Case BriefsDistrict Court

Dwarka Courts, New Delhi: Deeksha Sethi, MM (NI Act)—06, reiterated that, even a blank cheque leaf, voluntarily signed and handed over by the accused, which is towards some payment, would attract presumption under Section 139 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

In the present matter, Raj Singh was referred to as ‘complainant’ and the accused were relatives as the marriage of the son of the complainant and daughter of the brother of the accused was solemnized.

The complainant’s case was that in the second week of April 2015 accused along with his brother approached him and requested a sum of Rs 12 lakhs and 8 lakhs respectively as they were in dire need of money. It was assured to the complainant that they would return the money within 12 months along with interest @ 2% per month.

It was stated that, the accused and his brother paid the interest only on two occasions and thereafter neither paid the interest nor principal amount despite repeated requests.

Thereafter, in the discharge of their liability accused’s brother gave a cheque amounting to Rs 8 lakhs as part payment and accused Yashpal Singh also gave a cheque amounting to Rs 12 lakhs.

Both the above cheques were dishonoured with the remarks ‘Insufficient Funds’.

The complainant had informed about the dishonouring of the cheque by the accused and his brother, however, the accused and his brother refused to return the amount and threatened the complainant with dire consequences.

Later, since the accused failed to make payment despite the notice, therefore liability to be tried and punished for an offence under Section 138 NI Act.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Court noted that the accused had admitted the fact that the cheque in question had his signatures and in such scenario, a presumption was raised under Section 139 read with Sections 118/20 of the NI Act, that cheque was issued in discharge of debt or liability.

With regard to the contention of the accused regarding certain particulars of the cheque were not filled by the accused and hence it was difficult to believe the complainant’s version, Court expressed that, even it was admitted for the sake of argument that blank cheque was given by the accused to the complainant, it is a well-settled principle of law that,

“…even a blank cheque leaf, voluntarily signed and handed over by the accused, which is towards some payment, would attract presumption under Section 139 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, in the absence of any cogent evidence to show that the cheque was not issued in discharge of a debt.”

Hence, the contention of the accused could not be accepted.

Misuse of Cheque

The Bench noted that the accused neither placed on record any complaint made to the police or bank in the said regard nor led any other evidence in support of the misuse of the cheque.

Further, the Bench added that, it is well settled that bare statements and story-telling would not help the accused to rebut the presumption raised under Sections 118 and 139 of the NI Act.

Whether the accused had been able to shake the version given by the complainant in his evidence affidavit and had been able to point out discrepancies or contradictions which may throw doubt on his version?

The only suggestion that had been given was that a blank signed cheque was issued by the accused to the complainant as it was agreed in Panchayat that the accused and his brother would give the cheque in question and the complainant’s son would take back the accused’s niece. Thus, no discrepancy had emerged out of the cross-examination which may demolish the complainant’s version even on the touchstone of preponderance of probabilities.

The Court concluded that the accused was not able to prove any probable defence and had failed to rebut the presumption raised under Sections 118/139 of the NI Act.

Therefore, Yashpal Singh was held guilty and convicted for the commission of an offence punishable under Section 138 of the NI Act in respect of the cheque in question. [Raj Singh v. Yashpal Singh Parmar, 2022 SCC OnLine Dis Crt (Del) 16, decided on 25-4-2022]

Case BriefsDistrict Court

Dwarka Courts, Delhi: Rahul Jain, Metropolitan Magistrate, while addressing a matter regarding dishonour of cheque, held that mere assertion of non-receipt of legal notice cannot help the accused in escaping liability under Section 138 Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

It was alleged in complaint that accused had approached the complainant to purchase a car. It was sold vide an agreement for Rs 7 lakhs only to be paid in 35 EMIs of Rs 20,000.

After default in the instalments, the accused issued a cheque which was returned dishonoured with remark “funds insufficient”. Thereafter, the complainant approached the accused repeatedly about the dishonour of the cheque and then the accused agreed to repay the consideration at one time and issue one cheque which was dishonoured.

Since no response was made within the statutory period regarding the demand notice, the present complaint was filed.

Analysis, Law and Decision


Legal Notice

The Court stated that the assertion of non-receipt of legal notice cannot help the accused in escaping liability under Section 138 NI Act, especially keeping in mind that firstly the accused has admitted his address mentioned on legal demand notice to be correct and secondly that the accused entered appearance in the court pursuant to service upon the same address as was mentioned in the legal demand notice.

It was settled in the decision of the Supreme Court in C.C. Alavi Haji v. Palapetty Muhammed, (2007) 6 SCC 555,  that an accused who claimed that he did not receive legal notice, can within 15 days on 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.

Legal Enforceable Debt

Bench noted that the initial defence of the accused had been that he had not purchased any car from the complainant and denied his signatures on the vehicle agreement. Further, he stated that car was purchased by his brother from the complainant, and he had just stood as a guarantor in the transaction and issued the cheque as security. The said defence was not even a defence but rather an admission to the liability to pay the cheques.

Liability of Guarantor under Section 138 NI Act

Section 138 NI Act uses the words “where any cheque” and therefore, the cheque could be drawn for whatever reason and the drawer would be liable if it is drawn on an account maintained by him with a banker in favour of another person for the discharge of any debt or other liability.

“The cheque could be issued for the discharge of the debt or liability of the drawer or of any other person including a guarantor.”

Section 128 of the Indian Contract Act provides that the liability of the surety is coextensive with that of the principal debtor, unless it is otherwise provided in the contract.

Hence, as per the Indian Contract Act, the liability of the guarantor is coextensive with that of the borrower which means that lender can enforce his right against either the principal borrower or the guarantor of the principal borrower.

Therefore,

On a joint reading of section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act and Section 128 of Indian Contract act, it is now crystal clear that the liability of the guarantor of a loan fall within the provisions of Section 138 NI Act.

Court added that, with the presumption under Section 139 NI Act raised in the favour of the complainant as the accused admitted his signatures on the cheque, the burden of proof was on the accused to raise a probable defence.

Such burden is only to the extent of the preponderance of probabilities but mere verbal denial won’t discharge even this burden. The onus was on the accused to prove that the signatures on the agreement were not his.

In the absence of evidence for the above, Court used its power under Section 73 of the Evidence Act to compare his signatures on the vehicle agreement with the admitted signatures on the cheque.

In view of the above discussion, a presumption existed in the favour of the complainant, and it was the accused who had to discharge the onus, but he miserably failed to do so.

Therefore, the complainant duly proved his case against the accused for offence punishable under Section 138 NI Act, 1881 beyond the shadow of any reasonable doubt. [Anju Devi v. Mukesh, 2022 SCC OnLine Dis Crt (Del) 19, decided on 9-5-2022]

Patiala House Courts, Delhi
Case BriefsDistrict Court

Patiala House Courts, New Delhi: Shreya Arora Mehta, Metropolitan Magistrate, while addressing a matter with regard to Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act stressed the liability of a Director for such offences.

Accused Company through accused 2 – Chairman cum Managing Director along with accused 3 its Managing Director and accused 4 Deputy Managing Director approached the complainant in the year 2006 to engage their services for releasing advertisement of the accused company in various newspapers and publications.

The complainant agreed to extend a credit period of 60 days for payment of the bills with statutory taxes and services charges/commission. The accused persons sent a release order to the complainant for advertisement in various print media. Bills were raised on monthly basis for service provided.

It was stated that till the second quarter of 2008 the complainant received most of the payment but thereafter there was a default by the accused persons in making the time-bound scheduled payment. Later bills of 6 months were kept pending due to which the complainant was forced to ask the Indian Newspaper Society to issue a caution notice to its members regarding the accused company.

