The Doctrine of Estoppel under Indian Evidence Law

Indian Evidence Act Jun 19, 2022

The principle of estoppel implies that a man shall not say one thing at one time and later say a different thing. Estoppel is based on the principle of equity. When one person has induced another person by his act, omission or declaration to believe something to be true and the other person had taken some steps on believing upon the statement. It would be most inequitable and unjust to allow the former to deny or repudiate the effect of his former statement. The principle of estoppel is a rule which prevents a person from taking up inconsistent position from what he has pleaded or asserted earlier. The provisions of sections 115 to 117 of the evidence act deals with the principles governing estoppel. The principle of estoppel was effectively laid down in Pickard v. Seers, A was owner of a machinery allowed it to be in possession of B. C obtained a decree against B and when machinery was seized in execution of that decree A did not raise any objection and subsequently C sold the machinery to other persons and A instituted a suit setting up his title to that property. The court held that A is estopped from denying the fact that B is the owner of that machinery and held that when one person wilfully causes a belief in another that a certain thing is true and induces that other person to act upon that belief and to alter his position the former is precluded from setting up a different state of things.

Essential ingredients for application of doctrine of estoppel:

· A representation is made by one person to the other party.

· Other party believes it and acts upon such belief thereby altering his position

· Then in a suit between the parties, the person who presented shall not be allowed to deny the truth of his presentation.

Representation made by one person to another person: representation of the existence of a fact may arise in any way – a declaration, act or omission. A person is deemed to have made a representation by silence also provided there is a duty to speak and the person in breach of that duty or obligation holds his tongue and in such case a silence can be regarded as representation.

Representation have been made as to fact and not as to law: the representation must have been made as to a fact and not as to a law because there cannot be  a misrepresntaton as to law in view of the maxim ingorantia juris non excusat. In Bhaiya Ram v. Anirudh Patar,  Anirudh has been elected from a certain reserved constituency, and his election  was challenged on the ground that he had made an admission once that he doesn’t belong to the reserved constituency mentioned in presidential order under a.342. He had in fact made a statement while executing a sale deed that he does not belong to either SC or ONV and this admission has been made only for purpose of avoiding the permission of the DC which was necessary for the people of the community. The court held that the admission made by him is only a matter of evidence in order to set aside the sale transaction but he cannot be estopped from denying the fact that he belongs to ST because the categories of ST etc are mentioned in the presidential order is a matter of law and no estoppel can operate as to a matter of law.

Representation must be made as to an existing fact: the thing which is in existence can have effect of estoppel and doesn’t include future promises. It cannot apply in terms of promises which are de futuro.

Person to whom representation is made must have acted upon in belief and have suffered loss: unless it is shown that the person has acted upon that belief and then altered his position cannot invoke estoppel. For instance, A was declared to have been passed his degree exam by the university and he is given relevant documents and on the strength of those documents seeked admission in one colleges of law. He persues the course for one fukll year spending money and time and when he is about to take first llb exam, the university said that by mistake he was declared to have been passed the graduation exam and therefore not entitled to continue the llb course, and ti take exam at the end of course of study. The case of the student is that the university made  a declaration that he was qualified for further studies and therefore acting upon that belief he took admission and thereby altered his position. By acting upon such declaration he has suffered losss and the university which made declaration should be estopped from denying the truth. In the case of University of Madras v. Sundara Shetty, the petitioner appeared for the SSLC Exam in 1952 and received the sslc record book showing he has passed the exam. Further the book also bore a rubber stamp that he is eligible to undertake the intermediate course and on such endorsement he took admission in Madurai college. In 1953 he completed intermediate first year and joined second term,. In dec 1953 three months prior to taking second year exam , he was served with a notice that he has not passed the exam and therefore not eligible to take exam and to continue his studies. His name was also removed from the college rolls. He approached the VC of the university but he could not succeed, then he moved to madras HC and prayed to issue mandamus directing these officials to forbear from preventing the petitioner to appear for exam and further prayed to quash the university order. The court quashed the order stating that the petitioner relies on the eligibility endorsement and on such strength of endorsement he spent time, and money thereby suffered a deteriument and therefore eligible for estoppel.

