Bank Doesn’t Hold Customers Deposit In Trust; Banker-Depositor Relationship That Of Creditor-Debtor: Supreme Court

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Bank Doesn’t Hold Customers Deposit In Trust; Banker-Depositor Relationship That Of Creditor-Debtor

Case: N. Raghavender v. State of Andhra Pradesh, CBI

Coram: CJI NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli

Case No.: Criminal Appeal No. 5 Of 2010

Court Observation: “…it is fruitful to point out that the banker is one who receives money to be drawn out again when the owner has occasion for it. Since the present case involves a conventional bank transaction, it may be further noted that in such situations, the customer is the lender and the bank is the borrower, the latter being under a super added obligation of honouring the customer’s cheques up to the amount of the money received and still in the banker’s hands. The money that a customer deposits in a bank is not held by the latter on trust for him. It becomes a part of the banker’s funds who is under a contractual obligation to pay the sum deposited by a customer to him on demand with the agreed rate of interest. Such a relationship between the customer and the Bank is one of a creditor and a debtor. The Bank is liable to pay money back to the customers when called upon, but until it’s called upon to pay it, the Bank is entitled to utilize the money in any manner for earning profit.”

“The crucial word used in Section 405 IPC is ‘dishonestly’ and therefore, it presupposes the existence of mens rea. In other words, mere retention of property entrusted to a person without any misappropriation cannot fall within the ambit of criminal breach of trust. Unless there is some actual use by the accused in violation of law or contract, coupled with dishonest intention, there is no criminal breach of trust. The second significant expression is ‘mis-appropriates’ which means improperly setting apart for one’s use and to the exclusion of the owner,”

“Accordingly, unless it is proved that the accused, a public servant or a banker etc. was ‘entrusted’ with the property which he is duty bound to account for and that such a person has committed criminal breach of trust, Section 409 IPC may not be attracted. ‘Entrustment of property’ is a wide and generic expression. While the initial onus lies on the prosecution to show that the property in question was ‘entrusted’ to the accused, it is not necessary to prove further, the actual mode of entrustment of the property or misappropriation thereof. Where the ‘entrustment’ is admitted by the accused or has been established by the prosecution, the burden then shifts on the accused to prove that the obligation vis-à–vis the entrusted property was carried out in a legally and contractually acceptable manner.”

“It is equally well-settled that the phrase ‘dishonestly’ emphasizes a deliberate intention to cause wrongful gain or wrongful loss, and when this is coupled with cheating and delivery of property, the offence becomes punishable under Section 420 IPC. Contrarily, the mere breach of contract cannot give rise to criminal prosecution under Section 420 unless fraudulent or dishonest intention is shown right at the beginning of the transaction. It is equally important that for the purpose of holding a person guilty under Section 420, the evidence adduced must establish beyond reasonable doubt, mens rea on his part. Unless the complaint showed that the accused had dishonest or fraudulent intention ‘at the time the complainant parted with the monies’, it would not amount to an offence under Section 420 IPC and it may only amount to breach of contract,”

“Since no explicit prohibition on issuing of loose cheques has been proved, the mere fact that the Appellant issued those loose cheques, is not sufficient to conclude that he acted unlawfully or committed a ‘criminal misconduct’.”

“We are also constrained to observe that in this case the CBI has either adopted a casual and callous approach or there was some hidden pressure to derail a fair investigation. The resultant effect is that though there is a strong suspicion of criminal breach of trust, cheating and/or fabrication of the Bank records against the Appellant, but such suspicion falls short of a conclusive proof to hold him guilty of the criminal charges. The best evidence having been withheld by the prosecution, the benefit of doubt must be extended to the Appellant, for no conviction can be sustained on the basis of conjectures and surmises. Non-production of the records of the Bank also adversely comments on the fairness and independence of the investigation conducted in the instant case,” “Although he was clever enough to not trespass into the prohibited area(s) of Sections 409, 420 and 477-A IPC, he ran the risk of causing financial loss to the Bank”

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