Cases ReportedSupreme Court Cases

The bench of Ashok Bhushan* and KM Joseph, JJ, in Basalingappa v. Mudibasappa (2019) 5 SCC 418, lucidly summarized the following principles relating to the presumption arising in law when a cheque is issue:

“25.1. Once the execution of cheque is admitted Section 139 of the Act mandates a presumption that the cheque was for the discharge of any debt or other liability.

25.2. The presumption under Section 139 is a rebuttable presumption and the onus is on the accused to raise the probable defence. The standard of proof for rebutting the presumption is that of preponderance of probabilities.

25.3. To rebut the presumption, it is open for the accused to rely on evidence led by him or the accused can also rely on the materials submitted by the complainant in order to raise a probable defence. Inference of preponderance of probabilities can be drawn not only from the materials brought on record by the parties but also by reference to the circumstances upon which they rely.

25.4. That it is not necessary for the accused to come in the witness box in support of his defence, Section 139 imposed an evidentiary burden and not a persuasive burden.

25.5. It is not necessary for the accused to come in the witness box to support his defence.”

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*Judgment by: Justice Ashok Bhushan  

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where it was argued before the Court that an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act was not made out as the dishonourment alleged is of the cheques which were issued by way of ‘security’ and not towards discharge of any debt, the bench of MR Shah and AS Bopanna*, JJ has held that a cheque issued as security pursuant to a financial transaction cannot be considered as a worthless piece of paper under every circumstance and that there cannot be a hard and fast rule that a cheque which is issued as security can never be presented by the drawee of the cheque.

The Court explained that ‘security’ in its true sense is the state of being safe and the security given for a loan is something given as a pledge of payment. It is given, deposited or pledged to make certain the fulfilment of an obligation to which the parties to the transaction are bound.

“If in a transaction, a loan is advanced and the borrower agrees to repay the amount in a specified timeframe and issues a cheque as security to secure such repayment; if the loan amount is not repaid in any other form before the due date or if there is no other understanding or agreement between the parties to defer the payment of amount, the cheque which   is   issued   as   security   would   mature   for presentation and the drawee of the cheque would be entitled to present the same. On such presentation, if the same is dishonoured, the consequences contemplated under Section 138 and the other provisions of N.I. Act would flow.”

When a cheque is issued and is treated as ‘security’ towards repayment of an amount with a time period being stipulated for repayment, all that it ensures is that such cheque which is issued as ‘security’ cannot be presented prior to the loan or the instalment maturing for repayment towards which such cheque is issued as security.

Further, the borrower would have the option of repaying the loan amount or such financial liability in any other form and in that manner if the amount of loan due and payable has been discharged within the agreed period, the cheque issued as security cannot thereafter be presented. Therefore, the prior discharge of the loan or there being an altered situation due to which there would be understanding between the parties is a sine qua non to not present the cheque which was issued as security. These are only the defences that would be available to the drawer of the cheque in a proceedings initiated under Section 138 of the N.I. Act. Therefore, there cannot be a hard and fast rule that a cheque which is issued as security can never be presented by the drawee of the cheque. If such is the understanding a cheque would also be reduced to an ‘on demand promissory note’ and in all circumstances, it would only be a civil litigation to recover the amount, which is not the intention of the statute.

“When a cheque is issued even though as ‘security’ the consequence flowing therefrom is also known to the drawer of the cheque and in the circumstance stated above if the cheque is presented and dishonoured, the holder of the cheque/drawee would have the option of initiating the civil proceedings for recovery or the criminal proceedings for punishment in the fact situation, but in any event, it is not for the drawer of the cheque to dictate terms with regard to the nature of litigation.”

[Sripati Singh v. State of Jharkhand, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1002, decided on 28.10.2021]


Counsels

For appellant: Advocate M.C. Dhingra

For respondents: Advocate Raj Kishor Choudhary and Keshav Murthy


*Judgment by: Justice AS Bopanna

Know Thy Judge | Justice A. S. Bopanna

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Explaining the law relating to vicarious liability of the Directors of a company under Sections 138 and 141 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, the bench of Ajay Rastogi* and Abhay S. Oka, JJ has held that if, at the time the offence was committed, the person accused was in charge of, and responsible for the conduct of business of the company and and if statutory compliance of Section 141 of the NI Act has been made, the High Court cannot quash the proceedings against the person accused under Section 482 CrPC.

