Essential Commodities Act

Mens rea or ‘Guilty Mind’ is an essential ingredient of a criminal offence.

Doubtless a statute may exclude the element of mens rea, but it is a sound rule of construction adopted in England and also accepted in India to construe a statutory provision creating an offence in conformity with the common law rather than against it unless the statute expressly or by necessary implication excluded mens rea. The mere fact that the object of the statute is to promote welfare activities or to eradicate a grave social evil is by itself not decisive of the question whether the element of guilty mind is excluded from the ingredients of an offence. Mens rea by necessary implication may be excluded from a statute only where it is absolutely clear that the implementation of the object of the statute would otherwise be defeated. The nature of the mens rea that would be implied in a statute creating an offence depends on the object of the Act and the provisions thereof.

Having regard to the object of the Essential Commodities Act, namely, to control in general public interest, among others, trade in certain commodities, it cannot be said that the object of the Act would be defeated if mens rea is read as an ingredient of the offence. The provisions of the Act do not lead to any such exclusion. Indeed, it could not have been the intention of the Legislature to impose heavy penalties like imprisonment for a period upto 3 years and to impose heavy fines on an innocent person who carries on business in an honest belief that he is doing the business in terms of the law. Having regard to the scope of the Act it would be legitimate to hold that a person commits an offence under Section 7 of the Act if he intentionally contravenes any order made under Section 3 of the Act. So construed the object of the Act will be best served and innocent persons will also be protected from harassment. (See Nathulal v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 1966 CrLJ 71 : AIR 1966 SC 43 : 1965 Mah LJ 783 : 1965 MPLJ 832 : 1966 Mad LJ (Cri) 679)

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