Sumeti Vij vs M/S Paramount Tech Fab Industries on 9 March, 2021


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Supreme Court of India

Sumeti Vij vs M/S Paramount Tech Fab Industries on 9 March, 2021

Author: Ajay Rastogi

Bench: Hon’Ble Ms. Malhotra, Ajay Rastogi

                                                                       REPORTABLE


                                   IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
                                  CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
                                 CRIMINAL APPEAL NO(S). 292 OF 2021
                               (Arising out of SLP(Crl.) No(s).8498 of 2019)



          SUMETI VIJ                                               ...APPELLANT(S)

                                                VERSUS


          M/S PARAMOUNT TECH FAB
          INDUSTRIES                                              ...RESPONDENT(S)

                                                 WITH

                                 CRIMINAL APPEAL NO(S). 293 OF 2021
                               (Arising out of SLP(Crl.) No(s).8564 of 2019)



                                            JUDGMENT

Rastogi, J.

1. Leave granted.

2. The appellant is aggrieved by the judgment dated 30 th April,

2019 passed by the High Court of Himachal Pradesh holding the

appellant guilty of offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable
Signature Not Verified

Digitally signed by
Nidhi Ahuja
Date: 2021.03.09
15:38:24 IST

Instruments Act, 1881 (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”) after
Reason:

1
reversal of the finding of acquittal returned by the learned trial

Judge by its judgment dated 28th September, 2012.

3. The brief facts of the case which emanates from the record

are that the appellant accused approached the complainant­

respondent in its factory at Moginand and expressed her desire to

purchase non­woven fabric from the complainant. On the basis of

order placed by the appellant, non­woven fabric was sold to the

appellant vide invoice No.120 dated 01 st October, 2010 and

invoice No.135 dated 16th October, 2010 amounting to

Rs.5,07,062/­ and Rs.5,10,000/­ which was delivered through

public carrier truck bearing Nos. HR­38G­5607 and HP­71­0693

to the appellant accused and in lieu thereof, a cheque bearing

No.323930 dated 15th October, 2010 and No.323935 dated 01 st

November, 2010 were issued by the appellant in the name of the

complainant from her account of the Punjab National Bank,

Karnal in order to meet the legal existing and enforceable

liabilities. The cheques on presentation were returned vide memo

dated 19th October, 2010 and 10th November, 2010 from Punjab

National Bank, Karnal with a note of “insufficient funds” in the

account of the appellant. Two legal notices dated 29 th October,

2010 and 19th November, 2010 were sent by the complainant to
2
the appellant on two addresses. The notices were duly served but

the appellant neither responded to the notices nor made any

payment in furtherance thereto within the statutory period

hence, two separate complaints were filed by the complainant­

respondent under Section 138 of the Act against the appellant­

accused.

4. The complainant­respondent recorded the preliminary

evidence before the learned trial Judge and thereafter, the

appellant­accused was directed to be summoned for committing

an offence punishable under Section 138 of the Act. After the

presence of the appellant had been secured, the learned trial

Judge put notice of accusation, vis­a­viz the accused, for an

offence allegedly committed by her under Section 138 of the Act

whereto she pleaded not guilty and claimed trial.

5. The complainant in order to prove its case against the

appellant­accused, has examined three witnesses and placed

reliance on the documentary evidence which were duly exhibited

and referred to in detail by the learned trial Judge in para 3 of its

judgment. On conclusion of recording of complainant’s evidence,

the statement of the appellant­accused was recorded under

3
Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (hereinafter

referred to as the “Code”) by the learned trial Judge wherein the

appellant­accused claimed innocence and pleaded false

implication in the case however, did not lead any evidence in

defence.

6. On perusal of the evidence on record, the learned trial

Judge returned a finding that the complainant failed to establish

that the material/goods were delivered to the appellant in lieu of

which, the cheques were issued, and in the absence of burden

being discharged by the complainant, the onus to disprove or

rebut the presumption could not be shifted to the appellant as

referred under Section 139 of the Act. Accordingly, the trial court

returned the finding of acquittal of the appellant, which was the

subject matter of challenge in appeal before the High Court at the

instance of the complainant.