It can, however, do so, if

“… it comes across some unimpeachable, incontrovertible evidence which is beyond suspicion or doubt or totally acceptable circumstances which may clearly indicate that the Director could not have been concerned with the issuance of cheques and asking him to stand the trial would be abuse of process of Court. Despite the presence of basic averment, it may come to a conclusion that no case is made out against the particular Director for which there could be various reasons.”

In S.M.S. Pharmaceuticals Ltd. v. Neeta Bhalla, (2005) 8 SCC 89, while dealing with an offence under Section 138 of the NI Act, the Court explained the duty of a Magistrate while issuing process and his power to dismiss a complaint under Section 203 without even issuing process. It held,

“5. … a complaint must contain material to enable the Magistrate to make up his mind for issuing process. If this were not the requirement, consequences could be far-reaching. If a Magistrate had to issue process in every case, the burden of work before the Magistrate as well as the harassment caused to the respondents to whom process is issued would be tremendous. Even Section 204 of the Code starts with the words ‘if in the opinion of the Magistrate taking cognizance of an offence there is sufficient ground for proceeding’. The words ‘sufficient ground for proceeding’ again suggest that ground should be made out in the complaint for proceeding against the respondent. It is settled law that at the time of issuing of the process the Magistrate is required to see only the allegations in the complaint and where allegations in the complaint or the charge-sheet do not constitute an offence against a person, the complaint is liable to be dismissed.”

The same judgment then went on to explain the requirements under Section 141 of the NI Act:

(a) It is necessary to specifically aver in a complaint under Section 141 that at the time the offence was committed, the person accused was in charge of, and responsible for the conduct of business of the company. Without this averment being made in a complaint, the requirements of Section 141 cannot be said to be satisfied.

(b) Merely being a director of a company is not sufficient to make the person liable under Section 141 of the Act. A director in a company cannot be deemed to be in charge of and responsible to the company for the conduct of its business. The requirement of Section 141 is that the person sought to be made liable should be in charge of and responsible for the conduct of the business of the company at the relevant time. This has to be averred as a fact as there is no deemed liability of a director in such cases.

(c) The managing director or joint managing director would be admittedly in charge of the company and responsible to the company for the conduct of its business. When that is so, holders of such positions in a company become liable under Section 141 of the Act. By virtue of the office they hold as managing director or joint managing director, these persons are in charge of and responsible for the conduct of business of the company. Therefore, they get covered under Section 141. So far as the signatory of a cheque which is dishonoured is concerned, he is clearly responsible for the incriminating act and will be covered under subsection (2) of Section 141.

In the case at hand, the Court was concerned with Directors who were not signatories to the cheques. So far as Directors who are not the signatories to the cheques or who are not Managing Directors or Joint Managing Directors are concerned, it is necessary to aver in the complaint filed under Section 138 read with Section 141 of the NI Act that at the relevant time when the offence was committed, the Directors were in charge of and were responsible for the conduct of the business of the company. This averment assumes importance because it is the basic and essential averment which persuades the Magistrate to issue process against the Director.

In the present case, the Court noticed that the allegations in the complaint are that at the time at which the cheques were issued by the Company and dishonoured by the Bank, the appellants were the Directors of the Company and were responsible for its business and all the appellants were involved in the business of the Company and were responsible for all the affairs of the Company.

“It may not be proper to split while reading the complaint so as to come to a conclusion that the allegations as a whole are not sufficient to fulfil the requirement of Section 141 of the NI Act.”

Since the complaint specifically refers to the point of time when the cheques were issued, their presentment, dishonour and failure to pay in spite of notice of dishonour, the High Court was right in not exercising its power under Section 482 of CrPC.

[Ashutosh Ashok Parasrampuriya v. Gharrkul Industries Pvt. Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 915, decided on 08.10.2021]


Counsels

For appellants: Senior Advocate Sidhartha Dave, Advocate Arundhati Katju

For respondents: Senior Advocate Pallav Shishodia


*Judgment by: Justice Ajay Rastogi

Know Thy Judge | Justice Ajay Rastogi

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a bid to curb the worrying trend of parallel proceedings for complaints under Section 138 of the NI Act, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud*, Vikram Natha and BV Nagarathna, JJ has held that a complainant cannot pursue two parallel prosecutions for the same underlying transaction.

