Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Subramonium Prasad, J., addressed a matter wherein it was reiterated that the initial burden of proving the burden of the non-existence of debt is on the accused under Section 118 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

The instant revision petition was filed against the order passed dismissing the appeal and affirming the Metropolitan Magistrate’s order convicting the petitioner for offences punishable under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

Petitioner has also challenged the order wherein the petitioner has been sentenced to undergo imprisonment for a period of two months and also directed the petitioner to pay an amount of Rs 13 lakhs as fine payable as compensation to the respondent as per the provision of Section 143 (1) of NI Act read with Section 357 (1)(3) of CrPC.

Facts that lead to the case

Respondent financed a bus for the petitioner by giving a loan and in discharge of the liability, petitioner handed over the cheques in favour of the respondent. When the said cheques were deposited they were returned as unpaid/dishonored for the reason ‘Funds Insufficient’.

Petitioner submitted that the vehicle was handed over to the respondent company for getting the vehicle converted to CNG but the said vehicle was never returned to the petitioner nor the accounts related to the hire purchase were settled. In fact, the blank cheques given to the respondent earlier were misused.

Though Metropolitan magistrate found the petitioner’s deposition to be inconsistent and found that the bus was already sold by the petitioner.

Metropolitan Magistrate, therefore, held that the accused/petitioner was not been able to rebut the presumption that the cheques had been paid for the discharge of any liability and hence convicted under Section 138 NI Act.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Section 118 of the NI Act raises a presumption that a cheque is issued for consideration until the contrary is proved. It is well settled that the initial burden in this regard lies on the accused to prove the non-existence of debt by bringing on record such facts and circumstances which would lead the Court to believe the non-existence of debt either by direct evidence or by preponderance of probabilities.

In the instant matter, other than mere ipsi dixit of the petitioner there was no debt due and payable nothing was on record to show that the cheques were not issued for discharge of liability for the bus.

Bench stated that the purpose of introducing Section 138 of the NI Act was to bring sanctity in commercial transactions.

Further, the Court noted that the lower courts on perusal of records came to the conclusion that the cheques were given in discharge of the debt.

While expressing that the scope of revision petition under Sections 397/401 CrPC read with Section 482 CrPC is extremely narrow Court referred the following Supreme Court decisions:

State v. Manimaran, (2019) 13 670

State of Haryana v. Rajmal, (2011) 14 SCC 326

In view of the above discussion, Bench did not find any that required the interference in the lower court’s judgment.

Further, the Court added that the respondent did not file the books of accounts was not fatal to the case of the respondent. It was open to the petitioner to produce his books of accounts to rebut the presumption and bring out a prima facie case that there was no debt due and payable on the date the cheques were dishonoured.

Petitioner failed to show as to how there was no subsisting debt on the date when the cheques were dishonoured due to insufficiency of funds.

In view of the above discussion, the revision petition was dismissed. [G.D. Kataria v. AVL Leasing & Financing Ltd., 2020 SCC OnLine Del 1056, decided on 03-02-2021]


Advocates for the parties:

Petitioner: Medhanshu Tripathi, Advocate

Respondent: Anuj Soni, Advocate

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Tripura High Court: S.G. Chattopadhyay, J., highlights the essence of the provisions of Negotiable Instruments Act, in light of the object of a statutory notice.

It has been stated that the Courts below have concurrently held that the respondent has already established his case under the provisions of Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1981 against the accused, who is the present petitioner.

The present petitioner was convicted for committing an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act and he/she was penalised for a sentence of 1 year along with a fine of Rs 7,00,000.

Session Judge had also affirmed the above decision of the Chief Judicial Magistrate while reducing the sentence to fine and directing the petitioner to pay only Rs 4,00,000.

Being aggrieved with the above, the present criminal revision petition was filed.

Facts

Since both the petitioner and respondent were on good terms and known to each other, the petitioner used to borrow money from the respondents and repay the same in time. On 15-01-2014, he took a loan of Rs 3,50,000 and promised to repay the money within 30-11-2014.

On being requested for the above-amount, past the said date, petitioner handed over a cheque to the respondent but the said cheque was returned with an endorsement “insufficient funds”.

Demand Notice was issued with 15 days of time given for the repayment of the said amount. Every time that the postman visited the house for the service of the demand notice, housemates of the petitioner refused to receive the said letter and said that the petitioner was out of station.

Hence, in view of the above circumstance, the notice was returned to the respondent.

Later the matter reached the trial and the petitioner was convicted under Section 138 NI Act.

Misutilization of the Cheque

Petitioner contended in regard to the cheque that the accused had never issued any cheque in discharge of any debt or liability, but only a blank cheque was issued as a security for the loan which was borrowed by him from the complainant and after the loan was repaid, the complainant, instead of returning the cheque, misutilized it against him.

Statutory Presumption

Respondent’s counsel submitted that the presumption under Section 139 read with the Rule of Evidence as provided under Section 118, NI Act with regard to the existence of debt or liability is not a discretionary presumption, it is a statutory presumption which is obligatory on the part of the Court. Hence, a heavy burden is cast on the accused to rebut such presumption.

Further, the counsel added that apart from making mere denial of the existence of debt or liability, the accused did not lead any evidence to prove that he had no legal liability to be discharged and as such the courts below had drawn the statutory presumptions against him.

