Marriage Hall Contracts: Legal Studies of both parties in the Light of COVID-19

Edited by – Shivangi Singh


This article is written by Pragya Shakya, a law student at University of North Bengal, Siliguri.


Introduction:

Marriage is a union of two or more people that creates a family tie and carries legal, social, and/or religious rights and responsibilities. Marriage is considered as a sacrament and a contract in India. Marriages are a big deal in here and the people spend lakhs and crores of money in one single wedding because of its general notion that marriages are once-in-a-lifetime event. To conduct a marriage, the first and foremost step is the booking of marriage halls. These halls are mostly booked months before the actual date of the marriage and the rent for those halls is paid in advance for surety and to avoid last-minute issues. The parties sign a contract for booking the marriage halls. Most contracts comprise payment pointers (which include the total fee, date of payment, taxes, cancellation charges, etc.), venue guidelines, rules and regulations, personal information of the renter, faculty fees, etc.

Marriage related businesses are in itself an industry. They make a huge amount of profits every year. According to few sources, there are about 30,000 weddings taking place in India, per day on average[1]and that amounts to over 9 lakh marriages per month and more than 10 million marriages per year. This industry is booming without a doubt and is surely doing extremely well in terms of its business. But the big fat Indian wedding industry is in a huge crisis in the corona times.

The outbreak of the deadly pandemic – the Novel Coronavirus or COVID-19 has surely cleared out our social calendar. It has affected on a personal level, public health level, and also at a business level. We are in unprecedented times and our lives have been put to a complete full stop and it does not seem to get better anytime soon. India has been in a complete lockdown since March 2020 and that is nearly 6 months to date and almost everything has been put on hold. Schools and colleges are empty, factories have not seen their workers and many businesses have been deeply affected due to the nationwide lockdown at this point. Due to the unforeseen circumstances, such events are being called off. In this article, we will be discussing the marriage hall business, the contract, and the legal study of both parties in the present scenario.

Its Legal Aspect:

Let us put some light on the legal aspect of it. Section 56 of the Indian Contract Act[2] declares that any agreement to do an impossible act is declared void. It explains “a contract to do an act afterward becoming impossible or unlawful – a contract to do an act which, after the contract is made, becomes impossible, or, because of some event which the promisor could not prevent, unlawful, becomes void when the act becomes impossible or unlawful.”

Illustrations:

X and Y contract to get married to each other. Before the time that was fixed for the marriage, X falls mentally ill and goes insane. The contract becomes void. 

In simpler words, an agreement to do an act which is impossible to carry forward due to some unavoidable circumstances after the contract is made, like the pandemic we are facing, without the faults of either party becomes void. The contract is valid during its inception but becomes void eventually and therefore such a contract or an agreement cannot be performed further. According to the sources, 70-80% of weddings are canceled or postponed due to the current situation[3]. In the present scenario, the contractors are refusing to repay the advances. Both the parties are not at fault but the real question is that who should be the one to bow down?

The party cannot meet its contractual obligations with specific reference to the current outbreak of the coronavirus and it is causing all sorts of challenges. The marriage hall owners are hesitant to repay the money that was paid in advance. Even if they are willing to pay back, most of them are deducting more than 50% as cancellation charges[4]. They are backing themselves with reasons like maintenance of the halls, payment of their staff workers, electricity charges, loans, etc.

We can refer to the case, Taylor v. Caldwell[5], the agreement was to rent the music hall on certain dates. However, due to the fault of neither party, the music hall caught fire before the said event. The plaintiff sued the defendant for the losses but the bench held that the contract was not absolute and that the parties shall be excused due to subject to the implied condition if the contract became impossible without the performance of the contractor before the breach.

Due to the pandemic, the lockdown, and the regulations that have been imposed by the government, such contracts are restricted to conduct such functions or events and now there is a clash between the two parties. The concept of “Force Majeure” and “Frustration of Contract” may also be applied in such cases. The former is defined as ‘an event or effect that can be neither anticipated nor controlled. It is a contractual provision allocating the risk of loss if performance becomes impossible or impracticable, especially as a result of an event that the parties could not have anticipated or controlled.’ Force majeure typically includes events like the act of God, pandemics or epidemics, terrorism, acts of the government, etc. Some reference can be traced in Section 32 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 even though force majeure is not specifically dealt with nor defined in the Indian statutes. In a contractual basis force majeure provides acquit to the party from carrying out the obligations upon the occurrence of a force majeure event.   

Next, the frustration of a contract is when an action happens outside the contract and such an act makes the completion of the performance of a contract impossible. The doctrine of frustration of contract is envisaged in Section 56 under the Indian Contract Act which explains that an agreement is void when it is impossible to do an act. One of the outcomes of the frustration of a contract is restitution according to Section 65 of the Indian Contract Act where a party who has been entitled to any advantages under the agreement is obliged to restore or make compensations for it and the parties must be put in the same position they were if they contract had never been executed.

Here, in this case, the contractees are in the second position as compared to the contractors as they are in the dominant position as the advance amount has already been paid.  In the occurrence of the notion that civil suits take a long time to be declared judicially, the return of the amount is unavoidable but the recovery suit is likely to be possible. Law is dependent on social dynamics and these legal principles may not change the way the parties think.

Conclusion:

All the above-portrayed situations are based on contracts being read in isolation. If the marriage halls refuse to refund the amount, then the refusal must remain in force for several such contracts, considering the pandemic. Therefore when the marriage hall has to defend several suits at the same time, it would be disastrous for the party if a common way for settlement is not devised. The contractor is put to greater liability under the common law remedy for the discrimination if he does not treat his contractees with equality. Hence in this way, there is no occurrence of the development of unjust acts. The law always protects and never leaves the aggrieved who has rendered its full faith and hope in the remedy unattended. This is how the objective of the law is aided by social action at all times. 


[1] The Flourishing Indian Wedding Industry – Indian Retailer

[2]Indian Contract Act, 1872

[3]Sreeradha D Basu & Anjali Venugopalan ET Bureau (Mar 20, 2020), “Wedding industry in crisis as most weddings cancelled, some rescheduled” The Economics Times.

[4] Kumar, M Bharat (May 14, 2020), “Marriage Hall should refund advance if weddings are cancelled”, News Today.

[5] Queen’s Bench (1863) 3 B&S 826


Written by –

Author Name – Pragya Shakya

Published on – 27/08/2020