The party who commits default in payment can be sued by a payee in the civil court by filing suit for recovery of money. However, the special provision of Section 138 under the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (hereinafter referred to as the NIA) was inserted with effect from 01.04.1989 vide the Banking Public Financial Institutions and Negotiable Instruments Laws (Amendment) Act, 1988. The object of the NIA is to enhance the acceptability of the cheques in settlement of liabilities by making the drawer liable for penalties in case of bouncing of cheques due to insufficiency of funds in the accounts.
That by virtue of the Amendment Act No. 20 of 2018 in the NIA, the legislature introduced Section 143-A and Section 148providing for "Power to direct interim compensation" and "Power of Appellate Court to order payment pending appeal against conviction" respectively.
Key Aspects- Section 143-A of the NIA:
i. Section 143-A of the NIA deals with order of payment of interim compensation; the upper limit is maximum 20% of the cheque amount.
ii. The order as regards payment of interim compensation is made directly in favour of the complainant.
iii. If the order of payment is made, the accused is to pay interim compensation within a period of 60 days from the date of the order and for special reason, further 30 days can be given, hence, within a total of 90 days from the date of the order.
iv. Stage at which application under Section 143-A of the NIA can be filed: (a) In summary trials or summons case, where the accused pleads not guilty to the accusation made in the complaint, and, (b)In any other case,upon framing of charge.
v. Sub-section (3) of Section 143-A of the NIA states that the interim compensation shall be paid within 60 days from the date of the order passed under Sub-section (1) of Section 143-A of the NIA. However, Sub-section (1) of Section 143-A of the NIA states that the court may order the drawer to pay interim compensation. So, it leaves discretion with the trial court to pass such order of interim compensation and if such interim compensation is directed to be paid, then the ceiling limit under Sub-section (2) of Section 143-A of the NIA is 20% of the cheque amount.
vi. Sub-section (4) of Section 143-A of the NIA states about recovery of money with interest from the complainant in case of acquittal of the accused within a period of 60 days or maximum 90 days from the date of order of acquittal of the accused.
vii. Sub-section (5) of Section 143-A of the NIA states that interim compensation payable by the accused can be recovered by the complainant as if it were a fine under Section 421 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
Key Aspects- Section 148 of the NIA:
i. Section 148 of the NIA states that in an appeal by the drawer/accused against conviction under Section 138 of the NIA, the Appellate Court may order the appellant/drawer to deposit such sum which shall be a minimum of 20% of the fine or compensation awarded by the trial court.
ii. The Appellate Court may direct the release of the amount which is deposited by the appellant/drawerin the Appellate Court to the complainant/respondent, at any time during the pendency of the appeal.
iii. If the order of payment is made, the appellant/drawer is to deposit such sum (minimum of 20% of the fine or compensation awarded by the trial court) within a period of 60 days from the date of the order and for special reason, further 30 days can be given, hence, within 90 days from the date of the order.
iv. The order directing the deposit of money in the Appellate Court can be passed at any time during the pendency of the appeal.
v. As per the proviso to Section 148 of the NIA, if the appellant/drawer is acquitted, the Appellate Court shall direct the complainant/respondent to repay to the appellant/drawer the amount so released, with interest (at the bank rate as published by the Reserve Bank of India, prevalent at the beginning of the relevant financial year) within 60 days from the date of the order, or within such further period not exceeding 30 days as may be directed by the Appellate Court on sufficient cause being shown by the complainant/respondent.
Comparing Section 143-A and Section 148 of the NIA:
In the matter of: Ajay Vinodchandra Shah V/s State of Maharashtra, Criminal Writ Petition No. 258 of 2019, High Court of Bombay, Date of Decision: 14.03.2019, Coram: MridulaBhatkar, J., in Para 13 and Para 14 it was held as follows:
"13. On comparison of the language used in sections 143A and 148, one finds a difference. U/s 143A, the accused is yet to face a trial. Under sub-section (2) thereof, the interim compensation under sub-section (1) shall not exceed twenty percent of the amount of cheque. However, under section 148, it is stated that the Court may order the appellant to deposit such sum which shall be a minimum of twenty percent of the fine. These clauses in these two sections reflect the intention of the Legislature that a person at the stage of trial is always considered innocent till he is found guilty and, therefore, the ceiling of 20% compensation is mentioned. However, in the appeal, when the first Court holds the accused guilty and thus, once he is convicted, then, the appellate Court is given the power to pass order directing the accused to deposit the amount which shall be a minimum of 20% of the fine or compensation awarded by the trial Court. It is further stated in section 148 that the amount payable under this sub-section (sic) shall be in addition to any interim compensation paid by the appellant under section 143A.
