The role of ‘mens rea’ under Section 420 of IPC.

By this case you will learn that the Supreme Court held that a mere failure to perform duty cannot bring the act under the ambit of cheating.
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice P.K.Goswami


            This was a case of cheating by the cashier of the Medical College Hospital. The Court dealt with the importance of mens rea to be proved under Section 420 of IPC.


            The facts of the case are as follows: For the months of March, January and December 1963, fictitious bills were drawn from the Treasury of a Hospital. Letters of appointment and joining reports were sent in the usual manner to Accounting Department to prepare pay bills. The Patna High Court convicted the three accused persons in the case under Sections 420 and 34 of Indian Penal Code 1860. Thereafter, the Accountant Raghunath Prasad and the Cashier Anil Kumar appealed to the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Both the cases were tried jointly.


The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether or not the actions of the cashier in this case made him liable to be punished under Section 420 of IPC.
  2. What role does the mens rea plays under Section 420 of IPC and its effects in respect of this case?

Summary of court decision and judgement

The material before the High Court together with the significant observation against the Superintendent and the Deputy Superintendent did make out a case for giving benefit of reasonable doubt to the Cashier as well. On the evidence, which the High Court relied upon against the cashier, it was not possible to hold that the requisite mens rea had been established against this accused. As observed in the case of the Accountant, it may be at the highest a case of an error of judgment or breach of performance of duty which, per se, cannot be equated with dishonest intention to establish the charge under Section 420 IPC.

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Later, appeals were allowed. The judgment of the High Court so far as these two Appellants are concerned was set aside. The two Appellants were acquitted.


            The factual matrix of the case points out that according to the rules of procedure, such pay bills used to be prepared by the Bill Clerk, checked by the Accountant and then placed for signature before the Superintendent of the Hospital. Post his signature, the bills were handed over to the peon of the Hospital. The Peon took these further to the Treasury and after collecting the money thereafter made over the same to the Cashier. The Cashier would make relevant entries in his Cash Book and other connected registers. Thereafter, the money was disbursed to various persons in accordance with the Acquittance Roll. These persons were required to sign in a token of receipt of the amounts on the Acquittance Roll. After disbursement of the money, a certificate used to be given by the Deputy Superintendent to the effect that the money had been disbursed in his presence.

The essential requirements to attract Section 420 of IPC are:

  1. Cheating;
  2. Dishonest inducement to deliver property or to make, alter or destroy any valuable security or anything which is sealed or signed or is capable of being converted into a valuable security; and
  3. The mens rea of the accused at the time of making the inducement.

Based on the above requirements, the Supreme Court held that for the offence of Cheating under Section 420, there must be deception which should precede the fraudulent or dishonest inducement and it must be established that the intention of the accused was dishonest at time of doing an act or making a promise. [1]

Furthermore, the Supreme Court rightly stated that mere failure to perform a duty or observe rules of procedure may be an administrative lapse or any error of judgment but cannot be equated with dishonest intention or cheating[2], thereby the appeals were allowed.

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             Although prima facie the case appears to be an undecorated judgment of the Supreme Court, the significance of the case and its impact in the legal system of the country can be seen till date. The demarcation made by the Court in respect of deception and that of non-performance or failure to perform a duty is a precedent of its kind. This case set the path for many aggrieved persons to seek remedy and guided others to the correct path.


[1] Hatiram Naik vs Surendra Kumar Malik Crl. Rev. No. 260 of 1983

[2] Arvindbhai Maganlal Master &Anr vs. State of Gujarat 2014