14 Dec 2009

No forgery by executing sale of non-owned property: Supreme Court

In a recent decision the Supreme Court has declared that by selling a property not belonging to one, the person does not commit an act of forgery. The Court was dealing with a case where a person X has sold a property to person Y whereas X was not the owner of the property. A case for forgery and cheating was registered by the actual owner both against X and Y and the lower court and High Court had directed the framing of charges and proceeding with the trial of the criminal offences. The Supreme Court, however, explaining the nuances of the provisions of the Indian Penal Code dealing with such offences held that no case of forgery or fraud was made out and thus reversed the order of the High Court.

The Court noted that the term “forgery” used in the provisions is defined in section 463 as meaning "Whoever makes any false documents with intent to cause damage or injury to the public or to any person, or to support any claim or title, or to cause any person to part with property, or to enter into express or implied contract, or with intent to commit fraud or that the fraud may be committed, commits forgery" where Section 464 defines the meaning of the expression “making a false document”. In this regard, the Court defined the ingredients of the offence as under;

10. An analysis of section 464 of Penal Code shows that it divides false documents into three categories:
10.1) The first is where a person dishonestly or fraudulently makes or executes a document with the intention of causing it to be believed that such document was made or executed by some other person, or by the authority of some other person, by whom or by whose authority he knows it was not made or executed.
10.2) The second is where a person dishonestly or fraudulently, by cancellation or otherwise, alters a document in any material part, without lawful authority, after it has been made or executed by either himself or any other person.
10.3) The third is where a person dishonestly or fraudulently causes any person to sign, execute or alter a document knowing that such person could not by reason of (a) unsoundness of mind; or (b) intoxication; or (c) deception practised upon him, know the contents of the document or the nature of the alteration.
11. In short, a person is said to have made a ‘false document’, if (i) he made or executed a document claiming to be someone else or authorised by someone else; or (ii) he altered or tampered a document; or (iii) he obtained a document by practicing deception, or from a person not in control of his senses.
Ruling in the favour of the accused, the Court defined the legal position as under;
The sale deeds executed by first appellant, clearly and obviously do not fall under the second and third categories of ‘false documents’. It therefore remains to be seen whether the claim of the complainant that the execution of sale deeds by the first accused, who was in no way connected with the land, amounted to committing forgery of the documents with the intention of taking possession of complainant’s land (and that accused 2 to 5 as the purchaser, witness, scribe and stamp vendor colluded with first accused in execution and registration of the said sale deeds) would bring the case under the first category. There is a fundamental difference between a person executing a sale deed claiming that the property conveyed is his property, and a person executing a sale deed by impersonating the owner or falsely claiming to be authorised or empowered by the owner, to execute the deed on owner’s behalf. When a person executes a document conveying a property describing it as his, there are two possibilities. The first is that he bonafide believes that the property actually belongs to him. The second is that he may be dishonestly or fraudulently claiming it to be his even though he knows that it is not his property. But to fall under first category of ‘false documents’, it is not sufficient that a document has been made or executed dishonestly or fraudulently. There is a further requirement that it should have been made with the intention of causing it to be believed that such document was made or executed by, or by the authority of a person, by whom or by whose authority he knows that it was not made or executed. When a document is executed by a person claiming a property which is not his, he is not claiming that he is someone else nor is he claiming that he is authorised by someone else. Therefore, execution of such document (purporting to convey some property of which he is not the owner) is not execution of a false document as defined under section 464 of the Code. If what is executed is not a false document, there is no forgery. If there is no forgery, then neither section 467 nor section 471 of the Code are attracted.
As regard the offence of cheating, the Court noted that since the complaint of cheating (under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code) was not instituted by the purchaser (Y), it could not be said that the seller (X) had committed cheating. It was observed by the Court to this regard as under;

When a sale deed is executed conveying a property claiming ownership thereto, it may be possible for the purchaser under such sale deed, to allege that the vendor has cheated him by making a false representation of ownership and fraudulently induced him to part with the sale consideration. But in this case the complaint is not by the purchaser. On the other hand, the purchaser is made a co-accused. It is not the case of the complainant that any of the accused tried to deceive him either by making a false or misleading representation or by any other action or omission, nor is it his case that they offered him any fraudulent or dishonest inducement to deliver any property or to consent to the retention thereof by any person or to intentionally induce him to do or omit to do anything which he would not do or omit if he were not so deceived. Nor did the complainant allege that the first appellant pretended to be the complainant while executing the sale deeds. Therefore, it cannot be said that the first accused by the act of executing sale deeds in favour of the second accused or the second accused by reason of being the purchaser, or the third, fourth and fifth accused, by reason of being the witness, scribe and stamp vendor in regard to the sale deeds, deceived the complainant in any manner. As the ingredients of cheating as stated in section 415 are not found, it cannot be said that there was an offence punishable under sections 417, 418, 419 or 420 of the Code.

However, as a mark of caution, the Supreme Court clarified its decision in the following terms;

When we say that execution of a sale deed by a person, purporting to convey a property which is not his, as his property, is not making a false document and therefore not forgery, we should not be understood as holding that such an act can never be a criminal offence. If a person sells a property knowing that it does not belong to him, and thereby defrauds the person who purchased the property, the person defrauded, that is the purchaser, may complain that the vendor committed the fraudulent act of cheating. But a third party who is not the purchaser under the deed may not be able to make such complaint. The term ‘fraud’ is not defined in the Code.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court also cautioned the lower courts to ensure that criminal law is not abused by private litigants to settled their own scores. The Court observed,

This Court has time and again drawn attention to the growing tendency of complainants attempting to give the cloak of a criminal offence to matters which are essentially and purely civil in nature, obviously either to apply pressure on the accused, or out of enmity towards the accused, or to subject the accused to harassment. Criminal courts should ensure that proceedings before it are not used for settling scores or to pressurise parties to settle civil disputes. But at the same, it should be noted that several disputes of a civil nature may also contain the ingredients of criminal offences and if so, will have to be tried as criminal offences, even if they also amount to civil disputes. [See: G. Sagar Suri v. State of U.P. [2000 (2) SCC 636] and Indian Oil Corporation vs. NEPC India Ltd. [2006 (6) SCC 736]


Anuj said...


I could not understand this judgement. Technically it is good and shows that judge is very knowledgeable and logical but practically imagine the suffering the person whose land has been sold by one and grabbed by other is going through.Does it mean that Supreme court also believes in " Jiski Lathi uski bhaish" Policy. What the hapless person should do in this regard? Wait for 100 years so that the civil suit is judged?


Raj said...

I agree with Mr. Anuj. The true owner had been totally neglected in this case. What is the true owner supposed to do?