Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Sanjeev Sachdeva, J., dismissed a petition assailing the Appellate Court’s order whereby it had set aside the judgment of conviction passed against the accused (respondent) by the trial court for an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (dishonour of cheque).

The complainant (petitioner) alleged that he gave a friendly loan of Rs 4.90 lakhs to the accused and in discharge of such liability, the accused issued a cheque. However, when the cheque was presented to the bank for encashment, it was returned unpaid with the endorsement “insufficient funds”. Subsequently, a complaint under Section 138 was filed and the matter went to trial. The trial court convicted the accused but on appeal, the Appellate Court acquitted him. Aggrieved thereby, the complainant filed the present petition.

The accused was represented by H.G.R. Khattar, Advocate. His defence was that the complainant was employed in the shop of one Subhash Aggarwal. He alleged that the subject cheque was issued in blank to Subhash Aggarwal and the same had been misused. Further, the complainant and his wife earned a monthly income of Rs 15,000 each and they could not have extended a loan of Rs 4.90 lakhs to him.

The High Court was of the view that no error could be found with the Appellate Court’s order. It was observed, “it is very surprising that a person who earns only Rs 15,000 per month would make an arrangement of Rs 4,90,000/- and give the same as a friendly loan. No date of extending the loan or rate of interest at which such loan was extended, has been mentioned. Neither there is any document executed nor the date when the loan was and of its repayment is mentioned.” In the Court’s opinion, the defence raised by the accused was probable and rightly rebutted the statutory presumption. In such view of the matter, the petition was dismissed and the impugned order was upheld. [Sanjay Verma v. Gopal Halwai, Crl. Revision petition 63 of 2015, decided on 15-03-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: R.K. Gauba, J. allowed a petition filed against the order of Sessions Court whereby proceedings in a case filed under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 were stayed.

Petitioner had filed a case against respondents alleging commission of an offence under Section 138. It was alleged that he had advanced a loan to the respondents, for the repayment of which, the respondents had issued a cheque in his favour drawn on Axis Bank Ltd. However, on presenting the cheque, it was returned unpaid with remarks “payment stopped by drawer.” After a preliminary enquiry, Metropolitan Magistrate issued summons to respondents. Thereafter the respondents reached the Sessions Court which granted a stay on summons order till final decision in another case arising out of an FIR filed by respondents against the petitioner. Aggrieved thereby, petitioner filed the present petition under Section 482 CrPC.

The High Court noted that in the FIR filed, respondents alleged that the cheque in question was stolen and misappropriated by the petitioner. It was also noted that revisional court stayed the proceedings under Section 138 on the ground that the same would unnecessarily prejudice the trial in the case arising out of the FIR. The High Court held this to be totally unjust and unfair. It was stated “Though questions would arise in the criminal case under Section 138 NI Act as to whether cheque in question had come in the hands of the petitioner legitimately or not, the contentions of the respondents are a matter of defence which will have to be raised by them, the burden of proof of the requisite facts in such regard being placed on them. There is no reason why the case arising out of above-mentioned FIR should have primacy or priority over the case of the petitioner against the opposite party.” The petition was thus allowed and the impugned stay order was allowed. [Mukesh Aggarwal v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2019 SCC OnLine Del 6843, decided on 28-01-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: The Bench of R.K. Gauba, J. interfered with the impugned order passed by Metropolitan Magistrate and quashed the summon issued against petitioner.

Petitioner was a Non-Executive Nominee Director of Vasan Health Care (P) Ltd. A complaint was filed against certain persons including petitioner under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 for dishonour of cheque which was issued on the account of Vasan Health Care. In regard to the same, summoning orders were issued against the petitioner.

Sushil Bajaj and Shalin Arthwan, Advocates for the petitioner contended that proceedings against him were an abuse of the process of law as his position in the company was only that of aNon-Executive Nominee Director and he had no role to play in day-to-day affairs of the company.

The High Court served notice of the petition on the respondent but they did not file any reply and nor did they appear before the Court. As such, the Court accepted as indisputable the documents filed by the petitioner confirming his position in the company as claimed by him. Relying on Pooja Ravinder Devidasini v. State of Maharashtra, (2014) 16 SCC 1, the Court held that since at the relevant time, the petitioner could not be said to be at helm of the affairs of the company, therefore no vicarious liability could be fastened on him. As such, the summoning order issued against the petitioner was quashed. [Bhardwaj Thirvenkata Venkatavaraghavan v. PVR Ltd., 2019 SCC OnLine Del 6774, dated 29-01-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: The Bench of M. Nimal Kumar, J. refused to quash proceedings pending on the file of Judicial Magistrate (III), Coimbatore.

The complainant filed a case against the petitioner for an offence punishable under Section 138 NI Act, 1881 (dishonour of cheque). Petitioner took a hand loan of Rs 6 lakhs from the complainant. The amount was agreed to be repaid within 6 months along with an interest at 18% per annum for which petitioner issued a cheque. However, petitioner defaulted in paying either the amount or the interest. Consequently, complainant presented the cheque on the bank but it was dishonoured. Hence, he instituted the case.

