13 February 2021

Agreement of sale signed only by the vendor is valid and enforceable by the purchaser

We find that neither of the two decisions have addressed the real issue and cannot be said to be laying down the correct law. The observation in Md. Mohar Ali (supra) stating that an agreement of sale is an unilateral contract is not correct. An unilateral contract refers to a gratuitous promise where only party makes a promise without a return promise. Unilateral contract is explained thus by John D. Calamari & Joseph M. Perillo in The Law of Contracts (4th Edition Para 2-10(a) at pages 64-65):
If A says to B, 'If you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge I will pay you $ 100,' A has made a promise but has not asked. B for a return promise. A has asked B to perform, not a commitment to perform. A has thus made an offer looking to a unilateral contract. B cannot accept this offer by promising to walk the bridge. B must accept, if at all, by performing the act. Because no return promise is requested, at no point is B bound to perform. If B does perform, a contract involving two parties is created, but the contract is classified as unilateral because only one party is ever under an obligation. All agreements of sale are bilateral contracts as promises are made by both -the vendor agreeing to sell and the purchaser agreeing to purchase. On the other hand, the observation in S.M. Gopal Chetty (supra) that unless agreement is signed both by the vendor and purchaser, it is not a valid contract is also not sound. An agreement of sale comes into existence when the vendor agrees to sell and the purchaser agrees to purchase, for an agreed consideration on agreed terms. It can be oral. It can be by exchange of communications which may or may not be signed. It may be by a single document signed by both parties. It can also be by a document in two parts, each party signing one copy and then exchanging the signed copy as a consequence of which the purchaser has the copy signed by the vendor and a vendor has a copy signed by the purchaser. Or it can be by the vendor executing the document and delivering it to the purchaser who accepts it. Section 10 of the Act provides all agreements are contracts if they are made by the free consent by the parties competent to contract, for a lawful consideration and with a lawful object, and are not expressly declared to be void under the provisions . of the Contract Act. The proviso to Section 10 of the Act makes it clear that the section will not apply to contracts which are required to be made in writing or in the presence of witnesses or any law relating to registration of documents. Our attention has not been drawn to any law applicable in Bihar at the relevant time, which requires an agreement of sale to be made in writing or in the presence of witnesses or to be registered. Therefore, even an oral agreement to sell is valid. If so, a written agreement signed by one of the parties, if it evidences such an oral agreement will also be valid. In any agreement of sale, the terms are always negotiated and thereafter reduced in the form of an agreement of sale and signed by both parties or the vendor alone (unless it is by a series of offers and counter-offers by letters or other modes of recognized communication). In India, an agreement of sale signed by the vendor alone and delivered to the purchaser, and accepted by the purchaser, has always been considered to be a valid contract. In the event of breach by the vendor, it can be specifically enforced by the purchaser. There is, however, no practice of purchaser alone signing an agreement of sale.[Para No.7]

    The defendant next contended that the agreement of sale in this case (Ex.2) was clearly in a form which required signatures of both vendor and purchaser. It is pointed out that the agreement begins as: "Agreement for sale between Kanika Bose and Parmatma Devi" and not an "Agreement of sale executed by Kanika Bose in favour of Parmatma Devi". Our attention is also drawn to the testimonium clause (the provision at the end of the instrument stating when and by whom it was signed) of the agreement, which reads thus: "In witnesses whereof, the parties hereto have hereunto set and subscribed their respective hands and seals on these presents." It is therefore contended that the agreement specifically contemplated execution by both parties; and as it was not so executed, it was incomplete and unenforceable. We have carefully examined the agreement (Ex.2), a photocopy of which is produced. The testimonium portion in the agreement is in an archaic form which has lost its meaning. Parties no longer 'subscribe their respective hands and seals'. It is true that the format obviously contemplates signature by both parties. But it is clear that the intention 
Agreement of sale signed only by the vendor was valid and enforceable by the purchaser
of the parties was that it should be complete on signature by only the vendor. This is evident from the fact that the document is signed by the vendor and duly witnessed by four witnesses and was delivered to the purchaser. Apart from a separate endorsement made on the date of the agreement itself (7.9.1979) by the vendor acknowledging the receipt of Rs. 2001 as advance, it also contains a second endorsement (which is also duly witnessed) made on 10.10.1979 by the vendor, acknowledging the receipt of a further sum of Rs. 2000 and confirming that the total earnest money received was Rs. 4001. This shows that the purchaser accepted and acted in terms of the agreement which was signed, witnessed and delivered to her as a complete instrument and that she then obtained an endorsement thereon by the vendor, in regard to second payment. If the agreement was not complete, the vendor would not have received a further amount and endorsed an acknowledgement thereon on 10.10.1979. Apart from the above, the evidence of the witnesses also shows that there was a concluded contract. Therefore, even though the draftsman who prepared the agreement might have used a format intended for execution by both vendor and purchaser, the manner in which the parties had proceeded, clearly demonstrated that it was intended to be executed only by the vendor alone. Thus we hold that the agreement of sale (Ext. 2) signed only by the vendor was valid and enforceable by the purchaser.[Para No.8]

07 February 2021

Falsely implicating husband and his family in domestic violence case with intention to ensure that the parties were sent to counselling in order to settle their disputes amounts to mental cruelty entitling husband to seek divorce

Allegations of cruelty in divorce case should be specifically challenged in cross examination