14. The Legislature has also taken care of the accused if at all he is not held guilty and acquitted either at the trial or in the appeal. The sub-section (4) of section 143A and the proviso to section 148 state about the repayment of the amount by the complainant to the accused. In the event of acquittal, the said amount also to be paid within 60 days from the date of the order…"
Section 143-A of the NIA operates retrospectively?
In the matter of: Punjab Tin Supply Co. V/s Central Government, (1984) 1 SCC 206, it was observed that, all laws which affect substantive rights generally operate prospectively and there is a presumption against their retrospectivity if they affect vested rights and obligations unless the legislative intent is clear and compulsive; such retrospective effect may be given where there are express words giving retrospective effect or where the language used necessarily implies that such retrospective operation is intended. Hence, the question whether a statutory provision has retrospective effect or not depends primarily on the language in which it is couched. If the language is clear and unambiguous, effect will have to be given to the provision in question in accordance with its tenor; however, if the language is not clear then the court has to decide whether in the light of the surrounding circumstances retrospective effect should be given to the statutory provision or not.
According to Section 5 of the General Clauses Act, 1897, any Act of Parliament comes into operation on the day on which it receives the assent of the President.Unless it is expressed to become operational on any other date and unless a contrary intention is expressed, the Act of Parliament comes into effect qua all cases on the day of its commencement.
View Taken by the Hon'ble High Court of Bombay:
In the matter of Ajay Vinodchandra Shah (Supra), the Hon'ble High Court of Bombay observed that (Para 12 of the report):
"… It is incorrect to accept that it is to be made not (sic)applicable to the cases which are filed only after 01.09.2018 and not applicable to the cases pending earlier in the trial as well as appellate Court. Huge number of cases under section 138 of the Act are pending in the Courts. In these cases, if the plea is recorded or charge is not framed, then the trial Court can invoke its powers under Section 143-A after 1.9.2018 and can impose interim compensation which shall not exceed 20% of the amount of cheque. Same is the case in appeals. If the appeals are pending, the Court can pass interim orders under section 148…"
Thus, according to the view taken by the Hon'ble High Court of Bombay, Section 143-A and Section 148 of the NIA do not operate prospectively.
View Taken by the Hon'ble High Court of Punjab & Haryana:
In the matter of: Ginni Garments & Anr V/s Sethi Garments, CRR No. 9872-2018 (O&M), High Court of Punjab & Haryana, Date of Decision: 04.04.2019, Coram: Rajbir Sehrawat, J., it was held that:
i. Whether Section 143-A and Section 148 of the NIA have prospective or retrospective operation depends upon the determination whether these provisions are substantive in nature or are merely procedural. If these provisions are substantive in nature then these provisions cannot be applied retrospectively to the pending cases, however, if these provisions are procedural in nature then they have to be applied to all the cases, including the ones pending before the court on the date, the amendment was enforced.
ii. A bare perusal of Section 143-A of the NIA shows that Section 143-A of the NIA has given power to the trial court to order the drawer of the cheque to pay interim compensation (maximum of 20% of the cheque amount) to the complainant, where the accused has not pleaded guilty of the accusation made against him. Moreover, as per Section 143-A of the NIA if interim compensation is not paid within 60 days (or maximum of 90 days) from the order of the court granting interim compensation, then the interim compensation can be recovered by the complainant from the drawer/accused under Section 421 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, as if it were a 'fine' imposed upon the drawer/accused.Section 143-A of the NIA casts a substantive obligation upon the drawer/accused.
iii. Section 143-A of the NIA is not a procedural provision as it intends to create a 'stand-alone liability' for the drawer/accused towards the complainant which has to be discharged by the drawer/accused when the matter is still pending for adjudication before the trial court.