“Once a settlement agreement has been entered into by the parties, the proceedings in the original complaint cannot be sustained and a fresh cause of action accrues to the complainant under the terms of the settlement deed.”

What led to the decision?

In the case at hand, a set of cheques were dishonoured, leading to filing of the first complaint under Section 138 of the NI Act. The parties thereafter entered into a deed of compromise to settle the matter. While the first complaint was pending, the cheques issued pursuant to the compromise deed were dishonoured leading to the second complaint under Section 138 of the NI Act. Both proceedings were pending simultaneously and hence, the issue before the Supreme Court was to decide whether the complainant can be allowed to pursue both the cases or whether one of them must be quashed and the consequences resulting from such quashing.

Analysis

Ingredients of the offence under Section 138

(1) drawing of the cheque,

(2) presentation of the cheque to the bank,

(3) returning the cheque unpaid by the drawee bank,

(4) giving notice in writing to the drawer of the cheque demanding payment of the cheque amount,

 (5) failure of the drawer to make payment within 15 days of the receipt of the notice.

Remedies under Section 138 of the NI Act

The effect of an offence under Section 138 of the NI Act is limited to two private parties involved in a commercial transaction. However, the intent of the legislature in providing a criminal sanction for dishonour of cheques is to ensure the credibility of transactions involving negotiable instruments.

Given that the primary purpose of Section 138 of the NI Act is to ensure compensation to the complainant, the NI Act also allows for parties to enter into a compromise, both during the pendency of the complaint and even after the conviction of the accused.

Worrying trend of parallel proceedings for complaints under Section 138 of the NI Act

“The pendency of court proceedings under Section 138 of the NI Act and the multiplicity of complaints in which a cause of action arising from one transaction is litigated has dampened the ease of doing business in India, impacted business sentiments and hindered investments from investors.”

The Court noticed that the introduction of a criminal remedy has given rise to a worrying trend where cases under Section 138 of the NI Act are disproportionately burdening the criminal justice system

Hence, under the shadow of Section 138 of the NI Act, parties are encouraged to settle the dispute resulting in ultimate closure of the case rather than continuing with a protracted litigation before the court. This is beneficial for the complainant as it results in early recovery of money; alteration of the terms of the contract for higher compensation and avoidance of litigation. Equally, the accused is benefitted as it leads to avoidance of a conviction and sentence or payment of a fine. It also leads to unburdening of the judicial system, which has a huge pendency of complaints filed under Section 138 of the NI Act.

Whether once the settlement has been entered into, the complainant can be allowed to pursue the original complaint under Section 138 of the NI Act?

Holding that a complainant cannot pursue two parallel prosecutions for the same underlying transaction, the Court said that allowing the complainant to pursue parallel proceedings, one resulting from the original complaint and the second emanating from the terms of the settlement would make the settlement and issuance of fresh cheques or any other partial payment made towards the original liability meaningless.

The Court explained that a contrary interpretation, which allows for the complainant to pursue both the original complaint and the consequences arising out of the settlement agreement, would lead to contradictory results.

First, it would allow for the accused to be prosecuted and undergo trial for two different complaints, which in its essence arise out of one underlying legal liability.

Second, the accused would then face criminal liability for not just the violation of the original agreement of the transaction which had resulted in issuance of the first set of cheques, but also the cheques issued pursuant to the compromise deed.

Third, instead of reducing litigation and ensuring faster recovery of money, it would increase the burden of the criminal justice system where judicial time is being spent on adjudicating an offence which is essentially in the nature of a civil wrong affecting private parties.

A complainant enters into a settlement with open eyes and undertakes the risk of the accused failing to honour the cheques issued pursuant to the settlement, based on certain benefits that the settlement agreement postulates. The benefits may include – higher compensation, faster recovery of money, uncertainty of trial and strength of the complaint, among others.

Hence,

“Once parties have voluntarily entered into such an agreement and agree to abide by the consequences of non-compliance of the settlement agreement, they cannot be allowed to reverse the effects of the agreement by pursuing both the original complaint and the subsequent complaint arising from such non-compliance. The settlement agreement subsumes the original complaint.”

