By Piyush Jain, RGNUL, Punjab.

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 action when other men have trusted him is accepted by all civilizations. As the law developed, this was recognized as a part of the legal system even though the same was not codified as such. Thus the estoppel was used by the Courts for preventing injustice in different 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 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 the substantive law, it would enable the party to initiate legal proceedings founded on the principle. Thus as a part of the substantive law, the principle of estoppel will provide a cause of action in itself. It is based on equity, 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.

Kinds Of Estoppel:


Estoppel by Record: It applies the doctrine of Res Judicata which is translated from Latin, means ‘a thing adjudged’ or ‘a matter already decided’. The term ‘Record’ refers to the fact that it stops a party from litigating any claim or defence already adjudicated and which has been made a matter of record; normally the Court record. Under this kind of estoppel, a person is not permitted to dispute the facts upon which a judgment against him is based. It is dealt with by Sections 11 to 14 of the Code of Civil Procedure[1], and Sections 40 to 44 of the Indian Evidence Act[2]. It serves the public interest by ensuring finality of judgment.

Estoppel by Deed: Under this kind of estoppel, where a party has entered into a solemn engagement by deed as to certain facts, neither he, nor any one claiming through or under him, is permitted to deny such facts. But The Privy Council has held in Pandurang Krishnaji v. Markandeya Tukaram[3] that the knowledge of the contents of the deed is not to be inferred from the mere fact of attestation.

Estoppel by Conduct: If a man, either by words or by conduct, has intimated that he consents to an act which has been done, and that he will not offer any opposition to it, although it could not have been lawfully done without his consent, and he thereby induces others to do that from which they otherwise might have abstained from doing, he cannot question the legality of the act to the prejudice of those who have so given faith to his words, or to the fair inference to be drawn from his conduct.

In case of Union of India v. K.P. Mandal[4], it was held that if a party has an interest to prevent an act being done, and acquiesces in it, so as to induce a reasonable belief that he consents to it, and the position of others is altered by their giving credit to his sincerity, he has no right to challenge the act to their prejudice.

Estoppel in Pais: An Estoppel in Pais means that a party is prevented by his or her own conduct from obtaining the enforcement of a right which would operate to the detriment of another who justifiably relied on such conduct. This type of estoppel differs from an estoppel by deed or by record which, as a result of the language set out in a document, bars the enforcement of a claim against a party who acted in reliance upon those written terms.[5]

In context of India also, this concept of Estoppel was prevalent from the origin of its civilization. Indian civilization projects the concept of truth and righteousness (Sathyam and Dharma) as the basic virtue in all thoughts and acts. This concept is now statutorily recognized as estoppel, by Evidence Act in Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act[6]. Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 lays down the principle of estoppel as a rule of evidence. It provides, “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.” The illustration to this section reads as follows: A intentionally and falsely leads B to believe that certain land belongs to A and thereby induced B to buy and pay for it. The land afterward 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. Thus as a rule of evidence the same is codified in India. As a rule of substantive law, it is entirely judge-made, both in England and in India. The principle is evolved as a result of compulsions felt by the Judges when called upon to adjudicate cases based on equity and good conscience in the absence of any statutory provision dealing with the subject matter of the case. The result is that the rule is invoked and applied even in cases where there is no pre-existing legal relationship between the parties to a cause either in the form of a contract or otherwise. The principle is applied even to a mere promise to perform an act in future even if the promise is not supported with consideration. All that is required to be established is that the promise made was intended to be acted upon and on that belief someone did act and altered his position. The promisor is then not allowed to resile from his promise. Indo Afghan Agency’s case[7] is one of the cases where the principle of Promissory Estoppel was applied by the Indian Courts as a substantive law. In this case, the principle followed by Justice Denning in High Trees Case[8] was applied by Justice Shah.

The present status of Doctrine of Estoppel in India is that the modern development in the form of Promissory Estoppels neither covered by Section 115 of the Evidence Act nor any other statute. But the law is almost settled, as the principle is originated from the sense of justice, equity and good consciousness through various judicial pronouncements, which is the principle of Natural Law hence basis of Law and Justice.

[1] Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, Ss.11-14.

[2] Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Ss. 40-44.

[3] Pandurang Krishnaji v. Markandeya Tukaram, 1922 PC 20.

[4] Union of India v. K.P. Mandal, AIR 1958 Cal. 415.

[5] Farlex, Legal Dictionary,

[6] Supranote 2, S.115.

[7] Union of India & Ors v M/S. Indo-Afghan Agencies Ltd., AIR 1968 SC 718.

[8] Central London Property Trust Ltd. v. High Trees House Ltd. [1956] 1 All ER 256