The principle of doctrine of Estoppel is stated under Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1892.[i] Estoppel is based on the principle that it would unjust, if a person intentionally by conduct or in any other manner has induced other person to believe and act upon such a representation, neither he or those representing can in a subsequent Court proceedings deny the truth.[ii] The accused does through omission, act or declaration. The term Estoppel is derived from the maxium, “allegans contraria non est audiendus” which implies a person alleging contradictory facts should not be heard, and is the species of presumptio juris et de jure, wherein the fact presumed is taken to be true against the party stating the same.[iii] Principle of Estoppel was established in the case of Pickar v. Sears,[iv] wherein a person by his words or conducts induces to another person to believe a fact and subsequently acts according to that belief or to alter his previous position, the accused is barred from later changing his position. The doctrine established in this section is not a rule of equity rather rule of evidence, applied in the Court of law.[v]
Illustration: A sold a house to B, A does so by wrongfully making B believe that the house belonged to A. A subsequently cannot take the defense that the title of the house cannot be provided to B as the house didn’t belong to A in the first place. A will be liable for the same
Principles of Estoppel:
Estoppel depends on the existence of some duty. For a plea of estoppels to succeed it is imperative to prove that there existed neglect owing to some duty. Estoppel is a rule of civil actions, only limited application can take place in criminal matters.[vi] In the case of B. L Shreedhar v. K.N Munireddy,[vii] Supreme Court stated that a doctrine of estoppels is capable of creating or defeating rights. Estoppel differs from presumption, as estoppels is a personal disqualification laid upon a person peculiarly circumstanced from proving peculiar facts, while presumption rule is that particular inference will be drawn from particular facts.[viii] It also differs from res judicata as estoppel is based on principle of equity, while res judicata is based on the principle that litigation must come to an end. Estoppel must be clear and unambiguous. Estoppels cannot circumvent the law.[ix] The inaccurate representation made by a person must have been meant to be relied upon. There should be a proximate cause between the misrepresentation and conduct of the claimant.[x] The person claiming benefits from estoppels must be able to establish that he was unaware of the true state of the matter.[xi] The law of Estoppel is not concerned with the motive or state of knowledge of the party upon whose representation actions took place. If the document is void ab initio, estoppel cannot be imposed upon the same.[xii] Any future promises will not create estoppels.[xiii] Estoppel cannot be imposed if true facts are known to both the parties.
Kinds of Estoppel:
Estoppel by matter of record:
It is mainly concerned with the effects of judgment and their admissibility in evidence, this form of estoppels deals with section 11 to 14 of the Code of Civil Procedure and Section 40-44 of the Indian Evidence Act. The basic principle is the judgment debtor must, when it has once been completed, obey the same unless he can set it aside by procedure constituted to do the same.[xiv] In the case of Govindiji Javat & Co v. Shree Saraswat Mills, the Court stated that a party payment under an arbitrator’s award, cannot challenge it later.[xv] A party accepting the cost under a judgment, even if under protest will be considered acceptance of the correct order by the Court.[xvi]
Estoppel by deed:
When a party has entered into an engagement by a deed claiming certain fact, neither he nor his representatives can contest these facts later. This principle only applies between parties and privies. No estoppels can rise from material, which are non- binding and irrelevant to the matter. If a deed is tainted or fraud, no estoppels can arise from it. In the case of Atmaram v. State,[xvii] where the petitioner claimed title over the land by a registered sale deed, before drawing any conclusion, the plea raised by petitioner must be considered.
Estoppel by conduct:
Estoppel in pais arises from an agreement, contract, act or conduct of misrepresentation, negligence and omission which has induced in the change in position in accordance with the acts or conduct of the other party.[xviii] A man with his words or conduct induces other person to believe a fact and act in accordance with the same, which he would not have otherwise had he been aware of this misrepresentation, the estoppels prohibits the man from denying the existence of these facts. A candidate appeared for an exam on the basis of prospectus, when he failed he was barred from challenging the validity of the prospectus as to the selection already made.[xix] Estoppel in pais is dealt with under Section 115 to 117 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1892.
Estoppel is a product of equity, therefore the Court will have to go by equities on both the sides to maintain a balance. A man may be stopped, not only from giving particular evidence but also depending upon that particular argument or contention that the rule of equity does not permit.[xx]
The history of promissory estoppels can be traced back to England, derived from the principle of equity. Once a party, by his words or conduct makes a legally binding promise to another party, if the other party has acted upon these words or conduct, the one who made the promise or gave assurance cannot revert back to his previous position. He must concede to the existence of this legal relationship subject to the representation he introduced. It differs from estoppels properly so called because the representation relied upon need not be one of present fact.[xxi]Doctrine of promissory estoppels cannot be invoked if change in the representation made by a government official is beyond his powers.
