The government is preparing to amend the law to introduce stringent punishment for bounced cheques from next year, which could act as a deterrent for defaulters in a country saddled with above 1.8 million lawsuits on dishonoured cheques.
The proposed changes could do away with the long-drawn process of settling disputes, even after years of litigation.
Among the suggestions being considered is to give a window — possibly 30 days — for settling disputes between complainants and people whose cheques bounced. If the two parties fail to come to an understanding within that time, the defaulter could be put in jail without bail at the court’s discretion.
“These are among several options on the table. We will finalise the specifics shortly. To promote cashless transactions, we will not shy away from incorporating stringent provisions,” said a source involved in deliberations over amendments to the negotiable instruments act, which governs cases relating to bounced cheques.
Cheque bounce is a bailable offence under the current law, which enables defaulters to stay away from jail as long as the trial is on. The law stipulates imprisonment up to two years or fine that may extend up to double the dishonoured amount, or both.
Of the options being considered, the government could make the law a non-bailable offence.
“The idea is to minimise litigation by putting in place strict deterrents,” an official said.
The government would try to pass the amendments to the law when Parliament sits for the budget session, likely from the last week of January, sources said.
Besides electronic money transfer, by direct debit or with debit and credit cards, cheques are an important cog in the government’s push for a post-demonetisation cashless economy, aimed at stopping the circulation of illicit funds and counterfeiting.
But cheque defaults — mostly people issuing them without sufficient funds in their bank account — are rampant. Trade associations and businessmen have complained repeatedly to the government about difficulties in recovering money from defaulters because of protracted legal battles.
More than 1.8 million cases are pending in courts across the country, of which about 38,000 are with the high courts. A large number of these cases are over five years old. Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan have recorded the most number of litigation.
Traders have argued that the government should address the problems while promoting cashless transactions.
“Fast settlement of disputes will encourage traders to take cheque payments more often. It will help reduce the circulation of notes,” a source said.
The government had amended the law last winter session of Parliament, allowing filing of cases in a court at a place where the cheque is presented for clearance and not at the place of issue.
The amendment followed a 2014 Supreme Court order that says territorial jurisdiction for bounced cheques is restricted to the court within whose jurisdiction the offence was committed.