Section 54 in The Indian Contract Act, 1872
Title: Effect of default as to that promise which should be first performed, in contract consisting of reciprocal promises
When a contract consists of reciprocal promises, such that one of them cannot be performed, or that its performance cannot be claimed till the other has been performed, and the promisor of the promise last mentioned fails to perform it, such promisor cannot claim the performance of the reciprocal promise, and must make compensation to the other party to the contract for any loss which such other party may sustain by the non-performance of the contract.
(a) A hires B's ship to take in and convey, from Calcutta to the Mauritius, a cargo to be provided by A, B receiving a certain freight for its conveyance. A does not provide any cargo for the ship. A cannot claim the performance of B's promise, and must make compensation to B for the loss which B sustains by the non-performance of the contract.
(b) A contracts with B to execute certain builder's work for a fixed price, B supplying the scaffolding and timber necessary for the work. B refuses to furnish any scaffolding or timber, and the work cannot be executed. A need not execute the work, and B is bound to make compensation to A for any loss caused to him by the non-performance of the contract.
(c) A contracts with B to deliver to him, at a specified price, certain merchandise on board a ship which cannot arrive for a month, and B engages to pay for the merchandise within a week from the date of the contract. B does not pay within the week. A's promise to deliver need not be performed, and B must make compensation.
(d) A promises B to sell him one hundred bales of merchandise, to be delivered next day, and B promises A to pay for them within a month. A does not deliver according to his promise. B's promise to pay need not be performed, and A must make compensation.
Title: Effect of failure to perform at fixed time, in contract in which time is essential.
When a party to a contract promises to do a certain thing at or before a specified time, or certain things at or before specified times, and fails to do any such thing at or before the specified time, the contract, or so much of it as has not been performed, becomes voidable at the option of the promisee, if the intention of the parties was that time should be of the essence of the contract.
Effect of such failure when time is not essential.--If it was not the intention of the parties that time should be of the essence of the contract, the contract does not become voidable by the failure to do such thing at or before the specified time; but the promisee is entitled to compensation from the promisor for any loss occasioned to him by such failure.
Effect of acceptance of performance at time other than that agreed upon.--If, in case of a contract voidable on account of the promisor's failure to perform his promise at the time agreed, the promisee accepts performance of such promise at any time other than that agreed, the promisee cannot claim compensation for any loss occasioned by the non-performance of the promise at the time agreed, unless, at the time of such acceptance, he gives notice to the promisor of his intention to do so1
Amendment of section 55.--In section 55 of the Principal Act, in the third paragraph, for the words "unless at the time of such acceptance he gives notice to the promiser of his intention to do so", the words "where at the time of such acceptance he has waived his right to do so" shall be substituted."
[Vide Uttar Pradesh 57 of 1976, s. 26]
1. C.f. ss. 62 and 63, infra.
Title: Agreement to do impossible act.
An agreement to do an act impossible in itself is void.
Contract to do an act afterwards becoming impossible or unlawful.—A contract to do an act which, after the contract is made, becomes impossible, or, by reason of some event which the promisor could not prevent, unlawful, becomes void when the act becomes impossible or unlawful1
Compensation for loss through non-performance of act known to be impossible or unlawful.—Where one person has promised to do something which he knew, or, with reasonable diligence, might have known, and which the promisee did not know, to be impossible or unlawful, such promisor must make compensation to such promisee for any loss which such promisee sustains through the nonperformance of the promise.
(a) A agrees with B to discover treasure by magic. The agreement is void:
(b) A and B contract to marry each other. Before the time fixed for the marriage,. A goes mad. The contract becomes void.
(c) A contracts to marry B, being already married to C, and being forbidden by the law to which he is subject to practise polygamy, A must make compensation to B for the loss caused to her by the non-performance of his promise.
(d) A contracts to take in cargo for B at a foreign port. A's Government afterwards declares war against the country in which the port is situated. The contract becomes void when war is declared.
(e) A contracts to act at a theatre for six months in consideration of a sum paid in advance by B. On several occasions A is too ill to act. The contract to act on those occasions becomes void.
1. See s. 65, infra.
Title: Reciprocal promise to do things legal, and also other things illegal.
Where persons reciprocally promise, firstly, to do certain things which are legal, and, secondly, under specified circumstances, to do certain other things which are illegal, the first set of promises is a contract, but the second is a void agreement.
A and B agree that A shall sell B a house for 10,000 rupees, but that, if B uses it as a gambling house, he shall pay A 50,000 rupees for it.
The first set of reciprocal promises, namely, to sell the house and to pay 10,000 rupees for it, is a contract.
The second set is for an unlawful object, namely, that B may use the house as a gambling house, and is a void agreement.
Title: Alternative promise, one branch being illegal.
In the case of an alternative promise, one branch of which is legal and the other illegal, the legal branch alone can be enforced.
A and B agree that A shall pay B 1,000 rupees, for which B shall afterwards deliver to A either rice or smuggled opium.
This is a valid contract to deliver rice, and a void agreement as to the opium.