The Court, hence, held that non-compliance of the terms of the settlement agreement or dishonour of cheques issued subsequent to it, would then give rise to a fresh cause of action attracting liability under Section 138 of the NI Act and other remedies under civil law and criminal law.

[Gimpex Private Limited v. Manoj Goel, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 925, decided on 08.10.2021]

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Counsels:
For appellant: Senior Advocate V Giri and Advocate Liz Mathew

For respondent: Senior Advocate Jayant Bhushan


*Judgment by: Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

Know Thy Judge| Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: V. Kameswar Rao, J., refused to interfere with the award passed by the Arbitrator and dismissed a petition filed under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

Instant petition was filed under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.

Chronology of Events

Present petition was filed before the District Court and vide Order dated 3-01-2017 the Additional District Judge directed the parties to appear before the District and Sessions Judge.

Petitioner sought adjournment before the District and Sessions Judge on the ground that a Transfer Petition was pending adjudication before this Court. The Transfer Petition was disposed of as infructuous vide order December 5, 2017.

District Judge noted the respondent’s counsel that the petitioner has not conducted the matter with due diligence and good faith and noted that the question of due diligence not being within the jurisdiction of the said Court placed this matter before the Registrar General of this Court.

Factual Matrix

Petitioner and respondent entered into a non-exclusive Distributorship Agreement. Subsequently, parties entered into annual agreements for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009, and in terms of the said agreement, petitioner placed purchase orders on the respondent for the supply of goods, which in turn were sold by petitioner to its customers.

What led to the invocation of arbitration and adjudication of disputes?

Respondent stated that it had supplied goods to the petitioner against various purchase orders and raised invoices accordingly and further claimed that the petitioner had failed and neglected to make payments against invoices for sums aggregating Rs 54, 14, 934, which became due and payable.

Petitioner in view of the above, issued 9 cheques, however, the said cheques were dishonoured on presentation.

Cheques for security?

According to the petitioner the said cheques were issued at the instance of the respondent only as a security for any payment that may become due. In addition to the claim for unpaid invoices, the respondent also raised claims for non-supply of ‘C’ Forms and the consequent liability of sales tax before the Arbitrator.

Petitioner submitted that parties were having good business relations for the last 14-15 years, however, the petitioner started receiving complaints from its buyers regarding breakage of soft ferrite components. Even though the respondent assured to replace the broken goods with new ones, it failed to do so.

Petitioner’s stance on cheques being dishonoured

It was stated that the cheques were provided on the request of the General Manager (Marketing) of the respondent on June 26, 2009, for depicting the same in the books of Accounts for quarterly ending for security purposes as to cover the exposure limit as per Distributorship Agreement and on the assurance that they shall not be presented without consent of the petitioner. The cheques were not returned even after repeated requests of the petitioner, thereby forcing the petitioner to write a letter to its Bank, not to honor the said cheques.

Arbitrator concluded that a sum of ₹54,14,934/- was recoverable by the respondent/claimant from the petitioner against its outstanding dues.

The arbitrator held that a net amount of ₹36,92,423/- was recoverable by the respondent/claimant from the petitioner plus a sum of Rs.1,85,000/- towards the arbitration fee and actual expenses) along with interest @ 12.25% p.a. on Rs 1, 85, 000/-.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Firstly, the Court dealt with the contentions of petitioner’s Advocate Rohit Goel, that the award passed by the Arbitrator was liable to be set aside as it was in violation of Chapter XI of the CPC; it doesn’t bear signatures on each and every page and the award was typed in 3 different fonts on 3 different types of sheets.

Bench for the above submission stated that the reference made to Chapter XI was an error. Reference was intended to Part I of the CPC wherein Section 33 refers to a Judgment and a Decree. With regard to the award being typed in different fonts, the same shall not make the award invalid and the same was not supported by any rule/law.

Competency of Authorised representative of respondent – Laxmi Dutt Sharma (L.D. Sharma) sign, verify and file the claim petition in absence of any resolution was concerned, Bench referred to the reasons given by Arbitrator to determine the competency of the representative.

Petitioner’s counsel did not make any submission to contradict the arbitrator’s conclusion for the above-stated.

