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Shot at Mount Dud Cheque

- Bank association moves court for speedy clearance

New Delhi, Jan. 21: An everyday pile-up that has defied legislative decongestion has landed up before the Supreme Court.

The Indian Bank Association (IBA), which groups 167-odd public-sector and private banks under an umbrella, has moved the apex court with a plea to speed up disposal of bounced-cheque cases, whose number has ballooned to an estimated 38 lakh in the past decade.

The Supreme Court has sought the response of the Centre and states on the public interest litigation moved by the IBA. Information cited by the petitioner’s counsel suggests that a remedy has already been codified into law but the provision is not being used.

Senior counsel Shyam Divan cited how provisions for summary trials in bounced-cheque cases have existed for a decade since the Negotiable Instruments Act was amended in February 2003.

But, he said, Indian courts have continued to follow the “summons” procedure instead of the “summary” procedure, resulting in enormous delay.

Under the normal summons procedure, a court issues summons to the accused, collects evidence and holds an examination-in-chief, cross-examination and other procedures. But under the summary trial procedure, a court can merely take the submission of the accused on affidavit and pass a judgment.

The pile-up has not only given the banks a nagging headache but also locked up the amounts mentioned in the disputed cheque.

The 2003 amendments stipulated day-to-day proceedings in bounced-cheque trials and said the cases must be completed within six months from the day the complaint was filed.

They asked courts to record the reasons for any adjournment “in writing”, and raised the maximum sentence from one year to two years.

Another counsel for the petitioner, Nina Bhasin, said that if the apex court issued guidelines to fast-track bounced-cheque cases, it would speed up justice in other criminal cases too by freeing up valuable time and resources in magistrates’ courts.

“An improvement in the administration of justice will reap a direct benefit to all those concerned with the criminal justice system and will strengthen the constitutional imperative for a speedy trial,” Bhasin said.

The law says that once a person issues a cheque, he must honour it. If he fails to do so, he would be served with a notice and if he still does not comply, he must face a criminal trial. “Every trial under this section shall be conducted as expeditiously as possible and an endeavour shall be made to conclude the trial within six months from the date of filing of the complaint,” the amendment said.

The bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra issued a notice to the Union government and asked the petitioner to include the states and Union territories as parties to the case by issuing them formal notices for their response.