G.S. Patel, J.
1. The defence to this winding up petition turns on the interpretation of a set of endorsements made to the contract or agreement in question. Mr. Dwarkadas, learned senior counsel for the petitioner, contends that the endorsements are of no effect, since the respondent signed the contract and has, therefore, accepted it. Where there is an unconditional acceptance, the endorsement of an additional condition has no legal effect. It does not constitute a counter-offer, and it is impossible to hold that there is no valid contract because there is no acceptance of the offer as originally made. For his part, Mr. Jain, learned counsel for the respondent, submits that where the condition is imposed at or before the acceptance of the original contract, then there are only two possibilities in law: either there is a contract as modified by the superadded condition, or there is no contract at all. The original contract, sans the condition, cannot be said to exist.
2. I heard Mr. Dwarkadas and Mr. Jain at some considerable length. They took me through the filings and documents. Both cited several authorities. Having considered all the material they placed before me, I am inclined to make a conditional order on this petition. My reasons follow.
3. These are the facts:
(a) The petitioner, Reliance Broadcast Networks Ltd ('Reliance'), conducts various ‘on-ground’ activities for their clients. I understand this to mean that it organizes sponsored shows and similar events. It also operates FM radio stations in various cities across the country. The respondent, ROML Mills Ltd ('ROML'), manufactures and distributes edible oils.
(b) Before February 2011, the two companies had dealings, and ROML had been Reliance’s client, sponsoring or co-sponsoring some events, or having its products promoted at events organised by Reliance.
(c) In early 2011, Reliance planned to organize a series of events for the regional television industry. Awards were to be given in seven different categories for regional language entertainment. ROML showed interest. It wanted to be the ‘Presenting Sponsor’. Its product brands, logo and trademarks would be used in the promotion and marketing of these events and their telecasts. According to Reliance, there were several meetings between representatives of the two companies, and the terms of the sponsorship were agreed. Reliance claims that ROML also wanted use of ‘commercial airtime’ on Reliance’s FM radio channels to promote its brands. These terms were also discussed and settled.
(d) ROML denies Reliance’s contention that the dates and schedules of the various events were ever agreed. What is not in doubt, however, is that from 24th February 2011 to 8th March 2011, Reliance sent a number of emails to ROML setting out the schedule for the seven events, their tentative dates and venues. Reliance repeatedly sought ROML’s confirmation. In the email of 8th March 2011, Reliance set out brands to be promoted at each event. The schedule of events ran from 18th March 2011 to 6th April 2011 at close intervals. Each event was at a different venue in a different city.
(e) Of particular relevance are two earlier emails of 1st and 2nd March 2011 from Reliance, each setting out a scheduled event. The email of 1st March 2011 relates to the press conference for the ‘Big Telugu Movie Awards’ on 9th March 2011 at Hyderabad. On behalf of Reliance, one Swapnil Raut invited two representatives of ROML to this event. The email of 2nd March 2011 is in identical terms for an event on 8th March 2011 in Kolkata for the ‘Big Bangla Movie Awards’.
(f) Strangely, the record reflects no response from ROML, not even by email.
(g) 8th March 2011 is one of the two pivotal dates in the sequence of events. It is on this day that Reliance signed and sent to ROML the original sponsorship agreement ('the Sponsorship Agreement'). Reliance claims that it was not until 18th March 2011 that it received back the Sponsorship Agreement signed by ROML with two conditions endorsed at two different places on it; for its part, ROML claims that both copies of the Sponsorship Agreement were signed and returned, with the endorsements, on that very day, 8th March 2011.
(h) A photocopy of the Sponsorship Agreement has been included in a compilation of documents. It shows a handwritten endorsement on the first page. There is no date to the endorsement. The handwriting is not identified, even in the affidavit in reply. The endorsement reads:
'Agreement valid on confirmation of actual event date by Raj Oil Mills Ltd.'
(i) On the first page, there are two rubber stamps of ROML Mills. In itself, this is an even more unusual circumstance. Every other page except the 11th (the second page of the annexure to the Agreement) has only one rubber stamp of ROML. On the 11th page, there are two handwritten endorsements. Again, the handwriting is not identified, and there are two rubber stamps. The two endorsements are:
'* Agreement valid on confirmation of actual event date by Raj Oil Mills Ltd.
* Program date (Actual Event) & Telecast Date to be finalized by Monday [21-Mar-2011]'
(j) In paragraph 3(xii) of the affidavit in reply, ROML alleges that these endorsements were made in the presence of three representatives of Reliance. The representatives are named. The person from ROML who made the endorsement is not.