    Now, given that matrimonial disputes rarely involve production of concrete evidence in documentary or audio-visual form, and mostly proceed on the relative strength of the opposing allegations made by the parties, the entire process of leading and recording evidence has a significant role to play in establishing one's case. Thus, notwithstanding her denials in the written statement, the appellant was expected to properly and specifically cross-examine the respondent to prove her allegations of cruelty against him and disprove those he had levelled against her. The importance of properly discharging this function of cross-examination was discussed by the Supreme Court in the following paragraphs of its decision in Rajinder Pershad Vs. Darshana Devi (2001) 7 SCC 69:
"4. The only point urged albeit strenuously on behalf of the appellant by Mr P.S. Mishra, the learned Senior Counsel is that as there has been no valid service of notice, so all proceedings taken on the assumption of service of notice are illegal and void. He has invited our attention to the judgment of the learned Rent Control Tribunal wherein it is recorded that Exhibit AW 1/6 dated 5-8-1986 was sent by registered post and the same was taken by the postman to the address of the tenant on 6-8-1986, 8-8-1986, 19-8-1986 and 20-8-1986 but on those days the tenant was not available; on 21-8-1986, he met the tenant who refused to receive the notice. This finding remained undisturbed by both the Tribunals as well as the High Court. Learned counsel attacks this finding on the ground that the postman was on leave on those days and submits that the records called for from the post office to prove that fact, were reported as not available. On those facts, submits the learned counsel, it follows that there was no refusal by the tenant and no service of notice. We are afraid we cannot accept these contentions of the learned counsel. In the Court of the Rent Controller, the postman was examined as AW 2. We have gone through his cross-examination. It was not suggested to him that he was not on duty during the period in question and the endorsement "refused" on the envelope was incorrect. In the absence of cross-examination of the postman on this crucial aspect, his statement in the chief examination has been rightly relied upon. There is an age-old rule that if you dispute the correctness of the statement of a witness you must give him opportunity to explain his statement by drawing his attention to that part of it which is objected to as untrue, otherwise you cannot impeach his credit. In State of U.P. v. Nahar Singh (1998) 3 SCC, a Bench of this Court (to which I was a party) stated the principle that Section 138 of the Evidence Act confers a valuable right to cross-examine a witness tendered in evidence by the opposite party. The scope of that provision is enlarged by Section 146 of Evidence Act by permitting a witness to be questioned, inter alia, to test his veracity. It was observed: (SCC p. 567, para 14) "14. The oft-quoted observation of Lord Herschell, L.C. in Browne v. Dunn [(1893) 6 R 67 (HL)] clearly elucidates the principle underlying those provisions. It reads thus:
'I cannot help saying, that it seems to me to be absolutely essential to the proper conduct of a cause, where it is intended to suggest that a witness is not speaking the truth on a particular point, to direct his attention to the fact by some questions put in cross-examination showing that that imputation is intended to be made, and not to take his evidence and pass it by as a matter altogether unchallenged, and then, when it is impossible for him to explain, as perhaps he might have been able to do if such questions had been put to him, the circumstances which, it is suggested, indicate that the story he tells ought not to be believed, to argue that he is a witness unworthy of credit. My Lords, I have always understood that if you intend to impeach a witness, you are bound, whilst he is in the box, to give an opportunity of making any explanation which is open to him; and, as it seems to me, that is not only a rule of professional practice in the conduct of a case, but it is essential to fair play and fair dealing with witnesses.' (emphasis supplied)[Para No.11]

    Although the appellant, in the grounds adopted in the appeal, has assailed the reliance of the learned Family Court on the decision in State of U.P. v. Nahar Singh (1998) 3 SCC 561 to contend that the same was a criminal case and the precedent arising therefrom could not apply to cross examinations in matrimonial proceedings, which are civil proceedings by nature, there is no merit to this opposition; especially in the light of the observations of the Supreme Court in Darshana Devi's case which was a civil proceeding. In fact, the standard of proof in a matrimonial proceeding- which is also in the nature of a civil proceeding is not as strict, as in criminal proceedings. Thus, the case is required to be proved on preponderance of probabilities and not the legal standard of being beyond a reasonable doubt. Keeping in view the aforesaid, it is evident that there was a crucial responsibility placed on the shoulders of the appellant which was to ensure that she challenged the specifics of the allegations raised by the respondent and establish their lack of veracity. Paragraphs 44 to 46 of the impugned judgment clearly show that the appellant had not cross-examined the respondent/husband on these important aspects, and, thus, completely failed to draw out the facts as claimed by her. In fact, even before us, the appellant, other than contending that the onus of proving cruelty rested upon the respondent, has failed to provide any cogent reasons for failing to cross-examine the respondent in support of her own case, or to challenge his allegations of cruelty. It is a settled proposition of law that the Court would normally accept unchallenged and uncontroverted assertions of fact. The failure of the appellant to effectively cross-examine the respondent shows that she neither seriously challenged his version of the factual position, nor established her own version. Therefore, in our view, the Family Court was justified in accepting the unrebutted testimony of the respondent.[Para No.12]

    When we view this in addition to the fact that in her written statement, the appellant had admitted to having levelled false allegations against the respondent and his family under the DV Act, we find there were plenty of holes in the appellant's story. Her feeble explanation for this ill-thought out act of falsely implicating the respondent and his family was that the same was not done malevolently, but only with an intention to ensure that the parties were sent to counselling in order to settle their disputes. That explanation barely comes to the aid of the appellant considering that the Supreme Court in K. Srinivas Rao Vs. D.A. Deepa 2013 III AD (SC) 458 has already held that any act of making unfounded complaints to the police shall be treated as an act of mental cruelty. The relevant extracts of this decision read as under:
"14. Thus, to the instances illustrative of mental cruelty noted in Samar Ghosh, we could add a few more. Making unfounded indecent defamatory allegations against the spouse or his or her relatives in the pleadings, filing of complaints or issuing notices or news items which may have adverse impact on the business prospect or the job of the spouse and filing repeated false complaints and cases in the court against the spouse would, in the facts of a case, amount to causing mental cruelty to the other spouse.

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