7. The High Court on reappraisal of the evidence on record

affirmed that the primary burden was discharged by the

complainant that the cheques were issued by the appellant in

lieu of the material supplied, and documentary evidence duly

exhibited was placed on record to substantiate the claim, and it

4
was for the appellant­accused to discharge her burden to rebut in

defence as required under Section 139 of the Act. In the instant

case, the appellant only recorded her statement under Section

313 of the Code. However, no evidence was recorded to disprove

or rebut the presumption in defence. Taking into consideration

the overall material on record while setting aside the finding of

acquittal recorded by the trial Judge, held that the appellant was

guilty of committing an offence under Section 138 of the Act and

consequently, awarded appropriate punishment of fine/sentence

by the impugned judgment dated 30th April, 2019, which is the

subject matter of challenge in appeals before us.

8. Learned counsel for the appellant submitted that the

complainant was not able to prove that the material/goods were

ever sent or received by the appellant and in terms of the

complaint, the burden was on the complainant to prove that the

material/goods were received by the appellant, against which the

cheques were received as security and even though the appellant

has not placed any evidence to disprove or rebut the presumption

in defence, still the complainant has to discharge its burden and

has to stand on his own legs. In the absence of the prima­facie

burden being discharged by the complainant, mere issuance of
5
the cheques by the appellant would not have been sufficient to

justify that the cheques were issued in discharge of any debt or

other liability. In support of his submission, learned counsel for

the appellant has placed reliance on the judgment of this Court

in K. Prakashan vs. P.K. Surenderan1 and Indus Airways

Private Limited and Others Vs. Magnum Aviation Private

Limited and Another2.

9. Learned counsel for the appellant further submits that the

appellant was able to succeed in creating a doubt in the mind of

the court below with regard to the non­existence of the debt or

liability, and the learned trial court had returned the finding

based on the material available on record. Unless it was found to

be perverse or unsustainable, or a case of non­consideration of

any relevant material, the High Court was not justified in

reversing and setting aside the finding of acquittal recorded by

the trial court merely on the ground that the view expressed by

the High Court is more plausible with what being expressed by

the trial court in its judgment dated 28th September, 2012.

1 (2008) 1 SCC 258
2 (2014) 12 SCC 539

6

10. Learned counsel for the appellant further submits that the

finding recorded by the High Court in the impugned judgment is

contrary to the settled principles of law as considered by this

Court in appreciating the mandate of Sections 118(a), 138 and

139 of the Act. In consequence thereof, the finding of guilt which

has been recorded by the High Court in the impugned judgment

is unsustainable in law, and has to be set aside.

11. Per contra, learned counsel for the complainant­respondent

while supporting the finding recorded by the High Court in the

impugned judgment submitted that there was sufficient material

available on record to justify that these cheques were issued with

reference to the invoices after delivery of goods, which were duly

exhibited, and cheques were issued in lieu thereof. In the

sequence of facts, the cheques issued by the appellant, on due

presentation to the bank got dishonoured on the ground of

“insufficient funds”. The statutory notice was issued to the

appellant, who failed to respond. The complaints were filed by

placing all documentary evidence in support of the complaint

duly exhibited, and three witnesses in support thereof were

examined, and was able to establish and discharge the burden of

proof. It was for the appellant to come forward with her defence,
7
and prove to the contrary as envisaged under Section 139 of the

Act.

12. In the instant case, the appellant has only recorded her

statement under Section 313 of the Code, and has not adduced

any evidence to rebut the presumption that the cheques were

issued for consideration. Once the facts came on record remained

unrebutted and supported with the evidence on record with no

substantive evidence of defence of the appellant to explain the

incriminating circumstances appearing in the complaint against

her, no error has been committed by the High Court in the

impugned judgment, and the appellant has been rightly convicted

for the offence punishable under Section 138 of the Act and

needs no interference of this Court.

13. The object of introducing Section 138 and other provisions

of Chapter XVII in the Act appears to be to enhance the

acceptability of cheques in the settlement of liabilities. The

drawer of the cheque be held liable to prosecution on dishonour

of cheque with safeguards provided to prevent harassment of

honest drawers. Section 138 primarily relates to a civil wrong and

the amendment made in the year 2000 specifically made it

8
compoundable. The burden of proof was on the accused in view

of presumption under Section 139 of the Act and the standard of

proof was of “preponderance of probabilities”. The N.I. Act

including a cheque carrying a presumption of consideration in

terms of Sections 118(a) and 139 of the Act which is related to

the purpose referred to and reads as under:­

“118 Presumptions as to negotiable instruments. —Until the
contrary is proved, the following presumptions shall be made:—

(a) of consideration —that every negotiable instrument was
made or drawn for consideration, and that every such
instrument, when it has been accepted, indorsed, negotiated or
transferred, was accepted, indorsed, negotiated or transferred for
consideration;

……..