(k) At this stage, there is one more event to be noted. On 8th March 2011, the parties also entered into a second agreement for commercial time on Reliance’s 92.7 Big FM Radio stations. This is called the FCT Agreement. It was intended to promote ROML’s brands.
(l) ROML claims that on 18th March 2011, a Friday, it received an email from Reliance setting out the dates of the events proposed under the Sponsorship Agreement. This email came well after 10:59 PM, the time-stamp on the email. The first of the scheduled events had, by then, already taken place (the ‘Big Bangla Movie Awards’). The subject-line of this email is significant: it says 'Dates of Regional awards reworked'. The email also includes the lines:
'As discussed with you, please find below the dates of regional Entertainment awards
As decided lets meet tomorrow & finalized [sic] the same.
(m) The earliest that ROML could respond to this email, it says, was Monday, 21 March 2011; and it did so by an email of that date, time-stamped 9:48 am, with a subject-line that indicates that it was in reply to Reliance’s email of 18th March 2011. ROML claimed that a conflict with the then ongoing Indian Premier League ('IPL') cricket tournament made any date before 1st/2nd April 2011 unviable. For the first time, it purported to set out its ‘requirements’: 'work out the schedules on the pre and post event activites (which will not be taken up by ROML in a rush); proper ground work laid down and committed on an event wise basis; keeping year end deadlines and availabilities of Raj Oil Mills Ltd team at various locations'. It asked Reliance to work out a schedule keeping these aspects in mind. Then come these lines:
'The current time schedule is more than ambitious and is useful from the perspective of completing a commenced activity. Pl keep the same on discussion on priority during the next two days. The dates can be decided. The current schedule is however undoable.'
(n) A significant dimension to this email is that it does not anywhere make a reference to the Sponsorship Agreement, or even to the endorsements that ROML claims had by then been made on it.
(o) There followed further correspondence by email in this vein. On 7th April 2011, Reliance wrote to ROML referencing both the Sponsorship Agreement and the endorsements and claiming that these had been made unilaterally, and that no change in the scheduling was possible, especially since each event required several weeks of advance planning and organisation.
(p) The events took place as scheduled. At each of these, ROML’s brands, logo and trademarks were displayed and it was shown as a Presenting Sponsor. ROML claims to have been wholly unaware of these events. It says that it did not attend any of them. Reliance then drew invoices on ROML for the services provided in the aggregate sum of Rs.1,78,12,500/-. ROML refused to accept the invoices. They were re-sent by email on 18th April 2011. Reliance requested meetings to resolve the issue. ROML declined all requests.
(q) Reliance then wrote to ROML on 29th April 2011 reiterating its demand and terminating the FCT Agreement. Reliance’s advocates then sent a statutory notice under sections 433 and 434 of the Companies Act, 1956 to ROML on 6th June 2011. ROML’s advocates replied on 11th July 2011, denying its liability, saying that a detailed response would follow once instructions were taken, and also alleging that ROML had been defamed by Reliance. In turn, Reliance’s advocates replied, and this correspondence between the parties’ advocates continued through August- September 2011. No resolution of the dispute was effected. Reliance’s repeated requests for meetings were rebuffed.
(r) This Petition was filed in October 2011. ROML filed its affidavit in reply in March 2012, and Reliance its affidavit in rejoinder later that month.
4. Mr. Dwarkadas, appearing for Reliance, emphasized that under the Sponsorship Agreement, there was no correlation between the payment schedule, a contractual term under clause 6 of the Sponsorship Agreement, and the schedule of events. Clause 6 set out the dates when payments were due. Even if the events schedule was later altered, this payment schedule would not flex, being untied to the dates of the events themselves. He also stressed clause 11 of the Agreement. This is a clause cast in a words common to such agreements. It says that no amendment to the Sponsorship Agreement (including its annexure) binds either party unless the amendment is in writing and signed by both parties. ROML must, he submitted, be deemed to have accepted the agreement with no linkage between the date of the event/telecast and the time for payment. The Sponsorship Agreement stands; the handwritten endorsements containing ‘conditions’ must, he says, be ignored and the Sponsorship Agreement must be read without the conditions. In any view of the matter, the event schedule was firm on 18th March 2011. It could not have been changed thereafter. Every event required days and weeks of advance planning. The last-minute attempt by ROML to slip out of its contractual obligations should not, Mr. Dwarkadas said, be countenanced for a moment; for there can be no doubt that the events were held, that ROML was showcased at each of them, and that ROML derived an enormous benefit from each of these shows/events and their corresponding telecasts. ROML’s response, in both its affidavit in reply as also in its advocates’ response to Reliance’s advocates statutory notice, that ROML is a solvent company can never provide a defence sufficient to dislodge the petition. If ROML has no substantial defence, or if its defence is illusory, spurious or specious, and it has not complied with the demand made, then it must be deemed to be insolvent. Central to Mr. Dwarkadas’s submissions is that in the Sponsorship Agreement there is no linkage between payment schedule and the event/telecast schedule.