Arbitrator rightly relied upon the decision of Supreme Court in United Bank of India v. Naresh Kumar, (1996) 6 SCC 660, wherein it was held that on a reading of Order VI Rule 14 together with Order XXIX Rule 1 CPC, it would appear that even in the absence of any formal letter of authority or power of attorney having been executed a person referred to in Rule 1 of Order XXIX by virtue of the office which he holds, can sign and verify the pleadings on behalf of the corporation. Additionally, de hors Order XXIX Rule 1 of CPC, a company is a juristic entity, it can duly authorise any person to sign the plaint or the written statement on its behalf, which would be regarded as compliance with the provisions of Order VI Rule 14 CPC.

Supreme Court also held that there is a presumption of valid institution of a Suit once the same is prosecuted for a number of years.

Bench also found the Supreme Court’s decision laid above to be satisfying in the present case as the litigation between the parties had commenced in the year 2010 and already 6 years had already elapsed on the date of award.

High Court reiterated that Arbitrator was justified in his conclusion on the competency of L.D. Sharma to file the claim petition on behalf of the respondent company.

Absence of a complete, authenticated and duly stamped statement of account

Petitioner’s counsel as per the above-stated reason submitted that the arbitrator could not have granted the amount.

Bench stated that respondent had submitted that soft ferrite were supplied for which the amount was not paid by the petitioner. When the petitioner was informed that no supply would be made in the future if previous dues were not cleared, petitioner issued 9 cheques towards discharge of their part liability and the said cheques were dishonoured and returned.

Further, the Court noted that witness did not deny the purchase orders; invoices and cargo receipts. Arbitrator was right in relying upon Ex. R-66, which was a communication of the respondent as per which an amount of Rs 54,14,934 was payable and after adjustment of TOD, commission, the amount payable by the petitioner was Rs 40,95,221.

Arbitrator was justified in holding that the said amount was recoverable towards outstanding dues and after adjustment of certain amounts in favour of the petitioner, granted a sum of Rs.36,92,423/- to the respondent herein.

Whether respondent was justified in terminating the Distributorship Agreement?

Clause 8.1of the Distributorship Agreement also reads as under:

The Company reserves the right to terminate the agreement at any time at its discretion without assigning any reason therefor.”

Respondent had a justifiable reason for the respondent to terminate the Agreement in as such as that no payment of invoices worth Rs 54,14,934 was forthcoming from petitioner.

Petitioner, in an email, had itself expressed that it was not possible to continue to associate itself with the respondent.

Hence there was justification for the termination of the Distributorship Agreement by the respondent.

Further, L.D.  Sharma, CW-1 had stated during his cross-examination that the goods found defective were replaced, the defect in quality was of component T-10 due to reasons of saturation and variation in AL. Petitioner had suffered no loss.

Nothing on record was brought to show that the petitioner had to pay the amount claimed as damages to its customers.

High Court found Advocate Bharat Chugh’s reliance on Associate Builders  v. Delhi Development Authority, (2015) 3 SCC 49  justified.

Bench also stated that Supreme Court followed the test of judicial review as laid down in Associate Builders v. Delhi Development Authority, (2015) 3 SCC 49, in a plethora of judgments and the recent one being Anglo American Metallurgical Coal Pty. Ltd v. MMTC Ltd.,  (2021) 3 SCC 308.

In view of the above discussion, the petition was dismissed.[Pragya Electronics (P) Ltd. v. Cosmo Ferrites Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine Del 3428, decided on 23-06-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the petitioner: Mr. Rohit Goel Advocate

For the Respondents: Mr. Bharat Chugh & Mr. Sujoy Sur, Advocates

Case BriefsDistrict Court

Delhi Sessions Court (Patiala House): While dealing with the instant matter related to dishonour of cheques, Additional Sessions Judge Parveen Singh observed that in order to protect the rights of the receiver of a cheque in good faith, the scope of Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (Hereinafter NI Act) with regard to the dishonour of a cheque has been expanded. However, the instrument presented must be a valid cheque as defined under Section 6 of the NI Act and it only thereafter, if the cheque is dishonoured for any reason that Section 138 of the NI Act will come into picture. The Judge further observed that there should not be any uncertainty in the cheque as regards to the amount written in words, or else such uncertainty shall render the cheque as invalid for the purposes of Section  138 of NI Act.