Promissory Estoppel against Government and its Agencies:
Government agencies are not entirely immune from the operation of promissory estoppels. Government agencies are required to work within the framework of the legal structure. Government agencies are not allowed to backtrack on their promises.[xxii] In the case of Motilal Padampat Sugar Mills vs. State of U.P,[xxiii] the Court concluded that government was bound by promise and was liable for the same. Doctrine of promissory estoppels can be invoked if even it does not satisfy the conditions given under Section 115 of the Act.[xxiv] However, in certain scenarios the Government is spared from the doctrine of promissory estoppels. Estoppel cannot be stretched to the extent of restricting the State from exercising its sovereign and legislative powers.[xxv] It cannot be claimed on the basis of a contract which does not satisfy the requirements provided under Article 299 of the Indian Constitution.[xxvi]The plea of promissory estoppels would not be entertained if done against the legislative functions of the state, preventing government from discharging its legal functions and duties, when an officer acts beyond the scope of his employment, against the general interest of the state or if an officer acts on his whim or self benefit.[xxvii] Estoppel can be invoked against the Government regardless of its executive or administrative character.[xxviii] Doctrine of promissory estoppels cannot be build against those agreements which are in contravention of the law. If a promise made by an executive officer is beyond his power, no estoppel can be imposed.[xxix]
Estoppel against Universities and other educational institutions:
In the case of N.B Rao v. Principal Osmania Medical College, the Court permitted the college to cancel an admission of a student as he provided false certificates even though this discovery was made after four years.[xxx] In the case of Nilofar Insaf v. State of M.P, when a list for jobs was published by the university the claimant did not challenge the same, however when the same list was published against, the claimant tried to challenge it but was debarred from the same. Since he did not challenge the first list that conduct can be understood as acceptance, thus he cannot subsequently challenge list published for finalizing admission courses. If an institution makes an error in an admission, it may cancel the same if the mistake made is on the point of law. If a mark-sheet is obtained by fraud or any other criminal conduct or activity, it can subsequently be rectified.[xxxi]
The basic rule of issue estoppels states that same issue of fact and law must be determined in the previous litigation[xxxii] The Court holds the final discretion to not allow issues which have been dealt with in the previous litigation[xxxiii] Where the issue of facts were reached, reception of evidence of the same accused pertaining to the same issue was barred before the Court of law.
Estoppel on point of law:
There can be no estoppels on point of law, since the purpose of estoppels is to create equity not facility for inequity.[xxxiv] Estoppels cannot be imposed against statutes, as it would go against the public policy and general welfare of the society. Estoppel can only refer to the facts not on the point of law. An agreement which is contrary to public policy cannot create an estoppel. The doctrine of estoppels is not applicable on questions pertaining to law, such as question of jurisdiction of the Court. The right of pre-emption can be defeated by estoppel, even though it is a legal right.[xxxv] In the case of Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, it was concluded that estoppels cannot be imposed against the constitution of India or against the fundamental rights.[xxxvi] There can be no estoppels against Acts, provisions or legislatures. The doctrine of estoppel will not apply where parties agree to compound an offence which was otherwise not compoundable.
Estoppel by silence or acquiescence:
Where there is an inherent duty of one person to inform the other person of accurate facts and circumstances but remains silent, his failure to discharge this duty will work as estoppels against him. In a scenario there was no duty for the person to speak, no estoppel can be imposed.[xxxvii] Silence of such a character which could lead to misrepresentation and subsequent fraud, this would operate as a ground for estoppel. In the case of Power Control and Appliances Co. v. Sumeet Machines Pvt. Ltd, where the manufacture allowed the use of his registered trade for a long period of time without protest, this amounts to acquiescence, attracting the doctrine of acquiescence.[xxxviii] A grant of temporary affiliation to a college by the State Government which was not illegal and the benefits were accepted by the college, was not allowed afterwards to challenge the validity of the same.[xxxix]
Estoppel by negligence:
Ground of negligence in shown in the plea of estoppel as, the party owned a duty towards the general public or anyone else towards whom he has acted negligently through words or conduct. For plea of estoppel based on negligence to stand, the party must establish that the act of negligence was part of the transaction itself and it should be so connected with the result to which it led that it would be impossible to consider these two separately.[xl]
Estoppel by taking up a particular position
In the case of Udraj Raj Singh, the Court stated that if a party has taken up a particular position before the Court at one stage of litigation, it is not open for them to approbate and reprobate from the said position.
Estoppel against Estoppel:
In a case of estoppel against an estoppel, the parties are set free and the Court has to determine what are their original rights.
The other forms of estoppels that exist are through recital deed,[xli] by pleadings,[xlii] by elections,[xliii]by attestation,[xliv] by participation in elections and assembly[xlv] , by consent decree[xlvi] , by participating in arbitration and other proceedings[xlvii] among others.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the difference between promissory estoppels and estoppels?
The concept of promissory estoppel differs from the concept of estoppel as continued in Section 115 in that representation in the latter is to an existing fact, while the former relates to a representation of future intention.
2. Can estoppels be issued against government?
In the case of Housing Board cooperative Society v. State,[xlviii] Supreme Court has established an estoppel against the Government in the exercise of its sovereign, legislative and executive functions. It was held that to be free to do so without any shackles of promissory estoppels
3. Can a promise of gift attract the application of promissory estoppel?
As established in the case of Rabishankar v. Orissa state fin. Corpn.[xlix] a mere promise to make a gift will not create an estoppel. It would require a clear and unequivocal promise to import the doctrine into a matter.