5. In response, this is how Mr. Jain placed his case:
(a) The petition and Mr. Dwarkadas’s arguments both proceed on the entirely incorrect basis that everything was decided before 8th March 2011. According to Reliance, all dates and schedules were finalized in January-February 2011. There is intrinsic and contemporaneous evidence to show that this is incorrect. Reliance’s own emails show that they required confirmation. There is no consistency in the schedules proposed at different times: the emails of 28th February 2011 (Ex. 'D' to the petition) and 18th March 2011 (Ex. 'H' to the petition) show markedly different dates for the same event. From 24th February to 18th March, Reliance was seeking confirmation of the proposed dates.
(b) There was, thus, no agreement as to the schedule or dates of events and telecasts.
(c) The endorsements made on the Sponsorship Agreement by ROML only make this clear. ROML’s acceptance, assuming there was one, was conditional; alternatively, if Reliance is held not to have accepted ROML’s conditions, then there can be said to be no concluded agreement at all; and ROML has no liability to Reliance whatever. The endorsements on the Sponsorship Agreement were made at the two most important places: the first page and the last page of Annexure A. These endorsements were made before the Sponsorship Agreement was signed, not after; and, in any event, they were made in the presence of three representatives of Reliance, a fact that has been repeatedly stated by ROML, including in correspondence, and never denied.
(d) There were two ‘events’: the actual events on the ground and the telecasts of those events at a later date. ROML had issues about both. They wanted no dilution with a programming conflict with the IPL telecasts and matches. There is, Mr. Jain said, complete silence from Reliance in regard to the telecast dates, and there is no answer as to why these telecast dates were not approved.
(e) Under the Sponsorship Agreement, there is admittedly no linkage of the event schedules to the payment schedules. But the ‘deliverables’ under that agreement are those set out in Annexure A to it, and when ROML demanded clarity and agreement on the schedule, there was no compliance; therefore Reliance could not be said to have fulfilled its contractual obligations.
(f) The copies of the agreement that Reliance sent ROML were, Mr. Jain said, only a proposal. Under section 7 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, that proposal would result in a concluded contract only if the acceptance was absolute and unqualified. It was not. This was not even Reliance’s case as pleaded. Before ROML accepted it, ROML endorsed additional conditions. These constituted a counter-proposal, or a conditional acceptance. Therefore, Reliance could accept the contract with the conditions endorsed by ROML, or there was no contract at all.
(g) Mr. Jain submitted that he was supported in this contention by contemporaneous documents. In its 18th March 2011 email, sent at 10:59 pm with the subject-line 'Dates of Regional awards reworked' (Ex. 'H' to the petition), Reliance asked ROML for a meeting to finalize the dates. That it could not have done had the dates already been finalized, as Reliance contends in its petition. Further, after ROML replied on 21st March 2011, the next available working day, Reliance responded within a few hours. That email of 21st March 2011 from Reliance (Ex. 'K' to the petition) does not reference ROML’s endorsements on the Sponsorship Agreement at all.
(h) Reliance’s own conduct is not, Mr. Jain submitted, consistent with its stand in the petition. Clause 6 of the Sponsorship Agreement’s payment schedule sets out dates of payment. The last of these dates is 22nd March 2011; all other dates precede this one. Yet Reliance made no demand for payment till as late as 2nd April 2011, as can be seen from paragraph 5 of Reliance’s letter dated 7th April 2011 (Ex. 'L-2' to the petition).
(i) Therefore, according to Mr. Jain, if, despite the complete lack of any agreement on the dates of the events and telecasts, Reliance went ahead with the events, it can only look to itself. Certainly it cannot expect ROML to foot the bill for something that was never agreed, and, more importantly, something that ROML specifically said (in its email of 21st March 2011) it did not want.
6. Mr. Dwarkadas’s and Mr. Jain’s submissions come at the Sponsorship Agreement from opposite directions. Mr. Dwarkadas’s position is that the conditions sought to be imposed by ROML are to be disregarded altogether. Its acceptance of the Sponsorship Agreement (by counter-signing it) is to be taken as absolute and unqualified. Mr. Jain, on the other hand, claims that on account of the endorsement of those conditions, ROML must be taken to have made a counter-offer. If Reliance rejected those conditions, only one result could ensue in law: there was no concluded contract at all.
