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Ingredients Necessary To Prove Charges Under Section 409, 420 & 477A IPC: Supreme Court Explains

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
14 Dec 2021 4:12 AM GMT
Ingredients Necessary To Prove Charges Under Section 409, 420 & 477A IPC: Supreme Court Explains
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In a judgment delivered on Monday ( 13 December 2021), the Supreme Court explained the ingredients necessary to prove a charge under Section 409, 420 and 477A of the Indian Penal Code.The bench comprising CJI NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hima Kohli made these observations while allowing appeal filed by an accused who was concurrently convicted under Sections 409, 420, and 477A of the Indian...

In a judgment delivered on Monday ( 13 December 2021), the Supreme Court explained the ingredients necessary to prove a charge under Section 409, 420 and 477A of the Indian Penal Code.

The bench comprising CJI NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hima Kohli made these observations while allowing appeal filed by an accused who was concurrently convicted under Sections 409, 420, and 477A of the Indian Penal Code and Section 13(2) read with Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

Section 409 IPC- Criminal breach of trust by public servant, or by banker, merchant or agent.

  1. Section 409 IPC pertains to criminal breach of trust by a public servant or a banker, in respect of the property entrusted to him. The onus is on the prosecution to prove that the accused, a public servant or a banker was entrusted with the property which he is duly bound to account for and that he has committed criminal breach of trust.
  2. The entrustment of public property and dishonest misappropriation or use thereof in the manner illustrated under Section 405 are a sine qua non for making an offence punishable under Section 409 IPC. The expression 'criminal breach of trust' is defined under Section 405 IPC which provides, inter alia, that whoever being in any manner entrusted with property or with any dominion over a property, dishonestly misappropriates or converts to his own use that property, or dishonestly uses or disposes of that property contrary to law, or in violation of any law prescribing the mode in which such trust is to be discharged, or contravenes any legal contract, express or implied, etc. shall be held to have committed criminal breach of trust.
  3. Hence, to attract Section 405 IPC, the following ingredients must be satisfied: (i) Entrusting any person with property or with any dominion over property; (ii) That person has dishonestly mis-appropriated or converted that property to his own use; (iii) Or that person dishonestly using or disposing of that property or wilfully suffering any other person so to do in violation of any direction of law or a legal contract.
  4. It ought to be noted that the crucial word used in Section 405 IPC is 'dishonestly' and therefore, it pre-supposes the existence of mens rea. In other words, mere retention of property entrusted to a person without any misappropriation cannot fall within the ambit of criminal breach of trust. Unless there is some actual use by the accused in violation of law or contract, coupled with dishonest intention, there is no criminal breach of trust. The second significant expression is 'mis-appropriates' which means improperly setting apart for ones use and to the exclusion of the owner.
  5. No sooner are the two fundamental ingredients of 'criminal breach of trust' within the meaning of Section 405 IPC proved, and if such criminal breach is caused by a public servant or a banker, merchant or agent, the said offence of criminal breach of trust is punishable under Page | 30 Section 409 IPC, for which it is essential to prove that: (i) The accused must be a public servant or a banker, merchant or agent; (ii) He/She must have been entrusted, in such capacity, with property; and (iii) He/She must have committed breach of trust in respect of such property. 
  6. Accordingly, unless it is proved that the accused, a public servant or a banker etc. was 'entrusted' with the property which he is duty bound to account for and that such a person has committed criminal breach of trust, Section 409 IPC may not be attracted. 'Entrustment of property' is a wide and generic expression. While the initial onus lies on the prosecution to show that the property in question was 'entrusted' to the accused, it is not necessary to prove further, the actual mode of entrustment of the property or misappropriation thereof. Where the 'entrustment' is admitted by the accused or has been established by the prosecution, the burden then shifts on the accused to prove that the obligation vis-à-vis the entrusted property was carried out in a legally and contractually acceptable manner.

