SECTION 378 IPC - Indian Penal Code - Theft

Last Updated: 01 Mar, 2023
By Advocate Chikirsha Mohanty


Description of IPC Section 378

According to section 378 of Indian penal code, Whoever, intending to take dishonestly any movable property out of the possession of any person without that person’s consent, moves that property in order to such taking, is said to commit theft.


Section 378- Theft

In common usage, theft is the taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful ownership of the property. The word is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting and fraud.

The offence of theft is punishable with imprisonment of either description which may extend to 3 years, with fine, or both according to the Indian Penal Code. The offence of theft, though cognizable and non-bailable, is compoundable (where the accused and the victim can enter into a compromise to drop charges against the accused). According to the criminal jurisprudence, where the offence is compoundable then generally it cannot be termed as a serious offence. The seriousness and gravity of an offence can also be assessed by the fact and circumstances involved in any incidence of crime.

What amounts to Theft under Section 378 of IPC?

According to Section 378 of the Indian Penal Code, whoever, intending to take dishonestly any moveable property out of the possession of any person without that per¬son’s consent, moves that property in order to such taking, is said to commit theft.


  1. A cuts down a tree on Z's ground, with the intention of dis¬honestly taking the tree out of Z’s possession without Z’s con¬sent. Here, as soon as A has severed the tree in order to such taking, he has committed theft.

  2. A puts a bait for dogs in his pocket, and thus induces Z's dog to follow it. Here, if A's intention be dishonestly to take the dog out of Z's possession without Z's consent. A has commit¬ted theft as soon as Z's dog has begun to follow A.

Essentials of Theft (Section 378)

The essential ingredients of the offence of theft under Section 378 of the IPC, is well-explained by the Supreme Court in a leading judgment. In this case, the alleged theft was of an aircraft, which belonged to the government (Indian Air Force Academy). Two youngsters, Mehra and Phillips, were cadets on training in the Indian Air Force at Jodhpur. Phillips was discharged from the Academy on 13th May 1952 on account of misconduct. On 14th May, 1952, he was due to leave Jodhpur by train. His friend Mehra was due for flight in a Dakota, as part of his training along with one Om Prakash, a flying cadet. The authorised time for the flight to take off was between 6 am and 6.30 am on the morning of 14th May. However, Mehra and Phillips took off, not a Dakota but a Harvard T-22, before the prescribed time at 5 am without authorisation and without observing any of the formalities, which were pre-requisites for an aircraft flight. On the forenoon of the same day, they landed at a place in Pakistan about 100 miles away from the Indo-Pakistan border. On 16th May, 1952 at 7 am, both of them met the Indian Commissioner in Pakistan at Karachi, and informed him that they had lost their way and force-landed in a field and that they had left the plane there. They requested his help to go back to Delhi. The Indian High Commissioner arranged for both of them to be sent back to Delhi in another plane. While they were on their way to Delhi, the plane stopped at Jodhpur and they were arrested and prosecuted for the offence of theft.

One of the main contentions of the accused was that if they had the inclination to take the aircraft to Pakistan, they would not have contacted the Indian High Commissioner at Karachi later. But the prosecution succeeded in proving that this apparently innocent move did not necessarily negative their intention at the time of taking off. It may be that after reaching Pakistan only, the impracticability of their scheme to get employment in Pakistan dawned upon them and they gave it up. It was enough to constitute the offence that they had the dishonest intention at the commencement of the journey. The fact that they took off Harvard T-22 plane rather than the allowed Dakota, and left India at 5 am instead of the scheduled time of 6 am, and that they also refused to respond to the wireless messages from Indian aerodrome authorities at 11 am, showed that they had the dishonest intention to take off a Harvard T-22 plane.

The court analysed the offence of theft under section 378 and constituted the essential elements of theft as follows:

  1. The subject of theft should be a movable property;

  2. It should be in the possession of anyone;

  3. There should be a dishonest intention to take it out of that person’s possession without his consent and;

  4. A moving in order to such taking.

What a moveable property is as mentioned under Section 378?

Movable property is defined under Section 22 of the Indian Penal Code as including ‘corporeal property of every description except land and things attached to the earth, or permanently fastened to anything which is attached to the earth’. Any part of the earth whether it be stones, or clay or sand or any other component when severed from the earth is moveable property and is capable of being the subject of theft. A house cannot be the subject of theft, but there may be theft of its materials. Cart-loads of earth, or stones carried away from the land of another are subjects of theft.

As per the Explanations 1 and 2 to Section 378 of IPC, things attached to the land may become movable property by severance from the earth, and that the act of severance may itself be theft. However, Human body whether living or dead (except bodies, or portions thereof, or mummies preserved in museums and scientific institutions) is not movable property.

Punishment for theft under the IPC

Punishment for theft has been stated under Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code. According to this Section of Indian Penal Code, whoever commits theft shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both. Under this section it has been stated that any person who commits the offence of theft will be punished with an imprisonment for a term of three years or with fine specified by the court or with both.

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