7. Mr. Dwarkadas’s submission is that there is no such thing in law as the formation of a contract by a 'conditional acceptance'. Either a contract is accepted, or it is not. If a condition is imposed, it is a counter-offer, not a conditional acceptance; and where the offeree has signed the contract, he cannot insist on a condition that he also imposes. In other words, he cannot both sign the contract and impose a condition. Mr. Dwarkadas relied on the 1921 decision of a Division Bench of this Court in Sir Mahomed Yusuf Ismail v Secretary of State (AIR 1921 Bom 200; per Macleod, CJ).In that case, there was a proposal followed by an acceptance. But in the last clause, the offeree, the Presidency Post- Master, made a counter-offer by seeking the insertion of an optional clause. The Division Bench held that this counter-offer would have no effect on the acceptance of the offer made unless the counteroffer was itself accepted. The Division Bench disagreed with the view of the learned single Judge that the counter-offer had been accepted. I do not see that this decision is of much assistance to Mr. Dwarkadas.
8. Mr. Dwarkadas is probably on much firmer ground in citing the five-judge decision of the Federal Court in JainarainRam Lundia v Surajmull Sagarmull & Ors. (AIR (36) 1949 FC 211)The claim in that case was for specific performance of an agreement of sale of shares in a company. One of the contentions raised by the defendants was that there was no concluded agreement. The Federal Court found that there was evidence of an oral agreement. The terms of that letter were set out in a letter addressed by one party and confirmed by the plaintiffs’ solicitors the following day. The submission before the Federal Court was that the plaintiffs’ solicitors attempted to introduce new terms in the contract, and as parties were clearly not ad idem on these terms, no concluded contract could be said to have come into existence. The Federal Court held that where there is an agreement on the terms that are necessary in law to constitute a contract, and an agreement on terms the parties considered material, the introduction of a further, unnecessary or immaterial term would not mean that there was no concluded contract. In paragraph 12, the Federal Court said:
'12. If after a contract is concluded and its terms settled further negotiations are started with regard to new matters, that would not prevent full effect being given to the contract already existing, unless it is established as a fact that the contract was rescinded or varied with the consent of both the parties or that both parties treated it as incomplete and inconclusive. Once completed, the contract can be got rid of only with the concurrence of both parties.'
9. This decision was relied on by a Division Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in DhulipudiNamayya v The Union of India (AIR 1958 AP 533). The Division Bench said that the mere fact that a new and collateral terms is annexed to an absolute acceptance would not affect the formation of the contract on the basis of the original offer which is unconditionally accepted. The Court also observed that in order to decide these matters, regard must be had to the entire negotiations and the correspondence on which the contract depends.
10. Countering these submissions, Mr. Jain cited the decision of the Supreme Court in RickmersVerwaltung GmBH v Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (1999) 1 SCC 1)for the proposition that the correspondence and other contemporaneous material must unequivocally and clearly show that the parties were ad idem as to terms in order to say that an agreement had come into existence. The court drew a distinction between negotiating a bargain and entering into a binding contract. I do not see how this decision is of much assistance to Mr. Jain, especially since it was a case of a contract attempted to be spelled out from correspondence, very unlike the present case.
11. Mr. Jain also cited MadhusudanGordhandas & Co v Madhu Woollen Industries (AIR 1971 SC 2600)and IBA Health (India) Private Limited v Info- Drive Systems Sdn. Bhd.(2010) 10 SCC 553)in support of his submission that where the decision is of substance, bona fide, not 'spurious, speculative, illusory or misconceived', then an order of winding up is not justified. There can be no disputing these well-settled principles. But IBA Health also says that where the defence is an 'ingenious mask invented to deprive a creditor of a just and honest entitlement' or 'a mere wrangle', then it cannot and should not be countenanced. What needs to be tested is whether or not ROML’s case on the contract has any substance.
12. In HaridwarSingh v Bagun Sumbrui & Ors., (1973) 3 SCC 889)the Supreme Court quoted a passage from Williston on Contracts: (3rd ed, Vol. I, S.77-A; para 7 of the SCC report).
'A nice distinction may be taken here between (1) a socalled acceptance by which the acceptor agrees to become immediately bound on a condition not named in the offer, and (2) an acceptance which adopts unequivocally the terms of the offer but states that it will not be effective until a certain contingency happens or fails to happen. In the first case there is a counteroffer and rejection of the original offer; in the second case there is no counter-officer, since there is no assent to enter into an immediate bargain. There is, so to speak, an acceptance in escrow, which is not to take effect until the future. In the meantime, of course, neither party is bound and either may withdraw. More over, if the time at which the acceptance was to become effectual is unreasonably remote, the offer may lapse before the acceptance becomes effective. But if neither party withdraws and the, delay is not unreasonable a contract will arise when the contingency happens or stipulated event occurs.'