iv. Although the provision of Section 143-A of the NIA cannot be applied to the pending trials, however, the situation regarding Section 148 of the NIA is drastically different. Section 148 of the NIA does not, in any way, affects the substantive right of the accused, to defend himself or to prosecute his appeal. Section 148 of the NIA categorically provides that in case the appellant/drawer is acquitted by the Appellate Court, then, the amount awarded by the Appellate Court as interim compensation shall be returned to him, by the complainant along with interest.
v. When the case reaches before the Appellate Court, the appellant/drawer has already acquired a status of 'convict', who has already been found guilty of his conduct and sentenced by the trial court. In case the trial court imposes a fine then making the appellant/drawer pay that amount does not affect his substantive right, rather it is a matter of procedure only. Moreover, in case the trial court imposes a fine, which can be up to twice the amount of the cheque and which can be treated as compensation to be paid to the complainant, in that situation, liability of the appellant/drawer has already been determined by the trial court and the liability to pay the amount to the complainant already exists at the time when the appellant/drawer comes before the Appellate Court.
vi. Section 148 of the NIA is to govern all the appeals pending on the date on which it was enforced and/or appeals filed thereafter.
View Taken by the Hon'ble High Court of Allahabad:
In the matter of: Vivek Kumar Negi V/s State of U.P. &Anr., Application under Section 482 of the Cr.P.C. No. 11055 of 2019, High Court of Allahabad, Date of Decision: 11.04.2019, Coram: Arvind Kumar Mishra, J., the question that came for adjudication before the Hon'ble Court was this:
"… whether the amendment brought and incorporated under Section 143 (A) (1) of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (hereinafter referred to as 'the Act') is applicable retrospectively nor (sic) not?"
Answering the question framed above, the Hon'ble Court observed as follows:
"… In so far as amendment is concerned, the amendment is of procedural nature and not of substantive nature. Moreover, in matters of applicability of the amendment [under Section 143 (A)] proceedings launched in the matters pending prior to the incorporation of the amendment there is no express bar in the Act. It being so, the amendment will be applicable even to the proceeding pending prior to the date of incorporation of the amendment as Section 143 (A) in the matters involving provisions of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881…"
Thus, according to the view taken by the Hon'ble High Court of Allahabad, Section 143-A of the NIA is to operate retrospectively.
View Taken by the Hon'ble High Court of Karnataka:
In the matter of: Sri V. Narasimha Murthy V/s Sri Santhosh, I.A. No. 3 of 2018 in Criminal Revision Petition No. 425 of 2018, High Court of Karnataka, Date of Decision: 18.02.2019, Coram: B.A. Patil, J., it was held that:
i. According to Section 148 of the NIA, the Appellate Court may order the accused to deposit a minimum of 20% of the fine amount or the compensation awarded by the trial court and if the said amount is deposited within 60 days from the date of such order, the Appellate Court may direct the release of the amount so deposited by the accused in favour of the complainant during the pendency of the appeal. The proviso to Section 148 of the NIA states that while releasing the amount so deposited, the complainant has to be directed to repay the said amount in the event of acquittal of the accused with interest at bank rate which was prevailing during the said period.
ii. It is a cardinal principle of construction that every statute is prima facie prospective in nature, unless it is expressly or by necessary implication made to have retrospective operation.
iii. Section 148 of the NIA has been enacted to protect the interest of the complainant and to provide relief to the complainant. Further, Section 148 of the NIA has been enacted to discourage filing of frivolous appeals. Thus, Section 148 of the NIA has to be given wider interpretation and not a restricted/pedantic interpretation.
iv. Section 148 of the NIA has to be given retrospective effect.Section 148 of the NIA is to govern all the appeals pending on the date on which it was enforced and/or appeals filed thereafter.
In the matter of: G.J. Raja V/s Tejraj Surana, Petition for Special Leave to Appeal (Crl.) No. 3342/2019, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, formulated the following question of law for adjudication:
"… whether Section 143-A introduced by the Amendment Act No. 20 of 2018 in the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 has retrospective application or not?"
The aforenoted matter is still pending adjudication before the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India with the next date of hearing being: 01.07.2019.