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Legopedia

Arson Laws in India

section 435

Introduction To Arson Laws in India

Arson as a crime can be defined as willful and maliciously setting fire to a property to cause damage. A person who commits arson is known as an arsonist. Arson may include acts like setting fire to one’s property with malicious intent, for example, when A burns B’s house to collect insurance money.

While the majority of arson crimes involve damage to buildings, but it can also be said to be committed when someone sets fire to forest land or a boat, or personal property, land, etc. It is distinguished from other causes of fire such as accidental fire, spontaneous combustion,  and natural wildfires. Arson as a crime, in different countries, attracts punishment in the form of imprisonment, fines, probation or both imprisonment and fine. Here, in this article, we will discuss Arson under Indian law.

The crime of arson is defined under Section 435 and Section 436 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Section 435

Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage to the amount of one hundred or (in case of agricultural produce) ten rupees.

Section 435 of IPC states that “Whoever commits mischief by fire or any explosive substance intending to cause, or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause, damage to any property to the amount of one hundred rupees or upwards[1] [or (where the property is agricultural produce) ten rupees or upwards], shall be pun­ished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

The section provides punishment for arson resulting in the destruction of two kinds of property-

  • Agriculture produce of value of Rs. 10 or more;
  • Any other property if damage caused is valued at least Rs. 100

The expression ‘damage to any property’ used in the section as mentioned above means the destruction of any property or any change in any property or in the situation thereof as destroys or diminishes its value or utility or affects it injuriously. The expression ‘damage to any property’ is wide enough to include the entire incidental loss suffered by the owner.

The special mischief punishable under section 435 is mischief by fire or by an explosive substance. The word ‘fire’ would include anything that generates fire, for example phosphorus, while ‘explosive substance’ would include anything that explodes or detonates owing to a rapid chemical reaction such as dynamite, gunpowder, etc.

In Ramchandra Govindrao Pachghare vs Narayan Sitaramji Adhe[2], Court while pronouncing the sentence for Accused No. 1, who was charged under section 435 stated that,If a trespasser left say his walking stick or a watch on the field of another person, the owner would not be justified in damaging the watch or destroying his stick or set fire to the articles.”

Essentials requirements to commit an offense under Section 435

  1. The accused committed Mischief (defined u/S. 426);
  2. The Mischief was caused by fire or any explosive substance;
  3. The damage thereby amounted to Rs.100 or more; unless the property destroyed is agricultural produce, in which case it need not amount to more than Rs.10;
  4. The accused intended or knew that he was thereby likely to cause such damage.

The offense under Section 435 is cognizable, bailable offense but not compoundable offense. It is triable by the Magistrate of First Class.

Section 436

Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy a house, etc.

Section 436 of IPC states that “Whoever commits mischief by fire or any explosive substance, intending to cause, or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause, the destruction of any build­ing which is ordinarily used as a place of worship or as a human dwelling or as a place for the custody of property, shall be punished with[3] [imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Section 436 contemplates the destruction of a building. A building should not be necessarily a finished structure.  A structure made of straw and not of bricks and mortar will also be considered as a building if it has got the necessary furnishings needed for a building, such as doors, bars, etc. An ordinary double-thatched shed resting on bamboos or wooden or brick pillars having no doors etc. cannot be treated as a building within the meaning of the term used in Section 436.[4] A wooden cabin which was removable is not a building.

Essential requirements to make an offense punishable under Section 436

  1. The accused committed Mischief (defined u/S. 426);
  2. The Mischief was caused by fire or any explosive substance;
  3. It destroyed or damaged a building;
  4. Such building was ordinarily used either as a-
  5. Place of worship: or
  6. Human dwelling: or
  7. A place for the custody of property
  8. The burning must be done willfully or maliciously to constitute arson.

The offense under Section 436 is a cognizable and non-bailable offense. It is triable by Court of Session.

Attempt to Arson

In the case of Malkiat Singh v. State of Punjab[5] court held that “If there are several persons who have a common intention to commit arson by setting fire to a haystack and one of them buys a box of matches, he or the others in the conspiracy cannot be convicted of attempted arson, however clearly it may be proved that he intended to set fire to a haystack at the time of the purchase of the box of matches. Nor can he be convicted of attempted arson, if he approaches the haystack with the box of matches in his pocket, but if he bends down near the stack and lights a match which he extinguishes on perceiving that he is being watched, he and the other persons in the conspiracy may be guilty of an attempt to burn it. “

[1] Inserted by Act 8 of 1882, section 10.

[2] Ramchandra Govindrao Pachghare vs Narayan Sitaramji Adhe: (1972) 74 BOMLR 341

[3] Substituted by Act 26 of 1955, section 117 and Schedule, for “transportation for life” (w.e.f. 1-1-1956).

[4] Babulal & another v. State, AIR 1952 Allahabad 146

[5]Malkiat Singh v. the State of Punjab; (1969) 1 S.C.C. 157.

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by Aryan

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