13. The two situations outlined in Williston are a nebulous grey area, a twilight zone as it were, in which Mr. Jain would have his clients’ case fall. But let us test this: does ROML claim to have 'become immediately bound on a condition not named in the offer'? Or does it adopt 'unequivocally the terms of the offer but state that it will not be effective until a certain contingency happens or fails to happen'? It cannot be both. Indeed, I do not think it can report be either. For the endorsement made by ROML is in no sense 'a condition not named in the offer'. The endorsement is a statement made in generalities about an event schedule yet to be decided. This was not a material term; had it been so, the event schedule would have formed part of the Sponsorship Agreement itself; and its omission would have caused ROML to simply return the document unsigned. The endorsement also cannot be a statement that the Sponsorship Agreement is not to be effective until a certain contigency, viz., the finalizing of the event schedule, happens or does not happen, simply because the event schedule, or its finalization, was in no sense a ‘contingency’. It was merely something that needed to be done, if not already done. It was a mere detail and, as we shall see, one that had been previously changed at ROML’s instance.
14. There is seldom a contract that takes into account all the minutiae related to its working. There are always matters implicit, often by necessity, that are to be done by parties to give full voice to a contract. Was the fixing of the event schedule determinative? Or did it merely need some adjustment? Would ROML be allowed to evade all responsibility and liability only because it believed that the schedule had not been fixed? This assessment requires a closer look at two aspects. The first is the Sponsorship Agreement itself, and the endorsements made on it. The second is the sequence of events that led up to it, and immediately followed it.
15. On a closer scrutiny, ROML’s endorsements of the so-called conditions on the Sponsorship Agreement are disquieting, and for more than one reason. ROML is an established company. It must, in the routine course, be used to dealing with a variety of contracts. It cannot be unaware of the formality that these contracts require. The act of making handwritten endorsements on the Sponsorship Agreement and also then signing it is far too casual an act to sit easily with such corporate and legal experience. Indeed, there is no dispute that in 2010, Reliance and ROML had a very similar agreement - ROML itself says so in its affidavit in reply. This is one of a set of extremely strange circumstances that surround ROML’s so-called endorsements.
16. Then there is the matter of the two rubber stamps on the pages where the endorsements appear. As Mr. Dwarkadas says, there is no reason for this. Had the endorsements been made before the Sponsorship Agreement was signed, as ROML contends, there would have been but a single rubber stamp on each page. Primafacie, this indicates that the endorsements were an after-thought, made after ROML signed - and therefore accepted - without qualification the agreement as sent to them.
17. Perhaps most telling are words of the second endorsement on the page 11 of the Sponsorship Agreement, the second page of its annexure: ' Program Date (Actual Event) & Telecast Date to be finalized by Monday [21-Mar-2011]'. Now ROML claims that the Sponsorship Agreement was signed and returned on the very day it was received, 8th March 2011. That was a Tuesday. It seems to me extremely unlikely that anyone would have mentioned so specific a date so far ahead. It is far more likely that this date of 21st March 2011 was inserted because the agreement was signed on 18th March 2011, a Friday, as Reliance contends. Earlier that day, the first of the events had already been hosted earlier. On its own, there was nothing very special about the date of 21st March 2011. It only assumes significance if, as Reliance says, ROML signed the agreement on 18th March 2011. Again, this is, prima-facie, a strong indicator tht ROML made its endorsements on the Sponsorship Agreement after it signed, and therefore accepted, it as received from Reliance.
18. The annexure to the Sponsorship Agreement says that there are matters yet to be decided: the telecast partner and news partner were two such matters. Thus, where the Sponsorship Agreement contemplated matters yet inchoate, and yet to be decided, it said so; and these did not affect the contract being concluded. This is clear evidence of collateral matters not affecting the formation of the contract. The finalization of the event schedule could not, therefore, have been a matter that determined whether there was a concluded contract or not. I believe Mr. Dwarkadas is therefore correct in his submission that had it been as Mr. Jain suggests, then, having regard to all the circumstances - including the fact that ROML was no neophyte in matters legal or contractual - ROML would merely have made the endorsement and returned the agreement unsigned. It would have pointed out that an essential term of the contract was missing or had been left out. That it did not do so is a third powerful indicator of the endorsements being made after an unqualified and absolute acceptance of the Sponsorship Agreement.