The accused company issued 84 cheques with the assurance that on presentation the same would be encashed, but all the cheques were dishonoured and returned unpaid for the reasons either “funds insufficient” and or exceeding arrangement.

Accused persons did not reply to the legal notice under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. Hence the present complaint was filed.

Accused 3 admitted his signatures on all the cheques but stated that the same was done under the pretext of accused 2 who was the chairman cum director of the accused 1. The accused 4 submitted that he had no dealings whatsoever with the complainant company.

Section 141 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, does not say that a Director of a company shall automatically be vicariously liable for commission of an offence on behalf of the company.

“…the complainant has to make specific averments in the complaint that the accused persons were incharge or were responsible to the company or conduct of the business of the company. And prosecution could be launched not only against the company on behalf of which the cheque issued has been dishonoured, but it could also be initiated against every person who at the time the offence was committed, was in charge of and was responsible for the conduct of the business of the company.”

In the present case, specific averments were made against accused 3 and 4 that they are in charge of and responsible to the accused 1 company for the conduct of the business of the company and were looking after the business of the company and the offence under Section 138 NI Act had been committed with the knowledge, consent and connivance of the accused 3 and 4 besides other and was attributable to neglect on their part.

“…under Section 139 of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881 there is a presumption in favour of the complainant that the cheques in question were issued by the accused in discharge of his lawful liability. It is mandatory for the court to draw a presumption against the drawer/accused. However, the said presumption is rebuttable.” 

Accused persons raised arguments that no work order, release order or publication bill was placed on record nor the complainant produce the details of the newspapers etc. To substantiate the same, the accused person had failed to prove on record any admissible and reliable evidence to discharge their onus of rebutting the initial presumption in favour of the complainant as enshrined under Section 139 NI Act.

In view of the above, the essentials of Section 138 NI Act stand duly established and accused persons failed to rebut the same.[Prominent Advertising Services v. Koutons Retail India Ltd., 2022 SCC OnLine Dis Crt (Del) 12, decided on 22-3-2022]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: While addressing a matter revolving around Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, Subramonium Prasad, J., held that Courts should primarily proceed on the averments in the complaint, and the defence of the accused cannot be looked at the stage of issuing summons unless it can be shown on admitted documents which the Supreme Court described as “unimpeachable in nature and sterling in quality” to substantiate that there was no debt due and payable by the person who has issued the cheque or that the cheque amount is large than the debt due.

Petitioner sought to call for record and quash complaint about the offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

Averments made in the complaint were:

Petitioner had approached the complainant/respondent and requested for a friendly loan of Rs 9,00,000, later after a few months he again approached for a loan of Rs 6,00,000 and in the said amount, Rs 4,90,000 was given through RTGS and Rs 1,10,000 was given in cash.

Further, while returning the amount, the petitioner issued a cheque, which was returned by the bank with the remark “Exceeds Arrangement”. Even after notice, the petitioner did not pay the amount, hence a complaint under Section 138 of the NI Act was registered.

Petitioner submitted that he had given instructions to his nephew who deposited a sum of Rs 2,69,000 through UP in the bank account of the wife of the complainant, hence the cheque of Rs 15,00,000 presented by the complainant was greater than the amount due, hence the complaint shall be quashed.

Analysis, Law and Decision

High Court expressed that the purpose of inserting Chapter XVII in the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 was to bring out sanctity in commercial transactions.

In the present matter, it was noted the petitioner had issued a cheque for a sum of Rs 15,00,000.

Section 139 of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881, creates a presumption that unless contrary is proved, the holder of a cheque has received the cheque for discharge in whole or in part of any debt or other liability.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Bir Singh v. Mukesh Kumar, (2019) 4 SCC 197, was also cited.

Petitioner contended that the cheque deposited by the complainant was for a greater amount as a sum of Rs 2,69,000 had already been paid.

Further, it was stated that the details of the UPI (Unified Payment Interface), which has been filed by the petitioner, show that the amounts deposited in the bank account of the wife of the complainant by the nephew of the petitioner cannot be taken as evidence which is unimpeachable in nature and sterling in quality so as to demolish the case of the respondent and to substantiate the contention of the petitioner that the proceedings initiated under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881 is a complete abuse of the process of law.

The Bench stated that the Courts should primarily proceed on the averments in the complaint, and the defence of the accused cannot be looked at the stage of issuing summons unless it can be shown on admitted documents which the Supreme Court described as “unimpeachable in nature and sterling in quality”.

“It is well settled that the inherent powers should be exercised sparingly, with circumspection and in the rarest of rare cases when the Court is convinced, on the basis of material on record, that allowing the proceedings to continue would be an abuse of process of law or if the ends of justice is required that the proceedings ought not to be quashed.”

Hence, High Court denied accepting that the amounts deposited by the nephew of the petitioner in the bank account of the wife of the complainant was towards the debt incurred by the petitioner.

Therefore, no case for quashing the complaint was made out. [Satinderjeet Singh v. Sameer Sondhi, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 635, decided on 28-2-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioner: Deepak Kohli, Advocate

For the Respondent: None

Saket Court
Case BriefsDistrict Court

Saket District Court, Delhi: Sonam Singh, MM (NI Act) acquitted the accused who was charged with an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, on finding that he raised sufficient doubt about the existence of a legally sustainable liability.

Factual Background

Complainant was the daughter-in-law of the accused. She alleged that in August 2020, the accused who was her father-in-law promised to pay her maintenance of Rs 45,000 every month for his grandson.

Further, she alleged that in lieu of the promised amount he handed over a cheque. On not receiving the amount in her bank account, she enquired with the bank and got to know that initially the cheque was cleared but due to the accused being hand-in-glove with certain officials from the said bank, the amount of Rs 45,000 which was credited in her account was subsequently debited from her account.

Complainant alleged that since she suspected that the accused had cheated her, she requested the bank to disclose the status of her cheque and after much inconvenience, the bank told her that due to the difference between words and figures written on the cheque, it was wrongly cleared by them initially.

Adding to the above allegations, she also stated that the amount was debited from her account as the accused had conspired with the bank official and alleged that she was appalled when she got to know that the cheque was dishonored on the ground of “CHEQUE IRREGULARLY DRAWN/AMOUNT IN WORDS AND FIGURES DIFFERS” and further on contacting the accused, he refused to pay the amount of cheque in question.

It was also alleged by her that she got to know from the Bank that the accused had personally asked the bank to stop the payment of the cheque in question and he had deliberately written the wrong amount in words on the cheque.

Since the accused did not pay the complainant within 15 days of service of legal notice, the present complaint was filed seeking prosecution of the accused of the offence punishable under Section 138 NI Act.

Analysis, Law and Decision

After referring to the provisions of Negotiable Instruments Act, Bench referred to the Supreme Court decision in Kusum Ingots & Alloys Ltd. v. Pennar Peterson Securities Ltd., (2000) 2 SCC 745, wherein the Court discussed the conditions of Section 138 NI Act which are to be fulfilled for a cause of action to arise in favour of the complainant.

Court expressed that,

The object underlying Section 138 of the NI Act is to promote faith in the efficacy of the banking system and give credibility to negotiable instruments, in business transactions. The intention is to punish those unscrupulous persons, who issued cheques for discharging their liabilities, without really intending to honour the promise.

Issues in the present matter:

  • Service of legal demand notice
  • Cheque being valid and return memo being fabricated
  • Whether the cheque in question can be said to have been issued in discharge of a legally enforceable debt or liability or not

Service of legal demand notice

Court stated that considering the presumption of due service, the accused was under an obligation to lead evidence to prove that the notice was not served on him. However, he has failed to bring any evidence to rebut the presumption of due service of legal demand notice.

