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~ Draft Submission On ~

The Doctrine of Estoppel


under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872

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INTRODUCTION

The expression 'Estoppel' is derived from the French word 'Estoup' which means, 'shut the mouth". It
states that when a person by declaration (act or omission) makes or induces another to believe a thing,
he cannot deny its truth subsequently, and thereby the other person cannot be estopped from
proceeding upon such declaration.1 Estoppel is not a rule of equity or law, but it is a rule of evidence
which is based on the maxim ‘Allegans contraria non est audindus’ i.e. person alleging contrary facts
will not be heard. The doctrine of estoppel is founded on the famous English case Pickard V. Sears2,
wherein it was held that, the principle of doctrine of estoppels is propounded as- where any person
intentionally causes another person to believe by his words or conduct that a particular thing as the
existence and thereby encourages that person to act upon that belief in such a way that his original
situation is changed, then the first person shall be stopped from stating that the existence of the actual
situation was of different type.3

S.115 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 defined Estoppel as follows,


"When one person has by his declaration, act or omission, intentionally caused or permitted
another person to believe a thing to be true and to act upon such belief, neither he nor his
representative shall be allowed, in any suit or proceeding between himself and such person or his
representative, to deny the truth of that thing."
Illustration: 'A' intentionally and falsely leads 'B' to believe that certain land belongs to A, and thereby
induces B to buy and pay for it. The land afterwards becomes the property of A, and A seeks to set
aside the sale on the ground that, at the time of the sale, he had no title. He must not be allowed to
prove his want of title.4

Estoppel is rule of evidence, by which a person is not allowed to plead the contrary of a fact or state of
things, which he formally asserted as existing. The principle of Estoppel says that a man cannot
approbate and reprobate, or that a man cannot blow hot and cold, or, again that a man shall not say
one thing at one time and later on say a different thing. It can be said in simple words that- where any
person intentionally causes another person to believe a thing to be true by his act, omission or
declaration and such other person acts upon such belief, then that person shall not be allowed to deny
the truthiness of that thing, later in a suit or proceeding. It means that a person cannot deny thing after
having stated it to be true.

In the case of B. Manjunath v. C.G.Srinivas5, it has been stated by the Karnataka High Court that by
way of the principle of estoppel, the plaintiff may be stopped to go back on his representation. This is
the doctrine of Estoppel. Further, a person who accepts his liability to make payment under an
arbitration award, cannot later challenge the award6.

Estoppel has been dealt in sections 115 to 117 of the Indian Evidence Act. The doctrine of estoppel
has gained a new dimension in recent years with the recognition of an equitable doctrine of
promissory estoppel both by English and Indian courts. According to it, if a promise is made in the
expectation that it should be acted upon in the future, and it was in fact acted upon, the party making
the promise will not be allowed to back out of it. The development of such a principle was easy in
Britain and USA, where estoppel is a rule of equity (common law), but in India, it is a rule of law, and
terms of sec 115 must be strictly complied with.7

1
The Doctrine of Estoppel Under Indian Evidence Act, Available at:
https://www.srdlawnotes.com/2016/12/meaning-and-kinds-of-estoppel.html
2
(1837) 6 Ad. & El.
3
Estoppel – Meaning, Types and Exceptions with Case Laws, Available at: https://www.legalbites.in/estoppel-doctrine/
4
S. R. Myneni, The Law of Evidence, (2014) 2nd ed, Pg. 564.
5
AIR 2005 Karnataka 136)
6
Mr. Govingji Javet and Co. v. Sri Saraswati Mills Ltd. AIR 1982 Bombay 76.
7
An Overview On Doctrine of Estoppel, Available at: https://blog.ipleaders.in/overview-n-doctrine-estoppel/
2
In respect of estoppels, the case of Shammim Beg v. Najmunnissa Begum8 is quotable. In this case, a
document was executed between the husband and wife with an intention that the wife has begotten
before the marriage with the husband. The husband had accepted the fact of knowing the child. The
wife gave birth to a child on the day of marriage. The husband could not challenge the legitimacy of
this child. He is bounded by his previous statements. Also, in the case of Jindal Thermal Power Co.
Ltd. v. Karnataka Transmission Corporation Ltd.9 it has been said that doctrine of estoppels
appertains to equity and fairness in action.

