Case BriefsDistrict Court

Saket Courts, Delhi: Swati Gupta, Metropolitan Magistrate (South) NI Act, convicted the accused for an offence under Section 138 (dishonour of cheque) of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. While delivering the judgment, the Court reiterated the well-settled position of law and discarded various defence taken by the accused.

Factual Matrix

The accused approached the complainant since he needed funds to expand his business. The complainant granted a loan of Rs 76.24 lakhs to the accused and the parties executed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in that respect. Later, in order to discharge his liability, the accused issued a cheque of Rs 5 lakhs. On presenting for encashment, the cheque was returned unpaid by the bank with the remark “funds insufficient”. Thereafter, the complainant sent a legal notice to the accused but he did not pay the amount of dishonoured cheque. Hence, the complainant moved the Court with a complaint under Section 138 of NI Act. The accused disputed his liability.

Law, Analysis and Decision

Ingredients of the offence

Before delving into the facts, the Court discussed the settled position of law applicable to the proceedings under Section 138 of NI Act. It was reiterated that to establish the offence under Section 138, the complainant must prove:

(i) the accused issued a cheque on an account maintained by him with a bank;

(ii) the said cheque has been issued in discharge, in whole or in part, of any legal debt or other liability, which is legally enforceable;

(iii) the said cheque has been presented to the bank within a period of three months from the date of cheque or within the period of its validity;

(iv) the aforesaid cheque, when presented for encashment, was returned unpaid/dishonoured;

(v) the payee of the cheque issued a legal notice of demand to the drawer within 30 days from the receipt of information by him from the bank regarding the return of the cheque;

(vi) the drawer of the cheque failed to make the payment within 15 days of the receipt of the aforesaid legal notice of demand.

The Court was of the opinion that the complainant discharged his initial burden and established the ingredients of the offence under Section 138 against the accused. In his statement under Section 313 CrPC, the accused admitted receiving the demand notice on his permanent address.

Not filling details in the cheque

The accused had admitted his signatures on the cheque but disputed filling any details of the cheque. The Court was of the opinion that such plea, even if true, had no bearing on the presumption against him. Reliance was placed on the Supreme Court decision in Bir Singh v. Mukesh Kumar, (2019) 4 SCC 197, wherein it was held that filling of persons by any person other than the accused would not invalidate the cheque and shall attract the presumption under Section 139 of NI Act.

Rebutting the presumption

On rebuttal of mandatory presumption, the Court noted that the presumption under Section 139 cannot be rebutted upon a mere denial. It can be rebutted by the accused only be leading cogent evidence. Reliance was placed on K.N. Beena v. Muniyappan, (2001) 8 SCC 458. It was observed:

“the presumptions may be rebutted by the accused either by leading direct evidence and in exceptional cases, from the case set out by the complainant himself i.e. from the averments in his complaint, in the statutory notice and even the evidence adduced by the complainant during the trial.”

The Court also noted that the burden of proof is to be discharged by the accused on preponderance of probabilities.

Cheque given as ‘security’

In his defence, the accused claimed that the cheque was given as security and whatever amount was invested by the complainant, he took away assets of the business of the accused against the same and as such there was no liability towards the complainant.

The Court observed it to be a settled law that:

“handing over of cheques by way of security per se does not extricate the accused from the discharge of liability arising from such cheques.”

Even otherwise, the Court found that the accused did not led any cogent evidence to prove such plea.

Contradictions in complainant’s testimony

The accused averred that the complainant’s case was not believable as there were contradictions in his testimony. He contended that during cross-examination, the complainant stated that the loan was given for the purpose of business while in his affidavit, he termed the loan as a friendly loan.

The Court found that the complainant consistently stated that the loan was given for the purpose of investment in business of the accused. It was considered opinion of the Court that mere terming of the loan as friendly in one sentence of his testimony was not a contradiction so material as to discredit the entire case of the complainant.

