The Supreme Court has held that a criminal complaint under section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (NI Act) can only be filed after the expiry of the mandatory period of 15 days time limit given to the noticee as provided under under section 138(c) & 142(b) of the NI act, 1881.
On 7 November 2005, a notice was addressed by the respondent to the appellant alleging that the appellant had taken a cash loan of Rs 2.5 lakhs and had furnished a cheque dated 28 October 2005 towards repayment. The notice alleged that the cheque was returned by the bank to the respondent due to insufficiency of funds in the account of the appellant.
The notice dated 7 November 2005 was received by the appellant on 8 November 2005. The respondent instituted a complaint against the appellant under Section 138 of the NI Act on 22 November 2005. On 1 February 2011, the trial court acquitted the appellant. The order of acquittal was questioned before the High Court in appeal.
By a judgment dated 28 November 2018, the High Court has allowed the appeal and convicted the appellant for an offence punishable under Section 138 of the NI Act awarding a sentence of a fine in the amount of Rs 3 lakhs.
After notice was issued on 15 February 2019, the respondent had communicated to the Registry indicating that he was seventy nine years of age and did not have the resources to defend his rights before this Court by engaging counsel. In the circumstances, by an order dated 15 July 2020, the Registry was requested to appoint counsel from the panel of legal aid advocates.
While the notice was received by the appellant on 8 November 2005, the complaint was filed before the period of fifteen days was complete. The complaint could have been filed only after 23 November 2005, but was filed on 22 November 2005. In view of the legal bar which is created by Section 142 of the NI Act, as explained in the three-Judge Bench decision of this Court, taking of cognizance by the Court was contrary to the law and the complaint was not maintainable before the expiry of the period of fifteen days from the date of its receipt by the appellant.
The division bench of Justice Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Justice A S Bopanna set aside the judgment and order of the Single Judge of the High Court of Chhattisgarh dated 28 November 2018.
The respondent would be at liberty to institute a fresh complaint and since the earlier complaint could not be presented within the time prescribed by Section 142(b) of the NI Act, the respondent would be at liberty to seek the benefit of the proviso by satisfying the trial court of sufficient cause for the delay in instituting the complaint.
“In the event that the second complaint is filed within a period of two months from the date of this order, we request the trial court to dispose of the complaint within a period of six months,” the order read.
Case title: Gajanand Burange v/s Laxmi Chand Goyal
Citation: Criminal Appeal No 1229 of 2022