139. Presumption in favour of holder.—It shall be presumed,
unless the contrary is proved, that the holder of a cheque received
the cheque of the nature referred to in section 138 for the
discharge, in whole or in part, of any debt or other liability.”

14. There is a mandate of presumption of consideration in

terms of the provisions of the Act and the onus shifts to the

accused on proof of issuance of cheque to rebut the presumption

that the cheque was issued not for discharge of any debt or

liability in terms of Section 138 of the Act, which reads as

under:­

“138. Dishonour of cheque for insufficiency, etc., of funds in
the account.—Where any cheque drawn by a person on an
account maintained by him with a banker for payment of any

9
amount of money to another person from out of that account for
the discharge, in whole or in part, of any debt or other liability, is
returned by the bank unpaid, either because of the amount of
money standing to the credit of that account is insufficient to
honour the cheque or that it exceeds the amount arranged to be
paid from that account by an agreement made with that bank,
such person shall be deemed to have committed an offence and
shall, without prejudice to any other provisions of this Act, be
punished with imprisonment for 8 [a term which may be extended
to two years’], or with fine which may extend to twice the amount
of the cheque, or with both:

Provided that nothing contained in this section shall apply unless

(a) the cheque has been presented to the bank within a period
of six months from the date on which it is drawn or within
the period of its validity, whichever is earlier;

(b) 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 a notice; in writing, to the
drawer of the cheque, [within thirty days] of the receipt of
information by him from the bank regarding the return of
the cheque as unpaid; and

(c) the drawer of such cheque fails to make the payment of the
said amount of money to the payee or, as the case may be,
to the holder in due course of the cheque, within fifteen
days of the receipt of the said notice.

Explanation.—For the purposes of this section, “debt or other
liability” means a legally enforceable debt or other liability.”

15. The scope of Section 139 of the Act is that when an accused

has to rebut the presumption, the standard of proof for doing so

is that of “preponderance or probabilities” which has been

examined by a three­Judge Bench of this Court in Rangappa vs.

Sri Mohan3, which reads as under:­

3 (2010) 11 SCC 441

10
“26. In 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 a legally
enforceable debt or liability. To that extent, the impugned
observations in Krishna Janardhan Bhat [(2008) 4 SCC 54 : (2008)
2 SCC (Cri) 166] may not be correct. However, this does not in any
way cast doubt on the correctness of the decision in that case since
it was based on the specific facts and circumstances therein. As
noted in the citations, this is of course in the nature of a rebuttable
presumption and it is open to the accused to raise a defence
wherein the existence of a legally enforceable debt or liability can
be contested. However, there can be no doubt that there is an
initial presumption which favours the complainant.

27. Section 139 of the Act is an example of a reverse onus clause
that has been included in furtherance of the legislative objective of
improving the credibility of negotiable instruments. While Section
138
of the Act specifies a strong criminal remedy in relation to the
dishonour of cheques, the rebuttable presumption under Section
139
is a device to prevent undue delay in the course of litigation.
However, it must be remembered that the offence made punishable
by Section 138 can be better described as a regulatory offence
since the bouncing of a cheque is largely in the nature of a civil
wrong whose impact is usually confined to the private parties
involved in commercial transactions. In such a scenario, the test of
proportionality should guide the construction and interpretation of
reverse onus clauses and the defendant­accused cannot be
expected to discharge an unduly high standard or proof.”

16. It is well settled that the proceedings under Section 138 of

the Act are quasi­criminal in nature, and the principles which

apply to acquittal in other criminal cases are not applicable in

the cases instituted under the Act.

17. Likewise, under Section 139 of the Act, a presumption is

raised that the holder of a cheque received the cheque for the

discharge, in whole or in part, of any debt or other liability.