CONDITIONS FOR APPLICATION OF DOCTRINE OF ESTOPPEL

In Chhaganlal Mehta v Haribhai patel10, the Supreme court analysed the scope of S.115 of the Act
and laid down that following conditions that must be satisfied to bring a case within the scope of
estoppel:
1.There must have been a representation by a person or his authorized agent to another person.
2.Such representation must have been of the existence of a fact and not of future promises or
intention.
3.Such representation must have been meant to have been relied upon.
4.There must have been belief on the part of other party in its truth.
5.Such representation must have actually caused the other person to act on the faith of it,and to alter
his position to his prejudice or detriment.
6.The representation must have been the proximate cause of leading the other party to act to his
prejudice.
7.The person claiming benefit of an estoppel must show that he was not aware of the true state of
things.
8.Only the person to whom or his representative representation was made can avail of this doctrine.

TYPES OF ESTOPPEL
1. Estoppel, by record- It is created by the decision of any competent court. When any court decides
finally over a subject then it becomes conclusive and the parties, their representative, executor,
administrator, etc. become bound to that decision. They can neither bring another suit on the same
subject nor can make the same subject disputed. They are stopped from doing so. It is alike res
judicata.
2. Estoppel by deed- When any person becomes bound to another person on the basis of a record
regarding few facts, the neither that person nor any person claiming through him shall be allowed to
deny it.
3. Estoppel by conduct- It is such estoppel which arises due to act, conduct or misrepresentation by
any party. When any person causes another person to believe by his word or conductor encourages
them to believe and the other person acts upon that belief and causes a change in their situation, then
the first person is stopped from denying truthiness of his statements made earlier. This is also known
as estoppel by matter in paiis is said to arise, firstly, from agreement or- contract; secondly
independently of contract, fromact or conduct of misrepresentation which has a change of position in
accordance with the real or apparent intentions of the party against whom the estoppel is alleged.
4. Equitable Estoppel- Such estoppels which have not been provided by any statute is called equitable
estoppel. The best examples of equitable estoppels are there in Section 41 and 43 of Transfer of
Property Act, 1882.

8
AIR 2007 N.O.C. 2085 Mumbai
9
AIR 2005 N.O.C. 55 Karnataka
10
(1982) 1 SCC 223
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5. Promissory Estoppel- It has originated as an exception to consideration in the field of contract law.
When ant person promises another to lend him certain relief or profit and the other changes his
position on the basis of such promise, then the person making promise shall be stopped from stating
that his promise was without any consideration.
6. Proprietary Estoppel- A legal precedent that will prevent a party from denying the right that
another party has in the first party's property. The second party will have had costs in relation to the
first party’s property. Until 1986, the doctrine of proprietary estoppel was used as a way to bar
litigants from asserting their strict proprietary rights. The doctrine had not been used to give effect to
promises to leave property to someone in the future. It has developed into one of equity’s sharpest
instruments in its intervention in the common law and statutory regulation of land and the distribution
of assets on death. In such a manner, there is a balance to be struck between the need to hold people
for their bargains and promises.11
In the case of Cobbe v Yeoman’s Row Management12, the essentials of proprietary estoppels were
taken into consideration. The House of Lords in this case stated that Cobbe cannot make a claim of
proprietary estoppel,and also negated on the aspect of acquiring an interest as regards to a constructive
trust.

