Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case relating to dishonour of cheques where it was alleged that the complaint was filed by the managing director in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the Company, the bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul* and MM Sundresh, JJ has held that there could be a format where the Company’s name is described first, suing through the Managing Director but there cannot be a fundamental defect merely because the name of the Managing Director is stated first followed by the post held in the Company. It was further held that it would be too technical a view to take to defeat the complaint merely because the body of the complaint does not elaborate upon the authorisation.

Facts

The respondent had issued 8 cheques totalling to Rs.1,60,000/- in favour of Bell Marshall Telesystems Limited, however, all the cheques got dishonoured on account of “funds insufficient” after which legal notices were issued by the beneficiary under Section 138(b) of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. The demand was, however not met within fifteen days of the receipt of the notice nor was any reply sent which resulted in the complaint being filed by the Company’s Managing Director Bhupesh Rathod before the Special Metropolitan Magistrate, Mumbai. The Company also filed an affidavit through its Managing Director, i.e., Bhupesh Rathod, stating that it had authorised to file a complaint case against the respondent. A copy of the Board Resolution was also presented.

The respondent took an objection that the complaint was filed in the personal capacity of Bhupesh Rathod and not on behalf of the Company. On the other hand it was contended by the appellant that the complaint was in the name of the Company and in the cause title of the complaint he had described himself as the Managing Director. The Company was a registered company under the Companies Act, 1956. On this, the respondent contended that it is only in the aforesaid title description that the complainant is described as the Managing Director of the Company but in the body of the complaint it is not so mentioned.

Analysis

The Court took note of the facts that the description of the complainant with its full registered office address is given at the inception itself except that the Managing Director’s name appears first as acting on behalf of the Company. The affidavit and the cross-examination in respect of the same during trial supports the finding that the complaint had been filed by the Managing Director on behalf of the Company.

It, hence, noticed that the format itself cannot be said to be defective though it may not be perfect.

“The body of the complaint need not be required to contain anything more in view of what has been set out at the inception coupled with the copy of the Board Resolution. There is no reason to otherwise annex a copy of the Board Resolution if the complaint was not being filed by the appellant on behalf of the Company.”

It further explained that a Manager or a Managing Director ordinarily by the very nomenclature can be taken to be the person in-charge of the affairs Company for its day-to-day management and within the activity would certainly be calling the act of approaching the court either under civil law or criminal law for setting the trial in motion.

“It would be too technical a view to take to defeat the complaint merely because the body of the complaint does not elaborate upon the authorisation. The artificial person being the Company had to act through a person/official, which logically would include the Chairman or Managing Director. Only the existence of authorisation could be verified.”

The Court considered the governing principles in respect of a  corporate entity which seeks to file the complaint, as laid down in Associated Cement Co. Ltd. v. Keshavanand, (1998) 1 SCC 687, and said that,

“If a complaint was made in the name of the Company, it is necessary that a natural person represents such juristic person in the court and the court looks upon the natural person for all practical purposes. It is in this context that observations were made that the body corporate is a de jure complainant while the human being is a de facto complainant to represent the former in the court proceedings. Thus, no Magistrate could insist that the particular person whose statement was taken on oath alone can continue to represent the Company till the end of the proceedings. Not only that, even if there was initially no authority the Company can at any stage rectify that defect by sending a competent person.”

Further, the Court noticed that the signatures on the cheques were not denied. Neither was it explained by way of an alternative story as to why the duly signed cheques were handed over to the Company. There was no plea of any fraud or misrepresentation.

“It does, thus, appear that faced with the aforesaid position, the respondent only sought to take a technical plea arising from the format of the complaint to evade his liability.”

Ruling

The Court held that the complaint was properly instituted and also that the respondent failed to disclose why he did not meet the financial liability arising to a payee, who is a holder of a cheque in due course.

The Court was of the view that the respondent should be sentenced with imprisonment for a term of one year and with fine twice the amount of the cheque, i.e., Rs.3,20,000/-. However, since 15 years have elapsed since the complaint was filed, the Court directed if the respondent pays a further sum of Rs.1,60,000/- to the appellant, then the sentence would stand suspended.

[Bhupesh Rathod v. Dayashankar Prasad Chaurasiya, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1031, decided on 10.11.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

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

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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: 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]