To rebut this presumption, facts must be adduced by the

11
accused which on a preponderance of probability (not beyond

reasonable doubt as in the case of criminal offences), must then

be proved. In Rohitbhai Jivanlal Patel vs. State of Gujarat

and Another4, this Court has examined the scope of Sections

138 and 139 of the Act, which reads as under:­

“15. So far the question of existence of basic ingredients for
drawing of presumption under Sections 118 and 139 of the NI Act
is concerned, apparent it is that the appellant­accused could not
deny his signatures on the cheques in question that had been
drawn in favour of the complainant on a bank account maintained
by the accused for a sum of Rs 3 lakhs each. The said cheques
were presented to the bank concerned within the period of their
validity and were returned unpaid for the reason of either the
balance being insufficient or the account being closed. All the basic
ingredients of Section 138 as also of Sections 118 and 139 are
apparent on the face of the record. The trial court had also
consciously taken note of these facts and had drawn the requisite
presumption. Therefore, it is required to be presumed that the
cheques in question were drawn for consideration and the holder of
the cheques i.e. the complainant received the same in discharge of
an existing debt. The onus, therefore, shifts on the appellant­
accused to establish a probable defence so as to rebut such a
presumption.

…….

17. On the aspects relating to preponderance of probabilities, the
accused has to bring on record such facts and such circumstances
which may lead the Court to conclude either that the consideration
did not exist or that its non­existence was so probable that a
prudent man would, under the circumstances of the case, act upon
the plea that the consideration did not exist. This Court has, time
and again, emphasised that though there may not be sufficient
negative evidence which could be brought on record by the accused
to discharge his burden, yet mere denial would not fulfil the
requirements of rebuttal as envisaged under Sections 118 and 139
of the NI Act. This Court stated the principles in Kumar
Exports [Kumar Exports v. Sharma Carpets
, (2009) 2 SCC 513]

4 (2019) 18 SCC 106

12
“20. The accused in a trial under Section 138 of the Act has two
options. He can either show that consideration and debt did not
exist or that under the particular circumstances of the case the
non­existence of consideration and debt is so probable that a
prudent man ought to suppose that no consideration and debt
existed. To rebut the statutory presumptions an accused is not
expected to prove his defence beyond reasonable doubt as is
expected of the complainant in a criminal trial. The accused may
adduce direct evidence to prove that the note in question was
not supported by consideration and that there was no debt or
liability to be discharged by him. However, the court need not
insist in every case that the accused should disprove the non­
existence of consideration and debt by leading direct evidence
because the existence of negative evidence is neither possible
nor contemplated. At the same time, it is clear that bare denial
of the passing of the consideration and existence of debt,
apparently would not serve the purpose of the accused.
Something which is probable has to be brought on record for
getting the burden of proof shifted to the complainant. To
disprove the presumptions, the accused should bring on record
such facts and circumstances, upon consideration of which, the
court may either believe that the consideration and debt did not
exist or their non­existence was so probable that a prudent man
would under the circumstances of the case, act upon the plea
that they did not exist. Apart from adducing direct evidence to
prove that the note in question was not supported by
consideration or that he had not incurred any debt or liability,
the accused may also rely upon circumstantial evidence and if
the circumstances so relied upon are compelling, the burden
may likewise shift again on to the complainant. The accused
may also rely upon presumptions of fact, for instance, those
mentioned in Section 114 of the Evidence Act to rebut the
presumptions arising under Sections 118 and 139 of the Act.

21. The accused has also an option to prove the non­existence of
consideration and debt or liability either by letting in evidence or
in some clear and exceptional cases, from the case set out by the
complainant, that is, the averments in the complaint, the case
set out in the statutory notice and evidence adduced by the
complainant during the trial. Once such rebuttal evidence is
adduced and accepted by the court, having regard to all the
circumstances of the case and the preponderance of
probabilities, the evidential burden shifts back to the
complainant and, therefore, the presumptions under Sections
118
and 139 of the Act will not again come to the complainant’s
rescue.”

13
It was further considered by this Court in Uttam Ram vs.

Devinder Singh Hudan and Another5.

18. In the case at hand, elucidating from the principles, the

complainant was able to prove that the appellant placed the order

for purchasing non­woven fabric which was sold vide invoice No.

120 dated 01st October, 2010 and invoice No. 135 dated

16th October, 2010 amounting to Rs.5,07,062/­ and

Rs.5,10,000/­ which was delivered through public carrier truck

bearing Nos. HR­38G­5607 and HP­71­0693 and in lieu thereof,

the cheques bearing No.323930 dated 15 th October, 2010 and

No.323935 dated 01st November, 2010 in favour of the

complainant were issued by appellant in order to discharge her

liability. On the cheques being presented for encashment to the

State Bank of India, Branch Kala Amb, the same were

dishonoured on the ground of “insufficient funds” in the account

of the appellant and the same were returned vide memo dated

19th October and 10th November, 2010 by Punjab National Bank,

Karnal.