19. What seems to have happened is that ROML probably realized that it had left matters too late. Prima-facie the endorsement was, therefore, made after the contract was signed. In any event, it is not a material term sufficient to affect the creation of a concluded contract. ROML’s signature on the Sponsorship Agreement must be taken to be an unqualified and absolute acceptance; its superadded conditions are not only immaterial (apart from anything else, being unlinked to the payment liability), but are after the acceptance and therefore of no effect.
20. In the making of a contract, there may be several distinct possibilities. A proposal may be accepted straightaway, without modification or change. The contract comes into being at once. The proposal may be refused, and a condition added. This is a counterproposal, and it requires the proposer’s assent, for the original contract has been entirely refused and a new contract proposed. On a conditional acceptance, no contract is brought into existence ipso facto (UP State Electricity Board v Goel Electric Stores, AIR 1977 All 494).A proposal or offer becomes a contract only when the acceptance is absolute and unqualified. That is the plain meaning of Section 7 of the Contract Act, and it is also the weight of authority (ChhoteyLal Gupta v Union of India, AIR 1987 All 329; Union of India v Uttam Singh Dugal & Co, AIR 1972 Del 110; BadriPrasad v State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1970 SC 706).An acceptance of a counter-offer is not to be readily inferred from the subsequent conduct of the first party that made the original offer (UP Rajakiya Nirman Nigam Ltd v Indure Pvt Ltd, (1996) 2 SCC 667. This was a decision in the context of an arbitration agreement).
21. The consensus ad-idem that the law requires must be on the material terms of the contract. When a party agrees to the material terms of the contract, that contract comes into existence. Where the condition inserted is immaterial or unnecessary and does not affect the material terms of the contract, and the offeree also accepts the contract as originally made, then it would be simply unjust to allow the offeree to contend that there is no contract at all or to insist on This was a decision in the context of an arbitration agreement. the counter-acceptance of such an immaterial or unnecessary term. The mandate of the law, as I conceive it, is simple : parties will be held to the bargain they made, and no one party will be permitted to foist on another a condition not previously agreed to be determinative of the contract. If that condition is material, then, of course, there is no contract. But if that condition is not material, the second party to whom the original offer is made cannot be permitted to disavow entirely the contract on the footing that he has stipulated some additional condition, even though that condition is immaterial or collateral. This, I believe, is the principle enunciated by the Federal Court in SurajmullSagarmull (Supra). It has been most elegantly set out in D. Wren International Ltd v Engineers India Ltd (AIR 1996 Cal 424)by a single Judge of the Calcutta High Court. Quoting American law (17 Am Jur 2d Contracts 65)that Court said:
'It must not be inferred from the rule that an acceptance must be unconditional, that the mere mention in a letter of acceptance of matters upon which the acceptance of the proposition does not depend prevents the contract frombeing completed. There is authority to the effect that although an acceptance which introduces a new term as part of the proposed contract is insufficient, the mere addition to the acceptance of a collateral or immaterial requisition not warranted by the terms of the offer does not prevent the contract from being completed. Thus, immaterial or minor differences or variances between the offer and acceptance will not prevent the formation of a contract. Although a request for a change or modification of a proposed contract made before an acceptance thereof amounts to a rejection of it, a mere enquiry as to whether one proposing a contract will alter or modify its terms, made before acceptance or rejection, does not amount to a rejection; and if the offer is not withdrawn, it may be accepted within a reasonable time.
Requested or suggested modifications of an offer will not preclude the formation of a contract where it clearly appears that the offer is positively accepted regardless of whether the requests are granted. Where the acceptance of an offer is initially unconditional, the fact that it is accompanied with a direction or request looking to the carrying out of its provisions, but which does not limit or restrict the contract, does not render it ineffectual or give if the character of a counter-offer. This rule has been held to apply to a request for information as to the manner of remitting the price, to a request to a proposed seller of real estate to fix the date for closing the transaction, to a buyer's suggestion for a time and place of closing made in accepting an offer which specified no time for closing, and to a mere suggestion or request that payment of delivery be made at a place other than that specified in the offer.'
