Nathulal v. State of Madhya Pradesh

COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice K.S. Shah and Justice R. Bachawat


Mens rea criminal intent is an essential element of every crime. There must be a mind at fault to constitute a criminal act. It is the combination of an act and an evil intent that distinguishes civil from criminal liability. This case essentially deals with this concept of criminal law.


The facts of the case are as follows: The appellant was a dealer in a food grains at Dhar in Madhya Pradesh prosecuted in the Court of Additional District Magistrate for possessing in stock maunds and 21/4 seers of wheat for the purpose of sale without license. Subsequently appellant was charged for committing an offence under section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Thereafter the appellant pleaded there was no intention to contravene any provisions of the law and the grains were stored upon filing an application for license and upon believe that it will be issued to him. The appellant further stated that he continued to submit returns on the food grains stored and purchased to the respected authority.

Thus, the appellant was acquitted in the Court of Additional District Magistrate on the ground that the appellant is not found to be of a guilty mind.  On appeal a division bench of High Court of Madhya Pradesh set aside the order of acquittal and convicted Nathulal on basis that in a case arising under the act the idea of guilty mind was different from that arising in the case like theft; and that he contravened the provision of the act and the order made thereunder.

Thereafter based on the findings the appellant was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for one year and to a fine of Rs. 2000/- and in its default further imprisonment of 6 months. Eventually, this appeal was filed before the Supreme Court by Nathulal.

Also Read  Shikhar Chand & Ors v. Mst. Bari Bai & Ors.


The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether a factual non-compliance of the provision of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955; precisely section 7 amounts to an offence there under even when there is no mens rea on the part of the offender?
  2. Whether the act of the appellant can be interpreted as intentional contravention of the specified provision of the Act?

Summary of court decision and judgment

The appeal was allowed, the order of the High Court convicting the appellant was set aside, and ‘‘the appellant is acquitted of the offence with which he was charged. The bail bond is discharged. If any fine has been paid, it shall be returned.

The Court affirmed that the appellant had contravened Section 3 of the Order with the knowledge that he did not hold a license. But there can be no doubt that the State authorities acted negligently: they did not give the appellant a hearing before rejecting his application for a license, and did not even inform him about its rejection. They continued to accept the returns submitted by him from time to time, and there is no reason to disbelieve the statement of the appellant that the Inspector had given him assurances from time to time that a license would be issued to him. The Court, therefore, of the view that no serious view of the contravention of the provisions of the Madhya Pradesh Foodgrains Dealers Licensing Order, 1958, may be taken, and a fine of Rs. 50 would meet the ends of justice. The order forfeiting the stocks of food grains must be set aside.


Mens rea is an essential ingredient of a criminal offence and the mere fact that the objective of the statute is to promise welfare activities or to eradicate a grave social evil is by itself and not decisive of the question whether the element of guilty mind is excluded from the ingredients of an offence. Mens rea may be excluded from a statute only where it is absolutely clear that the implementation of the object of the statute would otherwise be defeated.

Also Read  Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors.

Regarding the object of the Act in question, in this case, is to control in the general public interest, trade-in certain commodities, it cannot be said that the object of the act would be defeated if mens rea is being interpreted as an ingredient of the offence.  The Supreme Court has invariably ruled time and again that mens rea would be a necessary ingredient of a crime unless it is either ‘expressly or by necessary implication’ ruled out as one.

The doctrine of mens rea is to be particularly applied in those cases which carry corporal punishment of severe nature. Thereby the ruling of the Court was absolutely on par with the doctrine of mens rea which signifies that – a person would commit an offence under section 7 of the Act if he intentionally contravenes any order made under section 3 of the Act.

With regard to the second question raised in the case, the Court observed that the appellant has made an application for a license to the licensing authority in Form A, Clause 4(1) of the order, and deposited the mandatory fee therewith. There was no intimation made to him that his application was rejected and furthermore he was continuously purchasing food grains and was also sending returns to the authority showing the grains purchased by him; nevertheless, he never sold any grain purchased and thus the Court in the majority was satisfied that the appellant was devoid of any mala fide intention and there was negligence on the part of the officials namely the Licensing Authority, therefore, the appellant cannot be found to be guilty mind.


It is a basic knowledge in law that the authenticated definition of a crime accepted in law will contain the required actus rea and mens rea for the offence and the prosecution has to prove both of the above-mentioned elements to satisfy beyond reasonable doubt of their existence. Failing to do so will acquit the accused person and as we know in India “all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty”.

Also Read  Supreme Court Advocates-On-Record & Ors. v. Union of India

The Courts have a vital role to play to develop the laws and shape them in a way that doesn’t contradict the Constitutional provisions, principles and beliefs. Further, the Court has to maintain the adopted doctrines’ legal sanctity in the legal system of ours where sometimes the legislature, intentionally or unintentionally, override the principles.

This case is a perfect showpiece to present the active and important role of the judiciary in protecting both the legal documents and principles and also the people.

Leave a comment