Mere denial of not receiving the legal demand notice would not amount to proving his defence.

 Validity of Cheque and genuineness of the return memo

It was proved that the cheque was dishonoured on the instructions of the accused who gave instructions to the bank to reverse the entry, admitted by him in his statement under Section 313 CrPC.

The Court witness brought a letter issued by the bank that erroneously the cheque number mentioned in the return memo dated 11.09.2020 was 682148 instead of 682146. He further explained in his cross-examination conducted by the counsel for the complainant that the typographical mistake of the cheque number in the return memo is a “clerical mistake and should not have occurred.”

 Accused did not bring any evidence to show that there was any conspiracy between the complainant and the bank to issue a fabricated return memo. The Bench stated that it was relevant to note that the accused had admitted having signed the cheque on a bank account maintained in his name and filled all the particulars of the cheque except the name of the complainant.

Question of Liability

It is well-settled position of law that when a negotiable instrument is drawn, two statutory presumptions arise in favour of the complainant, one under Section 139 NI Act and another under Section 118(a) of the NI Act, which is a presumption of the cheque having been issued in discharge of legal liability and drawn for good consideration, arises.

Bench observed that it is explicit that on proof of foundational facts, the Court will presume that cheque was made or drawn for consideration and that it was executed for discharge of debt or liability, once the execution of negotiable instrument is either proved or admitted and the burden of proof lies upon the accused to rebut the said presumption.

This is an example of the rule of ‘reverse onus’ in action, where it is an obligation on the accused to lead what can be called ‘negative evidence’. The accused is not to prove a fact affirmatively, but to lead evidence to demonstrate the non-existence of debt or liability. Since, this rule is against the general principle of the criminal law of ‘presumption of innocence in favour of the accused’ and considering that such negative evidence, by character is difficult to lead, the threshold for the accused to rebut the presumption is on the scale of the preponderance of probabilities.

Court opined that, in the present matter, the accused succeeded in rebutting the presumption of legal liability, by exposing the inherent improbability of the case of the complainant.

Bench stated that, the improbability of the complainant’s story was further manifest from the fact that she had not filed any case for maintenance and only a case under DV Act had been filed. She failed to bring on record any document or court order to show that the accused promised her the maintenance of Rs 45,000 for his grandson.

Further, the accused, in his defence had argued that the cheque was not handed over to the complainant. In his statement under Section 313 CrPC, he stated that only when he received a message from his bank that an amount of Rs 45,000 was debited from his account, then he contacted his bank and told the bank he had not issued any such cheque. Any reasonable man would do as what accused did and direct his bank to stop the payment or reverse the entry.

The reason for not filing a police complaint with respect to misuse of the cheque by the accused was not filed as the complainant was his daughter-in-law and in Court’s opinion the said explanation was believable as the same could have caused him social embarrassment.

Conclusion

Accused raised sufficient doubt about the existence of a legally sustainable liability, which the complainant failed to prove after the onus shifted on her and therefore the end result was that the accused was acquitted of offence under Section 138 NI Act.

In view of the above complaint was dismissed. [Shakun Singh v. Chandeshwar Singh, CC No. 397 of 2020, decided on 24-12-2021]

Case BriefsDistrict Court

Dwarka Court, New Delhi: Shipra Dhankar, MM (NI Act) on noting that the dishonour of cheque occurred in consequence of an illegal and void agreement, dismissed the complaint under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881.

What are we dealing with in the present matter?

The Complainant was approached by the accused with the proposal that, in return for a commission/liaison fee, the accused can obtain in the complainant’s favour a tender issued by the NTPC where the accused enjoys “good links” with the higher authorities.

Thereafter, the complainant, after having applied for the said tender and paid the amount demanded from him, received from the accused a tender award letter, however, the said letter was later found to be forged.

In view of the above incident, the complainant demanded his money back from the accused, pursuant to which certain cheques were drawn in his favour out of which one got dishonoured.

Complainant approached the Court due to the dishonour of the above-said one cheque.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Section 138 NI Act clarifies that “debt or other liability” means a legally enforceable debt or other liability. The said legal position was fortified by the decision of Delhi High Court in Virender Singh v. Laxmi Narain, 2006 SCC OnLine Del 1328 wherein it was found that if the consideration or object of an agreement is unlawful, illegal or against the public policy, the agreement itself is void and legally unenforceable, as a result of this, any cheque issued in discharge of a liability under such a void agreement, cannot be said to be issued in discharge of a legally enforceable debt o liability.

The Bench also relied on Section 23 of the Indian Contract Act to see whether the agreement entered into by both the parties was for a lawful consideration/object or not.

Court on noting the fact that the sole purpose of the agreement was to obtain a tender in favour of the complainant, not on the basis of its intrinsic merit, but on the basis of “good links” of the accused with the NTPC higher authorities. Such agreements are expressly rendered void and of no legal consequence by virtue of Section 23 of the Indian Contract Act.

Hence the agreement was illegal and void.

In the present matter, presumption stood rebutted by the Complainant’s own version. The complainant’s own depiction of the transaction disclosed that the same was legally unenforceable and void.

Lastly, the Court referred to the maxim “in pari delicito portior est conditio defendantis”, which embodies the principle: “the Courts will refuse to enforce an illegal agreement at the instance of a person who is himself a party to a illegality or fraud”.

In light of the above discussion, the cognizance in the present complaint was declined and the complaint was dismissed. [Virender Dahiya v. Keshav Kumar, CC No. 11747 of 2021, decided on 10-1-2022]

Case BriefsDistrict Court

XVIII Addl. Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Bengaluru City: Manjunatha, XVII Addl. C.M.M., found the accused guilty for the offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, on his failure to rebut the statutory presumption in favour of the holder of cheque.

Background

The complainant had filed the instant complaint under Section 200 of Code of Criminal Procedure read with Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act against the accused alleging that, she had committed the offence punishable under Section 138 NI Act.

Complainants and the accused were well known to each other as they were residing in the same locality and in 2018, the accused had approached the complainant for a loan of Rs 4,00,000 for the purpose of urgent legal and domestic necessities and promised to repay the same within 6 months.

Considering her request the complainant had paid Rs 4,00,000 to the accused by way of cash.

The accused and her husband had executed an undertaking by acknowledging the receipt of the amount, but she failed to keep up her promises. On repeated demand and request, the accused issued a cheque but the same was returned unpaid with an endorsement “Funds Insufficient” in the drawer’s account.

Further, despite the notice, the accused had not paid the cheque amount and thereby she had committed an offence punishable under Section 138 NI Act.

Court had issued summons and later, the accused was enlarged on bail.

As per the direction of the Supreme Court in Indian Bank Assn. v. Union of India, (2014) 5 SCC 590, this Court treated the sworn in statement of the complainant as complainant evidence.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Court cited the decision of Sukur Ali v. State of Assam, (2011) 4 SCC 729, in which the Supreme Court opined that even assuming that the counsel for the accused does not appear because of the counsel’s negligence or deliberately, even then the Court should not decide a criminal case against the accused in the absence of his counsel since an accused in a criminal case should not suffer for the fault of his counsel and in such a situation the Court should appoint another counsel and in such a situation the Court should appoint another counsel as amicus curiae to defend the accused.

In the decision of K.S. Panduranga v. State of Karnataka, (2013) 3 SCC 721, Supreme Court held that, “regard being had to the principles pertaining to binding precedent, there is no trace of doubt that the principle laid down in Mohd. Sukur Ali (supra) by the learned Judges that the court should not decide a criminal case in the absence of the counsel of the accused as an accused in a criminal case should not suffer for the fault of his counsel and the court should, in such a situation, must appoint another counsel as amicus curiae to defend the accused and further if the counsel does not appear deliberately, even then the court should not decide the appeal on merit is not in accord with the pronouncement by the larger Bench in Bani Singh” .