M. Prabhakaran, counsel for the petitioner submitted that the subject cheque was issued for collateral security for the loan secured by Sri Venkateswara Educational and Charitable Trust. It was contended that the case which was preferred against the petitioner in his individual capacity was not maintainable.

However, the High Court held the said contention to be not acceptable for the reason that the cheque was issued in the name of the petitioner for the loan availed. Further, the petitioner neither repaid the money nor replied to the statutory notice sent by the complainant. It was also held that the claim of “security cheque” was a matter of fact which had to be decided only in the trial. Resultantly, the present petition was dismissed.[K. Velu v. P. Damodharan, 2019 SCC OnLine Mad 315, dated 07-01-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: The Bench of M.V. Muralidharan, J. upheld the order of respondent’s acquittal for an offence punishable under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 while holding that “the different ink, pen, and manipulation of the amount would show that the complainant had failed to demonstrate due execution of the cheque.”

The present appeal was directed against the judgment of acquittal passed by the Additional District Judge reversing the conviction of the respondent under Section 138 (for dishonour of cheque).

Appellant submitted that respondent borrowed a sum of Rs 1,50,000 from him and issued a cheque drawn on ING Vysya Bank towards his liability to repay the same. However, the cheque was dishonoured. The appellant initiated the process under Section 138 and the trial court convicted the respondent holding him guilty. The respondent appealed to the ADJ who reversed his conviction as mentioned above.

The High Court observed that presumption in favour of complainant contemplated under Sections 118 and 139 of NI Act comes to play only on the satisfaction of Court that the cheque in question was duly executed. It was explained that “execution” of the cheque does not mean the mere handing over a “blank cheque”, but it means that the cheque is given in the full form, ” the complainant cannot be justified in doing material alteration beyond the knowledge of the accused.”

It was stated, it would be certainly unlawful if a complainant is allowed to fill up details of cheque beyond the knowledge of the accused such as filling up date and amount in a blank cheque.” In the present case, figure denoting the amount was found to be written in different inks and also the handwriting in as much as digits and words were concerned also differed. In such view of the matter of the Court did not find any illegality in the impugned order. Thus, the petition was dismissed. [E. Dhanuskodi v. D. Sreedhar, 2018 SCC OnLine Mad 5124, dated 08-11-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Single Judge bench comprising of M.G. Giratkar, J. dismissed a revision petition filed against the judgment of Judicial Magistrate and confirmed by Additional Sessions Judge, Nagpur whereby the petitioner was convicted for offence punishable under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

The petitioner and the complainant were businessmen. They entered into a transaction whereby the complainant provided a hand loan of Rs 50,000 to the petitioner. The petitioner issued a cheque which was presented to the bank by the complainant on default of repayment of the amount. It was returned by the bank with remark “insufficient fund”. The complainant initiated legal proceedings which culminated in petitioner’s conviction as mentioned above.

Notably, the complainant did not adduce any evidence to show that the advanced Rs 50,000 to the petitioner. However, he held a cheque and an acknowledgment slip. The petitioner did not dispute his signatures on the documents.

The High Court relied on K. Bhaskaran v. Sankaran Vaidhyan Balan, (1999) 7 SCC 510 for the proposition that where signature on the cheque is admitted to be that of accused, the presumption envisaged in Section 118 of the Negotiable Instruments Act can legally be inferred that cheque was drawn for consideration on the date which it bears. Furthermore, Section 139 enjoins on the Court to presume that holder of the cheque received it for discharge of debt or liability and burden is on the accused to rebut this presumption. In the present case, nothing was brought on record to show that the accused did not receive Rs 50,000. Also, he did not deny his signatures on the cheque and acknowledgment. As such, the Court held that there was no illegality in the impugned judgment. Th revision petition was dismissed. [Amol v. State of Maharashtra, 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 6682, dated 22-12-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT): A two-member bench comprising of Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya, Chairperson and Justice Bansi Lal Bhat, Member (Judicial), allowed an appeal filed against the order of the National Company Law Tribunal, Chennai whereby the appellant was directed to withdraw the complaint case filed under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

The appellant had filed a complaint case under Section 138 against the defendants before the Metropolitan Magistrate after initiation of Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process and the order of moratorium. The respondents-Directors moved the NCLT which directed the appellants to withdraw the case treating it as a proceeding filed after order of moratorium with observations that such action amounts to misuse of power. Aggrieved thus, the appellant approached the Appellate Tribunal. The question that arose for consideration was ‘whether the order of moratorium covers a criminal proceeding under Section 138 of the NI Act which provides punishment of imprisonment or imposition of fine’.

It is pertinent to note that Section 14 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 prohibits any proceeding or judgment or decree of money claim against the corporate debtor after the order of moratorium which is passed on the insolvency commencement date. The Appellate Tribunal observed that Section 138 is a penal provision; the imposition of a fine cannot be held to be a money claim or recovery against the Corporate Debtor. As such, the said section is not covered within the purview of Section 14 I&B Code. In fact, no criminal proceeding is covered under the section. It was held that the NCLT failed to appreciate the law, and therefore, the order impugned was set aside. [Shah Brothers Ispat (P) Ltd. v. P. Mohanraj,2018 SCC OnLine NCLAT 415, dated 31-07-2018]

 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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