Decided on February 15,2005

Siliguri Plywood Industries and Ors. Respondents


Ronojit K. Mitra, J. - (1.) THIS appeal was preferred on 23rd March, 2004, from an order dated 12th February, 2004, made by the learned Presiding Officer, DRT -II, Kolkata, hereinafter referred to as "the DRT". The short point urged by Counsel for the appellant -Bank was that the branch manager by reason of a bona fide mistake had made a statement before the DRT that the respondents would be required to pay a sum of Rs. 30,81,025.53, in order to obtain the benefits of the one time settlement in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the Reserve Bank of India, and the Bank would receive the same in full and final satisfaction of its entire claim. Payment of the agreed amount was however made by the respondents, it was submitted by him, but well after the agreed time. The case of the respondents was that payment was made in accordance with the terms stipulated in the guidelines of the R.B.I. and that the impugned order was a consent order and no appeal was preferable from a consent decree.
(2.) IT was submitted by Advocate for the appellant -Bank that by reason of a genuine and bona fide mistake, the branch manager had calculated the amount payable in accordance with the scheme of the one time settlement, on the basis of "NPA's classified as doubtful/loss as on 31st March, 2000" instead of "NPA's classified as substandard as on 31st March, 2000 which became doubtful/loss subsequently". He contended that the respondents did not pay on 31st October, 2003, as had been directed in the order dated 17th September, 2003, but payment was wrongfully made on 13th November, 2003. He argued that it was a mistake within Sections 20, 21 and 22 of the Indian Contract Act and therefore the agreement, if any, stood void on challenge. According to him, the principles of estoppel were not applicable as because the respondent would not suffer any prejudice in having to pay what was lawfully due and payable by them to the Bank. He cited and relied on decisions reported in 2001(2) SCC 41 and . The appeal it was submitted by Advocate for the respondents was bad in law because it purported to challenge a consent decree. According to him in para 4 page 17 of the claim petition, the Oriental Bank of Commerce had in fact admitted that the account became NPA on 31st March, 1999 and therefore the basis of the calculations and the amount paid by the respondents was correct and in accordance with law. He argued that the appellant Banks chose not to prefer an appeal from the order dated 13th February, 2004, when their application with a prayer to accept that the calculations had been incorrectly made, by reason of a bona fide mistake and direct the respondents to make further payment on the basis of fresh calculations.
(3.) IT is significant that the records disclose that the scheme of one time settlement of the Bank's dues had commenced as early as on 11th April, 2003. The Bank at all material times was guided by lawyers and senior officers knowledgeable in the law. The contention of a bona fide mistake does not, I am afraid, appear to be of any force especially in view of the fact, that the branch manager had himself submitted before the DRT the amount acceptable on the basis of one time settlement. I find it strange indeed that assuming it was a bona fide mistake, it took the branch manager to realise it more than three months. There was no allegation that the statement was made without instructions or assistance of the Bank's lawyer. In fact in all probability the Bank has a legal department to render assistance and proper advice in such matters. There was no evidence as to the bona fide mistake. Be that as it may payment was made on 13th November, 2003, beyond the time allowed by the DRT but not in violation of the terms of the scheme. The Bank made an application on 17th November, 2003 and alleged bonafide mistake in calculating l but chose not to take any step in having the application disposed of, and in the memorandum of appeal, there is no mention of any reason for such inaction. On 12th February, 2004, the impugned order was made confirming the payment as had been consented to by the parties, on 17th September, 2003. In the impugned order the DRT dealt with the Bank's application and recorded, that it had been moved on 22nd December, 2003. The learned Presiding Officer observed that, "the applicant Bank is legally estopped to challenge and raise any objection against the settlement which has been proposed and acted upon and implemented". The contention by Advocate for the Bank that the DRT had dismissed its contention on the basis of the principles of estoppel is, I am afraid, not tenable. No where in the impugned order has the DRT mentioned the principles of estoppel. It would be erroneous to assume that merely c because the DRT had held that the Bank was "legally estopped to challenge", it must be deemed that he made the impugned order on the basis of promissory estoppel.;

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