The Court further held that in view of the aforesaid annunciation of law, it can safely be concluded that the dictum in Mohd. Sukur Ali (supra) to the effect that the court cannot decide a criminal appeal in the absence of counsel for the accused and that too if the counsel does not appear deliberately or shows negligence in appearing, being contrary to the ratio laid down by the larger Bench in Bani Singh (supra), is per incuriam. Furthermore, the transaction alleged in the case is purely a commercial transaction enetered into between two private individuals and the accused is not in judicial custody and he is not fall under any of the parameter under legal services authorities Act to get free legal aid. Under such circumstance question of appointing advocate for accused at the state cost may not arise at all.”

 Question for Consideration:

Whether the complainant proves that, accused issued cheque for Rs 4,00,000 towards discharge of her liability, which was returned unpaid on presentation for the reason “Fund Insufficient” and despite of notice she had not paid the cheque amount and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 138 of NI Act?

Analysis, Law and Decision

Court stated that, Sections 118 and 139 of NI Act raises a presumption in favour of the holder of the cheque that he had received the same for discharge in whole or in part of any debt or other liability.

Further, it was added that the accused can take probable defence on the scale of the preponderance of probability to rebut the presumption available to the complainant.

Whether the accused had successfully rebutted the said presumptions of law?

Court observed that the accused had not disputed the issuance of cheque and her signature in the cheque.

When the drawer has admitted the issuance of the cheque as well as the signature present therein, the presumptions envisaged under section 118 read with section 139 of NI Act, would operate in favour of the Complainant.

 The Bench added that the above-said provisions laid down a special rule of evidence applicable to negotiable instruments. The presumption is one of law and thereunder the court shall presume that the instrument was endorsed for consideration.

“…when the complainant has relied upon the statutory presumptions enshrined under section 118 read with section 139 of NI Act, it is for the accused to rebut the presumptions with cogent and convincing evidence.”

It is worth noting that, Section 106 of Indian Evidence Act postulates that, the burden is on the accused to establish the fact which was especially within his special knowledge.

Hence, the burden is on the accused to prove that the cheque in question was not issued for discharge of any liability.

With regard to proof of existence of legally enforceable debt was concerned, Court referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Rangappa v. Mohan, (2010) 11 SCC 441, wherein it was observed that,

“In the light of these extracts, we are in agreement with the respondent-claimant that the presumption mandated by section 139 of the Act does indeed include the existence of the legally enforceable debt or liability”

 In another decision in, T. Vasanthakumar v. Vijayakumari, (2015) 8 SCC 378, it was held that once the accused has admitted the issuance of Cheque, as well as signature on it, the presumption under Section 139, would be attracted.

In the present matter, despite giving sufficient time, the accused neither led defence evidence nor cross-examined PW1, therefore the evidence placed by the complainant remained unchallenged and there was no reason to disbelieve the version of the complainant.

The complainant had not produced any document regarding the lending of the amount to the accused, but in the absence of any contrary evidence, the unchallenged testimony of the complainant had to be believed. As such there was no rebuttal evidence on behalf of the accused to rebut the presumption available under Sections 118 and 139 of the NI Act.

Therefore, the complainant’s case was acceptable.

The complainant proved that, for discharge of liability accused had issued a cheque and she had intentionally not maintained a sufficient amount in her account to honour the said cheque.

In view of the above discussion, the complainant had proved the guilt of the accused punishable under Section 138 NI Act.

Supreme Court in a decision of H. Pukhraj v. D. Parasmal, (2015) 17 SCC 368, observed that having regard to the length of the trial and date of issuance of cheque, it was necessary to award reasonable interest on the cheque amount along with cost of litigation.

The Bench held that rather than imposing punitive sentence if sentence of fine is imposed with a direction to compensate the complainant for its monetary loss, by awarding compensation under Section 357 CrPC, would meet the ends of justice.

Lastly, Court opined that it was just and proper to impose fine of the amount of Rs 4,55,000 which included interest and cost of litigation. [N. Muniraju v. Manjula, Criminal Case No. 25494 of 2019, decided on 1-1-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

For the complainant: S.K

For the accused: G.V.K

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.”

Read more…


*Judgment by: Justice Ashok Bhushan  

Case BriefsDistrict Court

Court of XX Addl. Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Bengaluru City: Bhola Pandit, XX Addl. CMM, convicted a person who presented a cheque to repay a loan but the same was dishonored due to insufficient funds.

Instant complaint was filed under Section 200 of Code of Criminal procedure against the accused of the dishonour of cheque punishable under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act.

Background

It was alleged that the complainant and accused were very well known to each other for more than 10 years. The accused had availed a hand loan of Rs 15,00,000 from the complainant for business and family maintenance by way of cash and agreed to repay the same within one year.

Even after completion of the said period, the accused did not return the money as agreed upon. Accused had requested to wait another one year time for repayment of the said loan saying difficulty of business due to effect of demonetization of currency notes by the central government. After the lapse of agreeing another one time also, accused did not come forward to pay the said loan amount.

After several demands and requests, towards discharge of his liability, the accused had issued a post-dated cheque. The said cheque was returned by the bank due to “funds insufficient”.

The notice sent to the first address was duly served and the second-mentioned address was evaded by the accused, hence returned with an endorsement “Un Claimed”.

The complaint was filed within time and had sought to convict the accused by granting compensation under Section 357 of Code of Criminal Procedure double of the cheque amount.

Points for Consideration

  1. Whether the complainant proves that, accused has issued a postdated cheque for Rs 15,00,000 towards discharge of his liability, which was returned unpaid on presentation and also not complied with the notice issued by the complainant and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 138 of NI Act?
  2. What Order?

Analysis, Law and Decision

Court noted that inspite of service of demand notice, accused had issued an untenable reply to the said statutory notice.

To bring home the guilt of the accused, as per the verdicts of the Supreme Court in the case of Indian Bank Assn. v. Union of India, the sworn statement of the complainant had been recorded by way of examination-in-chief as PW 1.

Further, to disprove the case of the complainant and also to rebut the statutory presumptions under Section 139 of NI Act, the accused neither had entered the witness box nor had produced documentary evidence.

As per Section 118(a) and 139 of NI Act, it was very clear that, when the issuance of cheque drawn from the account of the drawer and also a signature on the cheque was admitted or undisputed, the statutory presumptions shall be drawn in favour of the complainant stating that, the accused had issued the disputed cheque towards the discharge of his legal debt and that the complainant was the due holder of the said cheque.

In the Supreme court decision of Rangappa v. Mohan, (2010) 11 SCC 441, it was held that,

“Once the cheque relates to the account of the accused and he accepts the same and also admits his signature on the cheque, then the initial presumption under Section 139 of NI Act as well as under section 118 of NI Act has to be raised in favour of the complainant. It is a mandatory presumption. But the accused is entitle to rebut the same on preponderance of probabilities.” 

Whether the present complaint would meet the mandatory provisions of section 138 of NI Act or not?

On perusal of the material documents and presentation of the complaint, it appeared that the present complaint was filed by complying with the provisions of Section 138(a) to (c) of NI Act.

The Bench added that the accused had been admitting his issuance of cheque and the signature therein. Therefore, the statutory presumptions under Sections 118(a) and 139 of the NI Act were raised in favour of the complainant. Hence, now the burden was on the accused to rebut the statutory presumptions and also to establish his defense.

