According to Section 339 of the Indian Penal Code, Whoever voluntarily obstructs any person so as to prevent that person from proceeding in any direction, in which that person has a right to proceed, is said wrongfully to restrain that person.
The obstruction of a private way over land or water which a person in good faith believes himself to have a lawful right to obstruct, is not an offence within the meaning of this Section.
A obstructs a path along which Z has a right to pass, A not believing in good faith that he has a right to stop the path. Z is thereby prevented from passing. A wrongfully restrains Z.
Ingredients of Wrongful Restraint:
The essential ingredients of ‘Wrongful Restraint’ are:
1) Voluntary obstruction of a person;
2) The obstruction must be such as to prevent that person from proceeding in any direction in which he has a right to proceed.
Object of this section is to protect the freedom of a person to utilise his right to pass in his way. Every man’s person is sacred and that it is free, the law visits with its penalties those who abridge his personal liberty, though he may have no design upon his person. The offence of wrongful restraint is complete if one’s freedom of movement is suspended by an act of another done ‘voluntarily’ that is to say, done with that intention or with the knowledge or belief in its likelihood.
Definition of Terms
According to Section 39 of IPC, “A person is said to cause an effect ‘voluntarily’ when he causes it by means whereby he intended to cause it, or by means which, at the time of employing those means, he knew or had reason to believe to be likely to cause it.
The term ‘voluntarily’ implies the exercise of volition or will in causing the effect with the intention of causing it, or at least, with the knowledge that it was likely to be so caused.
‘Obstruction’ in Section 339 means physical obstruction, though it may be caused by the use of physical force as well as by the use of menaces or threats.
By a person is meant a human being. A child of a tender age who cannot walk of his own is also a person.
Wrongful restraint means the keeping a man out of a place where he wishes to be, and has a right to be. The expression ‘wrongful restraint’ implies the keeping a man out of a place where he wishes and has a right to be.
The ‘Wrong’ defined is a wrong against a ‘person’ and if a man is prevented from taking his animal or cart along with him in one direction, that will not be an offence within the section.
In wrongful restraint there need not be any stoppage of the movement; it may be directed into a channel different from the direction in which the victim intends to move. Physical presence of the obstructer is not necessary nor is actual assault necessary, the fear of immediate harm restraining a man out of place where he wishes to be and has a right to be is sufficient to constitute and offence under Sections 339 & 341.
The slightest unlawful obstruction to the liberty of the subject to go when and where he likes to go provided he does so in a lawful manner, cannot be justified and is punishable. It is only on two occasions there will be no offence for obstruction: (i) the obstruction of a private way over land and water which a person in good faith believes himself to have a lawful right to obstruct, is not an offence; (ii) a person who bona fide believing in his right to a property asserts his claim thereto cannot be convicted of this offence.
Mere verbal prohibition does not constitute wrongful restraint. Mere direction or demonstration will not constitute wrongful restraint. Obstruction to vehicle alone does not constitute ‘wrongful’ restraint as defined in Section 339 as obstruction of a person only comes within its purview.
However, an obstruction caused to a vehicle carrying passengers, amounts to wrongful restraint of the passengers. The fact that the passengers are free to get down and proceed in the desired direction does not take the obstruction to the passengers outside the ambit of wrongful restraint.
Illustrations of Wrongful Restraint:
The following illustrations given in the original Draft Code elucidate the meaning of Section 339:
a) A builds a wall across a path along which Z has a right to pass. Z is thereby prevented from passing. A wrongfully restrains Z.
b) A illegally omits to take proper order with a furious buffalo which is in his possession and thus voluntarily deters Z from passing along a road along which Z has a right to pass. A wrongfully restrains Z.
c) A threatens to set a savage dog at Z, if Z goes along a path along which Z has a right to go. Z is thus prevented from going along that path. A wrongfully restrains Z.
d) In the last illustration if the dog is not really savage, but if A voluntarily causes Z to think that it is savage, and thereby prevents Z from going along the path. A wrongfully restrains Z.
All persons have a right to use a public place or public way in a lawful manner and no one has right to prevent another from using it without incurring the risk of being penalised under Section 339.
The following are some of the illustrations of wrongful restraint:
1) A has taken a house from В on rent. A has gone out after closing the house. В puts his own lock on the premises in A’s absence [Lalloo Prasad v. Kadar Nath (1963) 2 Cr.LJ 543]
2) The accused, a landlord obstructed the tenant from using the bathroom. The accused was held guilty of wrongful restraint [Sobha Rani v. The King (1950) Cr.LJ 668].
3) A was on the roof of a house. В removes the ladder and thereby detains A on the roof [Telapolu Subbadu v. R (1884) 1 Weir 340].
4) A and В were co-owners of a well. A prevented В from taking out water from the well on the plea that В had not paid his share of expenses incurred on the well [Lahanu v. R (1925) 27 Bom. LR 1419].
The following are some cases where no wrongful restraint is constituted:
1) Where a tenant was partially obstructed from entering the premises by the closure of one of the doors, it did not amount to wrongful restraint as he was still free to enter the premises [Sankar Chandra Ghose v. State (1981) Cr.LJ 1002 (Cal.)]
2) A prevents the passage of animals of В by putting certain obstruction on a road over which В had a right of passage for men and cattle leaving a narrow portion of the way for men only to pass [(1899) 8 Weir 340].
3) Where a person obstructs a private path claimed by way of a right of easement over his land and which right was not admitted, he does not commit the offence of wrongful restraint [Basam Bhowmick AIR 1963 Cal. 3].
4) A put up a tin sheet projection over C’s compound wall so as to hang over his paved courtyard at A height of about 7 feet above ground and the projection did not prevent any moving below it. It was held that A did not commit wrongful restraint because the projection did not prevent anyone from moving below it. [Chhagan Vihal v. R (1927) 29 Bom. LR 494].
5) A and В were two joint owners of a shop. A put his lock on the shop which was let out by B, the other joint owner without A’s consent. The tenant made a complaint against A. It was held that A had committed no offence inasmuch as A had put his lock to a house of which he was the joint owner and the complainant was the tenant [Bai Samrath v. R (1917) 20 Bom LR 106].
6) Where the complainant only stated in the complaint that the accused had by keeping his car in front of his garage obstructed the passage of his car, no offence of wrongful restraint was made out as there was no obstruction to human body at all [Shankarlal v. State (1975) Cr.LJ 1077 (Gau.)].
This offence is cognizable, bailable, compoundable and is triable by any Magistrate.