22. Williston also says: (3rd ed., 79)
'Frequently an offeree, while making a positive acceptance of the offer, also makes a request or suggestion that some addition or modification be made. So long as it is clear that the meaning of the acceptance is positively and unequivocally to accept the offer whether such request is granted or not, a contract is formed. So an inquiry as to the meaning of an offer, or a request for an explanation, will not invalidate a positive acceptance; nor will a request for modification of the offer coupled with an unqualified acceptance not dependent on the granting of the request…'
23. Where, therefore, the term added is immaterial or collateral, its addition will not prevent the formation of the contract. Similarly, where the condition sought to be added is a condition subsequent, the contract will be treated as complete and concluded. In Jawaharlal Barman v Union of India, (AIR 1962 SC 378)the Supreme Court held that although Section 7 of the Contract Act demands that the acceptance be absolute and unqualified, and not conditional, the document must be read as a whole. In that case, the acceptance ‘subject to making security deposit’ was treated as a condition subsequent, one that did not affect the making of the contract.
24. Of course this cannot apply to the introduction of a material term as a condition precedent. But the material before me indicates that the fixing or finalizing of the event schedule was not a condition precedent and neither party treated it as such at any time prior to the signing of the Sponsorship Agreement. The event schedule also forms no part of that agreement. Even after it was signed, ROML demanded a reworking of the schedule without denying the validity of the contract, a matter that I will examine in slightly greater detail in the discussion that follows.
25. What Mr. Jain proposes is, I think, some sort of contractual hybrid: an acceptance that is not an acceptance, a counter-offer that both is and is not, and a contract that exists but only on a wholly alien basis, unilaterally made. It is rather like saying 'I will sign the contract you have sent me, and I will return it to you, signed, but I will do so in a form we did not intend by imposing a condition that does not affect the bargain we struck.' This is no counter-offer. It is not an unconcluded contract. It is a fully formed contract, with an unqualified and absolute acceptance; the alteration by ROML is inconsequential and must be ignored.
26. There is also other material to indicate why ROML’s case cannot be accepted in its entirety. From 24th February 2011 onward, Reliance emailed ROML several times seeking a confirmation of the schedule. There is no reply on record from ROML, and nothing to reflect the views expressed for the first time in its email of 21st March 2011 that the schedule was entirely 'undoable'. The principal reason in ROML’s email of 21st March 2011 - the IPL tournament - was not something that could possibly have been unknown to anyone: it was a widely advertised and publicized event, and its schedule was known several weeks or months earlier. Any issues that ROML may have had about a so-called conflict could not have arisen so late in the day as after the signing of the Sponsorship Agreement. There is nothing whatever to indicate that ROML raised this issue at any time earlier.
27. ROML says that there is intrinsic evidence to show that the schedule was not fixed. It points to the event schedule differences between Reliance’s emails of 28th February 2011 (Exhibit 'D' to the petition), 4th March 2011 (Exhibit 4th March 2011) and 18th March 2011 (Exhibit 'H' to the petition). Several event dates were changed. Mr. Jain’s argument is that this is the clearest possible indicator that dates were not fixed. Without the dates being agreed, he submits, the contract was unworkable. I must disagree. Not only are the event dates unrelated to the payment schedule, but the changes in these dates seem to have been made at ROML’s instance. This is the categorical assertion in Reliance’s email of 21st March 2011 (Exhibit 'K' to the petition), and there is no express denial of it. The upshot of all this correspondence is that while the dates of the events were being altered and adjusted, neither party considered this to in any way affect the terms of the overall agreement. Had the scheduling been determinative - in the sense that without its finalization there could have been no contract - it is reasonable to expect that ROML would have said so. It did not; to the contrary, both parties proceeded on the basis that the agreement could be drawn up and executed regardless.
28. I have already addressed the issue of whether it is likely the Sponsorship Agreement was signed on 8th March 2011 (as ROML contends) or 18th March 2011 (as Reliance says), and concluded that Reliance’s version is the more likely of the two. The events and correspondence immediately on and after 18th March 2011 are significant. On that date, the first of the events (‘Big Bangla Movie Awards’) had already taken place. On 18th March 2011, Reliance wrote to ROML (Ex. H to the petition). In that email, it asked for a meeting to finalize the schedule. That email came late at night, at about 10:59 pm. 18th March 2011 was a Friday. On 21st March 2011, the following Monday, ROML replied to Reliance (Ex. J to the petition), saying that the schedule was ‘undoable’. This is the first time that ROML is seen to express any specific reservations about the schedule, although proposals had been flowing from Reliance from as early as 24th February 2011. ROML asked for closure on the schedule in a short tight-frame. More interesting is the fact that in its email, ROML did not anywhere say (a) that there was no agreement because the schedule was not finalized or fixed; or (b) that it had demanded the finalization of the schedule as a material term of the contract. Reliance replied a few hours later. Again, it pointed out that four award dates had been previously rescheduled at ROML’s instance and that a further three would now have to rescheduled as well. It explained - and this is reasonable - that every event required days and weeks of advance preparation and that last-minute alterations were virtually impossible. ROML’s correspondence in this regard does not, prima-facie, inspire confidence. Its attempt to scuttle the events comes at the very last minute.
