This is in continuation of the previous article “Is a WhatsApp Notice valid in law?… A Case for Cyber Notice service“.
The copy of the order of Mr Khemka is now available and reproduced here. Some key observations in the order are discussed here.
First point of observation is that the order states that the mobile number of the respondent to whom the WhatsApp notice was ordered to be sent was provided by the petitioner. The Financial Commissioner did not have first hand knowledge of the mobile number. It was the advocate of the petitioner who stated that he had spoken to the respondent and informed him about the summons and he had refused to provide his address.
Based on this averment, the Financial Commissioner ordered that an “Image” of the summons be sent through WhatsApp by the respondent and the same shall be treated as proper mode of service. It was also ordered that the petitioner would produce proof of electronic delivery through WhatsApp messenger by taking a print out and duly authenticate the print out by affixing his signature.
It appears that the Financial Commissioner ignored the fact that “Electronic Documents” need to be authenticated with digital signatures and print outs of electronic documents need to be authenticated with Section 65B certificate to be admissible as evidence.
The order therefore appears to be not in conformity with the laws applicable to electronic documents under ITA 2000/8. The Financial Commissioner may assume certain powers to define the procedures for the proceedings in his Court. But whether it extends to ignoring provisions of ITA 2000/8 is a moot point.
The Financial Commissioner has quoted a Supreme Court Order in the case M/s. SIL Import, USA v. M/s. Exim Aides Silk Exporters, Bangalore, (AIR 1999 SC 1609) to substantiate his stand that technology advancement has to be adopted by Courts. We fully agree that certain flexibility to adopt technology through creative interpretation of legacy law is acceptable and desirable but such interpretations should be used to fill gaps in the law and not to openly flout other laws.
The decision arrived by the Financial Commissioner here does not appear to have been based on proper appreciation of ITA 2000/8 and can create a bad precedent which may spread misunderstanding of the WhatsApp system and its validity under Indian law.
The Supreme Court case used as a support for this decision referred to the validity of a “Fax” message as a valid notice regarding dishonour of a cheque just before the time available for notice was to expire. The Supreme Court allowed the use of Fax as a valid mode of transmission of a notice. The circumstances of this case was not directly applicable to the current case before the Financial Commissioner.
The technology of Facsimile transmission is not a transmission of an “Electronic Document” and is not covered under ITA 2000/8. Fax message is to be treated as a transmission of an analog message over telephonic network covered under the Telegraph Act and hence ITA 2000/8 may not be applicable to it. Also this Supreme Court decision was a “Pre-ITA 2000” decision and requires to be reviewed even if in today’s context, a Facsimile messages may be sent as a digital transmission.
Hence relying on this decision by Mr Khemka as the Financial Commissioner for a transmission of an electronic document which falls well within ITA 2000/8 is debatable.
In our opinion, WhatsApp messaging or SMS can be considered as an electronic document and would be valid as equivalent to a paper document. But it would be considered as an “Unsigned” paper document if it is not digitally signed with the use of a digital signature certificate issued by a licensed certifying authority. If it has to be admitted as evidence, collateral information has to be added with suitable meta data and definitely a Section 65B certified document.
In the subject case, WhatsApp message was being used as a substitute for a Court summons and additionally, it was not even sent from the Court’s phone number or e-mail. The Court delegated the sending of the notice to the petitioner who had a vested interest in the notice. The Court also does not seem to have made any effort to check if the averment made by the petitioner that the respondent is indeed a owner of the said mobile number and he was using the WhatsApp account (which has its own distinct code) to which the message was ordered to be sent. Hence it is difficult to presume that the summons can be considered as not having been properly issued by the Court..
The order can therefore be considered as a decision that can be challenged and overturned.