Legal Validity of Plain Paper Agreements

Ingredients of a valid agreement

The essential conditions of a valid contract are informed consent, consideration and lawful object and such agreements are enforceable under the Indian Contract Act, 1872. Even oral agreements are valid in India, as per the act.

The Contract Act does not make stamping of agreements compulsory. It does not make an unstamped agreement/contract thereby invalid or unenforceable. Therefore, an agreement does not require mandatory stamping to make it a legal and valid instrument.

Even though an agreement is not stamped, it will remain enforceable against the parties, who have signed it, if the party cures the defect of not using stamp paper for the instrument later, as provided in law.

Agreements on plain paper are not invalid

Agreements made on plain paper are not truly invalid in the eye of law. But it is always better to prepare them on stamp paper so as to avoid ensuing procedural difficulties and payment of penalty.

No legal instrument can be registered without paying the proper stamp duty. All instruments chargeable with duty and executed by any person in India shall be stamped before or at the time of its execution, as per the Section 17 of the Indian Stamp Act.

The act provides the procedures for making an unstamped or insufficiently stamped instrument legally valid as well.

Stamp act prescribes the need for stamp paper

The law that deals with stamping of agreements/documents in India is the Indian Stamp Act, 1899.

Stamping of agreements and documents is desirable as it ensures legality and validity, enforceability and admissibility in court since such agreements can be registered under the Indian Registration Act, 1908, which in turn ensures its enforceability.

Agreements that need registration

Some kinds of agreements, specified under Section 17 of the Indian Registration Act,1908 need to be compulsorily registered. Therefore, they cannot be registered without using stamp paper.

Some of such instruments which requires compulsory registration are: –

  1. Instruments of gift of immoveable property
  2. Testamentary instruments, such as sale deed, family settlement etc, pertaining to immovable property for the value Rupees 100/ or above which purports to or creates, declare, assign, limit or extinguish any right, title, or interest, in the present or future.
  3. Lease deed of an immovable property, where the lease period exceeds a year.
  4. Instruments that transfer or assign a decree or order of Court for a value exceeding Rs 100 in immovable property.
  5. Contract of transfer of property
  6. Document to adopt a son executed other than through a Will
  7. And such other documents enlisted under Section 17 of the act.

The Section 18 of the Indian Registration Act enlists the documents of which the registration is optional, which means the party can decide whether to register it or not. Such documents are valid even if the party decides not to register them. Oral agreements also need no registration.

Documents requiring stamp paper but no registration

There are certain agreements mentioned under Section 3 of the Indian Stamp Act which should be made on stamp paper but need no compulsory registration. They are: –

  1. Power of attorney, except on transfer of property
  2. Lease agreement
  3. Lease deed for a period of less than one year

Problem in making plain paper agreement

The only problem with an agreement made not on prescribed stamp paper is that it cannot be produced in court as evidence or acted upon by a public officer unless it is cured by paying stamp duty and hefty penalty.

The Section 35 of the Stamp Act makes a document which does not bear a requisite stamp duty as inadmissible in a court of law.

Making an unstamped agreement lawful in court

If and agreement or document is found to be not duly stamped, the Section 35 of the Indian Stamp Act bars the said document from being acted upon by any public officer or a court of law. The document will have to be impounded and thereafter dealt with as per Section 33 or 38 of the Indian Stamp Act.

An agreement not executed on requisite stamp paper can be made admissible in evidence on payment of duty and penalty equal to ten times of the stamp duty, under section 35 of the Indian Stamp Act, 1899 (Thiruvengada Pillai v Navaneethammal & Anr). Upon payment of deficit and penalty the agreement will be deemed to be fully stamped.

Collector determines the proper stamp duty

The determination of proper stamp duty is done by the District Collector.

When any instrument is brought to the District Collector and the person bringing it applies to have the opinion of him as to the proper duty, he shall determine the proper duty, under Section 31 of the Indian Stamp Act.

Plain paper agreement not per se invalid

In short, agreements can be made either in a stamp paper or a plain paper which can be made legally valid later by curing the deficiency in stamp duty.

But it is always advisable and better to make agreements on stamp paper by paying the requisite duty wherein stamp paper is prescribed under the law for such a document.

SC adds insufficient or unstamped agreement is valid

In M/S N.N. Global Mercantile Pvt Ltd v M/S Indo Unique Flame Ltd, a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court (SC), in para 82 of its judgement, states:

Non-stamping/insufficient stamping of the substantive contract/instrument would not render the arbitration agreement non- existent in law and unenforceable/void, for the purpose of referring a matter for arbitration”, and “An arbitration agreement should not be rendered void if it is suffering stamp deficiency which is a curable defect”.


An inadmissible instrument, because of being unstamped or insufficiently stamped, may be made admissible if the relevant stamp duty or a penalty is paid later, as per the Section 35 of the Indian Stamp Act, 1899.

Therefore, an unstamped or insufficiently stamped instrument is per se not invalid and it can be made valid and admissible in evidence after fulfilling the conditions prescribed in the proviso to Section 35 of the Indian Stamp Act, 1899.

Additional reference

  1. Existing rates of stamp duty and charges for registration in Kerala
  2. M/S N.N. Global Mercantile Pvt Ltd v M/S Indo Unique Flame Ltd