The European Parliament of Enterprises, last October, adopted the Late Payment Directive in order to eradicate Europe’s late payment culture (in commercial transactions) which affected the cash flow of businesses across the EU. It was observed : “Many payments in commercial transactions between economic operators or between economic operators and public authorities are made later than agreed in the contract or laid down in the general commercial conditions. Although the goods are delivered or the services performed, many corresponding invoices are paid well after the deadline. Such late payment negatively affects liquid assets and complicates the financial management of enterprises.
It also affects their competitiveness and profitability when the creditor needs to obtain external financing because of late payment. This risk strongly increases in periods of the economic downturn when access to financing is more difficult”.The Directive further said : “Late payment constitutes a breach of contract which has been made financially attractive to debtors by low or no interest rates charged on late payments and/or slow procedures for redress. A decisive shift to a culture of prompt payment is necessary to reverse this trend and to ensure that the consequences of late payments are such as to discourage late payment. The agreement sets a maximum cap of 60 days for payments by public authorities; this will benefit the many businesses, particularly SMEs, that provide goods and services to public bodies. All business-to-business transactions are also included under the scope of the directive. The creditor is entitled to interest for late payment without the necessity of a reminder. Chambers will monitor closely the process over the two-year transposition period.
India has the worst culture of late payments across all businesses including a large number of public enterprises. When it comes to the textile industry, the situation is really pathetic. Ask any supplier, whether a dyes-chemical supplier, machinery supplier, grey cloth supplier, finished goods supplier, everyone is facing recovery problem. Most of their sales executives have become ‘recovery’ executives. Recently, the Federation of Gujarat Weavers’Association (FOGWA), Surat demanded that the textile traders would have to make the net payment within seven days of the receipt of grey cloth instead of three months credit which was being given to them. However, the Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association (FOSTTA) has declined to accept this.The dishonour of a cheque for insufficiency, etc., of funds in the accounts is punishable with imprisonment for up to 2 years, or with fine, which may extend to twice the amount of the cheque, or with both. The affected creditor can file a Criminal Complaint u/s 138 of Negotiable Instrument Act . It was hoped that this would curb the culture of willful and frequent bouncing of cheques. Even so, offenders are losing all fear of cheque-bouncing because of long dates and extra-ordinary delay in finalisation of such cases. According to some estimates over 30 lakh cheque bounce cases were pending throughout the country.
When we compare the EU scenario with that of ours, we find that we are hundreds of miles away from where they are aiming to be. However, if there area strong will and readiness to act then it should be possible in India as well. We can certainly work out some way to curb both, the late payment as well as dishonour of cheques, in a combined manner under one common law which operates automatically without the hassles of complex court procedures. A Utopian thought, but worth thinking, indeed.