Friday, August 8, 2014

Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act - Recovering money if a cheque bounces will now be a lot more tedious and costly.

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court has changed the ground rule under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act to prosecute a person who had presented the cheque which bounced for insufficiency of funds. 

Earlier, a case under Section 138 could be initiated by the holder of the cheque at his place of business or residence. But, a bench of justices TS Thakur, Vikramjit Sen and C Nagappan ruled that the case has to be initiated at the place where the branch of the bank on which the cheque was drawn is located. 

This means, if a man from Delhi gave a cheque drawn on a Delhi bank for buying something in Chennai and it bounced for insufficiency of funds, then the aggrieved person will have to travel all the way from Chennai to Delhi to initiate prosecution under Section 138.


And the judgment would apply retrospectively. This means, lakhs of cases pending in various courts across the country would witness a interstate transfer of cheque bouncing cases. 

Writing the judgment for the 3-judge bench, Justice Sen said: "We are quite alive to the magnitude of the impact that the present decision shall have to possibly lakhs of cases pending in various courts spanning across the country." However, the court said that in those cases where recording of evidence has started after issuance of summons to the accused, would continue to be tried at the place they were instituted. 

"To clarify, regardless of whether evidence has been led before the Magistrate at the pre-summoning stage, either by affidavit or by oral statement, the complaint will be maintainable only at the place where the cheque stands dishonoured," the bench said. 

The bench said: "In this analysis, we hold that the place, situs or venue of judicial inquiry and trial of the offence must logically be restricted to where the drawee bank is located." 

"An interpretation should not be imparted to Section 138 which will render it as a device of harassment, that is, by sending notices (about the bouncing of cheque under Section 138) from a place which has no casual connection with the transaction itself, and/or by presenting cheques at any of the banks where the payee may have an account," the bench said. 

"It is also now manifest that traders and businessmen have become reckless and incautious in extending credit where they would heretofore have been extremely hesitant, solely because of the availability of redress by criminal proceedings," the bench said referring to the rapid increase in institution of cases under Section 138 of NI Act after it was made a criminal offence. 

"Today's reality is that every magistracy is inundated with prosecutions under Section 138 of the NI Act, so much so that the burden is becoming unbearable and detrimental to the disposal of other equally pressing litigation," the court said. 

The court said for filing a criminal case under Section 138 NI Act, the holder of the cheque must have to travel to the place where the branch of the bank on which the cheque was drawn is located. In the alternative, he could institute a case under Section 420 (cheating) at the place of his residence or where he ordinarily carries out business. 

"If the payee succeeds in establishing that the inducement for accepting a cheque which subsequently bounced had occurred where he resides or ordinarily transacts business, he will not have to suffer the travails of journeying to the place where the cheque has been dishonoured," it said. 

"All remedies under the IPC and Crpc are available to such a payee if he chooses to pursue this course of action, rather than a complaint under Section 138 of NI Act. And of course, he can file a suit for recovery wherever the cause of action arises dependent on his choosing," the court said.

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