Saket District Court, Delhi: Sonam Singh, MM (NI Act) acquitted the accused who was charged with an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, on finding that he raised sufficient doubt about the existence of a legally sustainable liability.
Complainant was the daughter-in-law of the accused. She alleged that in August 2020, the accused who was her father-in-law promised to pay her maintenance of Rs 45,000 every month for his grandson.
Further, she alleged that in lieu of the promised amount he handed over a cheque. On not receiving the amount in her bank account, she enquired with the bank and got to know that initially the cheque was cleared but due to the accused being hand-in-glove with certain officials from the said bank, the amount of Rs 45,000 which was credited in her account was subsequently debited from her account.
Complainant alleged that since she suspected that the accused had cheated her, she requested the bank to disclose the status of her cheque and after much inconvenience, the bank told her that due to the difference between words and figures written on the cheque, it was wrongly cleared by them initially.
Adding to the above allegations, she also stated that the amount was debited from her account as the accused had conspired with the bank official and alleged that she was appalled when she got to know that the cheque was dishonored on the ground of “CHEQUE IRREGULARLY DRAWN/AMOUNT IN WORDS AND FIGURES DIFFERS” and further on contacting the accused, he refused to pay the amount of cheque in question.
It was also alleged by her that she got to know from the Bank that the accused had personally asked the bank to stop the payment of the cheque in question and he had deliberately written the wrong amount in words on the cheque.
Since the accused did not pay the complainant within 15 days of service of legal notice, the present complaint was filed seeking prosecution of the accused of the offence punishable under Section 138 NI Act.
Analysis, Law and Decision
After referring to the provisions of Negotiable Instruments Act, Bench referred to the Supreme Court decision in Kusum Ingots & Alloys Ltd. v. Pennar Peterson Securities Ltd., (2000) 2 SCC 745, wherein the Court discussed the conditions of Section 138 NI Act which are to be fulfilled for a cause of action to arise in favour of the complainant.
Court expressed that,
The object underlying Section 138 of the NI Act is to promote faith in the efficacy of the banking system and give credibility to negotiable instruments, in business transactions. The intention is to punish those unscrupulous persons, who issued cheques for discharging their liabilities, without really intending to honour the promise.
Issues in the present matter:
- Service of legal demand notice
- Cheque being valid and return memo being fabricated
- Whether the cheque in question can be said to have been issued in discharge of a legally enforceable debt or liability or not
Service of legal demand notice
Court stated that considering the presumption of due service, the accused was under an obligation to lead evidence to prove that the notice was not served on him. However, he has failed to bring any evidence to rebut the presumption of due service of legal demand notice.
Mere denial of not receiving the legal demand notice would not amount to proving his defence.
Validity of Cheque and genuineness of the return memo
It was proved that the cheque was dishonoured on the instructions of the accused who gave instructions to the bank to reverse the entry, admitted by him in his statement under Section 313 CrPC.
The Court witness brought a letter issued by the bank that erroneously the cheque number mentioned in the return memo dated 11.09.2020 was 682148 instead of 682146. He further explained in his cross-examination conducted by the counsel for the complainant that the typographical mistake of the cheque number in the return memo is a “clerical mistake and should not have occurred.”
Accused did not bring any evidence to show that there was any conspiracy between the complainant and the bank to issue a fabricated return memo. The Bench stated that it was relevant to note that the accused had admitted having signed the cheque on a bank account maintained in his name and filled all the particulars of the cheque except the name of the complainant.
Question of Liability
It is well-settled position of law that when a negotiable instrument is drawn, two statutory presumptions arise in favour of the complainant, one under Section 139 NI Act and another under Section 118(a) of the NI Act, which is a presumption of the cheque having been issued in discharge of legal liability and drawn for good consideration, arises.
Bench observed that it is explicit that on proof of foundational facts, the Court will presume that cheque was made or drawn for consideration and that it was executed for discharge of debt or liability, once the execution of negotiable instrument is either proved or admitted and the burden of proof lies upon the accused to rebut the said presumption.
This is an example of the rule of ‘reverse onus’ in action, where it is an obligation on the accused to lead what can be called ‘negative evidence’. The accused is not to prove a fact affirmatively, but to lead evidence to demonstrate the non-existence of debt or liability. Since, this rule is against the general principle of the criminal law of ‘presumption of innocence in favour of the accused’ and considering that such negative evidence, by character is difficult to lead, the threshold for the accused to rebut the presumption is on the scale of the preponderance of probabilities.
Court opined that, in the present matter, the accused succeeded in rebutting the presumption of legal liability, by exposing the inherent improbability of the case of the complainant.
Bench stated that, the improbability of the complainant’s story was further manifest from the fact that she had not filed any case for maintenance and only a case under DV Act had been filed. She failed to bring on record any document or court order to show that the accused promised her the maintenance of Rs 45,000 for his grandson.
Further, the accused, in his defence had argued that the cheque was not handed over to the complainant. In his statement under Section 313 CrPC, he stated that only when he received a message from his bank that an amount of Rs 45,000 was debited from his account, then he contacted his bank and told the bank he had not issued any such cheque. Any reasonable man would do as what accused did and direct his bank to stop the payment or reverse the entry.
The reason for not filing a police complaint with respect to misuse of the cheque by the accused was not filed as the complainant was his daughter-in-law and in Court’s opinion the said explanation was believable as the same could have caused him social embarrassment.
Accused raised sufficient doubt about the existence of a legally sustainable liability, which the complainant failed to prove after the onus shifted on her and therefore the end result was that the accused was acquitted of offence under Section 138 NI Act.
In view of the above complaint was dismissed. [Shakun Singh v. Chandeshwar Singh, CC No. 397 of 2020, decided on 24-12-2021]