Section 409 IPC in case of bank officer

Thus, misappropriation with this dishonest intention is one of the most important ingredients of proof of 'criminal breach of trust'. The offence under Section 409 IPC can be committed in varied manners, and as we are concerned with its applicability in the case of a bank officer, it is fruitful to point out that the banker is one who receives money to be drawn out again when the owner has occasion for it. Since the present case involves a conventional bank transaction, it may be further noted that in such situations, the customer is the lender and the bank is the borrower, the latter being under a super added obligation of honouring the customer's cheques up to the amount of the money received and still in the banker's hands. The money that a customer deposits in a bank is not held by the latter on trust for him. It becomes a part of the banker's funds who is under a contractual obligation to pay the sum deposited by a customer to him on demand with the agreed rate of interest. Such a relationship between the customer and the Bank is one of a creditor and a debtor. The Bank is liable to pay money back to the customers when called upon, but until it's called upon to pay it, the Bank is entitled to utilize the money in any manner for earning profit.

Section 420 IPC- Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property

  1. Section 420 IPC provides that whoever cheats and thereby dishonestly induces a person deceived to deliver any property to any person, or to make, alter or destroy, the whole or any part of valuable security, or anything, which is signed or sealed, and which is capable of being converted into a valuable security, shall be liable to be punished for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.
  2. It is paramount that in order to attract the provisions of Section 420 IPC, the prosecution has to not only prove that the accused has cheated someone but also that by doing so, he has dishonestly induced the person who is cheated to deliver property. There are, thus, three components of this offence, i.e., (i) deception of any person, (ii) fraudulently or dishonestly inducing that person to deliver any property to any person, and (iii) mens rea of the accused at the time of making the inducement. It goes without saying that for the offence of cheating, fraudulent and dishonest intention must exist from the inception when the promise or representation was made.
  3. It is equally well-settled that the phrase 'dishonestly' emphasizes a deliberate intention to cause wrongful gain or wrongful loss, and when this is coupled with cheating and delivery of property, the offence becomes punishable under Section 420 IPC. Contrarily, the mere breach of contract cannot give rise to criminal prosecution under Section 420 unless fraudulent or dishonest intention is shown right at the beginning of the transaction. It is equally important that for the purpose of holding a person guilty under Section 420, the evidence adduced must establish beyond reasonable doubt, mens rea on his part. Unless the complaint showed that the accused had dishonest or fraudulent intention 'at the time the complainant parted with the monies', it would not amount to an offence under Section 420 IPC and it may only amount to breach of contract.

Section 477A- Falsification of accounts

  1. Section 477A,  defines and punishes the offence of 'falsification of accounts'. According to the provision, whoever, being a clerk, officer or servant, or employed or acting in that capacity, wilfully and with intent to defraud, destroys, alters, mutilates or falsifies any book, electronic record, paper, writing, valuable security or account which belongs to or is in possession of his employer, or has been received by him for or on behalf of his employer, or wilfully and with intent to defraud, or if he abets to do so, shall be liable to be punished with imprisonment which may extend to seven years. This Section through its marginal note indicates the legislative intention that it only applies where there is falsification of accounts, namely, book keeping or written accounts.
  2. In an accusation under Section 477A IPC, the prosecution must, therefore, prove—(a) that the accused destroyed, altered, mutilated or falsified the books, electronic records, papers, writing, valuable security or account in question; (b) the accused did so in his capacity as a clerk, officer or servant of the employer; (c) the books, papers, etc. belong to or are in possession of his employer or had been received by him for or on behalf of his employer; (d) the accused did it wilfully and with intent to defraud


In this case, the accused was charged under the above provisions for allegedly misusing his official position at the Bank and passed three loose cheques in 1994, to withdraw funds from an account despite there being insufficient funds in the said account, and thereby extended an undue advantage to his brother-in-law, a co-accused. The second allegation was that the FDRs were prematurely encashed by him.

Referring to the evidence on record, the bench noted the following: First, no financial loss was caused to the Bank. Second, the record does not indicate that any pecuniary loss was caused to B. Satyajit Reddy or to any other customer of the Bank. Third, the material before us does not disclose any conspiracy between the accused persons. Therefore, it held that none of the acts proved against the accused constitute 'criminal misconduct' or fall under the ambit of Sections 409, 420 and 477-A IPC.

Allowing the appeal, the court held that the prosecution has failed to prove the charges under Sections 409, 420 and 477A IPC against the accused beyond reasonable doubt.


Case name: N. Raghavender vs State of Andhra Pradesh, CBI

Citation: LL 2021 SC 734

Case no. and Date:  CrA 5 OF 2010 | 13 December 2021

Coram: CJI NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Hima Kohli

Counsel: Sr. Adv Sidharth Luthra, ASG Jayant K. Sud

Click here to Read/Download Judgment




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