EXCEPTIONS TO THE APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF ESTOPPEL


1. It does not apply to those matters where both parties have the knowledge of truthiness.
2. It does not apply against statutes. It can neither contradict the provision of statues nor can remove
the condition of statues.
3. It does not apply to regulations.
4. It does not apply to ultra vires orders and decisions.
5. It does not apply to questions of law.
6. It does not apply to sovereign acts of the government.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROMISSORY ESTOPPEL AND ESTOPPEL


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. But it has been accepted by the Supreme Court as “advancing the cause of justice.
Though such promise (future) is not supported in point of law by any ‘consideration’(the basis of
contract), but only by the party’s conduct; however, if promise is made in circumstances involving
legal rights and obligations it is only proper that the parties should be enforced to do what they
promised. In Cases, where the government is one of the parties, the court will balance the harm to the
public interest by compelling the government to fulfil its promise and not to allow the government to
back out of it to see government does not act arbitrarily.13

The doctrine of promissory estoppel has been variously described as “equitable estoppel”, “quasi
estoppel” and “new estoppel. This doctrine is not really based on the principle of estoppel, but it is a
doctrine evolved by equity in order to prevent injustice where a promise made by a person knowing
that it would be acted on, it is inequitable to allow the party making the promise to go back upon it.
The Doctrine of promissory estoppel need not, therefore, be confined to the limitations of estoppel in
the strict sense of word.

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. A leading institution intimated the sanction of a loan

11
Supra note 6.
12
(2008) UKHL 55
13
M.P. Sugar Mills v. State of U.P. AIR 1979 SC 61
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with a remark that it did not constitute a commitment on the part of the institution. It was held that
there was no promise, so the doctrine of promissory estoppel could not be applied.14 Thus, if a person
gives rights under a statute, and he gives them up at one stage voluntarily and, later on, tries to
enforce those rights, no estoppel can be invoked against him. For example, under the rent control act,
the landlord can demand from his tenant only a fair/standard rent. If a tenant agreed to pay a high rent
and thereafter files a petition for fixing the fair rent, he wouldn’t be estopped.

The Supreme Court has laid down that it is well settled that there cannot be any estoppel against the
Government in the exercise of its sovereign, legislative and executive functions. Where a local
development authority announced a housing scheme and accepted applications under it, subsequently
finding that the scheme was in violation of the Master Plan cancelled it. It was held that to be free to
do so without any shackles of promissory estoppel.15

The Doctrine of estoppel has been allowed to be invoked against a University. In Univ. of Madras v.
Sundara Shetti16, the university was estopped from claiming that a student had not actually passed, but
that his mark sheet contained a mistake. The respondent was declared successful in SSLC exams, got
certificates and admitted in college. While in the senior class, he received a notice that his name was
not on the list of SSLC holders. Thus, his name was removed from the college rolls. It was held that
it was a case of legal or equitable estoppel which satisfies him his right. Moreover, there was no mala
fide on the part of the respondent. The fact of a miscalculation of marks was within the special
knowledge of the university and was not known to any other person.

PROVISIONS IN INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT AS TO ESTOPPEL


1. S.116- Estoppel of tenant and of license of person in possession
No tenant of immovable property of person claiming through such tenant shall, during the
continuance of the tenancy, be permitted to deny that the landlord of such tenant had, at the
beginning of the tenancy, a title to such immovable property; and not person who came upon any
immovable property by the license of the person in possession thereof, shall be permitted to deny
that such person has a title to such possession at the time when such license was given.
S.116 prevents and disables the tenant from denying the title of the landlord at the beginning. No
tenant in possession shall be permitted to challenge or question the title of landlord at the time of
commencement of Tenancy. And no person who came upon any immovable property by the licence
of the person in possession thereof, shall be permitted to deny that such person had a title at the time
when the licence was given. Thus no licencee shall be permitted to question or challenge the grant
or licence at the time of granting the licence.
2. S.117 - Estoppel of acceptor of bill of exchange, bailee or licensee
No acceptor of a bill of exchange shall be permitted to deny that the drawer had authority of draw
such bill or to endorse it; nor shall any bailee or licensee be permitted to deny that his bailor or
licensor had, at the time when the bailment or license commenced, authority to make such bailment
or grant such license.
Explanation (1)- The acceptor of a bill of exchange may deny that the bill was really drawn by the
person by whom it purports to have been drawn.
Explanation (2)- If a bailee delivers the goods bailed to a person other than the bailor, he may prove
that such person had a right to them as against the bailor17

