Document Thefts

One of the foremost components of theft is that the subject matter of the theft needs to be a “moveable property”; “moveable property” is defined in Section 22, IPC which includes a corporeal property of every description. It is beyond doubt that a document is a “moveable property” within the meaning of Section 22, IPC which can be the subject matter of theft. A “document” is a corporeal property. A thing is “corporeal” if it has a body, material and a physical presence. As per Section 29, IPC “document” denotes “any matter expressed or described upon any substance by means of letters, figures or marks or by more than one of those means, intended to be used, or which may be used as evidence of that matter”. This definition would include within its ambit photocopy of a document.

Information contained in a document, if replicated, can be the subject of theft and can result in wrongful loss, even though the original document was only temporarily removed from its lawful custody for the purpose of extracting the information contained therein. In the case of K.N. Mehra v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1957 SC 369 this Court held that gain or loss contemplated need not be a total acquisition or a total deprivation but it is enough if it is a temporary retention of property by the person wrongfully gaining or a temporary keeping out of property from person legally entitled.

Thus, it is held that the “document” as defined in Section 29, IPC is a “moveable property” within the meaning of Section 22, IPC which can be the subject matter of theft. The information contained thereon in the documents would also fall within the purview of the “corporeal property” and can be the subject matter of the theft.”

Hon’ble Justice R. Banumathi, Birla Corporation Ltd. v. Adventz Investments and Holdings Ltd., [Criminal Appeal No. 875 of 2019].

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