A Supreme Court-appointed amicus curiae Rishi Malhotra has recommended closure of proceedings in all cheque bounce cases if the accused is willing to deposit the claimed money with fine or interest even if the complainant is objecting to the settlement.
This is one suggestion that can drastically bring down the number of cheque bounce cases – nearly 60 lakh of them – currently clogging the criminal justice system in the country. Malhotra has told the Court in his report and these constitute one-fourth of nearly 2.6 crore cases pending in various lower courts across the country and it could bring a big relief to the litigants of other cases if the Apex Court puts an end to the pending backlog of the cheque bounce cases.
The suggestion comes at a time when courts are wondering on how to finish off such cases, large number of which remains in the system merely because the complainant refuses to compromise due to animosity or other malafide intentions, despite the accused’s genuine willingness to pay up.
Advocate Rishi Malhotra was appointed so by the Bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit on July 31 for deciding how to regulate the court proceedings for an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act.
“Unfortunately, such is the glaring number of section 138 Negotiable Instruments Act cases (cheque bounce cases), it has completely choked/the criminal justice system which can be gauged from the fact that as per 213th report of the Law Commission of India, more than 38 lakh cheque bounces cases were pending before various courts in the country (as of October, 2008) which is putting an unprecedented strain on our judicial system”, Malhotra says in his report to Supreme Court.
The Bench had asked him to study whether the courts are “powerless” to close the case in the event the complainant refuses to accept the settlement even if the accused is ready for it. Though the issue before the court is limited to the cheque bounce cases, it observed that its ruling may also impact a number of other similarly placed cases where the litigants keep fighting and refuse to withdraw or end the disputes.
“Whether in such a case, the proceedings can be closed?” The bench had wondered if courts were “powerless” to close the case in the event of complainants refusing to accept the settlement even if the accused is ready for it. The judges also noted that the “question is crucial as it may affect number of other similarly placed cases”. Justifying his argument, Malhotra says, “Even when a complainant sends a legal notice to the accused, it says he or she should pay within 15 or 30 days or else the matter will go to court. So even when case travels to court it is in a way only an extension of time. The complainant has to accept the amount and close the case if the accused offers to pay up even when the matter is pending in a court.”
The pertinent question had arisen in a case where one M/S Meters and Instruments Private Ltd, an accused in a cheque bounce case, assure to pay the full amount to complainant RK Midha Pvt Ltd. But the latter refused to go in for a settlement. “Once the accused at the very threshold had demonstrated his willingness to settle the matter, the courts below ought to have quashed the entire proceeding irrespective of the consent of the complainant in question,” the amicus said in his opinion.