Accused ha utterly failed to bring on record any probable evidence to rebut the statutory presumptions under Sections 118(a) & 139 of NI Act.

Court opined that the accused had borrowed a hand loan of Rs 15,00,000 from him and towards the discharge of the said loan, the accused issued the cheque, and the said cheque was returned unpaid due to “Funds Insufficient” in the account of the accused.

Concluding the decision, it was held that the complainant had proved the guilt of the accused punishable under Section 138 of NI Act. [Ravi M.C. v. S.S Tools, CC No. 3906 of 2019, decided on 3-12-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Complainant:

Sri. Ramesh C.H., Advocate

For the Accused:

Sro. N. Somashekar, Advocate

Saket Court
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

Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Mayo Hall Unit, Bengaluru: Vani A. Shetty, XVII Additional Judge, Court of Small Causes & ACMM, addressed a matter with respect to the liability of the accused in a case of dishonour of cheque under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

In the present case, the accused was tried for the offence punishable under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act.

Factual Background

Complainant with an intention to have a South Africa trip paid Rs 24 lakhs to the accused to book the tickets. But the accused failed to book the tickets and repaid a sum of Rs 14.5 lakhs to the complainant and sought time for the payment of balance amount of Rs 9.5 lakhs. Towards the discharge of the said liability, the accused issued a cheque for Rs 4,50,000 assuring that the cheque would be honoured if presented for payment.

But the cheque came to be dishonoured on the grounds of ‘payment stopped by drawer’. Thereafter the complainant got issued a legal notice demanding repayment of the cheque amount within 15 days. Due to no response from the accused, an instant complaint was filed.

In view of sufficient ground to proceed further, a criminal case was registered against the accused, and she was summoned.

Question for Consideration:

Whether the complainant proved that the accused has committed an offence punishable under Section 138 of the NI Act, 1881?

Analysis, Law and Decision

While analyzing the matter, Bench stated that in order to constitute an offence under Section 138 NI Act, the cheque shall be presented to the bank within a period of 3 months from its date. On dishonour of cheque, the drawer or holder of the cheque may cause demand notice within 30 days from the date of dishonour, demanding to repay within 15 days from the date of service of the notice.

“If the drawer of the cheque fails to repay the amount within 15 days from the date of service of notice, the cause of action arises for filing the complaint.”

In the present matter, the complainant had complied with all the mandatory requirements of Section 138 and 142 of the NI Act.

Section 118 of the NI Act lays down that until the contrary Is proved, it shall be presumed that every Negotiable Instrument was made or drawn for consideration.

Section 139 NI Act contemplated that unless the contrary is proved, it shall be presumed that the holder of the cheque received the cheque of the nature referred to in Section 138 for the discharge, in whole of any debt or liability.

In a catena of decisions, it has been repeatedly observed that in the proceeding under Section 138 of NI Act, the complainant is not required to establish either the legality or the enforceability of the debt or liability since he can avail the benefit of presumption under Sections 118 and 139 of the NI Act in his favour.

Further, it was observed that by virtue of the presumptions, accused had to establish that the cheque in question was not issued towards any legally enforceable debt or liability.

Later in the year 2006, the Supreme Court in the decision of M.S. Narayan Menon v. State of Kerala, (2006 SAR Crl. 616), has held that the presumption available under Section 118 and 139 of N.I. Act can be rebutted by raising a probable defence and the onus cast upon the accused is not as heavy as that of the prosecution.

Further, in the Supreme Court decision of Krishna Janarshana Bhat v. Dattatreya G. Hegde, (2008 Vo.II SCC Crl.166), the Supreme Court held that the existence of legally recoverable debt was not a presumption under Section 138 NI Act and the accused has a constitutional right to maintain silence and therefore, the doctrine of reverse burden introduced by Section 139 of the NI Act should be delicately balanced.

Bench, in conclusion, observed that the presumption mandated by Section 139 of NI Act does indeed include the existence of legally enforceable debt or liability, it is a rebuttable presumption, open to the accused to raise defence wherein the existence of the legally enforceable debt or liability can be contested.

If the accused is able to raise a probable defence, which creates doubt about the existence of legally enforceable debt or liability, the onus shifts back to the complainant.

Court stated that if the accused was able to probabalise that the disputed cheque was issued due to the intervention and pressure of the police, it may not be justified to draw the presumption contemplated under Section 139 NI Act.

It was added that if the police would have really interfered, the accused could have produced some evidence to show the intervention of the police. But there was absolutely no evidence on record to show that cheque was issued either due to pressure of police or due to some other compulsion.

In Court’s opinion, the Court was required to draw the presumption under Section 139 NI Act in favour of the complainant.

Court noted that in the present matter, accused at no point in time asked the complainant to pay the balance amount. Instead, she had kept quiet by enjoying the huge amount of Rs 24 lakhs which clearly indicated that the non-purchase of the ticket was not on account of the non-payment of the remaining amount. Further, there was no forfeiture clause.

For the above, Bench stated that in the absence of the forfeiture clause, the accused could not have retained the amount of the complainant with her, the said was barred by the doctrine of unlawful enrichment under Section 70 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872.

Hence, even if it was held that the complainant was a defaulter in respect of the payment of the remaining amount, the accused was legally liable to repay the amount received by her from the complainant.

In view of the above reasons, guilt of the accused was proved under Section 138 NI Act. [Srinivas Builders and Developers v. Shyalaja, CC No. 57792 of 2018, decided on 13-10-201]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Complainant: V.N.R., Advocate

For the Accused: J.R., Advocate

Patiala House Courts, Delhi
Case BriefsDistrict Court

Patiala House Courts, New Delhi: Prayank Nayak, MM-01 acquitted the accused of offence under Section 138 (dishonour of cheque) of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1885, holding that the accused successfully dislodged the statutory presumption.

In the present matter, complaint was filed under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 for the dishonour of cheque for an amount of Rs 6,82,000 and failure to pay the said amount despite legal demand notice.

Path Paving to this Matter

Complainant had given a loan of Rs 6,82,000 to the accused in cash and later the accused had issued a cheque for the repayment of the loan. Though the same was dishonored upon its presentation and no payment was made despite the receipt of legal demand notice.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act consists of the following ingredients:

  1. The cheque was drawn by drawer on an account maintained by him with the banker for payment of any amount of money out of that account.
  2. The said payment was made for discharge of any debt for other liability in whole or in part.
  3. The said cheque was returned unpaid by the bank.
  4. The cheque was presented to the bank within a period of 3 months from the date on which it was drawn or within the period of its validity whichever is earlier.
  5. The payee or the Holder in due course of the cheque as the case may be makes a demand for the payment of the said amount of money by giving the notice in writing to the drawer of the cheque within 30 days of the receipt of information by him from the bank regarding the return of the cheque as unpaid.
  6. The drawer of the cheque fails to make the payment of the said amount of money to the payee or as the case may be the Holder in due course of the cheque within 15 days of the receipt of the said notice.
  7. The payee or the Holder in due course of the cheque shall make a complaint in writing within one month of the date on which the Cause of Action arises i.e., 15 days from the receipt of the notice by the drawer.

In the present matter, it was noted that the receipt of legal notice was accepted and the duly replied and the dishonour memo issued by the bank was also placed on record.

Court stated that by virtue of Section 146 of NI Act, the dishonour of cheque in question had to be presumed.

Onus to prove

As per Section 118 (g) of NI Act, the holder of the cheque is presumed to be holder in due course, hence the accused has to prove that the cheque was not issued to the complainant.

Accused had admitted the signature on the cheque, thus presumption under Section 118(a) of the NI Act and Section 139 of NI Act will be drawn.

