Section 139 of the negotiable instruments act talks about statutory presumption under which, acceptance of the acknowledgement of debt and signature found in a disputed cheque infer that the cheque was issued to discharge legally enforceable debt or liability. Such a statutory presumption is rebuttable but only in a manner known to law. This was decreed by The Hon’ble Mr. Justice P. Velmurugan in the case of P. Ponnambalam Vs. R.Ramani [Criminal Revision Case No.986 of 2019] on the 08th of July 2021 at the Hon’ble High Court of Madras.
The brief facts of the case are, the petitioner and respondent are very close family friends. The petitioner borrowed a sum of Rs. 14 lakhs from the petitioner on various dates from the year 2009. There was no documentation of such borrowing on account of their friendship. The petitioner used to give an undertaking through a letter pad by acknowledging the debt i.e., a letter showing the dates as and when he borrowed money from the respondent. Since the petitioner did not repay the amount lent to him, a notice was issued to him by the respondent. He sent an evasive reply but later approached the respondent and promised to repay the money. On 11.02.2014, a cheque in favour of the respondent for a sum of Rs. 14,00,000 was drawn. The said cheque was returned with an endorsement “exceeds arrangement” by return memo dated 13.02.2014. The same was informed to the petitioner by way of statutory notice dated 21.02.2014 to the petitioner calling upon him to repay the cheque amount within the statutory period. The petitioner neither repaid the money nor sent any reply. Aggrieved by this, the respondent filed private complaint under Section 200 Cr.P.C. against the petitioner for the offence under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act. After the enquiry, the Magistrate allowed the complaint filed by the respondent and convicted the petitioner. The same was challenged before the city civil court and this court upheld the judgement by the magistrate. For further remedy, the petitioner has filed the present petition before this Hon’ble Court.
The counsel for the petitioner submitted that the petitioner never borrowed any money nor did he issue any cheque in the first place. It was submitted that the petitioner was doing financially well and thus did not have any means to borrow. Furthermore, the counsel submitted that the son-in law of the respondent (Alwin raj) worked with the petitioner and alleged that he stole the cheque leaflets and letter heads and has forged his signature to prove the present case. However, the learned counsel for the respondent submitted that the petitioner admitted the execution of the cheque and acknowledged the debt. The statutory notice issued by the respondent was also acknowledged by the petitioner. It was further submitted that, the petitioner has not given any complaint against the said Alwin Raj regarding cheque leaf stolen by him.
The court heard the counsels of both the parties and observed that, “The petitioner accepted the signature in the cheque and he has taken defence that cheque was stolen by Alwin Raj. However, after giving complaint by the respondent and when statutory notice was sent, the petitioner has not sent any reply stating the fact that the said cheque was not issued to respondent, but the same was stolen by Alwin Raj and complaint was given against Alwin Raj. Admittedly, criminal complaint was not given against Alwin Raj for alleged stealing of cheque and letter head pads. Therefore, the defence taken by the petitioner cannot be accepted.” The court refereed to the provisions in section 139 of the Negotiable instruments act wherein, statutory presumption is mentioned. According to this section, Once the petitioner accepted the acknowledgment of debt and signature found in the disputed cheque, there is a statutory presumption that cheque was issued to discharge legally enforceable debt or liability. This was not rebutted by the petitioner in a matter known to law. Thus the court dismissed the present petition and upheld the conviction issued by the trial court.