Section 138 NI Act requires proof of the essential ingredients:

  • there is legally enforceable debt
  • a cheque is drawn on an account maintained by the accused with his banker for payment of any amount to another person from his account in the discharge in whole or in part of the debt or liability
  • the cheque is returned by the bank unpaid, either because of the insufficient fund in the account of the accused to honour the cheque or that the cheque amount exceeds the amount arranged to be paid from that account by an agreement made with the bank.

Bench noted that the petitioner in his defence merely offered an explanation throwing suggestion to the prosecution witnesses in their cross-examination that he gave a blank signed cheque as security and did not deny the fact that he borrowed loan from the complainant.

Question for consideration:

In the instant matter, whether such an explanation offered by the petitioner is enough to disprove the statutory presumptions under Sections 138 and 139, NI Act?

In the decision of Hiten P. Dalal v. Bratindranath Banerjee, (2001) 6 SCC 16, Supreme Court that the presumptions to be drawn by the court under Sections 138 and 139, NI Act are presumptions of law which cast the evidential burden on the accused to disprove the presumptions.

Further, in the case of Mallavarapu Kasivisweswara Rao v. Thavikonda Ramulu Firm, (2008) 7 SCC 655, it was held that it is a settled position that the initial burden lies if the accused to prove the non-existence of consideration.

Decision

Bench on perusal of the above held that the explanation offered by the accused petitioner is not founded on proof and it does not stand to reason.

The object of the statutory notice is to protect an honest drawer of the cheque by providing him with a chance to make the fund sufficient in his bank account and correct his mistake.

Accused had an opportunity to explain himself, he instead repeatedly avoided the service of demand notice and did not state that he already has the repayment of the loan.

Therefore, Court held that the prosecution successfully discharged its burden in proving the case against the petitioner with the help of the statutory presumptions under the NI Act, and the accused failed to rebut those presumptions and prove the contrary by offering provable explanation founded on the proof.

Adding to the above, Bench also observed that the overall conduct of the accused depicted that he wanted to avoid the service of the notice. Impugned judgment by the below courts does not require any interference and the conviction and sentence were upheld by the High Court.

Bench directed the fine of Rs 4,00,000 within a period of 2 months.[Nitai Majumder v. Tanmoy Krishna Das, 2020 SCC OnLine Tri 537, decided on 17-11-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: C.V. Bhadang, J., set aside an order passed by the Magistrate whereby process was issued against the petitioner for an offence punishable under Section 138 read with Section 142 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

The complainant gave a flat to the petitioner on leave and license basis. According to the complainant, the petitioner handed-over to her a cheque in the sum of Rs 12,000 drawn on State Bank of India, towards payment of license fee for one month. However, when presented for encashment, the cheque was returned dishonoured on account of “insufficient funds”. In such background, the complainant filed a complaint under Section 138 against the petitioner, in which the impugned order of issue of process was passed.

Galileo Francisco Teles, Advocate represented the petitioner. On the other hand, John Abreu Lobo, Advocate appeared for the complainant.

The High Court noted that the petitioner simply handed over the cheque in question to the complainant, allegedly towards payment of one month’s license fee. It was not a case that the cheque was issued by the petitioner, much less on his account with SBI. There was letter produced from SBI stating that the account number on which the cheque was issued did not stand in name of the petitioner. The Court observed, “It is trite that a complaint under Section 138 of the Act, lies only against the drawer of the cheque, when the cheque issued by the drawer, on his account is dishonoured for want of funds. It was not seriously disputed during the course of the arguments at bar that the petitioner is neither a drawer nor the cheque is issued on his account. It is thus difficult to see as to how, process can be issued against the petitioner in the absence of the basic requirements of the offence under Section 138 of the Act being satisfied.” Stating thus, it was held that the impugned order was not sustainable and was therefore set aside. [Hiralal Govekar v. Sheela Surlakar, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 507, dated 20-03-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: The Bench of P. Velmurugan J. convicted the accused under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (for dishonour of cheque) and sentenced him to undergo 6 months simple imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 1,50,000 to be paid to the complainant.

The complainant and the accused were running a partnership firm which was subsequently dissolved. The accused issued a cheque for a sum of Rs 1,50,000 in favour of the complainant in at the time of the settling of accounts. The cheque was presented in ICICI Bank and was returned due to insufficient funds. The complainant issued statutory notice to the accused but even after that repayment was not made. Therefore, the complainant initiated proceedings under Section 138. However, the trial court acquitted the accused. Aggrieved thereby, the present appeal was filed by the complainant.

The High Court noted that the accused admitted that the cheque was issued in favour of the complainant but contended that it was not for legally enforceable debt and was executed at the time of admitting him in the firm only for security purpose. The court observed, “once execution of cheque is admitted, it is a legal presumption under Section 139 of Negotiable Instrument Act. The cheque was issued for discharging legally enforceable debt. No doubt the presumption is rebuttable.” In the present case, the court found that the accused was not able to rebut the presumption in any manner known to law. The mere contention raised by him could not suffice. Finding the accused guilty for offence punishable under Section 138 , the Court set aside the impugned judgment of the trial court. The appeal was allowed and the accused was sentenced as mentioned above.[A.K. Mohammed Farook v. M. Syed Jaheer Hussain, 2019 SCC OnLine Mad 187, dated 19-1-2019]