Reviewed by Annapoorna | Updated on Jul 26, 2021


What is Estoppel?

Estoppel refers to a legal principle that prevents a person from alleging facts which are contrary to past claims or actions. Accordingly, estoppel precludes someone from arguing anything contrary to a claim made or act done previously by that person. Theoretically, estoppel means protecting people from any unjust action due to the inconsistencies of any other person's acts or words.

Decoding Estoppel

Estoppel is often used as a legal weapon or tool when someone backs out on or repudiates a prior agreement or claim. Neither of the litigating parties can question the facts determined by a court or agreed on by the parties themselves.

Different types of estoppel exist. Equitable estoppel stops a person from reneging his word. Collateral estoppel can restrict a person from approaching the court for the same grievance. It is used to check legal harassment and exploitation of judicial resources.

For instance, if a mother claims that a child is not hers, estoppel could stop her later from trying to demand child support payments from the child's father.

Promissory estoppel precludes a contractual party from performing certain acts or things in a particular way which contradicts a contract in one case. Such a contradiction may cover a situation where the counterparty depends upon that representation and has acted upon it.

For example, a charity may use promissory estoppel to enforce gift pledges. Promissory estoppel does not limit itself to contracts. Four instances identified by the courts where the promissory estoppel gets triggered between the promisor and promisee are as follows:

  1. The promisor made a promise big enough to allow the promisee to initiate action on it.
  2. The promisee depended upon the promise.
  3. The promisee faced significant damage due to the promisor reneging on the promise.
  4. The promise must be fulfilled to compensate the promisee, which is the only way.

Use of Estoppel in India

The Indian Evidence Act defines 'estoppel' in Section 115. It means that one person may have made a declaration, an act, or an omission to initiate or permit another person to believe that a particular thing is true. By doing this, he or his representatives cannot deny the truth of that thing by way of a suit or proceeding himself.

Hence, for example, if X intentionally and incorrectly leads Y to believe that a particular land belongs to X, and subsequently persuades Y to purchase and pay for it. But X acquires the property after that and would be disallowed to argue that the sale of the land to Y is void on the ground that he had no title at the time of the transfer.

The doctrine of estoppel stands on the principle that harmony in word and action acknowledges certainty and honesty to human affairs. A person cannot deny a representation he makes to another, on the belief of which the latter acts, to his prejudice.

However, estoppel cannot be applied to representations on the fundamental rights bestowed by the Constitution of India, which exists not only to help individuals but to defend collective rights.

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