enjoy the property and make wrongful gains by causing wrongful loss to a person.|
|Classification of offense||The offence is non-cognizable, bailable, compoundable, and triable by any Magistrate.||The offense is non-cognizable, bailable and triable by any Magistrate. It is compoundable by the person cheated with the permission of the court.
|Punishment||According to Section 426, mischief is punishable with upto 3 months of imprisonment and/or fine.||According to Section 417, cheating is punishable with upto 1 year of imprisonment and/or fine.|
|Act||In Mischief, the act constitutes the destruction of property.||In cheating, the act is of inducement to deliver property or obtain consent by defrauding the person or cause the person to do or omit to do what he or she would not do under normal circumstances.|
|Type of Injury or Harm||The harm is in the form of loss of property.||The injury is in the form of harm to:
§ Reputation, or
To sum up, mischief and cheating are distinct ‘offences against property’ under the Indian Penal Code. While mischief is the offense of destroying property so as to cause wrongful loss to any other person or the public in general, cheating is the act of deceiving a person so as to make wrongful gains or cause the other person wrongful loss.
 2006 (6) SCC 736.
 1991 II OLR 527.
 (1995) Cr LJ 1810 (Del).
 (1994) Cr LJ 2238 (Mad).
 Illustration (c) to section 425.
 Illustration (c) to section 415.
 I. Vibhute, PSA Pillai’s Criminal Law (LexisNexis, Gurgaon, 14th ed., 2019).
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