Loan amount disputed

The accused disputed the loan amount claiming that it was not Rs 76.24 lakhs but much less. The Court was of the opinion that the accused was not able to prove this plea. He admitted the execution of MoU which specified the loan amount as Rs 76.24 lakhs. Thus, there being a written document to that effect, the accused could not be allowed to verbally contradict or vary the terms of the same in light of Section 92 of the Evidence Act, 1872.

Non-filing of ITR by the complainant

The accused contended that the complainant did not file his Income Tax Return along with the complaint which rendered the fact of alleged loan transaction improbable.

The Court found that during complainant’s cross-examination, no suggestion was put to him on the aspect of non-filing of ITR or to question if the loan was disclosed in the ITR or not or to challenge the transaction of loan on the basis of the same. The complainant duly placed on record the MoU executed between the parties, which was admitted by the accused. Thus, the Court held that non-filing of ITR by the complainant was of no consequence.

Financial capacity of the complainant

The accused contended that the statement of account of complainant’s business during the relevant period when the loan was allegedly given, showed a balance of about Rs 6800, which showed that the complainant had no financial capacity to extend a loan of Rs 76.24 lakhs.

On this, the Court found that the complainant was running two businesses and the financial capacity of the complainant could not be held to be questionable only because balance in one of his business accounts was less. Further, during cross-examination of the complainant, the accused never questioned his source of funds or financial capacity. Thus, a mere allegation that financial capacity of the complainant was not adequate as one of his business accounts had low balance did not hold water.

The remaining defence taken by the accused was also discarded by the Court as either not proved or not relevant.

In such a view of the matter, the Court concluded that the accused miserably failed to rebut the mandatory presumptions under Section 118(a) and Section 139 of NI Act even on a preponderance of probabilities, while the complainant succeeded in proving his case beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the accused was held guilty and was convicted for the offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act. [Zikrur Rahman Khan v. Anwar Ahmad, Complaint Case No. 470901 of 2016, dated 11-11-2021]

Case BriefsDistrict Court

Tis Hazari Courts, New Delhi: Devanshu Sajlan, MM NI Act-05, while noting the ingredients of Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 acquitted a person charged for offence punishable under Section 138 NI Act.

Factual Matrix

Present complaint was filed under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

Complainant had granted a friendly loan of Rs 21,00,000 to the accused for two months for some urgent need of the accused.

To discharge the legal liability, the accused issued two cheques in favour of the complainant firm, but the same were returned by the bank as no balance was available in the account. Thereafter, Complainant sent a legal notice but the accused allegedly failed to pay the cheque amount and hence, the complainant filed the present complaint.

Accused denied having taken a loan of Rs 21,00,000 from the complainant and instead stated that he took a loan of Rs 5,00,000 and had already paid the same. He added that he had given three blank signed cheques as security cheques which were misused by the complainant.

Discussion

In the present matter, the complainant proved the original cheques that the accused had not disputed as being drawn on the account of the accused.

Court stated that giving a blank signed cheque does not erase the liability under the NI Act. If a signed blank cheque is voluntarily presented to a payee, towards some payment, the payee may subsequently fill up the amount and other particulars (Bir Singh v. Mukesh Kumar, (2019) 4 SCC 197, ¶ 34).). The onus would still be on the accused to prove that the cheque was not in discharge of a debt or liability.

Legal Notice

It is settled law that an accused who claims that she/he did not receive the legal notice, can, within 15 days of receipt of summons from the court, make payment of the cheque amount, and an accused who does not make such payment cannot contend that there was no proper service of notice as required under Section 138, by ignoring statutory presumption to the contrary under Section 27 of the General Clauses Act and Section 114 of the Evidence Act [C.C. Alavi Haji v. Palapetty Muhammed, (2007) 6 SCC 555).

Maintainability | Complainant is an unregistered partnership firm

It was contended that the present complaint was barred under Section 69(2) of the Indian Partnership Act. The firm was unregistered and hence the complaint was barred under the stated section.

A simpliciter reading of Section 69(2) would show that it is intended to apply to only suits, and that it would have no application to a criminal complaint.

