Monday, November 25, 2013

SC: No overkill in cheque bounce cases

Once the amount in a dishonoured cheque is paid with interest and compensation, the payee cannot insist on criminal prosecution of the directors of a firm who issued the cheque. 

The object of Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, which makes issuing of cheques without sufficient balance in the account an offence, is meant to "inculcate faith in the efficacy of banking operations and credibility of transactions. It is not meant only to punish the guilty," the Supreme Court has stated in the judgment, Lafarge Aggregates & Concrete India Ltd vs Sukarsh Azad.

In this case, directors of a construction company issued a cheque to Lafarge, but it was dishonoured by the bank leading to a criminal complaint before the magistrate. The directors moved the high court and offered to pay the amount with interest. The high court, therefore, quashed the complaint. Lafarge was not satisfied with that and appealed to the Supreme Court for prosecution of the directors.

The court dismissed the appeal observing that the directors were willing to pay double the amount. It stated that Lafarge did not appear before the high court without sufficient reason, leading to an ex parte order quashing the complaint. Moreover, it approached the Supreme Court after a long lapse of time. Under these circumstances, "if the amount offered including interest and compensation was not acceptable to Lafarge, it is their choice," the judgment said, "but that would not allow them to prosecute the directors in pursuance of the complaint."

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