Cheating has been defined in Section 415 of the Indian Penal Code to mean:
Cheating– Whoever, by deceiving any person, fraudulently or dishonestly induces the person so deceived to deliver any property to any person, or to consent that any person shall retain any property, or intentionally induces the person so deceived to do or omit to do anything which he would not do or omit if he were not so deceived, and which act or omission causes or is likely to cause damage or harm to that person in body, mind, reputation or property, is said to ‘cheat’.
In V.Y. Jose v. State of Gujarat and ANOTHER, (2009) 3 SCC 78 , this Court opined:
An offence of cheating cannot be said to have been made out unless the following ingredients are satisfied:
i) deception of a person either by making a false or misleading representation or by other action or omission;
(ii) fraudulently or dishonestly inducing any person to deliver any property; or
(iii) To consent that any person shall retain any property and finally intentionally inducing that person to do or omit to do anything which he would not do or omit.
For the purpose of constituting an offence of cheating, the complainant is required to show that the accused had fraudulent or dishonest intention at the time of making promise or representation. Even in a case where allegations are made in regard to failure on the part of the accused to keep his promise, in absence of a culpable intention at the time of making initial promise being absent, no offence under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code can be said to have been made out.
It is, therefore, evident that a misrepresentation from the very beginning is a sine qua non for constitution of an offence of cheating, although in some cases, an intention to cheat may develop at a later stage of formation of the contract.
In Hridaya Ranjan Prasad Verma and OTHERS v. State of Bihar and ANOTHER, (2000) 4 SCC 168, this Court held:
On a reading of the section it is manifest that in the definition there are set forth two separate classes of acts which the person deceived may be induced to do. In the first place he may be induced fraudulently or dishonestly to deliver any property to any person. The second class of acts set forth in the section is the doing or omitting to do anything which the person deceived would not do or omit to do if he were not so deceived. In the first class of cases the inducing must be fraudulent or dishonest. In the second class of acts, the inducing must be intentional but not fraudulent or dishonest.
In determining the question it has to be kept in mind that the distinction between mere breach of contract and the offence of cheating is a fine one. It depends upon the intention of the accused at the time to inducement which may be judged by his subsequent conduct but for this subsequent conduct is not the sole test. Mere breach of contract cannot give rise to criminal prosecution for cheating unless fraudulent or dishonest intention is shown right at the beginning of the transaction, that is the time when the offence is said to have been committed. therefore it is the intention which is the gist of the offence. To hold a person guilty of cheating it is necessary to show that he had fraudulent or dishonest intention at the time of making the promise. From his mere failure to keep up promise subsequently such a culpable intention right at the beginning, that is, when he made the promise cannot be presumed.
(See also Indian Oil Corporation v. NEPC India Ltd. and OTHERS, AIR 2006 SC 2780 , Veer Prakash Sharma v. Anil Kumar Agarwal and ANOTHER, 2007 CriLJ 3735 , V.Y. Jose (supra) and Ravindra Kumar Madhanlal Goenka and ANOTHER v. Rugmini Ram Raghav Spinners and ANOTHER, 2009 CriLJ 2852 )