Indian banks and lenders serve summons to defaulters through WhatsApp

Tinuku - WhatsApp IDs and email addresses are more constant, making digital notices less easy to dodge. HDFC Bank and other lenders are using WhatsApp and email to pin down defaulters of various kinds, especially those who could slip through the cracks when more traditional means are employed.

Such summonses are being served through digital means following a judgement earlier this year. The post can get unduly delayed and addresses keep changing but phone numbers, WhatsApp IDs and email addresses are more constant, making digital notices less easy to dodge.

Tinuku Indian banks and lenders serve summons to defaulters through WhatsApp

Those two blue ticks, showing that a WhatsApp message has been read, make receipt almost impossible to deny. However, disabling ‘read receipts’ in the settings is one way of avoiding this.

HDFC Bank has already got 214 court summonses served through WhatsApp and email in the last two months, according to officials. These were served through courts in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and others.

A majority of them pertained to cheque bounce cases. The notices can be sent by the court or the bank. The method is highly effective, said a bank executive. For long, our cases have been getting delayed simply because defaulters managed to evade receipt of summons.

Not only has this expedited service of summons but it has had a positive impact on the overall litigation. HDFC Bank and other lenders didn’t respond to queries. The Bombay High Court had ruled in June that banks can send legal notices to defaulters through WhatsApp.

Justice GS Patel’s June 11 ruling was made in a case between SBI Cards & Payments Services Pvt and Rohidas Jadhav over outstanding credit card dues. Since SBI had Jadhav’s mobile number, it had sent a message through WhatsApp informing him about the next date of hearing.

“For the purposes of service of notice under Order XXI Rule 22, I will accept this. I do so because the icon indicators clearly show that not only was the message and its attachment delivered to the respondent’s number, but that both were opened,” Patel said.

The court said delivery of summons, a notice to appear before a court of law, is governed by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. Under Order V, Rule 9(3) of the said law, a summons has to be delivered through registered post with acknowledgment due.

However, if the summons cannot be delivered through post because of unavoidable circumstances, the law allows this to be done by any other means of transmission of documents, including fax and email.

“This is a welcome change. It is common knowledge that defaulters evade the law by using various loopholes. Making use of technology to foster the smooth process of law is not only beneficial but is also needed at a time when cases are piling up in the courts,” said Mohan Jain, senior Supreme Court lawyer and former additional solicitor general of India.

In this specific case, the Bombay High Court interpreted the notice issued through WhatsApp as coming under other means of transmission of documents. Separately, a Delhi court in March had allowed a woman complainant to serve summons on her estranged husband in Australia through WhatsApp, text message or email.

“Like any other system, this too has its share of imperfections. This can be acomplete success in a system which is fully digital,” said Delhi High court lawyer Sanjoy Ghose.

“For instance, in the case of corporate entities, if the contract does not clearly spell out to which email the summons is to be served, the service will remain a matter of dispute,” Ghose said.

“The same will hold true for someone who is not tech savvy. However, digital is clearly the future and one should look forward to making amends than picking unnecessary holes in it,” said Ghose.

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