29. The most telling circumstance, however, is not what ROML did or said, but what it failed to do or say. ROML could not have been unaware that the events were going ahead. It had the dates. It knew that one event had already taken place on 18th March 2011, the day when it received Reliance’s email. At every one of these events, ROML’s products, brands and logos were on display and were being show-cased. There is not one document to show that ROML told Reliance to stop all events or to withdraw ROML’s brands, logos and name. It never said that there is no agreement. In its email of 22nd March 2011 (part of Ex. 'L-1' to the petition), it fell back on the lack of finality in the dates and said only that a
'unilateral implementation of dates and unilateral execution of event renders the event/s unimplemented and there would be no liability on our part. (i.e. Raj Oil Mills Ltd). Raj Oil Mills Ltd. would not be li
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able for making any payments in such case.' This, in my view, is sheer sophistry. There is no call from ROML to withdraw its brands, logos and names from the events, or to not associate ROML with the events. At the same time, ROML also said, in that very email, that it was in no hurry to finalize the dates. Now this must be seen in the context of the manner in which the agreement came to be formed. The events were already proposed. ROML was asked if it had interest in sponsoring those events. It agreed. I do not believe that it could, after signing the Sponsorship Agreement, invoke the so-called lack of finality of the event dates to disclaim all financial liability. That it obtained a benefit from these events cannot be doubted. In any equitable jurisdiction, this is a facet that must weigh, and weigh heavily, against ROML. In particular, I must note that the question of finalizing the dates of the events proposed was not one that was left open in the agreement. The reason, evidently, was the complete de-linkage between the events and the payment schedule. The event dates were a collateral matter. A lack of finality in those dates could not allow ROML to evade all liability if, in fact, it derived benefit from the shows that were indisputably held. VI 30. How should the company court’s jurisdiction under Sections 433 and 434 of the Companies Act, 1956 be exercised in a matter such as this? Mr. Dwarkadas points out that ROML’s latest financial returns show it to be making significant losses. It is, he submits, commercially insolvent, and on account its neglect to pay its debt to Reliance without just cause, ROML must be deemed to be unable to pay its debts (IBA Health (India), supra).But given the fact that ROML has a large number of employees and workmen and is in active business (hence the Sponsorship Agreement), these commercial losses are not necessarily indicative of its inability to pay all debts. It is also true that though ROML may not be flourishing, it is certainly active. An order of winding up is not, I believe, justified. However, prima-facie I am not persuaded that its actions are anything but an ingenious attempt or stratagem to obtain benefit from the events arranged and organized by Reliance at which ROML and its products were showcased, while avoiding all liability on grounds that I have found to be inconsequential. I see no real substance in the defence, and the manner in which ROML has conducted itself inspires no confidence. The defence, however cleverly mounted, is, in my view, specious and untenable. I have no hesitation in holding that ROML is indebted to Reliance in the amount claimed. It is only because it seems to be still active and has a substantial workforce that I am inclined to give it a final opportunity to pay its debt to Reliance. 31. Hence the following order: (a) The Company, Raj Oil Mills Ltd., shall pay to the petitioners the sum of Rs.1,78,12,500/- together with interest at the rate of 12% per annum from the date of presentation of the petition in six (6) monthly instalments, commencing from 1 March 2014. Each successive instalment shall be due on or before the 1st of each month. (b)Should the Company be in default in payment of any one instalment, or should the entire amount be not paid by 1st August 2014, then- (i) This petition shall revive and stand admitted without further reference to the court, and shall be made returnable within four weeks of such default. Service of the petition on the company under Rule 28 of the Companies (Court) Rules, 1959 shall be deemed to have been waived; (ii) The petition shall be advertised in two local newspapers, viz., (1) the Free Press Journal (in English) and (2) Navshakti (in Marathi); as also in (3) the Maharashtra Government Gazette; (iii) The petitioners shall deposit a sum of Rs.10,000/- with the Prothonotary & Senior Master, with intimation to the Company Registrar, toward publication charges within two weeks of such default, failing which, the petition shall stand dismissed for non-prosecution. 32. All contentions of the parties are expressly kept open. 33. The petition is disposed of in these terms. 34. At this stage, learned Advocate for the Company seeks a stay of this order for a period of four weeks. The application is opposed by the learned Advocate for the petitioner. The order allows the Company three weeks before payment of the first installment. The application for stay is refused.