Understanding Discharged Liability Under the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881

Shivendra Pratap Singh


High Court Lucknow


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The concept of “discharged liability” is an integral part of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, in India. It refers to the conditions under which the obligations arising out of a negotiable instrument, like a cheque or promissory note, are considered fulfilled or extinguished. This is a crucial aspect that parties involved in transactions involving negotiable instruments must understand, as it can have significant implications for both the drawer and the payee. This article will delve into what discharged liability means, how it occurs, and its implications.

What is Discharged Liability?

When we say that the liability on a negotiable instrument is “discharged,” it means that the obligation to pay money under that instrument no longer exists. In simpler terms, the drawer is released from their responsibility to pay the amount specified in the instrument, and the payee or holder cannot legally enforce the instrument anymore.

How Does Liability Get Discharged?

Payment by Drawer or Acceptor

The most straightforward way to discharge liability is when the drawer or acceptor of the negotiable instrument makes the full payment to the holder. Upon payment, the liability of all parties to the instrument is discharged.

Parties to the instrument can mutually agree to cancel or alter the terms of the negotiable instrument. When this happens, the liability arising from the original instrument is considered discharged.

By Material Alteration

If the negotiable instrument is materially altered without the consent of all parties involved, the liability stands discharged. Material alteration includes changes in the date, amount, or the parties to the instrument.

Insolvency of the Drawer

If the drawer declares bankruptcy and the debt related to the negotiable instrument is discharged through insolvency proceedings, the liability can also be considered discharged.

By Limitation

The Negotiable Instruments Act specifies a period within which legal action can be initiated for a dishonored negotiable instrument. If this period expires without any action, the liability is discharged.

By Set-off

Sometimes, the drawer and payee may have mutual debts. In such cases, they can agree to set off one debt against another, which can discharge the liability to the extent of the smaller debt.

By Acquittance

A formal release or discharge certificate given by the holder to the drawer upon the full settlement of the instrument can also serve as a discharge of liability.

  1. Loss of Legal Recourse: Once the liability is discharged, the holder loses the right to take legal action against the drawer or the endorser.
  2. Effect on Subsequent Parties: In cases of endorsed negotiable instruments, discharge of liability typically affects all subsequent parties and not just the original drawer or acceptor.
  3. Record-keeping: It’s important to keep adequate records to prove that the liability on the instrument has been discharged, as it could be critical in case of any legal dispute.


Understanding the concept of discharged liability is essential for anyone dealing with negotiable instruments. It protects the interests of both the drawer and the payee, and clarifies when an obligation is legally considered fulfilled. Knowing the various ways in which a liability can be discharged can also offer strategic advantages during negotiations and dispute resolution.


  1. Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 – Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India
  2. “Understanding Negotiable Instruments” – Legal Resource India
  3. “How to Discharge a Negotiable Instrument” – Business Law Journal

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice.

By understanding the intricacies of discharged liability under the Negotiable Instruments Act, parties can better navigate their obligations and rights, thereby reducing the risk of legal complications.