Delhi High Court’s decision in Devender Kumar v. Khem Chand,2015 SCC OnLine Del 12578, it was held that:

“However, in Rangappa v. Sri Mohan, (2010) 11 SCC 441, a three judges’ bench of the Supreme Court held that Section 138 of the N.I. Act includes the presumption enforceable debt or liability and that the holder of the cheque is presumed to have received the same in discharge of such debt or liability……. without doubt, the initial presumption is in favour of the complainant.” (Para 20).

Whether the accused has been able to dislodge the presumption of liability as well as issuance on the basis of cross-examination of complainant and the evidence led by him?

In the instant matter, it is very pertinent to note that there is no written/documentary proof of loan and the complainant has also not mentioned any date of giving loan amount.

Due to the above-stated observation, Bench stated that as there was absence of documentary proof as well as the date of giving loan, the whole case seems to be doubtful.

What all makes this case doubtful?

Court noted that complainant despite having friendly relations and extending friendly loan of large amount to the accused is not even aware about the name of wife of the accused nor could tell whether accused is having kids or not. Though it has been claimed by him that he knows the accused of around 5 years, but he has never gone inside the house of the accused.

The above stated makes it doubtful for the Court to believe that the relations between the parties were such that the complainant would lend the stated sum to the accused that too without any documentary evidence.

Discrepancy in complainant’s oral testimony and bank statement was found along with discrepancy in photocopy of his Balance-Sheet and certified copy of the same.

The above-stated discrepancies strike the root of the complainant’s case.

Complainant in his cross-examination admitted that he had to pay loans to various persons and institutions, this fact leads the Bench to the question of why a person himself being liable to pay loan to various persons would advance loan of more than Rs 6 lakhs to some other person.

Therefore, accused dislodged the presumption in favour of the complainant by impeaching his credit during cross-examination and due to the absence of documentary proof.

Complainant did not examine any witnesses to prove the loan transaction and the above discussion cast doubt over the complainant’s version that he had given loan to the accused.

In Delhi High Court’s decision, Kulvinder Singh v. Kafeel Ahmad, 2014 (2) JCC (NI) 100 it was observed that,

“The basis principle in Criminal law is that the guilt of respondent/accused must be proved beyond reasonable doubt and if there is slightest doubt about commission of an offence then the benefit has to accrue to him”.

 “…Benefit of doubt has to accrue to the accused.”

 Court acquitted the accused for the offence under Section 138 NI Act. [Balwant Singh v. Angad Makol, R. No. 55576 of 2016, decided on 5-10-2021]

Tis-hazari
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.

Saket Court
Case BriefsDistrict Court

South-East District, Saket Courts, New Delhi: Bhanu Pratap Singh, MM (N.I. Act) found the accused guilty of an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, where the accused had admitted signatures on the cheque and also failed to make the payment within 15 days of receipt of summons.

Background

Accused took a loan of Rs 2,50,000 from the complainant through cross payee cheque drawn on ICICI Bank in his favour for a period of 6 months and the accused executed acknowledgment and promissory note under his signatures and the said amount carried interest at the rate of 18% p.a. from the date of payment till realization.

Complainant time and again demanded the said loan amount together with interest however, accused showed her inability to repay the said loan amount and always insisted to extend the time for repayment of the said loan amount along with interest.

In the discharge of her part legal liability, the accused issued a cheque for the amount of Rs 2,50,000 under her signature in favour of the complainant leaving the interest part on the said loan amount apart.

As per the instructions of the accused, the complainant presented the above-mentioned cheque for encashment and the same was dishonoured vide bank memo dated 04.12.2014 with remarks ‘Funds Insufficient’.

Thereafter, complainant sent a legal notice under Section 138 NI Act, calling upon the accused to make the payment within 15 days of the receipt of the legal notice as prescribed under Section 138 of the NI Act. Even after the expiry of 15 days stipulated period, the accused did not make the payment, therefore, the accused committed offence under Section 138 of NI Act and the present case was filed by the complainant.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Accused admitted her signatures on the cheque on question in her statement under Sections 251 and 313 CrPC.

In Supreme Court’s decision of Kalamani Tex v. P. Balasubramanian, (2021) 5 SCC 283  , it was held that:

The Statute mandates that once the signature(s) of an accused on the cheque/negotiable instrument are established, then the ‘reverse onus’ clauses become operative. In such a situation, the obligation shifts upon the accused to discharge the presumption imposed upon him.

Court stated that once the accused had admitted her signatures on the cheque in question, presumption under Section 118 and 139 of the NI Act was drawn in favour of the complainant. Hence, it was upon the accused to rebut the presumption under Section 139 NI Act by raising a probable defence in his favour on a scale of preponderance of probabilities.

Accused took the defence in her statement under Section 251 CrPC that she does not know whether she received the legal notice.

The above plea of the accused was not tenable by virtue of the Supreme Court decision in CC Alavi Haji v. Palapetty Muhammed, (2007) 6 SCC 555, wherein it was held that:

“Any drawer who claims that he did not receive the notice sent by post, can, within 15 days of receipt of summons from the court in respect of the complaint u/s. 138 of the Act, make payment of the cheque amount and submit to the court that he had made payment within 15 days of receipt of summons (by receiving a copy of complaint with the summons) and, therefore, the complaint is liable to be rejected. A person who does not pay within 15 days of receipt of the summons from the court along-with the copy of the complaint u/s. 138 of the Act, cannot obviously contend that there was no proper service of notice as required u/s. 138, by ignoring statutory presumption to the contrary u/s. 27 of the General Clauses Act and Section 114 of the Evidence Act”.

Therefore, the accused failed to raise a probable defence in his favour on a scale of preponderance of probabilities and consequently, the presumption under Section 118(a) and 139 of NI Act drawn in favour of complainant had not been rebutted and complainant proved the ingredients of Section 138 NI Act beyond reasonable doubt.

Hence, accused was found guilty for the offence punishable under Section 138 NI Act. [Om Avtar (HUF) v. Shashi Jindal, CC No. 631088 of 2016, decided on 5-10-2021]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Subramonium Prasad, J., addressed a matter with regard to offences under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

Instant revision petition was filed against the decision passed by the Additional Sessions Judge dismissing the appeal filed by the petitioner and affirming the Judgment of Metropolitan Magistrate convicting petitioner for offences under Section 138 of Negotiable instruments Act.

Respondent 2 instituted a complaint against the petitioner for an offence punishable under Section 138 NI Act.

Petitioner submitted that he was to procure material for assembling the computers for supply to the complainant and the cheque was given as a security for the loan which was to be arranged by the complainant from other parties.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Bench noted that the acknowledged receipt stated that the petitioner had taken a loan of Rs 15,00,000 and in lieu of the loan he issued a cheque. The said receipt was signed by the petitioner.

Court for the above-stated decided that the fact that there was no witnesses and the fact that it does not state as to from whom the loan was being taken doesn’t persuade the Court to disbelieve the document.

The said cheque was returned with endorsement “Insufficient Funds”.

Receipt along with cheque made out a case under Section 138 NI Act. Presumption under Section 139 of the N.I. Act, therefore, arises in favour of the holder of the cheque i.e. the complainant and unless the contrary is proved, that the complainant has received the cheque for discharge, in whole or in part, of any debt or other liability.

Bench stated that the petitioner couldn’t rebut the presumption under Section 139 NI Act. He didn’t deny his signatures on the cheque and did not deny the fact that the receipt was given by him which acknowledged a sum of Rs 15,00,000 taken as a loan.

