Dis-honour of Cheques issued by Purchasers as Advance Payment, does not amount an Offence as there is no legally enforceable debt; SC

Dis-honour of Cheques issued by Purchasers as Advance Payment, does not amount an Offence as there is no legally enforceable debt; SC

In a Judgment which would make far reaching consequences in thousands of pending cheque bouncing cases in the Country, Supreme Court of India yesterday held that post-dated cheques issued by the purchasers as an advance payment in respect of purchase orders cannot be considered in discharge of legally enforceable debt or other liability, and the dishonour of such cheques does not amount to an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

Settling the conflicting views of various High Courts, a bench of Justices Lodha and Shiva Kirti Singh in M/s. Indus Airways Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. Vs. M/s. Magnum Aviation Pvt. Ltd. & Anr.[ Crl. Appeal No; 830/2014] has held as follows;

“The  explanation  appended  to  Section  138  explains  the meaning of the expression ‘debt or other liability’ for the purpose of Section 138. This expression means a legally enforceable debt or other liability. Section 138 treats dishonoured cheque as an offence, if the cheque has been issued in discharge of any debt or other liability. The explanation leaves no manner of doubt that to attract an offence under Section 138, there should be legally enforceable debt or other liability subsisting on the date of drawal of the cheque. In other words, drawal of the cheque in discharge of existing or past adjudicated liability is sine qua non for bringing an offence under Section 138. If a cheque is issued as an advance payment for purchase of the goods and for any reason purchase order is not carried to its logical conclusion either because of its cancellation or otherwise, and material or goods for which purchase order was placed is not supplied, in our considered view, the cheque cannot be held to have been drawn for an existing debt or liability. The payment by cheque in the nature of advance payment indicates that at the time of drawal of cheque, there was no existing liability”

The Supreme Court has overruled the Delhi High Court judgment by holding that “the reasoning of the Delhi High Court is clearly flawed inasmuch as it failed to keep in mind the fine distinction between civil liability and criminal liability under Section 138 of the N.I. Act.  If at the time of entering into a contract, it is one of the conditions of the contract that the purchaser has to pay the amount in advance and there is breach of such condition then purchaser may have to make good the loss that might have occasioned to the seller but that does not create a criminal liability under Section 138. For a criminal liability to be made out under Section 138, there should be legally enforceable debt or other liability subsisting on the date of drawal of the cheque. We are unable to accept the view of the Delhi High Court that the issuance of cheque towards advance payment at the time of signing such contract has to be considered as   subsisting liability and dishonour of such cheque amounts to an offence under Section 138 of the N.I. Act. The Delhi High Court has traveled beyond the scope of Section 138 of the N.I. Act by holding that the purpose of enacting Section 138 of the N.I. Act would stand defeated if after placing orders and giving advance payments, the instructions for stop payments are issued and orders are cancelled.  In what we have discussed above, if a cheque is issued as an advance payment for purchase of the goods and for any reason purchase order is not carried to its logical conclusion either because of its cancellation or otherwise and material or goods for which purchase order was placed is not supplied by the supplier, in our considered view, the cheque cannot be said to have been drawn for an existing debt or liability”