Hence, the bar imposed on unregistered firms under Section 69(2) of the Indian Partnership Act does not apply to a criminal complaint under Section 138 NI Act.

Non-Existence of Debt

Complainant is required to prove that the cheque in question was drawn by the drawer for discharging a legally enforceable debt.

Court stated that as per the NI Act, once the accused admits signature in the cheque in question, certain presumptions are drawn, which result in shifting of onus on the accused and in the present matter, the issuance of cheques was not denied.

The combined effect of Section 118(a) NI Act and Section 139 of the NI Act is that a presumption exists that the cheque was drawn for consideration and given by the accused of the discharge of debt or other liability.

Rebuttal

  • Misuse of the security cheque

Bench stated that it is immaterial whether the cheque had been filled by the complainant once the cheque has been admitted being duly signed by the drawer-accused.

  • Complainant did not have the financial capacity to grant the alleged loan

It is a settled position of law that in case of cash transaction, showcasing that complainant did not have the adequate financial capacity to lend money to the accused amounts to a probable defense and can help in rebutting the presumption that is accrued to the benefit of the complainant in cheque dishonor cases.

In Basalingappa v. Mudibasappa, (2019) 5 SCC 418, the Supreme Court has observed as follows:

During his cross-examination, when financial capacity to pay Rs. 6 lakhs to the accused was questioned, there was no satisfactory reply given by the complainant. The evidence on record, thus, is a probable defence on behalf of the accused, which shifted the burden on the complainant to prove his financial capacity and other facts.

(emphasis added)

Hence, the Court stated that in cases in which the underlying debt transaction is a cash transaction, the accused can raise a probable defense by questioning the financial capacity of the complainant, and once the said question is raised, the onus shifts on the complainant to prove his financial capacity.

Bench on perusal of the record of the present case, agreed with the submission of the counsel of the accused, since the record created adequate doubts over the financial capacity of the complainant to advance the loan in question.

Conclusion

Hence, Court opined that the complainant failed to establish that it had the financial capacity to advance a loan of Rs 21,00,000 to the accused.

Therefore, accused successfully rebutted the presumption under Section 139 NI Act and the complainant failed to discharge the shifted onus.

“…even if the cheque presented by the complainant was returned unpaid by the bank, the complainant cannot prosecute the accused, as the requirement of the existence of legal liability has not been satisfied in the present case, since the accused has been able to establish a probable defence by creating a credible doubt over the existence of the alleged loan transaction.”

Concluding the matter, Bench held that complainant failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, hence the accused was acquitted from the charge of offence punishable under Section 138 of the NI Act. [S.S. Auto Gallery v. Vaneet Singh, 21636 of 2016, decided on 9-10-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Manjeet Singh, counsel for the complainant.

D.K Ahuja, for the accused.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: In a civil application filed by an ex-wife for reimbursement of her child’s educational expenses in Australia amounting to Rs 1.2 crores among other things, a division bench comprising of Akil Kureshi and S.J. Kathawalla, JJ. observed that if a divorced husband is not consulted by his ex-wife on the decision concerning the education of their child, he is not liable to bear the entire cost for the educational expenses.

The Bench opined that when a ward is being sent abroad for education which entails considerable expenditure, the concurrence of both parents, particularly one who is expected to bear the expenditure, is necessary. The Court further stated that the husband certainly has a right to inquire about the university where the child is admitted, the course being pursued, the aptitude of the child in the particular branch of education etc and therefore it would not be fair if the applicant-wife took a unilateral decision of such magnitude and simply sent the bill for the expenditure to the father.

The Court refused to let husband bear full expenses of his ward’s foreign education but looking at his financial capacity and since his daughter was performing well at her course in Australia, found it appropriate to direct him to bear a part of his daughter’s expenses amounting to Rs 25 Lakhs towards the said cause. [Sheetal v. Deepak Govindram Bhatija, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 3822, decided on 17-10-2019]