Author: Shivendra Pratap Singh


The principle of estoppel says that a man cannot blow hot and cold, or again, that a man shall not say one thing at one time and later on say a different thing.

In Pickard vSears, it was held that..

“Where one by his words or conduct willfully causes another to believe the existence of a certain state of things and induces him to act on that belief so as to alter his own previous position, the former is concluded from averring against the later a different state of things as existing at the same time.”[1]


The principle of estoppel is classified under three heads in English law:

  1. Estoppel by record
  2. Estoppel by deed
  3. Estoppel by conduct
Estoppel by record

Estoppel by record arises in cases where a judgement has been given by a competent court, and the effect of it is that the matters decided cannot be reopened by a person who is a party to the judgment or his representative. In India, principle of res judicata is applied to get the same effect.

Estoppel by deed

Estoppel by deed also does not obtain in India. English law attaches a peculiar importance to deeds, with the result that if a person makes a statement in a deed he cannot say the opposite of it later. However, in India, the position is that a statement in a deed is only an admission and under section 31 of the Indian Evidence Act, it does not operate as conclusive proof, i.e. evidence can be given to show that the admission was wrongly made.

But under the same section, an admission can operate as an estoppel, that is, the person who made the admission will not be permitted to state the opposite if the conditions for the application of estoppel are present. The difference between the English law and the Indian law is that under English law a statement in a deed always operates as estoppel, whereas under Indian law an admission whether oral or in a deed operates as estoppel if the conditions of estoppel are present. The conditions for the application of the principle of estoppel is laid down under Section 115, Indian Evidence Act.

Estoppel by conduct

This principle was well laid down in University of Madras v. Sundara Shetty[2], the respondent, after his S.S.L.C. examination, received his S.S.L.C. book with the rubber stamp certificate that he had passed the examination and was eligible for admission to the university courses. Later he was served with a notice that that his name was not found in the list of S.S.L.C. holders of March 1952 published in the Gazette.

In a petition for the issue of writ of mandamus and certiorari, it was held that:

“In our opinion, this is an instance of something much more substantial than sentimental estoppel. It is a case of legal or equitable estoppel which satisfies practically all the conditions embodied in section 115 of the Evidence .”


In Veerraju v. Venkanna[3], in a suit by a trustee of a deity for possession of lands which wasin the possession of a tenant enjoying the income in return for a certain service to the deity, the tenant denied the title of the deity to the lands. The Supreme Court held:

“Having regard to Section 116 of the Evidence act during the continuance of the tenancy, a tenant will not be permitted to deny the title of the deity at the beginning of the tenancy.”

A tenant who has been let into possession cannot deny his landlord’s title, however defective it may be, so long as he has not openly restored possession by surrender to his landlord.[4]

The rule of estoppel between landlord and tenant continues to operate as long as the tenancy continues, unless the tenant surrenders possession to the landlord.


In the case of an admission, there is a statement and in the case of an estoppel also there can be a statement as shown by the word ‘declaration’ in Section 115. But an admission does not ripen into an estoppel unless the person to whom the representation is made believes it and acts upon such belief. In the case of a mere admission, evidence can be given to show that the admission is wrongly made. When it ripens into estoppel, however, such evidence cannot be given to show that statement is not correct or that it was wrongly or mistakenly made.


‘Conclusive proof’ is defined in Section 4 of Evidence Act:

“When one fact is declared by this act to be conclusive proof of another, the Court shall, on proof of one fact, regard the other as proved, and shall not allow evidence to be given for the purpose of disproving it.”

In this case, on the proof of one fact the court believes another, whereas, in the case of estoppel, the very same fact contained in the statement cannot be denied.


In the case of fraud, there is a deliberate misstatement or suppression. The effect of it is that an action for deceit lies as against the person playing the fraud. In the case of estoppel, a statement might have been made honestly believing its truth, or because of an honest mistake.

A party is precluded from leading evidence contrary to the terms of a written document. Parties who undervalue their documents for payment of stamp duty cannot claim that their own document does not reflect the correct market value.[5]


Though estoppel and res judicata may have similar effects, there are two fundamental differences between the two. In the case of estoppel, it is the person who is estopped, whereas in the case of res judicata it is the court that ceases to have jurisdiction. In the case of estoppel, having made a representation, the person making it is prevented from saying the opposite, whereas in res judicata, having obtained an adjudication from a competent court, the same matter cannot be agitated again before the same or another court.


Estoppel and waiver are totally different conceptions. Waiver is a matter of contract, and in this case, having waived certain rights, any attempt to enforce them later would be discouraged. Being a matter of contract, the waiver must be for good and valuable consideration. In estoppel, there is no question of consideration. A representation is made, believed in, and acted upon; and the principle of estoppel will operate. Further, there can be an estoppel by omission, i.e., an estoppel by silence. There can never be a waiver by silence.

Estoppel by election

This arises in a case where there is a plurality of gifts or rights which are consistent or alternative and the party makes the gift or creates the rights, shows by an express or implied intention that the person taking the gift or claiming the right should enjoy one of them, but not all of them. Having made his choice, the person choosing cannot go back upon it and later attempts to choose the other. An example of it arises under Section 234 of the Contract Act, where the choice is either to sue the principal or agent.

Equitable estoppel

This is a misnomer, for estoppel was originally an equitable doctrine, since Pickard v Sears[6]is treated in England as belonging to common law, and in India the principle is stated as a rule of law in Section 115 of the Evidence Act.

[1] Pickard v. Sears (1837) 6Ad. & El. 469, 474.

[2]University of Madras v. Sundara Shetty, (1956) 1 MLJ 25; TenzingNamgyal v. MotilalLakotia, (2003) 5 SCC 1; B.L. Sreedhar v. K.M. Munireddy, (2003) 2 SCC 355.

[3]1966 AIR 629

[4]BilasKunwar v. DesrajRanjit Singh, AIR 1966 SC 629.

[5]KrishiUtpadanMandiSamiti, Sahaswan v. Bipin Kumar, (2004) 2 SCC 283.

[6] Pickard v. Sears (1837) 6 A&E 475.

About the Author: Shivendra is a third-year law student at Rajiv Gandhi National Universit of Law.

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