One of the most basic parts of regular transactions is contract. In our daily lives, we come across contracts everywhere. Indian Contract Act of 1872 governs contracts in India. The case of Lalman Shukla v. Gauri Dutt[i] is still one of the most often referenced in contract law. It was one of the first instances in India to deal with broad offer, consent, and acceptance issues.
In this case, the defendant Gauri Dutt’s nephew had gone missing and was nowhere to be found. Dutt had dispatched all of his staff in search of the missing nephew when the defendant became aware of the situation. One of the servants who went out in search of the nephew was the plaintiff, Lalman Shukla. The plaintiff eventually tracked him down and returned him. Lalman Shukla was given money for his railway fare and other costs when he left the house to travel to Haridwar from Kanpur. The defendant promised a reward of Rs. 501 for anyone who could find Dutt’s nephew as soon as Lalman Shukla had left the residence. Shukla was completely unaware that such a statement had been made. Lalman Shukla tracked down his lost nephew and returned him to Kanpur. Dutt fired the plaintiff six months after the incident occurred.
The plaintiff demanded the money from the defendant after being fired, but the latter refused to pay the remuneration. As a result, the plaintiff, Lalman Shukla, launched a lawsuit against his master, Gauri Dutt, alleging that he was not properly compensated.
- Whether Lalman Shukla was eligible for Gauri Dutt’s reward for locating the missing boy?
- Whether or not the plaintiff’s acceptance of the offer was valid?
- Whether a contract exists or if the situation amounts to a contract between the two parties?
The plaintiff maintained that by performing his part, which was a requirement for claiming compensation, he was implicitly accepting the defendant’s general offer. The plaintiff does not need to be informed of the terms of the offer in order for the transaction to be consummated. It was also claimed that the plaintiff received the handbill with the offer.
The plaintiffs referenced similar cases dealing with generic offers:
In Gibbons v. Proctor[ii], a police superintendent offered a prize to anyone who could provide information about a criminal. A police officer who was unaware of the award gave the superintendent some important information and was later found to be entitled to the reward.
In Williams v. Crawardine[iii], a man had placed a handbill with a £20 prize for information regarding a killer. A woman provided him with such information without knowing that she would be paid for it, and she was later found to be entitled to it.
The acceptance of the offer is the basis for the development of an agreement. If the plaintiff was unaware of the offer, there can be no acceptance. Because the handbill was distributed after the plaintiff proceeded to find the nephew, the plaintiff had no clue about the reward provided by the defendant. The defendant referred to the case of Fitch v. Snedekar[iv], in which the whole case hinged around locating the murder suspect or perpetrator. Fitch came forward and assisted in the identification of the perpetrator. The Governor offered a prize to anyone who could give information regarding the situation. Fitch was not aware of the reward until he gave information to the police, at which point he learned about it. He filed a lawsuit in order to receive a monetary compensation. The court, on the other hand, held that the offer could not be accepted unless the offeree is aware of it.
They also cited section 2(b) of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, which states that “When the person to whom the proposal is made signifies his assent thereto, the proposal is said to be accepted. A proposal, when accepted, becomes a promise.” Hence there was no acceptance.
The Court dismissed the appeal made by Lalman Shukla against Gauri Dutt. The Judge analyzed the facts of the case and said that to enter into a contract, there must be knowledge of the offer and acceptance of the said offer. Here both were missing because the plaintiff had no information about the hand-bills for accepting the said offer. The plaintiff did not perform any new conduct in order to receive the award. The plaintiff’s act was an obligation in the course of his work, not a part of the compensation agreement. There was no consideration on the plaintiff’s part for which the defendant’s reward could be claimed.
As required by Section 10 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, the case demonstrated intent to enter and perform the obligations. The appellant’s inability to offer a legitimate acceptance was effectively highlighted by the High Court. The most striking aspect of this decision is that the definition of ‘consideration’ under Section 2 (d) of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 is not mentioned in the decision, which would have raised more questions to be answered while settling the principle in this case, assuming that the definition of consideration in Section 2(d) is the same as the English definition, which includes elements of benefit and detriment.
General offers are those that are presented to the general public rather than to a specific individual. The decision was well-received since it defined what constitutes an acceptance under general offers. It has clarified the position that general offers can only be accepted if the offer is known about. The case of Lalman Shukla v. Gauri Dutt dealt with the fundamental notions of contract, as well as the essential parts that make up an agreement, such as offer and acceptance.
- Priyanshu Tiwari, Lalman Shukla v Gauri Dutt, Lawsist, https://lawsisto.com/legalnewsread/NjkyMw==/Lalman-Shukla-v-Gauri-Dutt
- Sayandeep Chakraborty, Lalman Shukla vs. Gauri Dutt, Law Times Journal, https://lawtimesjournal.in/lalman-shukla-vs-gauri-dutt-1913-40-alj-489/
- Arpita Tripathy, Lalman Shukla v. Gauri Dutt : case analysis, Blog iPleaders, https://blog.ipleaders.in/lalman-shukla-v-gauri-dutt-case-analysis/#Conclusion
- Neha Mohanty, Case Note: Lalman Shukla v. Gauri Dutt, Academike, https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/lalman-gauri-ica/
- Om Ram, Lalman Shukla vs Gauri Dutt Case Summary (1913), Law Planet, https://lawplanet.in/lalman-shukla-vs-gauri-dutt-case-summary-1913/
[i] Lalman Shukla v. Gauri Dutt, (1913) 11 ALJ 489.
[ii] Gibbons v. Proctor,  64 L.T. 594.
[iii] Williams v. Crawardine,  4 B & A 621.
[iv] Fitch v. Snedekar, (1868) 38 N.Y. 248.
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