Further, it was also added that the mere ipse dixit of the petitioner and the statement in defence under Section 313 CrPC without any material does not rebut the presumption cast on the petitioner under Section 139 of the N.I. Act.

The fact that the loan was given in violation of Section 269 SS of IT Act does not mean that the Court cannot look into the documents at all.

Offence Section 269 SS IT Act at best makes an offence under Section 271 D of the IT Act but it does not mean that the loan of Rs.15,00,000/- has not been given by the complainant to the petitioner herein. 

High Court agreed with the Courts below that the initial burden cast against the petitioner had not been discharged.

In view of the above revision, the petition was dismissed. [Barun Kumar v. State of NCT of Delhi, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 3498, decided 25-06-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioner: Mr. Dheeraj Malhotra and Mr.Gaurav Gupta, Advocates

For the Respondents: Mr Hirein Sharma, APP for the State Mr. Shakeel Sarwar Wani and Mr. Himanshu Garg for respondents No.2 to 4

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-Judge Bench comprising of N.V. Ramana, Surya Kant* and Aniruddha Bose, JJ., upheld the judgement of High Court of Judicature at Madras, whereby the order of acquittal of the Judicial Magistrate was reversed and the appellants had been convicted under Section 138 of the NIA, 1881. The Bench expressed,

“Once the appellant 2 had admitted his signatures on the cheque and the Deed, the trial Court ought to have presumed that the cheque was issued as consideration for a legally enforceable debt.”

Background

The respondent was the proprietor of a garment company named and styled as ‘Growell International’, which along with the appellant 1 was engaged in a business arrangement, whereby they agreed to jointly export garments to France. Certain issues arose regarding delays in shipment and payment from the buyer, due to which, the appellants had to pay the respondent a sum of Rs 11.20 lakhs. To that end, the appellant 2 had issued a cheque on behalf of appellant 1 bearing No. 897993 dated 07-11-2000 in favour of the respondent and also executed a Deed of Undertaking wherein appellant 2 personally undertook to pay the respondent in lieu of the initial expenditure incurred by the latter.

The respondent presented the said cheque to the bank on 29-12-2000 for collection but the cheque was dishonoured due to insufficient funds in the account of appellants. Pursuant to which the respondent issued a notice asking the appellants to pay the amount within 15 days.

The appellants in their reply denied their liability and claimed that blank cheques and signed blank stamp papers were issued to help the respondent in some debt recovery proceedings, and not because of any legally enforceable debt. It was contended by the appellants that the said documents were misused by the respondent to forge the Deed of Undertaking and the High Court had committed patent illegality and exceeded its jurisdiction in reversing the acquittal.

Analysis

The Bench noticed that the Trial Court had completely overlooked the provisions and failed to appreciate the statutory presumption drawn under Section 118 and Section 139 of NI Act. The Statute mandates that once the signature(s) of an accused on the cheque/negotiable instrument are established, then these ‘reverse onus’ clauses become operative. Similarly,

“Mere bald denial by the appellants regarding genuineness of the Deed of Undertaking dated 07-11-2000, despite admitting the signatures, did not cast any doubt on the genuineness of the said document.”

In the light of Rohtas v. State of Haryana, (2019) 10 SCC 554, the Bench evaluated its own limitations and observed that the Court under Article 136 of the Constitution did not encompass the re-appreciation of entirety of record merely on the premise that the High Court had convicted the appellants for the first time in exercise of its appellate jurisdiction.

The Bench, while citing CK Dasegowda and Others v. State of Karnataka, (2014) 13 SCC 119, expressed,

“It is true that the High Court would not reverse an order of acquittal merely on formation of an opinion different than that of the trial Court. It is also trite in law that the High Court ought to have compelling reasons to tinker with an order of acquittal and no such interference would be warranted when there were to be two possible conclusions.”

Noticing that the defence raised by the appellants did not inspire confidence or meet the standard of “preponderance of probability” the Bench stated that in the absence of any other relevant material, the High Court did not err in discarding the appellants’ defence and upholding the onus imposed upon them in terms of Section 118 and Section 139 of the NIA.

Decision

It was held that though the provisions of NI Act envision a single window for criminal liability for dishonour of cheque as well as civil liability for realisation of the cheque amount, since the appellant had accepted the High Court’s verdict; he was entitled to receive only the cheque amount of Rs.11.20 lakhs.

Hence, the impugned order was upheld. Considering the appellants volunteered and thereafter deposited the cheque amount with the Registry of the Court, the Bench had taken a lenient view and held that the appellants should not be required to undergo three months imprisonment as awarded by the High Court.

[Kalamani Tex v. P. Balasubramanian, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 75 , decided on 10-02-2021]


Kamini Sharma. Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

*Judgment by: Justice Surya Kant

Know Thy Judge | Justice Surya Kant

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Vibha Kankanwadi, J., reversed the acquittal of the respondent-accused holding him guilty of having committed an offence under Section 138 (dishonour of cheque) of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

Facts on record

The complainant had come with a case wherein he stated he had friendly relations with the accused. Since the accused was in need of money to purchase immovable property, therefore he requested the complainant to extend the amount of Rs 15,00,000 and Rs 6,00,00 which was extended by the complainant.

In regard to the above legal enforceable debt or liability, two cheques were issued.

On depositing the above cheques, both were dishonoured for the reason “refer to drawer”.

In light of the above circumstances, the complainant filed two separate complaints and Magistrate on taking into consideration the above said facts, acquitted the accused.

In view of the above, the present appeal has been filed.

Advocate for the complainant relied on the decision of Vijay v. Laxman, 2013 STPL (DC) 679 SC, wherein it was held that:

“The burden of proving the consideration for dishonour of cheque is on the complainant, but the burden of proving that a cheque had not been issued for discharge of a legally enforceable debt or liability is on the accused. If he fails to discharge the said burden he is liable to be convicted.”

In view of the above decision, Complainant’s Counsel submitted that trial judge committed illegality and the decision was in view of the legal position and therefore the appeal deserved to be allowed.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Whether the complainant has discharged the initial burden to prove that he had advanced loan to the accused?

With regard to the amount of Rs 15,00,000, it was held that as regards the said amount, the complainant discharged the initial burden of proof that he has advanced loan to the accused.

In his statement under Section 313 of the CrPC, accused did not state that he was holding such account, on which the cheque was issued by the complainant and he did not specifically state that he had not received the amount through the said account.

Bench stated that the complainant had proved that it was legally enforceable debt or liability, which was to the extent of Rs 15,00,000 as against the accused.

As regards the other disputed cheque i.e. amount of Rs 6,00,000, complainant stated he had given the said amount by cash.

In this case, also it can be said that the complainant has discharged the initial burden of proof that he had advanced amount of Rs 6,00,000 as a loan to the accused.

In the instant case, the accused did not deny his signature on the disputed cheques. Though he came with a defence, as to how those cheques went into the possession of the complainant, but as aforesaid that defence is unbelievable.

Bench stated that even if for the sake of arguments we admit that the disputed cheques were blank cheques; yet, when accused admits his/her signatures on the disputed cheques, then the legal position on this point is also clear that the complainant would get an authority under Section 20 of Negotiable Instruments Act to complete the incomplete cheque.

When now the position stands that the complainant has discharged the initial burden, accused admits his signature on the disputed cheques; then presumption under Section 139 of the Negotiable Instruments Act definitely gets attracted in favour of the complainant.

The complainant was the ‘holder of cheques’ and therefore, was entitled to present the same for encashment. Both the cheques were dishonoured.

Statutory notices issued by the complainant were complied with, and therefore, Court held that the accused is guilty of committing the offence punishable under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act.

Magistrate did not scan the evidence properly with sound legal principles and therefore, interference of this Court was required.

