The Supreme Court of India delivered its judgement in Cauvery water dispute case on Monday. Judgement was not received well by the people of both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and violence erupted in both states. Multiple incidents of vandalism were reported. One may see what happened on Monday as an example of mischief.
Mischief is defined under Indian Penal Code as:
“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”. Explanation 1.—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. Explanation 2.—Mischief may be committed by an act affecting property belonging to the person who commits the act, or to that person and others jointly.”
The punishment for committing mischief is imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 month or a fine or both.
Mischief under the IPC is similar to the English law wherein mischief is known as ‘malicious injury to the property’. Further, malice is presumed from the nature of the act committed and its illegality.
Mischief comprises of mens rea (mental element) and actus reus (physical element). For mens rea, the doer must have an intention or knowledge that by such an act he is going to cause wrongful loss or damage to any other person or property. The incident of burning busses owned by a private transport company and vehicles registered in Tamil Nadu, clearly indicate the intent and knowledge on part of the hooligans. Their act of burning and pelting stones on vehicles of specific identity clearly suggests that they had knowledge that such act would cause damage to public or any person.
The actus reus for mischief is the destruction of property or any change in its situation that destroys or diminishes its value or utility. Mischief doesn’t apply to those acts which are done accidentally or negligently, but is only limited to those acts which lead to damage cause due to willful conduct or with knowledge. Further, the type of property covered under this offence is both, moveable and immoveable property.
The inclusion of term damage along with wrongful loss makes it evident that the legislature intended to bring within the purview of the offence of mischief, not just acts which resulted in wrongful loss but also those acts which caused damages by wrongful means. Further such damage should be caused with the intention or knowledge to cause the same. The term damage hence involves an invasion of a right, though not necessarily invasion that involves damage or destruction. However, it is necessary that the value of the property so damaged by the invasion of a right leads to reduction of value or usability of the damaged property. Additional, for it to be punishable, the person must have contemplated at the time of committing such act that the damage would lead to diminution of the property.
Thus where the value or utility of property has been diminished or has been destroyed, the offence of mischief is said to have been committed. Such destruction and diminution of property must be the result of an immediate or proximate act of the alleged doer and the utility must be seen from what is conceived by the owner. Additionally, mischief doesn’t include negligence within its fold. The value of the property though trifling wouldn’t matter as long as other requirements of the section are satisfied.
Thus if we look at the requirements of mischief, it is quite evident that the alleged acts committed in yesterday’s protests would satisfy prerequisites of a mischief, including destruction of property to diminution of value of property.