Geeta Mishra v. Utkal University: petitioner denied from taking admission in second year on the ground that she did not pass first year by mistake her result  was declared. Court used estoppel.

Pratima v. State of Orissa: petitioner studying BSC wrote medical entrance exam and was offered seat in medicine. She left BSC and joined medicine, subsequently her admission in medicine was canceleed on ground that there were other candidates who had secured higher marks than the petitioner and they ought to have been admitted. The HC held that the govt is estopped from denying the truth of its earlier declaration as the student on basis of such declaration acted ipon it and altered her position.

In Balakrishna v. Reva University, the Court had suggested following to be considered for principle of estoppel:

1. Where the candidate practised fraud on the authorities, or was guilty of mis-statement or suppression of facts in his application, form on the basis of which admission to examination was granted

2. where the candidate was patently ineligible on the particulars supplied by him; and

3. there will be no estoppel, the principle being that there can be no estoppel against the statute. For instance, if a candidate has not passed the B.A. examination and has applied for appearing in LL.B. examination, even if an admission card has been issued and even if the candidate had stated the facts truthfully, the authorities will be entitled to cancel the admission card and the examination,

4. where the question of eligibility depends upon interpretation of any provision of law, or rules or regulations having the force of law, and two interpretations are reasonably possible.

5.  where there is some technical defect in the filling of the form or where there was any deficiency, such as shortage in attendance, which defect or deficiency could be condoned by the authorities in exercise of discretion vested in them under the statute, Rules or Regulations;

In Sri Krishna v Kurushetra Univ. (AIR 1976 SC 376), held that once a candidate has been admitted to an examination his candidature cannot afterwards be cancelled even if his form carried certain infirmities. The candidate is not guilty of fraud if he mis-state facts the truth of which the university could have discovered with ordinary care

TYPES OF ESTOPPEL:

1. Estoppel by Record: it arises in cases where a judgement has been given by a competent court and the effect of it is that the matters decided cannot be reopened by a person who is a party to the judgement or his representative. We do not use this rule in India but rely upon the principle of res judicata to get the same effect.

2. Estoppel by Deed: This implies that neither he nor his representatives or any person claiming under him can deny the facts mentioned and agreed in the deed.

3.  in pais de hors: it arises from an agreement, contract, act or conduct of misrepresentation, negligence and omission which has induced in the change in position in accordance with acts or conduct of the other party. Estoppel in pais is dealt with under sec 115 to 117.

EXCEPTIONS TO ESTOPPEL:

1.  No estoppel against a minor— Where a minor represents fraudulently or otherwise that he is  of  major age and thereby induces another to enter into a contract with him, then in an action founded on contract, the infant is not estopped from setting up infancy as a plea. However, equity demands that he should not retain a benefit which he had obtained by his fraudulent conduct.

2. When true facts are known to both the parties - Sec. 115 does not apply to a case where the statement relied upon is made to a person who knows the real facts and is not misled by the untrue statement (Madnappa v Chandramma AIR 1965 SC 1812).

3. Fraud or negligence on the part of other party — If the other party does not believe the representation but acts independendy of such belief, or in cases where the person to whom representation is made is under a duty to make a further inquiry, the estoppel will not operate. Likewise, if there is a fraud on the part o f the other party, which could not be detected by promisor with ordinary care, the estoppel will not operate.

4. No estoppel on a point of law - Estoppel refers only to a belief in a fact. If a person gives his opinion that law is such and such and other acts upon such belief, then there can be no estoppel against the former subsequently asserting that law is different. One cannot be estopped from challenging the effectiveness of something (e.g. partition deed) for want of law (e.g. registration). Representations under S e c 115 should be of facts, not of law or opinion (Union of India v ICS. Subrarnaniam AIR 1989 SC 662).

The following eight conditions must be satisfied to bring a case within the sco p e o f estoppel as defined in Sec. 115 [Chhaganlal Mehta v Haribhai Patel (1982) 1 SCC 223]: (i) There must have been a representation by a person to another person, which may be in any form — a declaration or an act or an omission.