As per the facts, the accused/revisionists were the dealers of the complainant/ respondent. It was alleged that in order to discharge their liability, the revisionists issued a cheque for an amount of Rs 44, 18,896/- drawn on Canara Bank, Pune. However, on being presented for encashment, the cheque got dishonoured, the reason being that the cheque was irregularly drawn/ amount in words and figures differed. It was further alleged that thereafter, despite issuance of legal demand notice, the revisionists failed to make the payment of the cheque amount. The revisionists/accused via their counsel Sanjay Bhargav contended that, the Trial Court failed to appreciate the position of law as described under Chapter XVII of N.I Act which deals with penalty in cases relating to dishonor of cheques for insufficient funds in the accounts. It was further contended that the Trial Court failed to consider relevant provisions of the NI Act, mainly Section 6 which defines ‘cheque’; Section 5 which defines the Bill of Exchange and Section 18 which defines the circumstances where amount is stated differently in figures and words. It was further argued that prosecution under Section 138 of NI Act can only be launched and continued on dishonour of a cheque and for an instrument to be a cheque; it has to satisfy the conditions of being valid under Sections 5 and 6 of the NI Act. The revisionists therefore contended that the cheque in question was not a valid instrument. Per contra, the respondents represented by M.P Upadhyay, argued that revisionists cannot take advantage of their own wrong (i.e. filling an incorrect and ambiguous amount in the cheque while describing the amount in words) when with malafide intention.

Perusing the contentions and the relevant provisions, the A.S.J., observed the peculiarity of the instant case in the sense that, “the very factum of the instrument being a valid cheque has been challenged. The Court noted that a Bill of Exchange must satisfy the requisites enumerated under Section 5 of the 1881 Act; namely- an instrument in writing; containing an unconditional order signed by the maker; directing a certain person to pay (or the direction to pay is given to a specified banker); a certain sum of money; only to, or to the order of, a certain person or to the bearer of the instrument. Thus if an instrument satisfies all the aforesaid five conditions, the said instrument will be a cheque within the meaning of the NI Act.

The Court noted that the cheque in question does satisfy the aforementioned requisites, however the amount written in words is “forty four lacs eighteen lacs eight hundred and ninety six only.”; this amount cannot be said to be a certain amount of money. Thus the certainty which is required by Sections 5 & 6 of the NI Act with regard to the amount to be paid is missing in this instrument. It was thus held that since the instrument on the basis of which complaint was filed was not a valid cheque within the definition of Section 6 of NI Act, thus there exists no offence of dishonour of cheques under Section 138 of NI Act on the part of the revisionists. [Shree Tyres v. State, Cr. Revision No. 742 of 2019, decided on 24-07-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Taking suo motu cognizance of the issue relating to the expeditious trial of cases under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, the bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao, J has issued notice to the Union of India through Law Secretary, Registrar General of all the High Courts, the Director General of Police of all the States and Union Territories, Member Secretary of the National Legal Services Authority, Reserve Bank of India and Indian Bank Association, Mumbai as the representatives of Banking institutions.

The said action of the Court came after noticing that despite many changes brought through legislative amendments and various Supreme Court decisions mandating speedy trial and disposal of these cases, the Trial Courts are filled with large number of pendency of these cases. A recent study of the pending cases, reflects pendency of more than 35 lakh, which constitutes more than 15 percent of the total criminal cases pending in the District Courts.

Here’s is what the Court suggested whule posting the matter on April 16, 2020 for further hearing:

  • there is a need to evolve a system of service/execution of process issued by the court and ensuring the presence of the accused, with the concerted efforts of all the stakeholders like Complainant, Police and Banks.
  • an information sharing mechanism may be developed where the banks share all the requisite details available of the accused, who is the account holder, with the complainant and the police for the purpose of execution of process. This may include a requirement to print relevant information, viz the email id, registered mobile number and permanent address of the account holder, on the cheque or dishonour memo informing the holder about the dishonour.
  • RBI, being the regulatory body may also evolve guidelines for banks to facilitate requisite information for the trial of these cases and such other matters as may be required.
  • a separate software-based mechanism may be developed to track and ensure the service of process on the accused in cases relating to an offence under Section 138 of N.I. Act.
  • RBI may consider developing a new proforma of cheques so as to include the purpose of payment, along with other informations mentioned above to facilitate adjudication of real issues.
  • a mechanism may be developed to ensure the presence of the accused even by way of coercive measure, if required, taking effect from Section 83 of Cr.P.C. which allows attachment of property, including movable property.
  • an effort may be evolved to recover interim compensation under Section 143A of the N.I. Act as well as fine or compensation to be recovered as per Section 421 of Cr.P.C.
  • National Legal Services Authority, being the responsible Authority in this regard, may evolve a scheme for settlement of dispute relating to cheque bounce at pre-litigation i.e. before filing of the private complaint. An Award passed at the pre-litigation stage or pre-cognizance stage shall have an effect of a civil decree.