Bench relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Govindaraju v. State, (2012) 4 SCC 722, with regard to the powers of the Appellate Court, wherein it was observed that:

“The law is well-settled that an appeal against an order of acquittal is also an appeal under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and an appellate Court has every power to re-appreciate, review and reconsider the evidence before it, as a whole. It is no doubt true that there is presumption of innocence in favour of the accused and that presumption is reinforced by an order of acquittal recorded by the trial Court. But that is the end of the matter. It is for the Appellate Court to keep in view the relevant principles of law to re-appreciate and reweigh the evidence as a whole and to come to its own conclusion on such evidence, in consonance with the principles of criminal jurisprudence”.

Honest drawers’ interest who issue cheques is safeguarded in the Act itself.

In Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Ltd v. Galaxy Traders & Agencies Ltd., (2001) 6 SCC 463, the Supreme Court has explained the scope of offence under Section 138 of the NI Act.

In R. Vijayan v. Baby, (2012) 1 SCC 260, Supreme Court held that while awarding compensation in matters under Section 138 NI Act, interest can be awarded @9% p.a.

Court stated that in view of the above decisions, awarding jail sentence to the respondent/accused may not be in the interest of justice.

Bench also added to its decision that the appellant would also be interested in getting his amount back. Therefore, payment of compensation under Section 357 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the complainant would be in the interest of justice.

The punishment that can be awarded for an offence under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act is “ imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to twice the amount of the cheque, or both” (stress supplied by me).

Since the complaint was filed in 2013 after the statutory notice. The amount became due to complainant after the date of the notice.

Some amount needs to be given to complainant above the cheque amount towards interest.

Since the rate of interest in banks has gone down nowadays, and therefore, the said rate cannot be equal to the rate granted in R. Vijayan’s case.

After taking into consideration all the above pronouncements it would be in the interest of both the parties to impose fine of Rs 18,00,000 and Rs 8,00,000 in respective cases and to direct the amount of Rs 17,50,000 and Rs 7,50,000 to be paid to complainant as compensation under Section 357(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Deposit time will not be extended. [Kiran Rameshlal Bhandari v. Narayan Purushottam Sarada, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 3562, decided on 07-12-2020]


Advocates who appeared for the matter:

Shyam C. Arora, Advocate for the appellant
Amol Kakade, Advocate h/f C.D. Fernandes, Advocate for respondent

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Vibha Kankanwadi, J., observed that,

“The practice of pronouncing Judgments in appeal against conviction in absence of the accused, thereby dismissing the appeal and then directing the trial Court to issue warrant, requires to be deprecated.”

The instant application was filed by the original accused for suspension of substantive sentence, during the pendency of revision imposed against him by Judicial Magistrate after holding him guilty of committing an offence punishable under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act.

Bench stated that at first it is required to be seen, as to whether before admitting the revision and while dealing with the present application whether it is necessary first to direct the applicant to surrender himself.

It appears that the Appellate Court in the present case pronounced the Judgment on 04-05-2019 in absence of the appellant-accused.

Section 387 of CrPC deals with Judgment of subordinate Appellate Court and it provides that the rule contained in Chapter XXVII as to the judgment of a Criminal Court of original jurisdiction shall apply, so far as may be practicable, to the judgment in appeal of a Court of Session or Chief Judicial Magistrate.

“…if directions/ order is passed by the Appellate Court for exemption of the accused, then only the Judgment can be pronounced in absence of the accused; otherwise his presence should be secured before the Judgment is pronounced.”

No doubt, sub section (7) of Section 353 of the Code provides, that no judgment delivered by any Criminal Court shall be deemed to be invalid by the reason only in absence of any party, however, the Appellate Court cannot insist upon invoking sub section (7) of Section 353 of the Code if there was no endeavour on its part to secure the presence of the accused.

Court stated that it is the Appellate Court’s duty to see that the Judgment in an appeal against conviction should be pronounced in presence of the accused (only exception as enumerated in Section 353 (6) of the Code) and to take such appellant in custody upon the confirmation of the conviction.

Coming to the question of whether in the present case, Court could direct the revision applicant to surrender himself before the Appellate Court and then take up revision for hearing, Bench stated that the answer for the said question was in the Supreme Court’s decision of Bihari Prasad Singh v. State of Bihar, (2000) 10 SCC 346.

In the above-cited case, the following question was considered:

Whether the High Court while exercising its jurisdiction can refuse to hear or entertain the matter on the ground that the accused has not surrendered?

Following was observed:

“Under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, there is no such requirement though many High Courts in this country have made such provision in the respective rules of the High Court. But it is stated to us that there is no such rule in the Patna High Court Rules. In that view of the matter the High Court was not justified in rejecting the application for revision solely on the ground that the accused has not surrendered.”

In view of the above discussion, Court held that the revision application cannot be rejected on the ground that the accused did not surrender and therefore, there was no bar on considering the present application.

What was the basic crux and background of the matter?

The complainant stated he had extended loan amount, from time to time, and the disputed cheque was given by the accused in the discharge of said legal debt or liability. Accused took a defence that he had already given certain cheques in possession of the complainant and one of the said cheques was misused. He led evidence and in his defence he tried to show, that the presumption under Section 139 of the Negotiable Instruments Act had been rebutted by him.

Court found the above to be an arguable case and hence held that the revision deserves to be admitted.

Bench directed for the suspension of the substantive part of the sentence till the revision was decided.[Fazal Khalil Ahemad Shaikh v. Nadkishor Ramnivasji Agrawal, Criminal Application No. 2743 of 2019, decided on 13-02-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J., dismissed a criminal appeal filed against the order of the trial court whereby it had acquitted the accused of charges under Section 138 (dishonour of cheque) of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

As per the complainant, she had given a loan of Rs 4.5 lakhs to the accused, for repayment of which, he had issued a cheque in favour of the complainant. However, on presenting the cheque for encashment, it was dishonoured. Per contra, the accused took the stand that the cheque in question was given to one Sanjay, who was a former business partner of the accused. The cheque was given to Sanjay to be handed over to a third party to connect with a mutually agreed transaction. However, subsequently, disputes arose between the accused and Sanjay. It was submitted that the Sanjay and complainant were very close friends and lived in the same house. The accused submitted that Sanjay dishonestly handed over the blank cheque in question to the complainant and fraud was being played upon him.

The High Court perused Section 138 (dishonour of cheque) along with its Explanation and noted that the keyword “legally enforceable debt or other liability”. Similarly, discussing Section 139 (presumption in favour of the holder), the Court noted that the presumption is rebuttable and the onus is on the accused to raise a probable defence.

The Court then reproduced the principles summarised and enumerated by the Supreme Court in Basalingappa v. Mudibasappa, (2019) 5 SCC 418, and observed that the standard of proof for rebutting the presumption is that of the preponderance of probabilities and not beyond a reasonable doubt. It was also noted as settled law that Section 139 imposes an evidentiary burden and not a persuasive burden.

On the factual score, it was found that there was no evidence as to when the amount in question was handed over to the accused. No receipts were produced. Also, there was no evidence to show that the complainant had Rs 4.5 lakhs to give to the accused, and it was also admitted that she was not even paying income tax. Moreover, the fact of the dispute between Sanjay and the accused was also admitted. All this, according to the High Court went on to prove that the accused had raised a probable defence that the complainant had not proved that there was a legally enforceable debt or other liability.

Accordingly, finding no fault with the order of the trial court, the High Court dismissed the present appeal and upheld the acquittal of the accused. [Tasneem Murshedkar Mazhar v. Ramesh, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 20, decided on 02-01-2020]