(ii) Such representation must have been of the existence of a fact and not of future promises or intention.

(iii) The representation must have been meant to have been relied upon.

(iv) There must have been belief on the part of the other party in its truth.

(v) There must have been some action on the faith of that declaration, act or omission. In other words, such declaration, etc., must have actually caused the other person to act on the faith of it and to alter his position to his prejudice or detriment.

(vi) The misrepresentation or conduct or omission must have been the proximate cause of leading the other party to act to his prejudice.

(vii) The person claiming the benefit of an estoppel must show that he was not aware of the true state of things. There can be no estoppel if such a person was aware of the true state of affairs or if he had means of such knowledge.

(viii) Only the person to whom the representation was made or for whom it was designed can avail of the doctrine. The burden of proving estoppel lies on such person. (ix) Where the plea of estoppel is not set up in the pleading, it cannot be availed of later. (x) No action arises on the estoppel itself. It is not a cause of action. It may assist in enforcing a cause of action.

Section 116 (TENANT AND LICENSEE)

Sec.116 provides that a person who comes into an immovable property taking possession from a person who he accepts as a landlord is not permitted during the continuance of tenancy to say as against his landlord that he had no title to the property at the commencement of the tenancy. y. Similarly, a person who comes upon any immovable property with the licence of the person in possession is not permitted to say afterwards that his licensor had no right to the possession of the property. In short, a tenant/ licensee is not permitted to deny the title of his landlord/ licensor. Where a landlord files a suit for ejectment and for arrears of rent the tenant who has been put into possession of the property in suit by the landlord cannot be allowed to say that the landlord had no interest in the property of suit (Moti Lal v Yar Md. AIR 1925 All 275).

In this provision a tenant of an immovable property or any person claiming through such tenant shall not during the continuance of the tenancy be permitted to deny the title which his landlord had at the beginning of the tenancy to such immovable property. Also one person who came upon any immovable property by the license of the person in possession thereof shall not be permitted to deny that such person had a title to such possession at the time when the license was given.

A tenant cannot deny the title of his landlord: a person who has obtained possession of a property is in fiduciary position and therefore estopped from questioning the title of the person from whom he obtained the possession (Balram v. Durga Lal). In Bansraj Mishra v. Stanley Parker Jones, the SC held that  a tenant having received the possession of immovable property from the landlord is said to have agreed with the landlord that they stand in the relationship of landlord and tenant, which relationship cannot be denied as long as the relation of landlord and tenant continues. In Veeraju v. Venkanna, a suit was filed by the trustee of deity for possession of lands which were in the possession of a tenant enjoying the income in consideration of rendering service to the deity. The tenant denied the title of the deity. The Supreme Court held that having regard to section 116 of the Evidence Act during the continuance of tenancy a tenant will not be permitted to deny that deity had a title to the property at the beginning of the tenancy.

The underline policy of this section is that a person put in possession of property as a tennant by the landlord if permitted to question the title of his landlord then that will give rise to confusion in the matter of relationship of landlord and tenant. In Bilas Kanwar v. Destaj Ranjeet Singh, the privy council observed: a tenant who has been let into position cannot deny his landlords title however defective it may be so long as he has not openly restored possession by surrendering to his landlord. In a case relating to the challenge of the title of the property by the tenants the fact that the respondent Tennant did not dispute the title of the landlord at the time when they were put in possession of the premises as tenants stop from disrupting the title of the landlord subsequently held in the case of Jaspal Kaur v. Industrial trade links

SECTION 117

provides that no acceptor of a bill of exchange can deny that the drawer had authority to draw such bill or to endorse it; but he may deny that the bill was really drawn by the person by whom it purports to have been drawn (it can always be shown that the drawer’s signature was forged). Likewise, no bailee/ licensee can denv that his bailor/ licensor had, at the time when the bailment/ licence commenced, authority to make such bailment or grant such licence. But, if a bailee of the goods bailed to a person other than the bailor, he may prove that such person has a right to them as against the bailor

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