5 (2019) 10 SCC 287

14

19. Thereafter, two separate legal notices were served by the

complainant which were duly received by the appellant and even

after receiving the said notices, the appellant neither responded

to the notices nor made any payment within the statutory period

of fifteen days and only thereafter, two separate complaints were

filed by the complainant under Section 138 of the Act against the

appellant­accused.

20. There was no response by the appellant at any stage either

when the cheques were issued, or after the presentation to its

banker, or when the same were dishonoured, or after the legal

notices were served informing the appellant that both the

cheques on being presented to its banker were returned with a

note that it could not be honoured because of “insufficient

funds”.

21. That apart, when the complainant exhibited all these

documents in support of his complaints and recorded the

statement of three witnesses in support thereof, the appellant

has recorded her statement under Section 313 of the Code, but

failed to record evidence to disprove or rebut the presumption in

support of her defence available under Section 139 of the Act.

15
The statement of the accused recorded under Section 313 of the

Code is not a substantive evidence of defence, but only an

opportunity to the accused to explain the incriminating

circumstances appearing in the prosecution case of the accused.

Therefore, there is no evidence to rebut the presumption that the

cheques were issued for consideration.

22. The judgment on which learned counsel for the appellant

has placed reliance i.e. K. Prakashan vs. P.K. Surenderan6

may not be of any assistance for the reason that in the case

dealing under Section 138 of the Act, the prosecution has to

prove the case and these cases being quasi­criminal in nature are

to be proved on the basis of the principles of “preponderance of

probabilities”, and not on the principles as being examined in the

criminal case to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable

doubt. So far as other case cited by the learned counsel for the

appellant i.e. Indus Airways Private Limited and Others Vs.

Magnum Aviation Private Limited and Another 7, there was

sufficiency of material on record to justify that the cheques were

issued as advance payment for purchase of goods, and one of the

6 (2008) 1 SCC 258
7 (2014) 12 SCC 539

16
terms and conditions of the contract was that the entire payment

would be made to the supplier in advance. However, much within

the time, the supplier­complainant received the letter from the

purchasers cancelling the purchase orders and requested the

supplier to return both the cheques. The supplier pursuant

thereto, sent response asking the purchasers as to when the

supplier could collect the payment, and only thereafter, the

suppler sent a legal notice to the purchasers and filed a

complaint under Section 138 of the Act. In the given

circumstances, it was observed by this Court that the

complainant had failed even prima­facie that there was a legally

enforceable debt or other liability subsisting on the date of drawal

of the cheque as contemplated under Section 138 of the Act. This

judgment would not be of any help to the appellant in the instant

case.

23. When the matter was earlier heard on 01st March, 2021, we

directed the learned counsel for the appellant to seek

instructions whether his client is ready to make payment of the

stated cheque amount in both the criminal appeals i.e.

Rs.5,07,062/­ and Rs.5,10,000/­ and posted the matter for

further hearing on 05th March, 2021. Learned counsel for the
17
appellant on instructions, informed that his client is not willing

to discharge the stated amount, and wants to argue the case on

merits. After hearing the counsel for both the parties, we reserved

the order on 05th March, 2021 and still afforded an opportunity

that by 06th March, 2021 evening, the appellant can still re­

consider her instructions as noticed by us in the order of 01 st

March, 2021. It has been informed to us that the appellant is

interested to get the outcome of the present appeals on merits.

24. In the given circumstances, the High Court, in our view, has

not committed any error in recording the finding of guilt of the

appellant and convicting her for an offence being committed

under Section 138 of the Act under its impugned judgment,

which in our considered view, needs no further interference.

Consequently, the appeals are without any substance, and are

accordingly dismissed.

25. The bail bonds stand cancelled and the appellant shall

either pay the fine, or serve the sentence in compliance with the

judgment dated 30th April, 2019 passed by the High Court of

Himachal Pradesh.

18

26. Pending application(s), if any, shall stand disposed of.

……………………………J.

(INDU MALHOTRA)

.

…………………………..J.

(AJAY RASTOGI)
NEW DELHI
March 09, 2021

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