Author: Abhishek Wadhwan
Extortion has been defined in Section 383 of the Indian Penal Code as, “Whoever intentionally puts any person in fear of any injury to that person, or to any other, and thereby dishonestly induces the person so put in fear to deliver to any person any property or valuable security, or anything signed or sealed which may be converted into a valuable security, commits extortion”. In simple terms, extortion means the action of forcing any person to transfer any property or any other valuable security of the person through threat or force.
Further, the provision provides four illustrations to substantiate and clarify the meaning of extortion. The basic illustration which has been provided by the Indian Penal Code, Section 383 for a better understanding of what exactly is meant by the word ‘extortion’. First illustration states simply thus, “A threatens to publish a defamatory libel concerning Z unless Z gives him money. He thus induces Z to give him money. A has committed extortion”. This illustration may be interpreted to mean that even a threat to publish just a defamatory statement just to force the other person to transfer his property also qualifies as an offence of extortion. One of the other illustrations reads thus, “A threatens Z that he will keep Z’s child in wrongful confinement unless Z will sign and deliver to A a promissory note binding Z to pay certain monies to A. Z signs and delivers the note. A has committed extortion”. Hence, as per the aforementioned illustration, a threat given to a person to cause harm to even any of his near and dear ones may amount to the offence of extortion under the Indian Penal Code.
The essential elements of the crime of extortion can be enumerated as:
- It should be shown that there was a force to create threat or fear in the victim of the wrongful act.
- The wrongdoer must be having some interest in putting the victim under fear of any sort of threat or injury.
- There should be the presence of a dishonest intention.
- Such threat or fear of injury is caused on to the other person in order to force him to transfer any of his property or any other valuable item.
Section 384 of the IPC prescribes the punishment for the criminal offence of the extortion whereby any person who commits an offence of extortion may be sentenced to an imprisonment for a period maximum for three years, or fine or both as per the facts and circumstances of the case.
Section 385 of the IPC states that any person who puts or attempts to put a person under some sort of threat of injury to commit extortion shall also be punished with an imprisonment of two years and/ or fine. Hence, even an attempt to commit the offence of extortion is declared to be a criminal offence as per the IPC. If a person puts a person under a threat to cause death or grievous hurt, then as per Section 386 of the IPC, a person may be sentenced to undergo an imprisonment period of ten years and/or fine.
Moreover, even Section 327 of the IPC talks about voluntarily causing hurt to extort property or to constrain to an illegal act. The aforementioned section of the IPC provides for an imprisonment of a term which may extend maximum to a period of ten years which may also be accompanied with a fine if a person voluntarily causes hurt to the victim or to any person who is interested in the sufferer with an aim and object to force the victim to transfer any property or valuable security. If a person also causes the sufferer or any person who would be interested in the sufferer to perform any illegal activity then also the wrongdoer shall be convicted and punished under Section 327 of the IPC.
Any person who forces a person to transfer any property by threatening him to falsely accuse him of committing or attempting to commit an offence which is punishable with a death penalty or with an imprisonment of life, then also such an act qualifies to be called an offence of extortion under Sections 388 and 389 of the IPC. The punishment for this offence of extortion, the wrongdoer may be sentenced to undergo an imprisonment for a period which may be extended up to 10 years along with the fine as well.
In the case of Anil B. Nandakarni & Ors. Vs. Amitesh Kumar, the counsel for the accused pleaded that a necessary ingredient to convict an accused for the offence of extortion under the IPC requires that a property must be transferred to the accused by the victim when he is under a threat or a fear of an injury. Since there was no transfer of any valuable property to the accused, he cannot be convicted for the offence of extortion. The Honourable Bombay High Court dismissed this contention of the accused. The Court in its ratio stated that it is not necessary to prove that all the ingredients are fulfilled to convict anyone for the offence of extortion. A complaint should not necessarily contain all the ingredients to prove an offence. Relying on the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Rajesh Bajaj Vs. State NCT of Delhi & Ors., the Court held that the Court should not take a hypo-technical approach in such cases. If the victim is able to prove and lay a proper foundation to prove that the accused has committed extortion is enough to prosecute the accused for the same. If one or two ingredients of the offence are not met, it does not make the complainant vulnerable.
In a recent case of Rambeer Shokeen Vs. State (NCT of Delhi), the Honourable Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition for a bail which had been filed by a person who was in custody and was accused for the charges of extortion. The accused had made a series of crimes whereby he used to threaten rich businessmen and used to ask them to pay him a hefty amount or else he would harm them in some or the other manner. In the case, the Investigating Officer had filed an application for an extension for time to file the charge sheet as the Investigation Officer required some more amount of time or the purpose of calculating the amount of property that was held by the accused. This application of the Investigation Officer had been accepted by a competent court already. Consequently, the accused filed a writ of habeas corpus whereby he stated that he had a right to statutory bail. But the Supreme Court in the matter held that since a competent court had allowed the application of the Investigation Officer for the purpose of an extension in time for filing the charge-sheet against the accused, the competent court had passed an appropriate order thereby to keep the accused into custody. Even if a charge-sheet has not been submitted by the Investigation Officer for an accused who is charged under the offence of extortion, such an accused does not have a statutory right of bail in cases where a competent court allows to continue the custody of the said accused.
In the case of Lalit Vilasrao Thakare Vs. The State of Maharashtra, the Honourable High Court of Bombay has held that merely taking signatures or thumb impressions of a person on blank papers, though forcefully, may not amount to extortion. The rationale given by the Court behind this statement is that such a blank paper cannot be converted into any valuable property as per Section 383 of the IPC. Further, the Court in the same case has held that one of the most important elements of the offence of extortion under Section 283 of the IPC is that any property or a valuable security must be delivered to any person or it is to get anything signed or sealed which may be later converted into a valuable security. Since the Court was of the opinion that any blank paper which merely has a signature or thumb impression of a person cannot be converted into a valuable security, the Court declared the accused to be innocent as far as the offence of extortion under Section 383 of the IPC is concerned. Since the offence of extortion against the accused was not proved by the relevant facts of the case, he was also freed from the punishment that he had been sentenced to by a lower court under Section 327 of the IPC.
In simple words, extortion refers to an act whereby a person forces a person to transfer any property or valuable security under the fear of threat or an injury. Extortion is a punishable offence under Section 383 of the Indian Penal Code. In order to convict a person for the offence of extortion, a few ingredients have to be satisfied like there should be a fear of threat or injury, the presence of a dishonest intention and transfer of property or valuable security under the fear of threat or injury. However, the courts have now taken a new approach, rather than taking a hypo-technical approach, whereby all the essential ingredients of an offence may not be satisfied to convict an accused, in case the complainant is successful enough to create a proper foundation to prove that the accused had committed an offence. Hence, if one can prove a foundational base to prove that an accused had committed the offence of extortion, the court may convict the accused for extortion even if all the essential ingredients of the offence of extortion are not met with.
 Section 383, Illustration (a), Indian Penal Code, 1860.
 Section 383, Illustration (b), Indian Penal Code, 1860.
 Anil B. Nandakarni & Ors. Vs. Amitesh Kumar, 2001 (4) MhLJ 744.
 Rajesh Bajaj Vs. State NCT of Delhi & Ors., 1999 SCC 3 259.
 Rambeer Shokeen Vs. State (NCT of Delhi), 2018 4 SCC 405.
 Lalit Vilasrao Thakare Vs. The State of Maharashtra, 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 61.
About the Author: Abhishek is a 2018-23 Batch student at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar.
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