In an important decision, the Supreme Court of India clarified that no complaint can be filed against the drawer of a cheque unless the period of 15 days has elapsed from the date of receipt of the notice of payment from the payee.
“No complaint can be filed for an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act unless the period of 15 days has elapsed. Any complaint before the expiry of 15 days from the date on which the notice has been served on the drawer/accused is no complaint at all in the eye of law”, a Large Bench of the Court said.
The Court said, “Since a complaint filed under Section 138 of the NI Act before the expiry of 15 days from the date on which the notice has been served on the drawer/accused is no complaint in the eye of law, obviously, no cognizance of an offence can be taken on the basis of such complaint. Merely because at the time of taking cognizance by the Court, the period of 15 days has expired from the date on which notice has been served on the drawer/accused, the Court is not clothed with the jurisdiction to take cognizance of an offence under Section 138 on a complaint filed before the expiry of 15 days from the date of receipt of notice by the drawer of the cheque.”
The Court detailed the following ingredients are required to be satisfied for making out a case under Section 138 of the NI Act:
(i) a person must have drawn a cheque on an account maintained by him in a bank for payment of a certain amount of money to another person from out of that account for the discharge of any debt or other liability;
(ii) that 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;
(iii) that cheque is returned by the bank unpaid, either because the amount of money standing to the credit of the 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 the bank;
(iv) the payee or the holder in due course of the cheque 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 15 days of the receipt of information by him from the bank regarding the return of the cheque as unpaid;
(v) the drawer of such cheque fails to make payment of the said amount of money to the payee or the holder in due course of the cheque within 15 days of the receipt of the said notice.