“This measure of prelitigation ADR process can go a long way in settling the cases before they come to Court, thereby reducing docket burden.”

  • High Courts may also consider setting up of exclusive courts to deal with matters relating to Section 138, especially in establishments where the pendency is above a standard figure. Special norms for assessment of the work of exclusive courts may also be formulated giving additional weightage to disposal of case within the time-frame as per legal requirement.

The Court appointed Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra as Amicus Curiae and Advocate K. Parameshwar to assist the amicus curiae in the matter.

[In Re: Expeditious trial of cases under Section 138 of N.I. Act, 1881, Suo Moto Writ Petition (Criminal), arising out of SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO. 5464 OF 2016, order dated 05.03.2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where the question as to how proceedings for an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 can be regulated where the accused is willing to deposit the cheque amount, the bench of AK Goel and UU Lalit, JJ held that Section 143 of the Act confers implied power on the Magistrate to discharge the accused if the complainant is compensated to the satisfaction of the Court, where the accused tenders the cheque amount with interest and reasonable cost of litigation as assessed by the Court. The Court said:

“Basic object of the law is to enhance credibility of the cheque transactions by providing speedy remedy to the complainant without intending to punish the drawer of the cheque whose conduct is reasonable or where compensation to the complainant meets the ends of justice.”

The Court, further, laid down the below mentioned guidelines to be taken note of while dealing with cases under S. 138 of the Act:

  • where the cheque amount with interest and cost as assessed by the Court is paid by a specified date, the Court is entitled to close the proceedings in exercise of its powers under Section 143 of the Act read with Section 258 Cr.P.C.
  • Normal rule for trial of cases under Chapter XVII of the Act is to follow the summary procedure and summons trial procedure can be followed where sentence exceeding one year may be necessary taking into account the fact that compensation under Section 357(3) Cr.P.C. with sentence of less than one year will not be adequate, having regard to the amount of cheque, conduct of the accused and other circumstances.
  • In every complaint under Section 138 of the Act, it may be desirable that the complainant gives his bank account number and if possible e-mail ID of the accused. If e-mail ID is available with the Bank where the accused has an account, such Bank, on being required, should furnish such e-mail ID to the payee of the cheque.
  • In every summons, issued to the accused, it may be indicated that if the accused deposits the specified amount, which should be assessed by the Court having regard to the cheque amount and interest/cost, by a specified date, the accused need not appear unless required and proceedings may be closed subject to any valid objection of the complainant. If the accused complies with such summons and informs the Court and the complainant by e-mail, the Court can ascertain the objection, if any, of the complainant and close the proceedings unless it becomes necessary to proceed with the case. In such a situation, the accused’s presence can be required, unless the presence is otherwise exempted subject to such conditions as may be considered appropriate.
  • The accused, who wants to contest the case, must be required to disclose specific defence for such contest. It is open to the Court to ask specific questions to the accused at that stage.
  • In case the trial is to proceed, it will be open to the Court to explore the possibility of settlement. It will also be open to the Court to consider the provisions of plea bargaining. Subject to this, the trial can be on day to day basis and endeavour must be to conclude it within six months.

Emphasising upon the need to conduct proceedings online, the Court said:

“There appears to be need to consider categories of cases which can be partly or entirely concluded “online” without physical presence of the parties by simplifying procedures where seriously disputed questions are not required to be adjudicated. Traffic challans may perhaps be one such category. Atleast some number of Section 138 cases can be decided online.”

The Court, hence, added that it will be open to the High Courts to consider and lay down category of cases where proceedings or part thereof can be conducted online by designated courts or otherwise. The High Courts may also consider issuing any further updated directions for dealing with Section 138 cases. [Meters and Instruments Private Ltd. v. Kanchan Mehta, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1197, decided on 05.10.2017]