BENCH GOVERNING CASE- VARADACHARIAR.J
PETITIONER- Kaliaperumal Pillai
The term "Bailment" is derived from the French word "Bailer" which means to deliver. A deposit is a contract where goods are delivered from one person to another for a specific purpose. The definition of bailment is given in Section 148 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872. In a contract of bailment, the parties are referred to as Bailor (one who delivers) and Bailee (to whom the goods are delivered). Delivering clothes to the laundry to be ironed, delivering a refrigerator for repair, parking a car in a paid parking lot are all examples of bail.
• In Kaliaperumal Pillai v. Visalakshmi, AIR 1938 Mad 32, decided on: 13 August 1937,
• issue raised in the case – Was there any service under Section 149 for depositing bail?
• Relevant Act/ Section – The Indian Contract Act, 1872 – Section 149
Case in Brief
Briefly, the lady handed over some certain jewels to the goldsmith to make new jewels.
Every evening, as soon as the goldsmith's work was finished for the day, the lady would receive the semi-finished jewels and put them in a box in the goldsmith's room, keeping the key with her. The jewels were lost one night. The lady's suit against the goldsmith failed because delivery was necessary for the deposit, here there was no delivery under Section 149 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, as the key was with the plaintiff.
Facts Of the Case
• The plaintiff had some jewellery which she wanted to have altered by a goldsmith who worked at the defendant's house as there was better accommodation for that purpose.
• Every day in the morning, the plaintiff used to be present at the defendant's house when the goldsmith was working there.
• Every evening, when the goldsmith's work was over, he handed over the half-made jewellery to the plaintiff. The plaintiff placed semi-finished jewelleries in a box provided by the defendant in a room in the defendant's house. Some of the plaintiff's witnesses also stated that the room key was left with the plaintiff.
• One morning when the plaintiff went into the room to take the jewellery for the continuation of the gold, she found that it was missing from the box.
• One of the witnesses admits that the defendant filed a complaint of theft at his house and the plaintiff knew about the complaint.
• The plaintiff sued the defendant for stolen jewellery that was stored in one room of his house.
• When the case went to the lower court, the defendant was responsible for the plaintiff's loss. Thereafter, the defendant appealed to the Madras High Court.
• Whether the goldsmith can be held as a bailee and therefore liable for the plaintiff's loss?
• Was there any delivery of goods from the plaintiff to the defendant?
• Does the defence under Section 152 apply in this case?
The case was brought before the lower court, where the question before the judge was whether, on the facts, the defendant could be held to be a "bailee" under sections 148 and 149 of the Indian Contract Act ,1872.
The lower court passed a decree in favour of the plaintiff. The defendant filed a revision petition challenging the above judgment in the Madras High Court. The ground for such a motion for review was that the judgment was inconsistent with the evidence adduced before the lower court. The defendant claimed that the "delivery" of the goods under Section 148 never took place.
DECISION OF THE MADRAS HIGH COURT
It was held that “any bail which might be obtained from the facts must be deemed to have ceased when the plaintiff came into possession of the molten gold. Delivery is necessary to constitute bailment. Merely leaving the box in the defendant's house, when the plaintiff herself took the key, certainly cannot constitute delivery within the meaning of the provisions in section 149.
• Therefore, the goldsmith was not held liable because the bailment, in this case, ended when the lady received the jewellery from the goldsmith every night. Leaving a locked box on the defendant's premises was not enough for delivery under Section 149, especially since the lady kept the keys with her.
• Without legal possession, there can be no bailment and the goldsmith had no duty of care for the jewels.
RATIO DECIDENDI OF THE CASE
● Merely leaving a locked box in someone else's room, when the box key is not handed over, is not delivered within the meaning of Section 149.
● Without legal possession, there can be no bail.
In this caseThe Madras High Court held that the accused would not be held liable. When the lady took the half-made jewellery from the goldsmith in the evening, it came into her possession, and the contract of bail between the lady and the goldsmith ended at that moment. She put the semi-finished jewellery in a box and locked the box in the defendant's room. She held the keys to the room. It was made clear that delivery is an essential element of bailment and the mere leaving of the box in the defendant's room while she retained the key did not amount to delivery within the meaning of section 149 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872Therefore, liabilities do not arise. In this case, in compliance with the requisites of the bailment agreement, the first necessary "contract delivery" is made, and once the day's work is over, the contract between the lady and the goldsmith is complete.
But secondly, delivery of possession does not appear to have been satisfied here. After each evening, the lady put the semi-finished jewellery in a box and locked the room in which she put the box. So the possession of the goods passed to her every evening.
This makes it not admissible as a contract of bailment as the word 'delivery' under Section 149 of the Indian Contract Act is not satisfied. And the last major "return of good" is not possible because the jewels are already stolen. But if all other conditions are met, the surety will be responsible for the missing goods to the guarantor.
FURTHER DEVELOPMENT IN LAW
In view of this case, the question arises - does the rental of a locker in banks constitute a bailment agreement? This is considered in the landmark judgment of Atul Mehra and Anr. in Bank of Maharashtra, 2008 In this case, the Punjab and Haryana High Court held that the lease of lockers in banks does not constitute a contract of bailment as it does not constitute delivery of possession which is an essential element for a contract of bailment. The learned judge also determined that in order to enter into a bailment agreement therein, the surety must know the contents of the box, by which he can judge the nature and extent of the security of the goods.
--  Indian Contract Act 1872, s 152  Indian Contract Act 1872, s 148  Indian Contract Act 1872, s 149  Kaliperumal Pillai v. Visalakshmi Achi 13th August 1937  Indian Contract Act 1872, s 149  Atul Mehra and Anr v. Bank of Maharashtra, AIR 2003 P H 11, II  Jahnvi shah, “Atul Mehra v. Bank of Maharashtra, AIR 2003, P H 11, II
● Atul Mehra and Anr v. Bank of Maharashtra, AIR 2003 P H 11, II
● Indian Contract Act 1872, s 152
● Indian Contract Act 1872, s 148
● Indian Contract Act 1872, s 149
● Kaliaperumal Pillai v. Visalakshmi, AIR 1938 Mad 32
This article is written by Bhavya Chowdhary of Jagran Lakecity University.