Important Judgment Pronounced Today on Removal of Document for Replilcation of Content is theft (15th May, 2019)

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Title of the Case – Removal of Documents for Replication of Content

Name of the caseBirla Corporation Limited V. Adventz Investments and Holdings Limited & Others, Cr.A. No. 875 of 2019 (@SLP (Crl.) No. 9053 of 2016)

Date of Judgment 15th May, 2019

Judges: Justice R Banumathi and Subhash Reddy

Subject and sections involved Section 378 of Indian Penal Code

 

Issue:

  1. Whether temporary removal of the documents and using them in the litigation pending between the parties would amount to theft?
  2. Whether the replication of information from a document would fall under the scope of movable property?

Fact of the Case:

The Appellant Birla Corporation has alleged the theft of fifty-four of its document by Adverntz Investments and Holdings.

Madhav Prasad Birla (MPB) Group, now under the control of - Harshvardhan Lodha who is the son of Rajendra Singh Lodha. The impugned complaint has a background of multitude of litigations filed by the respondents and others. Brief facts which led to filing of these appeals are that one Priyamvada Devi Birla (PDB) and her husband Madhav Prasad Birla (MPB) were in control and management of several corporate entities which are collectively referred to as the M.P. Birla Group of Industries. They did not have any children. They have created several trusts for undertaking charitable activities in particular on the education side. PDB died on 03.07.2004 and MPB had predeceased her. There is an ongoing dispute over legality of a Will allegedly executed by Priyamvada Devi Birla (PDB) dated 18.04.1999 in favour of Rajendra Singh Lodha -son of said Rajendra Singh Lodha.

On 19.07.2004, a petition was filed by Rajendra Singh Lodha, father of Harshvardhan Lodha, for grant of probate of the purported Will before the High Court at Calcutta. The Probate Petition has been converted into a testamentary suit for grant of Letters of Administration. Krishna Kumar Birla (KKB), Basant Kumar Birla (BKB), Ganga Prasad Birla (GPB) and Yashovardhan Birla (YB) have filed caveats to oppose the grant of probate of the said Will dated 18.04.1999.
 

Ratio of the case -

Movable 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….

…The first Explanation to Section 29 IPC provides that it is immaterial by what means or upon what substance these are formed. This definition would include within its ambit photocopy of a document. As per Explanation No.2 of Section 29 IPC, letters, figures or marks shall be deemed to be expressed by such letters, figures or marks within the meaning of the Section. Such letters, figures or marks thus have a material and physical presence. Therefore, it can also be inferred that the said information would be deemed to fall within the purview of “Document” – a corporeal property.”

Replication of Information

The Court held that the replication of information in the facts and circumstances of the present case would not amount to theft. The Court held that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to conclude that there was a dishonest intention on the part of the respondent company to create wrongful gain for themselves.

“…it is to be seen in using the documents in the litigation, whether there is “dishonest intention” on the part of the respondents in causing “wrongful loss” to the appellant Company and getting “wrongful gain” for themselves. Respondents…have produced the photocopies of the documents No.1 to 54 in the CLB proceedings which were filed by them on the ground of oppression and mismanagement.

Merely because the respondents have produced the copies of the documents in the CLB proceedings, it cannot be said that the respondents have removed the documents with “dishonest” intention. Copies of documents are produced in support of the case of respondents No.1 to 5 and to enable the Court to arrive at the truth in a judicial proceeding involving alleged oppression and mismanagement in the affairs of the appellant Company by respondent No.17.”

The Court further held,

“When a bona fide dispute exists between the parties as to whether there is oppression and mismanagement, there is no question of “wrongful gain” to the respondents or “wrongful loss” to the appellant. In using the documents, when there is no dishonest intention to cause “wrongful loss” to the complainant and “wrongful gain” to the respondents, it cannot be said that the ingredients of theft are made out…

…How the respondents had access to the documents may be one thing. It may perhaps have bearing on the evidentiary value to be attached to the documents. But to say that it amounts to theft and seeking to prosecute the respondents is nothing but an attempt to cow down their defence in the litigation or to deprive the respondents of their valuable defence.”