14
Rabishankar v. Orissa state fin. Corpn. AIR 1992 Ori. 93
15
Housing Board cooperative Society v. State AIR 1987 M.P.193
16
(1965) MLJ 25
17
Supra note 1.
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ESTOPPEL AND RES JUDICATA

Sometimes, the doctrine of "res judicata" is considered as a branch of law of estoppel. There is
distinction between doctrine of res judicata, principle of issue estoppel and rule estoppel under section
115 of the Evidence Act. The doctrine of res judicata creates legal embargo on hands of the court to a
judicial determination of deciding the same question over again even though earlier determination
may be demonstrated erroneous. When the proceedings between the same parties have attained
finality, they are bound by the judgment and cannot be permitted to re-agitate the same list. The
determination of the issue in the same set of facts in the previous between the parties would give rise
to an issue of estoppel. It operates in any subsequent proceedings between the same parties. The
doctrine of res judicata is based on rule of procedure. However, in the doctrine of estoppel under
section 115 of the Evidence Act, there is embargo on the party to plead or prove a particular facts
whereas in case of res judicata, the prohibition is operative against the court to deal with the same
kind of issue again and again.

ESTOPPEL AND ADMISSION

Though in both admissions and estoppels there are statements, an admission does not ripen into an
estoppel unless the person to whom the representation is made believes it and acts upon such belief,
whereas in the case of mere admission, evidence can be given to show that the admission was
wrongly made. Admission made in earlier suit, as to the nature of the property, if proved valid in
subsequent proceedings, are binding as estoppel.18

CONCLUSION

The object of every law Is to render justice. But sometimes the strict implementation of law may result
in injustice. Under such circumstances equity will step in to prevent the injustice. Estoppel is one such
concept evolved by equity for rendering justice even deviating from strict legal principles. The idea
that a man must keep his word and must be responsible for the consequences of his conduct when
other men have trusted him is accepted by all civilizations. As law developed, this was recognized as a
part of the legal system even though the same Is not codified as such. Thus, estoppel was used by the
courts for preventing injustice in appropriate fact situations. Ever since the principle of estoppel has
been expounded and applied in judicial proceedings there has been a conflict of views as to whether
estoppel is a rule of evidence or a rule of substantive law. Such a conflict is out of place now since
estoppel has been recognized as a rule of law. If the principle is confined as a rule of evidence it will
only enable a party in a litigation to invoke the doctrine against his opponents as to prevent him from
retracting the stand earlier taken by him in the course of their dealings and which led to a relationship
between them. If the principle is treated as a rule of substantive law, it would enable the party to
initiate legal proceedings founded on the principle. Thus as a part of substantive law, the principle of
estoppel will provide a cause of action in itself. There are other distinctions also. For example, as a
rule of evidence, the principle can be applied only to the present and past incidents whereas as a rule
of substantive law the principle can be invoked in respect of a promise or assurance as to the future
conduct of the promiser. Again, as a rule of evidence it can be applied in a cause only when the parties
thereto have a preexisting legal relationship while as substantive law it can be applied even if the
parties have no such relationship. However, now it is almost settled by various judicial
pronouncements that estoppel could be treated as a part of substantive law. It is based on equity and
good conscience and is intended to secure justice between the parties by upholding honesty and good
faith. The object is clearly to prevent fraud and manifest injustice.

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Available at: http://www.indialawjournal.org/archives/volume5/issue_2/article_2.html
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