By Ranjana Maharda, National Law University, Jodhpur.


Theft, Extortion, Robbery and Dacoity are offences in criminal law affecting the property of a person, defined in Sections 378 to 402 of the Indian Penal Code. On a prima facie basis they seem to be very much similar to each other, but on a closer look it may be found that there are slight differences which distinguish one from another. Hence, the present article focuses upon the differences between these four offences which seems to be similar to each other.

Each of these offences is distinguished from another on the basis of small pivotal differences.


Theft is defined in S. 378 of Indian Penal Code1. The essential ingredients of the offence of theft is well-explained by the SC in K. N. Mehra v State of Rajasthan2, where the SC held that proof of intention to cause permanent deprivation of property to the owner, or to obtain a personal gain is not necessary for the purpose of establishing dishonest intention. The Court analysed the offence of theft under S. 378 thus: “Commission of theft….. consists in (1) moving a movable property of a person out of his possession without his consent; (2) the moving being in order to taking property with a dishonest intention. Thus: (1) the absence of the person’s consent at the time of moving , and (2) the presence of dishonest intention in so taking and at the time are the essential ingredients of the offence of theft.3  Thus, it is essential that theft may be committed only of movable property as against extortion , robbery , dacoity , movable property may include animals, fish, human corpses, electricity4, water, cattle etc. However, in case of wild animals or ferae naturae, there can be no absolute property. But when killed upon the soil, they become the absolute property of the owner of the soil.5 Similarly fish in running waters, such as rivers, and canals and in the lakes and seas are ferae naturae and cannot be the subject of theft. So also fish in open irrigation tanks, or in tanks not enclosed on all sides.6 The general rule with respect to human corpses is that there can be no larceny with regard to a corpse, but anatomical remains and the like could be personal property and hence capable of theft.7

The main right of the individual that is sought to be protected under ss 378 and 379 is undoubtedly his right of possession of the movables.8


Extortion is defined in S. 383 as appropriation of property by coercion.9 The essential ingredients of the offence of extortion are: (1) intentionally putting a person in fear of injury; (2) the purpose of which is to dishonestly induce the person put in fear and (3) to deliver property or valuable security.10 In Romesh Chandra Arora v State11, the accused had written letters to one X enclosing photograph of his daughter in the nude and demanded hush money from X and threatened X that he would circulate them to the relatives of X if the money was not paid. He was convicted for extortion and criminal intimidation.


Section 390 says, “In all robbery, there is either theft or extortion” and goes on to define when theft is robbery and when extortion is robbery. Thus, a theft becomes a robbery when the following two additional conditions are satisfied:-

  1. when someone voluntarily causes or attempts to cause,
    (i) death , hurt , or wrongful restraint , or
    (ii) fear of instant death , instant hurt , or instant wrongful restraint

  2.  the above act is done
    a. in order to the committing of theft ,or
    b. committing theft , or
    c. carrying away or attempting to carry away property obtained by theft.

An extortion becomes a robbery when the following three additional conditions are satisfied:-

  1. when a person commits extortion by putting another person in fear of instant death, hurt, or wrongful restraint, and

  2. such a person induces the person put in such fear to deliver the property then and there and

  3. the offender is in the presence of the person put in such fear at the time of extortion.

In Shikandar v State, 1984, the accused attacked his victim by knife many times and succeeded in acquiring the earrings and key from her salwar. He was held guilty of robbery.

Thus, robbery is the aggravated form of theft or extortion. It is different from theft and extortion as there is the element of instant harm is involved in robbery, which is not an ingredient of simple theft or extortion.


The essential ingredients of Dacoity are:

(i) five or more persons must act in association;

(ii) such act must be robbery or attempt to commit robbery; and

(iii) the five persons must consists of those who themselves commit or attempt to commit robbery or those who are present and aid the principal actors in the commission or attempt of such robbery.12

The essential ingredient that differentiates dacoity from the above the number of persons involved in association. In fact, however, dacoity may be called ‘robbery with five or more persons’.

Difference between Theft, Extortion, Robbery and Dacoity:-

Therefore, we may distinguish between theft, extortion, robbery and extortion on the basis of their definitions provided in the Indian Penal Code.

In case of theft, movable property is taken away without owner’s consent; in case of extortion, consent of the person is obtained wrongfully by coercion; in case of robbery, the offender takes property without consent, robbery being the aggravated form of theft or extortion and in the case of dacoity also, there is no consent or it is obtained wrongfully.

Theft may occur only of movable property whereas, extortion may occur of movable or immovable property, and in the case of both robbery and dacoity, it may be committed with respect to immovable property, where it is in the form of extortion and not otherwise. There is no element of force or compulsion, in case of theft; force or compulsion exist in extortion, the person being put in fear of injury to himself or to any other persons.

There is no delivery of property by the victim, in theft; whereas there is delivery in extortion; in case of robbery and dacoity, there is no delivery if theft occurs during the course of robbery or dacoity.

Punishment for theft is imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine or with both (Section 379). Punishment for extortion is imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both (Section 384). Punishment for robbery is rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine; and if the robbery be committed on the highway between sunset and sunrise it may be extended to fourteen years (Section 392). Punishment for dacoity imprisonment for life, or with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine (Section 395).

1 Section 378,Indian Penal Code,1860

2 AIR 1957 SC369.

3 Ibid at para 9.

4 Avtar Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1965 SC 666.

5 KI Vibhute, PSA PILLAI’S CRIMINAL LAW, p. 749.

6 Subba Reddy v Manshoor Ali Saheb, (1900) ILR 24 Mad 81.

7 1 Hawk PC 148.

8 Supra note 5 at p. 751.

9 Section 383,Indian Penal Code,1860

10 Dhananjay @ Dhananjay Kumar Singh v State of Bihar, (2007) 14 SCC 768.

11 AIR 1960 SC 154.

12 Shyam Behari v State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1957 SC 320.