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Meaning of 'Dishonestly'

Section 24 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Whoever does anything with the intention of causing wrongful gain to one person or wrongful loss to another person, is said to do that thing “dishonestly”.

From this definition it will appear that the term ‘dishonestly’ is not used in the Code in its popular significance. Unless there is wrongful gain to one person, or wrongful loss to another, an act would not be ‘dishonest.’ An act may be fraudulent without being dishonest or dishonest without being fraudulent. The definition in this section applies only to wrongful gain or wrongful loss.

Section 23 defines 'wrongful gain' and 'wrongful loss' which are the main ingredients of the definition of the word 'dishonestly' in s 24.

Wrongful gain: “Wrongful gain” is gain by unlawful means of property to which the person gaining is not legally entitled.

Wrongful loss: “Wrongful loss” is the loss by unlawful means of property to which the person losing it is legally entitled.

Gaining wrongfully, losing wrongfully: A person is said to gain wrongfully when such person retains wrongfully, as well as when such person acquires wrongfully. A person is said to lose wrongfully when such person is wrongfully kept out of any property, as well as when such person is wrongfully deprived of property.

The word 'wrongful’ means prejudicially affecting a party in some legal right. For either wrongful loss or gain, the property must be lost to the owner, or the owner must be wrongfully kept out of it. Thus, where a pledgee used a turban that was pledged, it was held that the deterioration of the turban by use was not ‘wrongful loss' of property to the owner, and the wrongful beneficial use of it by the pledgee was not a ‘wrongful gain’ to him.1) Forcible and illegal seizure of bullocks of a widow in satisfaction of a debt due to the accused by her deceased husband was held to be a wrongful loss. Where a person, who purchased rice from a famine relief officer, at a certain rate on condition that he should sell it at a pound the rupee less, did not sell it at the rate agreed upon, but at four pounds the rupee less, it was held that no wrongful gain or wrongful loss had been caused to anyone within the meaning of this section. The rice having been sold to the accused, and he having paid for it, it was not unlawful for him to sell it again at such prices as he thought fit.

Wrongfully kept out of any property: When the owner is kept out of possession of his property with the object of depriving him of the benefit arising from the possession even temporarily, the case will come within the definition. If a creditor by force or otherwise takes the goods of his debtor out of his possession against his will in order to put pressure on him to compel him to discharge his debt he will be guilty of theft by causing wrongful loss to the debtor. Fees payable to a college for attending lectures are ‘property' within the meaning of this section.

Wrongful Gain need not be to the Accused Himself: The question whether or not the act of the accused was dishonest does not, as a matter of fact, depend on the question whether wrongful gain or loss was actually caused. The determining factor is the intention with which payment is made. The wrongful gain need not be to the accused himself.2)

1800 3 M.H.C. (Appx.)
PS Hay v Emperor AIR 1925 Oudh 469

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