[i] The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, § 115 (India)
[iii] Ratanlal & Dhrajlal, The Law of Evidence, 609-654,( 21st Edition, 2009), LexisNexis Butterworth Wadhwa, Nagpur
[iv] Pickard v. Sears, 1837 6 Ad & El 469, 474.
[v] Municipal Corporation of Bombay v. Secretary of State, 1904 29 (Bom) 580.
[vi] Sukdev Singh v. Union of India, 1989 Cr Lj 1340 (Del).
[vii] B. L Shreedhar v. K. M Munireddy, A.I.R 2003 SC 578.
[viii] Ratanlal & Dhrajlal, The Law of Evidence, 609-654,( 21st Edition, 2009), LexisNexis Butterworth Wadhwa, Nagpur
[ix] Leslie Ltd. v. Sheill, (1914) 3 KB 607 (616) CA.
[x] Chhaganlal Keshavlal Mehta v. Patel Narendas Haribhai, A.I.R 1982 SC 121.
[xii] Niranjan Panda v. Narayan Panda, 1953 (Cut) 508.
[xiii] Ma Pyu v. Maung Po Chet, 1916 2 (UBR) 1914-1916 148.
[xiv] Ramrao v. Dattadayal, 1947 (Nag) 889.
[xv] A.I.R 1982 (Bom) 76.
[xvi] Amar Singh v. Prahlad, A.I.R 1989 (P&H) 229.
[xvii] Atmaram v. State, A.I.R 1995 (MP) 225.
[xviii] Ratanlal & Dhrajlal, The Law of Evidence, 609-654,( 21st Edition, 2009), LexisNexis Butterworth Wadhwa, Nagpur
[xix] S. Muthumanicakam v. State, A.I.R 1986 (Mad) 179.
[xx] Ganges Manufacturing Co. v. Sourujmull, 1880, 5 (Cal) 669,678.
[xxi] Air Corp Emp. Union v. G.B. Bhirade, 1969 71 (Bom) LR 707.
[xxii] A.K. Thangudari v. D.F.O Madurai, A.I.R 1985 (Mad) 104.
[xxiii] Motilal Padampat Sugar Mills vs. State of U.P, 1979 2 SCR 641.
[xxiv] Ashok Kumar Maheshwari v. State of U.P, 1998 2 SCC 502.
[xxv] Union of India v. J.K Industries Ltd., A.I.R 1991 (Raj) 45.
[xxvi] Bihar EGP Co-op Soc. v. Sipahi Singh, A.I.R 1977 SC 2149.
[xxvii] Jit Ram Shiv Kumar v. State of Haryana, A.I.R 1980 SC 1285.
[xxviii] Motilal Sugar Mills v. U.P, 1979 2 SCR 641.
[xxix] Vasantkumar Radhakrisan Vora v. Board of Trustee of the Port of Bombay, A.I.R 1991 SC 14.
[xxx] N.B Rao v. Principal, Osmania Medical College, A.I.R 1986 (AP) 196.
[xxxi] Karupa Sindhu v. Orissa Board of Sec. Edu, A.I.R 1981 (Ori) 91.
[xxxii] G. P Singh v. State of Bihar, A.I.R 1971 SC 458.
[xxxiii] R v. Secy. Of State, 1984 1 All ER 956 at 964.
[xxxiv] CIT V. B.N. Bhattacharjee, A.I.R 1979 4 SC 121.
[xxxv] Indira Bai v. Nand Kishore, A.I.R 1991 SC 1055
[xxxvi] Ratanlal & Dhrajlal, The Law of Evidence, 609-654,( 21st Edition, 2009), LexisNexis Butterworth Wadhwa, Nagpur
[xxxvii] Delhi University v. Ashok Kumar, A.I.R 1968 (Del) 131.
[xxxviii] A.I.R 1993 (Mad) 120.
[xxxix] Managing Director, Rajkot Homeopathic Medical College, A.I.R 1998 (Guj) 161.
[xl] New Marine Coal Co. v. Union of India, A.I.R 1964 SC 154.
[xli] Kelvinator of India ltd v. A.F Bagai, A.I.R 1994 NOC 297 (Del).
[xlii] Life Insurance Corporation of India v. Ambika Pd. Pandey, A.I.R 1999 (MP) 13.
[xliii] Scarf v. Jardine, 1882 7 App Cas 345, 360.
[xliv] Pandurang Krishnaji v. Markandeya Tukaram, 1921 49 (Cal) 334.
[xlv] A. Elumalal v. Administrator-cum-Lt.f Governor of Pondicherry, A.I.R 2001 (Mad) 265.
[xlvi] Gokul Prasad v. Saran Das Mahat, 1946 22 (Luck) 270.
[xlvii] Waverly Jute Mills v. Raymon & Co, A.I.R 1963 SC 90.
[xlviii] A.I.R 1987 (M.P) 193
[xlix] A.I.R 1992 (Ori) 93